April 22, 2008

Herald: Curveball for Sox' 1918 win

Laurel J. Sweet, today's Herald, page 3:
For 86 years, the Red Sox’ 1918 World Series championship remained a beacon marking the last time Dame Fortune deigned to smile on the Olde Towne Team.

But what if that long-ago championship season was a sham? ...

But is it all just blasphemous finger-pointing from the grave? Maybe not, said The Joy of Sox blogger Allan Wood, author of the 2001 book "Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox."

World War I was raging, he said, and ballplayers' futures were on the line. "The game was incredibly corrupt (back then), beyond what we could possibly imagine," Wood said. "This could be true." ...

8 comments:

mugro said...

This sure is interesting stuff, Allan. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

It is frustrating that we may never know whether this story is true or not, but it is fascinating to read about the lives of the people involved and ask the question: "What if?"

As always, your blog is very interesting reading.

redsock said...

It is frustrating that we may never know whether this story is true or not, but it is fascinating to read about the lives of the people involved and ask the question: "What if?"

It's really frustrating. I want to know as much as possible, all the facts and all the dirt. But I also agreed with the Herald writer when she said those "what if" stories are one of the important backbones of the game.

redsock said...

Just taped an interview with someone at WBZ/CBS radio in Boston. That may run tomorrow morning.

nixon33 said...

nice one!

9casey said...

Allan , I have yet to read your book, but can you give me some feel of what America's feel for the game was at that point....In the midst of a World War and Prohibition around the corner and the Black Sox scandal......Where people not so much interested in sport at the time or was baseball a huge deal to most......

Because a lot of history becomes a big deal a later down the road , then actually when it is happening....

redsock said...

can you give me some feel of what America's feel for the game was at that point....In the midst of a World War and Prohibition around the corner and the Black Sox scandal......Where people not so much interested in sport at the time or was baseball a huge deal to most......

Because the sports pages reported on the day's game and maybe a note if anyone was sick/hurt, it's hard to gauge (outside of attendance) how important baseball was in daily life.

In the papers, baseball got a lot of attention. Other sports at that time that also got print were golf, horse racing, boxing. But with racetracks shut down in 1918 and the horses used in the war effort, all the gamblers flocked to the ballparks.

While writing the book, I talked to a guy who worked at Fenway as a peanut vendor in 1918. He was 14 that year and told me a lot about the gamblers, where they sat, what they bet on, how much they tipped him, etc. He also said Babe Ruth used to come to Fenway early on Saturday mornings and help the kids bag peanuts for that day's game.

The war had a definite effect. Not in 1917 -- the US entered the war around Opening Day that year -- but in 1918.

Over the winter, players took war-related jobs or enlisted. Every team lost players. Boston lost most of their before spring training started, so they were able to patch the holes. Harry Frazee was also very active in making deals and spending money. Other teams, like the defending champion White Sox, lost their key players in May and June -- and could not stay in the pennant race.

The government's "work or fight" order in May 1918 meant that any draft age man (21-31 at that time) had to either enlist or get a job in a war-related field, like a munitions factory or shipbuilding company. Many players did this -- and were ripped in the press as "slackers" who were getting out of serving in the military.

Because every man in the country had to comply as well, there were fewer people going to games, which were all in the afternoon. Attendance dropped. For some games, there were crowds of 100 or 200. [Over the season, a big crowd at Fenway would have been 15,000+; over 10,000 was notable. Opening Day drew 7,000 and change.]

Before the 1917 WS, fans slept out for tickets and had bonfires and parties. Not so in 1918. Ticket prices were lowered, but that did not boost attendance.

Like every year at WS time, there were theaters you could go to in Boston and follow the WS games from Chicago. There were big boards on which the stats of the game were put, as the news came over teletype machines.

(I'm not sure when it was generally known that Prohibition was coming. The 1919 scandal did not break in the papers until late September 1920, so that was not on anyone's mind in 1918.)

L-girl said...

can you give me some feel of what America's feel for the game was at that point....

For me, that is the best part of Allan's book - the feel of the times. The game, the ballparks, the labour issues, the players' train trips, the backdrop of the war - it's very vivid.

Babe Ruth is an amazing character, the outsized hero of the book, and Allan recreates the games so beautifully, you can see them in your mind perfectly. But the historical backdrop is what I find most fascinating.

(And yes, I'm biased, but it's truly an excellent read.)

Amy said...

It is an excellent read! And I have no personal bias. I also enjoyed getting the flavor of the times and the opportunity to learn how much baseball has changed and also stayed the same in the last almost 100 years.