Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The most infamous World Series

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
October 27, 2013 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Chicago White Sox third baseman Buck Weaver was among the players banned for life from baseball for knowing about but not reporting the fixing of the 1919 World Series, although he did not participate or take money.
Chicago White Sox third baseman Buck Weaver was among the players banned for life from baseball for knowing about but not reporting the fixing of the 1919 World Series, although he did not participate or take money.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bob Greene: Throwing World Series? Seems impossible with fans watching so intently
  • But it happened, infamously, in 1919. A clever sportswriter found a way to say it without saying it
  • Chicago Tribune reporter quoted White Sox manager's bafflement at his team's lousy performance
  • Greene: In pre-digital era, reporter Crusinberry artfully telegraphed Series was thrown

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a bestselling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story"; "When We Get to Surf City: A Journey Through America in Pursuit of Rock and Roll, Friendship, and Dreams," and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen." Three of his columns are included in "From Black Sox to Three-Peats: A Century of Chicago's Best Sports Writing."

(CNN) -- Throwing the World Series.

Would such a brazen act be even remotely possible today?

For baseball fans everywhere who will be watching Game 4 of the 2013 World Series, scheduled to be played Sunday night in St. Louis, the first instinct is probably: There is no way any team could come close to getting away with it.

The 1919 Chicago White Sox -- forever known in American lore as the Black Sox -- thought, for a while, that they had pulled it off. At the behest of gamblers, a group of the team's stars purposely lost the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Their deed has become the stuff of legend in sports history, movies and books. By 1921, eight of the players had been banished from baseball.

Today, though, with multicamera instant replays in the slowest of slow-motion and the closest of close-ups, with media saturation, with Twitter and Facebook available to disseminate conspiracy theories and rumors, players would seem to have no chance to do such a thing. Even looking back at it from the vantage point of our seek-any-edge-you-can era of performance-enhancing drugs, the audacity of what the Black Sox did is almost incomprehensible. Come on. Throwing the World Series?

Bob Greene
Bob Greene

Say it ain't so, Joe.

The supposition is that they were able to do it because back then, no one really knew for sure. There was no television, of course, but there was also no radio, as far as baseball was concerned. The first radio broadcast of a baseball game did not occur until 1921. Thus -- so accepted wisdom has it -- the Black Sox got away with throwing the Series because, whispers aside, no one at the time, or for the next year, was able to authoritatively pinpoint what was going on.

But there is a fascinating and telling artifact in longtime sports columnist Ron Rapoport's new anthology, "From Black Sox to Three-Peats: A Century of Chicago's Best Sports Writing."

One story in the book -- a straight sports-news report, written by James Crusinberry of the Chicago Tribune on October 7, 1919, right in the middle of the World Series (which was best-of-nine-games that year) -- nails it. Reading the story makes it clear: Even before social media, before sports talk radio, before all the ways of dissecting and discussing the minutiae of the games, a reporter with a good eye could spot, and document, games being thrown.

Rapoport said that when he first came across Crusinberry's almost-century-old news report, he was startled: "Here was a guy who was writing it in real time, as the games were going on. And he found a way to say it."

Here are some of the words from Crusinberry's reporting of that thrown Series:

Music showdown between Boston, St. Louis
James Taylor talks World Series
Boston's Jon Lester: I only use rosin

"'They aren't hitting.'

"Those few words spoken by Kid Gleason, manager of the White Sox, offered an explanation for a large part of the cause for the fourth defeat of the south siders yesterday in the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. They got three hits off Hod Eller and never once in the whole game had a good chance to score a run.

"'I don't know what's the matter,' the Sox leader continued, 'but I do know that something is wrong with my gang. The bunch I had fighting in August for the pennant would have trimmed this Cincinnati bunch without a struggle. We hit something over .280 for the season in the American League pennant race. That's the best hitting any ball club ever did in the history of baseball. The way those .280 hitters batted against Eller, they couldn't make a place on a high school team.'"

And (again, manager Gleason talking to reporter Crusinberry):

"I am convinced that I have the best ball club that ever was put together. I certainly have been disappointed in it in this series. It hasn't played baseball in a single game. There's only a bare chance they can win now. The gang that has played for me in the five games of the world's series will have to have luck to win another ball game."

And (in Gleason's hotel room as he spoke to Crusinberry, after the two had shared a cab from the ballpark):

"[Gleason] clearly indicated he was mad enough to lick a lot of people and go to jail for it. He clearly indicated there was something wrong and that he intended to find out what it was. 'You know,' he spoke up, 'it doesn't seem possible that this gang that worked so great for me all summer could fall down like this. I tell you, I am absolutely sick at heart.

"'They haven't played any baseball for me. I thought all of them were my boys. I felt like a school teacher might feel toward his pupils. I loved those boys for the way they fought for me this summer. Those fellows were right around me and I would have staked my life they would have gone through for me in the world's series...Something has happened to my gang. If they would just play baseball for me for the rest of the series, they might even pull it out yet. The team I had most of the time all summer would do it. I haven't had the same team on the ball field in a single game.'"

Three days later, after the Black Sox had lost the World Series, Crusinberry quoted manager Gleason:

"I don't know yet what was the matter. Something was wrong. I didn't like the betting odds. I wish no one had ever bet a dollar on the team."

Today, with millions of eyes, both human and electronic, on every move the ballplayers make in a World Series, the thought of a cabal of players presuming they could get away with throwing the games seems unfathomable.

But in the most infamous World Series ever played, there were many, many fewer eyes watching. Yet some of those eyes, it turns out, seemed to understand what they were seeing.

And what they were seeing just didn't add up.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT