USA Today, October 26, 2005
The curse of the Black Sox
Nearly a century after the mother of all sports scandals, do the White Sox
finally deserve redemption? Nope. Still too soon.
By Steve Kluger
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So the Red Sox were cursed when owner Harry Frazee sold Babe
Ruth to the New York Yankees, and the Cubs met the same fate when an
overzealous ticket-taker offended somebody’s goat.
But let's not forget that in 1920, seven crooked members of the Chicago White Sox
and one railroaded third baseman—soon to be nicknamed the infamous Black Sox—
were indicted by a grand jury for throwing the 1919 Fall Classic to the Cincinnati
Reds. Chicago's Sox, too, have remained in the World Series toilet ever since.
Perhaps no two man-made disasters have gripped the American conscience as
much as the accidental sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 and the deliberate sinking
of the Chicago White Sox seven years later. "Say it ain't so, Joe" and "If you build it,
he will come" are but two examples of the iconic legacy left to us by seven
uncommon hustlers and one innocent also-ran.
However, as every kid learned from Sleeping Beauty, curses are inflicted only so that
they might be broken when virtue comes to the rescue. Babe Ruth may have been a
man of few principles, but he never held a grudge for long—especially when he
noted from his perch above (or wherever) that the Red Sox refused to roll over, no
matter how often they were machine-gunned by the odds or by Yankee nemesis
Bucky F. Dent. That's probably why he chose to release the penance-winning Sox
from their misery in 2004.
Similarly, though the Cubs have a more difficult road to travel—how do you make
amends to a dead goat?—the time will come when even that vindictive pet will bleat,
"What the hell," and allow October corks to pop in the Wrigley Field clubhouse.
The White Sox, however, are in a league of their own.
If literature hasn't produced a poem about 1919 club owner Charles Comiskey, that's
only because "cheap son-of-a-bitch" doesn't lend itself to iambic pentameter.
Comiskey was enough of a pinch-penny to bench 29-game winner Eddie Cicotte for
the remainder of the season so that he wouldn't have to cough up a 30-win bonus.
No wonder Sox ringleaders Chick Gandil and Swede Risberg were willing to cut a
deal to fix the Series in exchange for a fraction of the loot that Comiskey should have
been paying them all along. And it wasn't just for the cash, either: Frontier justice
has always been a peculiarly American source of pride—particularly to those who've
been routinely shafted for playing it straight.
But not in baseball. Never in baseball. No matter how ripe the grievance, the seven
Chicago players dishonored not only themselves, but the rest of us as well.
Suddenly our game was dirty, our morals were soiled, and it was going to take a lot
more than a rinse cycle from a grand jury to remove the stain.
The ripples set off by the Black Sox didn't fade with them: Baseball's owners banded
together for the first time in 1920 as a formidable enemy to their players in order to
tighten the despicable reserve clause—a plantation-master's concept of human
property that had been shown the door by the Emancipation Proclamation 58 years
earlier, but wouldn't be squashed by baseball for another 55.
The Black Sox also introduced the game's first commissioner—Kenesaw Mountain
Landis—a racist and anti-Semite who literally had to die before an African-American
was admitted to the majors, and who gave permission late in the 1938 season for
American League pitchers to walk Detroit slugger Hank Greenberg whenever
possible so that the Babe's home run record wouldn’t be broken by a Jew.
Landis fostered the kind of morality that rewarded a twisted psychotic like Ty Cobb
with the Hall of Fame (even though Cobb was noted for climbing into the stands and
beating a disabled heckler senseless), while banning from baseball a company man
like Buck Weaver, Chicago’s Eighth Man Out, who ate dirt like it was ground round
and whose only crime in 1919 was rejecting any part in the fix—without ratting on his
teammates in the process.
These are the spoils that the 2005 White Sox have inherited.
Even though they may be ahead in the Series, they still don't deserve a post-season,
not yet. Too much has been swept under the rug, and whining about not having
been world champs since 1917 isn't exactly the highway to heaven. That takes the
kind of teamwork that went out of style with carbohydrates, a modest injection of
whatever it is that passes for sportsmanship these days, a genuine affection from the
front office and the fans for the boys in Chicago uniforms, and at least one
anonymous kid on the South Side who wants nothing more than to grow up to be a
White Sock. (It might also help if they changed the current color of their footwear
from black to just about anything else.)
Once that happens, they'll find themselves in a World Series that really means
something—probably a re-match with the Reds. They'll lose, of course (they must),
but at least they'll do it honestly this time. After that, a Series trophy will be theirs for
the asking. Know why? Because karmic debts must always be repaid in kind. And in
Just ask any goat.