1920: A Year of Tragedy and Scandal

Just a few days before the 1920 World Series between the Brooklyn Robins (also known as the Dodgers) and the Cleveland Indians began, Eddie Cicotte and Shoeless Joe Jackson turned rumors to fact about gamblers reaching their tentacles into the clubhouse to choke the oxygen of purity from baseball.

Cicotte and Jackson testified before a Chicago grand jury that eight White Sox players “fixed” the 1919 World Series in exchange for payment from gamblers who bet heavily on Chicago’s opponent, the Cincinnati Reds.  It was an emphatic blow to baseball’s soul.  Another dark event occurred in 1920 baseball, tragic because of its finality.

On August 16th, the Indians’ Ray Chapman got hit in the head by a Carl Mays pitch in a game against the Yankees.  The setting was late afternoon, top of the 5th inning.

Thinking the ball hit the bat, Mays fielded it and threw to first baseman Wally Pipp.  Chapman took three or four steps, then collapsed.  Although he walked off the field, with assistance, the Indians’ shortstop died early the next morning in the hospital.  Chapman’s obituary in the New York Times cited Yankee skipper Miller Huggins surmising that Chapman’s spikes got caught in the dirt, thereby preventing him from moving out of the way.

Another theory espoused that Chapman simply did not see the ball because it was scuffed, dirtied, or otherwise marred either by a pitcher or through regular play.  In that era, snow white baseballs were not in terrific supply during a game.  By the later innings, a game ball could be discolored, even misshapen.  Consequently, a batter might have difficulty perceiving the ball, judging its speed, and avoiding its contact.

In the twin wakes of the White Sox betrayal and the Chapman tragedy, a 6’3″ pitcher, lanky yet muscular, strode to his citadel, the Ebbets Field pitching mound.  Richard William “Rube” Marquand, nicknamed by a sports writer after pitching great Rube Waddell, received the task of opening the World Series for Brooklyn.

Four days shy of his 34th birthday, Waddell gave up three runs to the Indians ball club, still mired in grief over the Chapman death.  It was all the fodder needed.  Brooklyn lost the game 3-1, its lone run scored by future Hall of Famer Zack Wheat.  Ignominy fathered for Brooklyn in Game 5 when Indians second baseman Bill Wambsganss made an unassisted triple play, the only one in World Series history.

Brooklyn lost the 1920 World Series to Cleveland, five games to two games.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on July 31, 2013.

 

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