By Doug Koztoski
The 1919 World Series ended much like it began. In the historic matchup between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, the Fall Classic essentially started when Morrie Rath, the first Reds batter in Game 1, was supposedly intentionally hit by a pitch, meant to signal to gamblers that a “fix” for Chicago to lose the Series was on. The toss came compliments of Sox control-hurler Ed Cicotte.
With two runners on and two out in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 8, yes Eight, since it was a best-of-nine Series, superstar hitter “Shoeless” Joe Jackson grounded out to Rath at second base to give Cincy the championship.
Cicotte, Jackson and six other White Sox players eventually earned the “Eight Men Out” and “Black Sox” characterizations due to strong links with, or at least knowledge of, a conspiracy to throw the 1919 Series—and all ultimately suffered permanent banishment from big league baseball. Some might call it The Rath of Con.
This October 9 marks the 100-year point when the final out concluded one of the darkest chapters in MLB history.
Other players on Chicago’s 1919 “roster of rogues” included outfielder “Happy” Felsch, pitcher “Lefty” Williams, shortstop “Swede” Risberg, third baseman “Buck” Weaver, utility infielder Fred McMullin, and first baseman “Chick” Gandil, the reported scammer’s “ringleader.”
A decent handful of the relatively few card sets of any size and scope from the early part of the 20th-century contain at least one or two Black Sox players, such as the T201, T202, T206 and 1914-15 Cracker Jack issues.
The 1916 M101-4 Sporting News offering possesses five. The main set to find all but one (McMullin) of the Black Sox in one spot? The crudely drawn 1919-21 W514 strip cards.
Black Sox-related cards, as expected, mostly faded from any future card sets, since a new crop of current players populated the latest issues of their day, with the occasional exception.
Perhaps the biggest and most-sought-after “Black Sox well-after-the-fact” card debuted as part of the retired superstar subset of the 1940 black-and-white Play Ball collection when “Shoeless Joe” made an appearance. Even in low grade, raw or encapsulated, that Jackson card normally sells for thousands of dollars.
Easy on the bank
Some other items with a Black Sox connection, thankfully, require far less money to add to one’s collection.
In 1961, for example, Fleer produced their second straight “Baseball Greats” set. No Black Sox appear in it, but the pack inserts included some World Series recap decals, the 1919 matchup among them. Raw samples of the 1919 decal in Excellent condition, the grade of all items mentioned in the remainder of this article, unless noted, commonly sell for $7-$12.
With a visually entertaining style, often with a sense of humor, artist R.G. Laughlin made his mark in the sports collectibles hobby from the 1960s-1980s with a variety of sets either he produced himself or with Fleer. In 1967 it was the former as Laughlin put together his own set of World Series highlight cards, a prototype issue as it turned out, one for each year a Series took place from 1903-1967.
The 1967 black-and-white Laughlin Fall Classic card of the 1919 Sox-Reds battle resides among the sets’ leaders at $15-$20.
Starting in 1970, and lasting several years, Fleer and Laughlin collaborated for color versions of World Series recaps, with the Black Sox cards garnering solid interest in the $5-$7 range.
While the 1960-70s Laughlin and/or Fleer Series cards in general are more readily available than many cards of their era, a somewhat organic/homemade set of the period contains a Black Sox-related card worth noting. In the late 1960s and early 1970 a few sets known as Sports Cards for Collectors (SCFC) came about through the efforts of Mike Aronstein, who later made a splash with his TCMA baseball sets, and some drawings made by his uncle Myron Aronstein.
The small 1970 SCFC issue chiefly spotlights groups or teams of players; the set’s third card focuses on the Black Sox September 1920 indictment, “The blot on Baseball.”
The SCFC offerings do not turn up much, and many go for $15-$25.
In 2012 the Panini Company put out a “Golden Age” set containing mainly baseball players, including all of the Black Sox. The 1919 White Sox member and Hall of Famer Eddie Collins shows up just after the cluster of Black Sox players, and Collins had nothing to do with the scheme. The 1919 White/Black Sox Panini collection often lists as a group ($8-$15).
On a few occasions over the past decade Panini has also produced some Black Sox related bat cards, where, for instance, they include a sliver of a Jackson bat. Some 2012 Panini Jackson bat cards have sold recently for $45-$100 each.
Turning the page
Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book “Eight Men Out” likely ranks as the best-known treatment on the scandal, and it helped provide the framework for the 1988 movie, starring John Cusack and Charlie Sheen, of the same name. “Eight” hard back book club edition’s with their dust jacket and in good shape normally run $10-$20, but first edition copies were recently offered on eBay from $65-$250.
As to the 1988 movie, solid choices are a 110-card set via Pacific ($7-$12) and authentic posters ($20-$30), and the posters display well framed.
Another area worth considering for framing: vintage newspapers. Although the relative brittleness of much older newsprint carries a “so-so” grade at best, they can still provide a fascinating glimpse into the feel for an individual game and era.
Newspaper sports sections from 1919 commonly bring $50-$100 apiece. In the past few months the eight game summaries of the Black Sox Series, reported by the St. Paul Daily News, brought $421 on eBay.
White Sox, Black Sox, Grey Sox
One last Black Sox item of interest represents perhaps the most colorful, captivating, accessible and affordable in its category: the September 17, 1956 issue of Sports Illustrated, featuring a cover with future Hall of Fame jockey Bill “Willie” Hartack.
That week’s SI included an “as told to” piece of apparently a candid account of Gandil’s part in the Series plot, or to read his words, perhaps an actual scam did not take place, even though he admits to the ringleader role.
Gandil’s 1956 take on the ’19 Series antics reads like a smoothie concocted mainly of truth, fiction and rationalization, maybe partly due to the passage of several decades. Plus, a few of the “Eight Men Out” had passed at that point, as well, and could not speak for themselves. So who knows how the Fallen Fall Classic actually transpired.
Decent copies of that 1956 SI issue commonly sell for $8-$15. To find the article’s main text search online for “Gandil 1956.”
With the history of the Black Sox scandal, whatever the full story, soon entering its second century, there is no doubt a certain segment of current and future baseball fans and historians will understandably keep the topic of the sad, complicated and intriguing Series debacle in the spotlight.
One can count on collectibles of many stripes, spanning several eras, helping preserve the discussion from beginning to end. Morrie Rath could appreciate that.
Doug Koztoski is a frequent contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.