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"Peanuts, Hotdogs and Criminals. Get 'em While They're Hot!"

Nick up to bat at the home plate of the old Comiskey baseball park
Nick up to bat at the home plate of the old Comiskey baseball park
Baseball has always been America's pastime. It first came over seas from England in the form of criquet and "stoolball". So baseball wasn't really invented here; it was developed. A man named Abner Doubleday started coming up with the rules and the basics of the game in the mid-1800s. The game of baseball soon spread like a wild fire and it gained popularity incredibly fast. By the early 1900's it was an established business and a very competitive sport that many enjoyed playing and watching. The game was developed in the USA, so the country adopted it as America's pastime.

Nick all geared up for a big game
Nick all geared up for a big game
The game of baseball has had its ups and downs. One of the saddest moments in the games' history occurred at the peak of its popularity in 1919. Between the years of 1917-1919 the number of spectators attending games doubled. Stadiums nation wide were filling up with wild die-hard fans. At that time the popularity of baseball could easily be compared to the popularity of football today. Whether you liked baseball or not you knew when it was playoff time. It was advertised everywhere.


The lines to get into games were so long sometimes that people would actually go to the game just to socialize. Baseball's star had never shone so bright. During those years the Chicago White Sox dominated the game. They had some of the best players in the game and the town was very loyal to the team. They were most definitely the dynasty of early 20th century. They also had the most famous player in the game and quite possibly one of the most famous players of all time. He was the Great Shoeless Joe Jackson who dominated the game at the plate and in left field where he played. But the hard hitting left fielder's glory days wouldn't last forever. After winning the playoffs in 1919, Shoeless Joe made the biggest mistake of his life. It would tarnish his image in baseball history and also threaten the game as a whole. He got involved in the infamous Black Sox Scandal. Eight players from the White Sox team accepted money to throw the World Series.

The Chicago banner welcoming baseball fans to town
The Chicago banner welcoming baseball fans to town
An ex-major league pitcher by the name of Thomas Burns and a gambler Billy Maher teamed up to concoct the scheme. Both were interested in getting rich under the table. Burns was the connection to the players and Maharg was the connection to the gambling underworld. These men approached two of the White Sox's players, pitcher ED Cicotte and First Baseman Arnold Gandil.

Nick with the great Shoeless Joe Jackson
Nick with the great Shoeless Joe Jackson
They told them that if they fixed the series a very large sum of money would await them. The players thought about it and decided to recruit some of their teammates to insure a definite loss. They spoke to six other players who all wanted in on the deal: Pitcher Lefty Williams, Centerfielder Happy Felsch, Shortstop Swede Risberg, third baseman Buck Weaver, Utilityman Fred McMullin and the famous Shoeless Joe Jackson.


Family is number one : Babe Ruth's birthday, February 6, I received...

They all were die-hard players, but when $100,000 to split among the eight was waved in front of their faces, it was too hard to pass up. Just imagine how much $100,000 was worth back then. So they accepted the money and fixed the World Series. They lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. From the average fan's perspective it was hard to tell that the game had been fixed. They seemed to be very competitive games and were played with heart and soul. The fans and the rest of the country didn't know that there had been under the table dirty business. The fix seemed to be very successful as all of the eight players from the White Sox got paid off. Maharg and Burns had fat pockets of cash, as did all their friends. The country had been completely fooled.

Not so fast! It wouldn't be that easy. There were rumors flying all over the country about the fix. Most chose not to believe them, but when evidence began to be exposed, there was no hiding from the truth. It was late in 1920 when the commissioner of baseball and several others decided to take the eight players to court. The eight were indicted but there were no laws saying that throwing the World Series was illegal. On that basis all eight were free to go. The commissioner of the league, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned all eight players saying that regardless of the not guilty verdict all of the players were deeply involved with the fix and had disrespected the entire game. The eight players were banned from baseball and would never play the game again.

The 1919 World Series Fix, known as the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, was very damaging to the game. Attendance dropped in stadiums all across the country. Fans were not as loyal to their teams. Baseball was on the verge of ending because the attendance dropped nation wide. The question on everyone's mind was why? Why did they accept the money? They were baseball players and made a lot of money, right? Wrong. At that time, baseball players didn't make a lot of money, especially the White Sox. The White Sox owner Charles Comiskey paid his players horribly. The Sox were, by far, the best team in the game. Comiskey paid his players about three times less than any other winning team played their players. The team asked for raises often, but there was never any response. The whole team protested this mistreatment by not washing their uniforms for games. It was a protest that lasted for weeks. They claimed that, "we don't have enough money to wash them, our owner doesn't pay us enough". That's where they got the nickname the Black Sox. Their heavy wool uniforms attracted so much dirt it was hard not to notice. So it was a little more complicated than just the greed of eight crooked baseball players. You can assume that Charles Comisky could have prevented the fix by paying the players a decent paycheck.

The best and most famous baseball player of all time the Great Babe Ruth
The best and most famous baseball player of all time the Great Babe Ruth

Baseball survived those horrid years and started once again to gain tremendous popularity. One player can have a lot of credit for baseball's revival. He is the best and most well known baseball player of all time; the homerun king, Babe Ruth. In late 1919 Babe Ruth was sold from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees. In New York, Babe Ruth and his teammates dominated the league more than any other baseball team in history. Between 1920-1933 Ruth and the Yankees won seven pennants (playoffs) and Four World Championships. Babe Ruth had an impact off the field, as well. Growing up as an orphan Babe Ruth empathized with the plight of children in need. So throughout his career Ruth gave money to charities and never turned down any chance to stop at an orphanage or a school. This outgoing presence gained him a lot of respect from the fans. Soon fans all across the country fell in love with the "Babe". Babe Ruth led the American League in Homeruns 12 times. He hit 60 homeruns alone in 1927. He completely changed the course of baseball. Today Babe Ruth's legacy is still very evident.

So baseball made it's big come back and the Babe was a big factor. Some still argue that the White Sox never recovered, though. They still haven't won a World Series since 1917. Nonetheless, Baseball is still considered America's pastime and will continue to have the label for many years to come.


Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


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