Cover the Bases Interview with Sean Deveney

by on January 29, 2010

Over the long history of baseball, there are stories that have been swept under the rug in an attempt to protect the game.  Potentially damaging concerns have included current day situations like steroids, amphetamines & alcohol in decades past, ball doctoring, and of course gambling.  Our guest on this episode of Cover the Bases is Sean Deveney, who shines the light on one such story, which many fans will initially find hard to believe.  After reading his book called The Original Curse: Did the Cubs Throw the 1918 World Series to Babe Ruth’s Red Sox and Incite the Black Sox Scandal?, I do indeed believe it happened.  Hope you enjoy listening to the episode.  Here is a summary of what we discussed:

Sean was inspired to dig into this story in 2008 when he was exposed to documents that the Chicago History Museum had obtained relating to the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919.  In these documents was a deposition of a player named Eddie Cicotte, who indicated that it was the 1918 Cubs team who demonstrated money was to be made fixing the World Series.

Underlying this entire tale is the context of the times, which included rampant gambling in the ballparks and players who easily mingled with gamblers and the fans who frequented ballgames.  As Sean points out, the players in that era were not superstars and many came from less than middle class backgrounds who were not be out of place spending time in pool halls and neighborhood bars where action could be taken.

World War I put a different pressure on the ballplayers during 1918.  Playing a game, while the rest of the country was contributing to the war effort in more direct fashion gave rise to the notion that the players were “slackers”.  The teams had no indication as to whether they would be forced to shut down, and many around the game believed this season might be the last for them.

Players were concerned about the nationwide efforts to draft every able body person directly into the war effort, either by working in jobs that directly benefited the military or actively fighting.  Many players went off to fight, some went to “work” in the military complex with an understanding they would play for the company’s baseball team. Some players simply continued to carry on with the season.

A tragic figure who paid a price for fighting in the war was Grover Cleveland Alexander. A dominant pitcher years before 1918, he went off to the front and came back with shell shock and a severe alcohol problem.  His contributions to the war effort derailed his career.

With all of these factors weighing on the players as we get to the World Series, Sean looks at the monetary impacts as well.  The players had agreed to a new revenue sharing arrangement that added more than just the World Series teams into the pool.  The owners had decided to lower the ticket prices to combat the early lackluster attendance as a result of weather and war pressures.

Factors were conspiring against the integrity of the game.

It was during the train ride from Chicago to Boston that the players took the time to analyze the situation and realized their winning share was seriously in jeopardy. Players from both teams, lead by Harry Hooper of the Red Sox and Bill Killefer of the Cubs went to the National Commission, the oversight committee of the league, and attempted to renegotiate the players share.  The Owners and Commission took a stall strategy hoping that the Series would conclude before any resolution and they would not have to make any decision.

After the train ride and before any ruling from the commission, some unusual plays started to appear in Game 4.  A player by the name of Max Flack has to be pointed out as a leading culprit.  Picked off twice in the game, still the only player picked off twice in one World Series game and a misplayed ball in the outfield that went over his head after he had continually ignored his pitcher’s advice to move deeper are certainly suspect actions from one player.

Prior to Game 5 the players threatened to strike, and were late to appear on the field while they waited to speak with the National Commission.  Once again, they were rebuffed. This time it was in the players best interest to extend the Series to play as many games as possible and bring in more gate receipts.  We cannot point to just the Cubs in the 1918 World Series as not having played up to potential, it was in every players best interest for the Red Sox to lose Game 5.

Game 6 included another sleeping Cubs runner Charley Pick who was picked off, but what became the turning point in the game was a muffed line drive by Max Flack with two on and two out in the third inning.  Pitcher Lefty Tyler believed he had gotten out of a jam caused by shoddy fielding, had turned towards the dugout while the ball was in flight towards Flack, but had to return after the ball was dropped by his rightfielder.

1918 World Champion Boston Red Sox

Fans should pick up The Original Curse to read for themselves the detail of the games, and to personally analyze the theory that Sean has laid out.  He also ties it together with the issues that baseball faces today in that the issues are resolved by a swift verdict, pinned on a few individuals, and locked away never to be spoken again.  This is how the steroid issue and gambling issue are linked.

The win was a joyless one for the Red Sox, and the atmosphere included much skepticism that they would have been the best team had all clubs played at full strength, including the  White Sox who had many players in military service.

We can only express our sincere thanks to Sean Deveney for appearing on Cover the Bases.  He has laid out a specific case that identifies the Chicago Cubs as a team that succumbed to gambling pressures, and fixed the 1918 World Series. They were a single year before the other team from Chicago attempted the same feat, and were caught.

You can find Sean at SportingNews.com to keep up with his current writings, and learn more about The Original Curse at the companion web site.

Amazon Kindle | Baseball Books | Baseballisms.comIf you like hearing about the baseball books we profile on Cover the Bases, it might be time for you to pick up a Kindle from Amazon, so that you can take all the best Baseball Books with you no matter which stadiums you visit.

Let us know in the comments what you think about the Cover the Bases podcast. We would love to hear from you. Send a Tweet to @baseballisms with a quick message, send us an email or visit our Upload page with a video message.  We look forward to growing a community of fans interested in the poetry of the game of baseball!

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