Call the Game! The 1917 Fenway Park Gamblers Riot

Note: This article was originally published in Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game” (McFarland & Co., Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 2012), edited by William F. Lamb. A shorter summary of the Fenway Park Gamblers Riot can also be found in my article at The National Pastime Museum.

Gamblers-Riot-headlines

As long as there has been baseball, there has been gambling on baseball. In the middle of the nineteenth century, as the game began to spread in popularity among so-called “gentlemen” — members of the upper class playing for leisure — wagers were made for a meal or a small sum of money.1 This was an accepted practice among fans, and often players, because then and now many people found it enjoyable to be financially invested in the outcome of a game. As the sport became dominated by elite professionals instead of amateurs following the Civil War, it did not take long for “sportsmen,” or gamblers, to take a more serious interest in the outcome of these games. Baseball’s first major gambling scandal in 1877 occurred just one year after the formation of the National League, and less than a decade after the creation of the sport’s first wholly professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings.2 In that scandal, four players with the Louisville team of the National League were accused of intentionally losing at least three exhibition games and they were suspected of throwing league games, as well. As some observers worried that “the exposure would destroy the game,”3 National League president William Hulbert set a harsh precedent in baseball by permanently expelling the four players, the first time that punishment had been publicly levied by a league against its own players. It sent a message that associating with gamblers would not be tolerated; for a generation afterward, most NL players stuck to the time-honored drinking and womanizing as their vices of choice.

Johnson-Ban

Ban Johnson

By the turn of the twentieth century, as the modern two-league system was formalized with a treaty between the National League and the upstart American League in 1903, public confidence in the game’s integrity was strong. American League president Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson, who was already baseball’s most powerful authority figure and a charter member of its three-man ruling body, the National Commission, seemed to be especially vigilant about fighting any trace of gambling. On August 17, 1903, he ordered that all betting at his league’s ballparks be banned.4 But that Fall, as the NL champion Pittsburgh Pirates prepared to meet the AL champion Boston Americans in the first modern World Series, it was clear that gambling on baseball had never truly disappeared. Just before the Series began, Boston catcher Lou Criger was approached by gamblers who offered to bribe him and star pitcher Cy Young in order to ensure a Pittsburgh victory. Criger immediately reported the bribe to Johnson, who exposed and denounced the plot. Criger was rewarded for his honesty when his career ended, as Johnson paid him a pension out of American League funds for many years afterward.5 No action was taken against the gamblers; their identities were never revealed.

In the ensuing decade, rumors of game-fixing surfaced periodically, often accompanied by increased betting activity.6 Boston teams were involved in a number of these incidents. During the 1912 World Series, Red Sox star pitcher Smoky Joe Wood advised his friends and family to bet on Boston before his scheduled start in Game 6, with the Red Sox ahead three games to one (darkness ended one game in a tie). Wood had compiled a sterling 34-5 won-loss record in the regular season and had already beaten the New York Giants twice in the World Series. His teammates were so confident that Wood would clinch the championship that they were reportedly counting their winning shares on the train to New York after Game 5.7 Instead, prompted by team owner James McAleer’s orders,8 manager Jake Stahl started the unseasoned Buck O’Brien. The Red Sox lost that game and a furious Wood, embarrassed at having advised his friends wrong, lost the next one, too. Boston finally clinched the championship in a memorable Game 8, but syndicated reporter Hugh Fullerton warned of gamblers’ influence in baseball:

The muckerishness of the “fan” is exceeding itself in muck this fall. Boston howled that it was “all fixed” then raved over the team when it won. [So] New York screamed that the Giants were throwing the series. … For a comparatively trifling bet Wood risked Boston’s title and the wealth that accrued to the winners. Stamp out gambling and the end of talk of crookedness is at hand.9

It was no coincidence that a Boston team was involved in both of these controversies. By the middle of the decade, as theater mogul Harry Frazee took over as owner of the Red Sox, the city was “regarded as the biggest center of baseball gambling” in the country.10 Boston gamblers such as Joseph “Sport” Sullivan, who would later figure prominently in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, and Jim Costello were familiar faces in the hotels and bars where ballplayers congegrated.11 An American League investigator later claimed that Frazee “entertains more gamblers in his right field pavilion every day than the rest of the majors combined.”12 Nor was the activity contained to Fenway Park; the National League’s Boston Braves were reported to have a similar laissez-faire attitude toward gamblers, as well.13

Frazee-Harry2

Harry Frazee

Frazee had bought the Red Sox from Joseph Lannin in 1916 — the first sale of an American League team that had ever happened without the approval of the powerful Ban Johnson,14 who liked to handpick the owners in his league and, until Frazee, had always found a way to do so. A feud between the two erupted instantly. Frazee, who became a millionaire by age 35 producing screenplays and building theaters in Chicago, New York and Boston,15 was an independently wealthy outsider who could not be controlled by the AL president. Johnson’s unsolicited recommendations for player trades and managerial hires usually went unheeded by Frazee. His apparent indifference to gamblers only made Johnson more determined to get rid of him.

After the events of June 16, 1917, Johnson had a prime opportunity to run Frazee out of the league — and to stamp out the gamblers once and for all. The Sporting News called that day’s riot at Fenway Park “one of the most disgraceful scenes ever witnessed in a major league ball park.”16 The first-place Chicago White Sox were in Boston for a pivotal series with the second-place Red Sox, the defending World Series champions. Despite a rain-soaked field, Lefty Williams’ pitching paced Chicago to an 8-0 shutout in the series opener on Friday, June 15 to put the White Sox ahead in the standings by two and a half games.17 Both teams’ aces, Eddie Cicotte for the White Sox and Babe Ruth for the Red Sox, were set to take the mound the following afternoon.

