Thursday, June 23, 2011

#38: The Original Curse: Did the Cubs Throw the 1918 World Series by Sean Deveney

McGraw Hill, 2010: 242 pages

I come from a long line of Cubs fans. Stout, broad-shouldered midwestern people who love a team that has not been to the World Series since 1945. My grandmother died in 1993 at the age of 80. The last time the Cubs won a World Series, their best pitcher was Mordecai Peter Centennial "Three Finger" Brown and my grandmother would not be born for another 53 months. I rejected this maudlin loyalty and became a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. The Pirates have not posted a winning record since 1992, so maybe the family is cursed.

But, being a Cubs fan is all about curses. The black cat in 1969, Tim Flannery/Steve Garvey in 1984. The Billy Goat in 1945. Sean Deveney, based on good original research, asks the question, "What if the Cubs caused this curse by throwing the World Series?" It is a good question, and Deveney tackles it with a good deal of wit and knowledge. Of course, the real curse here is the Curse of the Bambino: the Red Sox won the series in 1918, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees the next year. and did not win again until 2004.

Baseball in the first two decades of the 20th century was dominated by pitching and gambling. Pitchers such as the aforementioned Three Finger Brown, Walter Johnson, Rube Waddell and Christy Mathewson posted incredible statistics. In the 1905 World Series, Mathewson won three games, all of them shutouts. On the other hand, ballplayers caroused with "sports", men who operated in the shadowy realm of pseudo-legal gambling. The most nefarious ball player was Hal Chase. On at least two occasions (one documented by Deveney), Chase took to his first base position with several fans chanting "Hal, what's the odds?" Chase was deeply involved in the 1919 World Series fix by the Chicago White Sox, and circumstantially involved in the would be 1918 fix.

Deveney argues that the Cubs threw the 1918 world series, thereby clearing the way for the Black Sox Scandal of 1919. The difference was in the execution. The Black Sox were blatant about it, as Mathewson and reporter Hugh Fullerton noticed during the series. One of Deveney's compelling arguments in this text is that the baseball establishment paid no attention whatsoever. It can (and has) been argued that the only reason the story came out at all was because of the overall hatred for American League president Ban Johnson and the investigation into a game fixing scheme by members of the 1920 New York Giants. While Eliot Asinof's book Eight Men Out makes Sox owner Charles Comiskey an ogre and a cheapskate, it sometimes ignores the fact that gambling was rife in baseball during the period. Deveney does not shy from this, and this makes the book worthwhile.

Deveney details movements of players accused of fixing games and delves into newly found papers in the Chicago History Museum. While my jury is out on Deveney's conclusion, the book is an excellent resource on the culture of baseball in 1918. With war looming, why not try to make a few more bucks on the side? Check out this book and find out.

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