Baseball was almost ruined 100 years ago. But it was Knights who saved it.
John “Shano” Collins didn’t have the greatest World Series. He scored twice and batted .250, with four hits in 16 at-bats. On top of that, his team — the Chicago White Sox — lost a best of nine series to the Cincinnati Reds.
He suspected something wasn’t right. And he wasn’t the only one. Suspicion loomed until it exploded into one of the largest scandals in baseball history.
Collins was one of at least four Knights who made it to the 1919 World Series. The others included future Hall of Fame pitcher Urban “Red” Faber, outfielder Eddie Murphy and relief pitcher John Sullivan. Their appearances weren’t particularly great either. Faber and Sullivan didn’t play and Murphy failed to hit in his two plate appearances.
All were members of the White Sox during the infamous “Black Sox Scandal,” when eight of their teammates allegedly fixed the World Series in exchange for payment from crime boss Arnold Rothstein. The Eight included Claude “Lefty” Williams, Arnold “Chick” Gandil (first baseman), Eddie Cicotte (pitcher), Oscar “Happy” Felsch (center fielder), Fred McMullin (infielder), Charles “Swede” Risberg (shortstop), George “Buck” Weaver (third baseman) and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
The infamous Eight were ultimately banished from Major League Baseball. But what most people don’t remember is that Collins was instrumental in the cleansing and saving of America’s national pastime.
In the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Collins said, “We suspected some of them in the World Series, and we suspected them again because of the way of the play on the last eastern trip. Some of them not only didn’t try, but really acted as though they didn’t want to win.”
When the first indictments came down against the Eight in March 1921, Collins was denoted as the wronged party in the scandal. The indictment said the Eight conspired “knowingly, willfully, corruptly, feloniously, wickedly, fraudulently and wrongfully” to cheat Collins of $1,784 for throwing the 1919 World Series.
Collins’ accusation led to The People of Illinois v Edward Cicotte, et al — the Black Sox trial.
The “Black Sox Scandal” rocked American culture. As baseball historian and sociologist Steven Riess wrote, “If baseball was no good, what hope was there for the rest of our culture and society?” Newspaper cartoons, particularly those in The Chicago Tribune, depicted baseball as corrupt as politics, finances, boxing and horse racing.
In the summation for the prosecution, assistant State’s Attorney George Gorman put it bluntly: “The public ‘went to see a ballgame.’ But all they saw was a con game!”
Murphy and Faber also spoke of their suspicions and accused their teammates of throwing the 1919 and 1920 seasons. Murphy was even nicknamed “Honest Eddie” for not participating in the fixing.
Murphy once said, “We knew something was wrong for a long time, but we felt we had to keep silent because we were fighting for a pennant. We went along and gritted our teeth and played ball. It was tough.”
Faber complained that the eight were in gamblers’ pockets “all through the 1920 season, too, throwing ball games right up to the last week of the pennant.”
The trial began in July and ended in August 1921. After all the testimonies, the jury deliberated for nearly three hours. With one ballot, the jury acquitted the Eight. However, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who became the first commissioner of baseball in response to the scandal, permanently banned them from the game the next day.
Landis’ harsh ruling helped salvage the game’s image. So did the up-and-coming hero (and fellow Knight) Babe Ruth. Ruth wrote in his series “My Hits — and My Errors” for The Saturday Evening Post, “If my home-run hitting in 1920 established a new era in baseball and helped the fans of the nation to forget the past and the terrible fact that they had been sold out, that’s all the epitaph I want.”
The “Clean Sox” players — including every Knight — received a letter from White Sox owner Charles Comiskey calling them the “honest ball players.” Accompanying the letter was $1,500 — the “difference between the winning and losing players’ share,” as if they had won the title.
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