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1919 Project – Game 1

Exactly 100 years ago today, the 1919 World Series began. The underdog Cincinnati Reds upset the Chicago White Sox to claim the first championship in franchise history.

Unfortunately, their victory would forever be overshadowed when it was learned that eight White Sox players (later nicknamed the “Black Sox”), had arranged a deal with gambler Arnold Rothstein to intentionally lose the series.

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting details about the team and each game of that series, along with custom cards I created to honor each member of the 1919 Reds. Hope you enjoy.

The Cincinnati Reds had never finished higher than third since 1900, but surprised almost everyone by winning the National League pennant in 1919. The Reds didn’t just win the pennant – they finished nine games in front of the New York Giants with a record of 96–44. In the second half of the season, the Reds were an outstanding 47-19. In fact, no team would have a higher winning percentage until the 1927 Yankees, a team considered by many historians to be the greatest ever assembled.

History has painted the 1919 World Series as a “sure thing” for the White Sox – with most people today believing the Sox would have won easily if a few of their players hadn’t accepted money to fix the series. We’ll never know for sure, of course, but it’s unfair to say that the 1919 Reds had no chance of winning a level series. Many baseball “experts” also said the 1990 Reds had no chance of winning that Series … and then they swept the A’s.

Just as there was a plot for the Black Sox to throw the series, another group of gamblers was plotting to get the Reds to lose. This group targeted several Reds pitchers, trying to get them drunk before their games. Reds ace Dutch Reuther, a noted drinker, was caught drinking on the eve of Game 1 by Reds manager Pat Moran.  (Reuther would later be part of the legendary 1927 Yankees lineup.)

The 1919 Reds were masters of the type of “small ball” that was typical in this era – few homers and a big emphasis on drawing walks, stealing bases, and bunting runners over to produce runs. The Reds hit only twenty home runs as a team in 1919, but managed to score the second highest number of runs in the National League. The Reds drew 50 more walks and had 32 more sacrifices than anyone else.

Center fielder Edd Roush led the league in hitting at .321 and was in the top five of most important hitting categories. Third baseman Heinie Groh was the other big bat in the lineup with a .310 average. First baseman Jake Daubert was a two-time National League batting champion with Brooklyn and hit .276 in 1919. Catcher Ivey Wingo also hit .273.

The Reds’ pitching was their real strength, though. The team’s big three included Hod Eller (20–9, 2.39), the heavy-drinking Ruether (19–6, 1.82) and Slim Sallee (21–7, 2.06), and all three were among the league’s best. This stellar trio was backed by three other pitchers who were almost as formidable: Ray Fisher went 14–5 with a 2.17 ERA and five shutouts. Cuban Dolf Luque went 10–3 with a 2.63 ERA. Jimmy Ring’s record was only 10–9, but his ERA was an impressive 2.26. This was an incredibly deep and talented staff – a definite advantage in a best-of-nine series.

The White Sox pitching staff, on the other hand, simply wasn’t as strong. The Reds’ pitching staff topped the Sox in ERA, WHIP, and FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching). Eddie Cicotte was a 29-game winner, but future Hall of Famer Red Faber was ill and unable to pitch in the Series. This limited the Sox to only three reliable starters for what could be a nine-game series.

The Reds also had the best defense in baseball in 1919. Gold Glove Awards weren’t presented until 1957, but the 1919 Reds could safely argue that at least three of the team’s eight starters had a strong claim to such an award (and a fourth was at least in the discussion). If defense wins championships, as they say, then the Reds were going to be a tough team to beat.

The night before the 1919 World Series started, reporter Hugh S. Fullerton wired an article to all of the forty newspapers in which he was syndicated:

The first game began at 3 p.m. on October 1st at Cincinnati’s Redland Field, with 30,511 fans in the stands. Ticket scalpers outside the park were raking in at least $50 per ticket. Huge crowds in New York’s Times Square gathered to get “live” updates on a scoreboard.

In the bottom of the first inning, Cicotte (who received his $10,000 payoff the night before the series began) hit the Reds’ leadoff hitter, Morrie Rath, with his second pitch. This was a signal to gambler Arnold Rothstein that the fix was on. A base hit and sacrifice fly later, Rath scored Cincinnati’s first run.

The game remained close for a while, though. The Black Sox didn’t want to look bad and made several excellent defensive plays. In the fourth, however, Cicotte decided it was time to earn his money. The Sox ace allowed a number of hits, including a two-out triple to the Reds’ pitcher. The Reds scored five runs in that inning to break the 1–1 tie. Cicotte was relieved at that point, but the damage was done. The Reds went on to win 9–1.

This first Game of the 1919 series featured an outstanding performance by Reds starter Dutch Ruether. In addition to going the distance in a six-hitter, the World War I veteran also went 3-for-3 with two triples and 3 RBI.

The Reds’ offense was ignited by Greasy Neale, who went 3-for-4 with 2 runs scored. Neale would go on to lead the Reds in hitting with a .351 average for the Series. 1919 ended up being Neale’s only full season with the Reds – when football season came around, Neale would usually leave baseball and play pro football. He earned the nickname “Greasy” because of his elusiveness on the football field.

During this first game of the series, sportswriters noted that a bad throw by Cicotte to Swede Risberg, which prevented a possible double play, looked suspicious. By that evening, there already were signs that things were going wrong for the Black Sox. Only Cicotte, who had shrewdly demanded his $10,000 in advance, had been paid. Rothstein’s intermediary withheld the players’ next installment ($20,000) to bet on the next game.

The information for this post, and all 1919 Project posts to follow, was gathered from the following sources:
– The book “Eight Men Out” by Eliot Asinof