On Sept. 23, the Indians were clinging to a 1 ½ game lead over the White Sox as the two teams started a three-game series at League Park. There were 10 games left to play, and the pennant was still up for grabs.
But the White Sox had other things to worry about. The grand jury impaneled to look into allegations of the fixing of a Phillies-Cubs game had started hearing testimony that was regarded as unthinkable: That the White Sox had thrown the previous year’s World Series.
“The last World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds was not on the square,” Assistant State’s Attorney Hartley Replogle said. “From five to seven players on the White Sox team are involved.”
The game of baseball had always been populated with rough characters, and like most sporting events, remained popular for gambling, particularly when World War I restrictions limited activity at horse racing tracks. Indeed, rumors of game fixing had dogged the sport almost since its inception. But fix the World Series? It was unheard of. The Chicago Daily News went so far as to say “Nothing could so undermine the average American’s confidence in society as the discovery of corruption in organized baseball.”
After the Reds beat the White Sox in an eight-game World Series, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey made it a point to say he had no doubt the series was on the up-and-up. But that was just for public consumption. He hired private investigators to look into the allegations.
There were rumors that the World Series was fixed, and by some accounts, White Sox manager Kid Gleason took the story to newspapers who, fearing libel suits, refused to print it. But the grand jury that was impaneled started investigating a fix of a different kind. There was serious gambling action on an Aug. 31 game between the Phillies and Cubs, and a Cleveland bookie had even refused to take bets on the game. Among those suspicious of the game was Cubs president William Veeck Sr., who hired his own private investigators. Four Cubs players were called to testify before the grand jury about that game, and a host of other players were called to testify. Giants pitcher Rube Benton attested that he had heard before the 1919 World Series that the Reds would win and learned of a fix. And he named names, identifying White Sox players who were in on it.
American League President Ban Johnson, who had been at odds with Comiskey for the better part of the previous decade, saw a chance to throw him other the bus. He intimated that not only had the White Sox fixed the series, but they were still coordinating with gamblers to affect the 1920 pennant race, and would, in fact, “lay down” to the Indians. It was a far cry from when Comiskey suggested shortly after the 1919 World Series that it was fixed. Johnson derided the allegations as “the whelp of a beaten cur.”
The series began with Jim Bagby pitching for the Indians, looking for his 30th victory. Dickie Kerr took the hill for the White Sox, and a Swede Risberg error let Joe Evans score to put the Indians on the board in the first. The White Sox tied the game in the fourth on a double steal with Ray Schalk at first and Risberg at third. Catcher Steve O’Neill tried to throw out Schalk, and Risberg came home unchallenged to tie the game.
Shoeless Joe Jackson hit what should have been a pop fly to lead off the sixth, but an overflow crowd of more than 30,000 spilled onto the field, held back with ropes. The ball went into the crowd for a ground-rule double, and it was the start of a three-run inning for the Pale Hose. The White Sox would go on to score five more in the eighth and waltzed to a 10-3 win. The Indians’ lead was now down to half a game.
Manager Tris Speaker had burned Friday’s starter, Ray Caldwell, in relief Thursday, so he ended up giving the ball to John “Duster” Mails, who was making just the sixth start of his major league career. The Indians had gotten Mails in a trade with Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League the month before. Umpire Billy Evans, a former sports editor, was giving Mails a hard time. “Have you ever heard of Shoeless Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver and Eddie Collins?”
“Sure, but have they ever heard of the Great Mails?”
Mails lived up to his self-given nickname, scattering three hits in a shutout – even if he lived dangerously in the fifth inning, when he walked the bases loaded with the meat of the White Sox lineup coming up. Mails then struck out Weaver to make it two outs. Collins laced a high fly down the left field line that curved foul, and then another, and then swung at a third strike. Mails had gotten out of the jam. The crowd roared.
The White Sox had countered with Red Faber, with Gleason skipping over Lefty Williams, one of the players accused of fixing the World Series. The Indians were able to push a run across in each of the first two innings, and that was all they needed. Their lead was back up to 1 ½ games.
The White Sox returned to the clubhouse to news that the next day’s Chicago Herald and Examiner would identify the eight players under investigation for the alleged fix: Weaver, Williams, Jackson, Risberg, Eddie Cicotte, Hap Felsch, Fred McMullin and Chick Gandil, who had retired after the 1919 season. But the White Sox came out and won 5-2. Joe Jackson homered, doubled twice – and flipped off the Cleveland fans who were heckling him as he rounded third.
The White Sox were a half-game back of the Indians. The Indians had seven games left; the White Sox, five. The pennant was by no means assured to the Indians.