1917 -- 06-16 - Ad for todays game - Red Sox-White Sox - Boston Herald

A violent thunderstorm continued to pound the Atlantic Coast on Saturday, June 16. But there were no metaphorical dark clouds hovering over Fenway Park that could have forecasted what was about to unfold. The Red Sox had been riding a wave of success for two months and ended the month of May on a 10-game winning streak. But recently, their fortunes had turned. Entering the June 16 game against Chicago, Boston had lost eight of its last eleven, including a season-high three games in a row. Hometown bettors were confident that “The Babe,” the 22-year-old star from Baltimore, could end their skid. This White Sox lineup had a reputation of faring poorly against left-handed pitchers, with at least one Chicago writer claiming their struggles had cost them the pennant in 1916. In Ruth’s most recent start at Comiskey Park, however, the White Sox chased him after two innings and ended his personal eight-game winning streak.18

A crowd of 9,405 filed into Fenway Park for the 3 o’clock afternoon start.19 Most fans, including three visiting French army officers on leave from the world war that the United States had reluctantly entered in April, were scattered in the infield box seats, under cover of the overhanging roof. The rest of the spectators took their spots in the right field bleachers. That was where the usual contingent of “sporting men” gathered daily to place wagers, large and small, on the games. Harry Frazee claimed he had recently installed a special police force in that section to break up the gambling,20 but few arrests, if any, were ever made. As the Chicago Tribune‘s James Crusinberry wrote, “Any one present … can see the transactions and hear them plainly.”21 At any rate, only five or six police officers, led by Sergeant Louis C. Lutz of the Boylston Street station, were reportedly on duty at Fenway Park on June 16.22

Ruth-Babe-BOS

Babe Ruth

The atmosphere was tense from the start. Before the game began, White Sox manager Clarence “Pants” Rowland filed an official protest with umpires Tommy Connolly and Barry McCormick because the Red Sox lineup card turned in by manager Jack Barry included the names of two pitchers, Sam Jones and Weldon Wyckoff, who were listed as reserves but were not in uniform.23 In the second inning, after Babe Ruth issued the first of his five walks, Connolly ejected hot-headed Red Sox pitcher Carl Mays for arguing from the bench.24 By then, Chicago had already taken a 1-0 lead on an RBI double by Shoeless Joe Jackson in the first inning. As a steady drizzle came down from the sky, the crowd began to get restless. 

More trouble began brewing in the fourth inning, this time off the field. After Ruth got two quick outs, Happy Felsch walked, advanced on a passed ball, and scored on a Chick Gandil single for the White Sox’s second run. Heavier rain began to fall, and a few fans from the outfield bleachers ran across the field to the covered pavilion, stopping play for several minutes. Cries of “Call the game!” began to be heard as the White Sox were retired in the top half of the inning. The refrain only increased in volume as Cicotte set down the Boston hitters in order; the Boston Globe reported that “it seemed as if every man in the bleachers was shouting.”25

In the fifth, Ruth again recorded two quick outs, as Ray Schalk flew out to center field and Cicotte grounded out to the shortstop. Then, as leadoff hitter John (Shano) Collins stepped to the plate for the White Sox, all hell broke loose. A crowd of about 300 fans from the right field bleachers, led by “some tall man in a long rain coat,”26 suddenly began leaping over the fence and marching onto the playing field. Barry McCormick, a former Chicago Cubs infielder in his first season as a major league umpire, immediately called time and “stood gazing in amazement” to see what the crowd would do. But “they didn’t rush at the players or umpires,” the Chicago Tribune reported. “Instead of fighting, the mob simply surged out upon the field, clear up into the diamond and stood around.”27 They were obviously stalling for time. If the rain continued, the field would soon be deemed unplayable and the game would have to be called off. In addition to cutting their losses from a betting angle, the fans displayed a keen sense of timing for their invasion. All spectators retained rain-check privileges if the game was called before four-and-one-half innings were complete, which was the American League rule at the time.28 There was still one out remaining before the game was official.

Umpire Tommy Connolly, who was one of Ban Johnson’s original hires for the American League in 1901,29 looked around for police officers to help herd the mob off the field. He saw none. Five officers were somewhere in the stands, but they could not be found. The Globe reported: “Those who were on duty were not on the playing field as they have been in former years and unquestionably the psychological effect of the presence of the men in blue would have deterred the invaders from scaling the fence.”30 Connolly and Red Sox manager Jack Barry, taking charge, approached the leaders of the mob and persuaded them to leave the field so the game would not have to be forfeited to Chicago. The fans did not retreat to their old seats in the bleachers, but climbed into the grandstand boxes instead. Just when play was about to resume, “new leaders and recruits came from the gamblers’ stand … then the first crowd piled out of the boxes again. This time, the mob was riotous.”31

Lutz-Louis-PHOTO-patrolman-circa-1902

Sgt. Louis Lutz, circa 1902

McCormick immediately ordered the Red Sox off the field and both teams attempted to exit under the stands through the Boston dugout. A melee ensued. The mob converged on the players, and the five late-arriving police officers were helpless to assist. White Sox catcher Ray Schalk verbally berated Sergeant Lutz for several minutes. “In language not suitable for parlor, he questioned the courage of a patrolman, who was willing to show him, using Ray as the subject, that he was game enough.”32 Lutz went looking for Schalk after the game, but was persuaded not to fight the future Hall of Famer. Connolly, working as the field umpire instead of behind the plate that day, found Harry Frazee sitting in the dugout and fumed to the Red Sox owner that the game would have already been forfeited if he had been in charge.

The White Sox were forced to fight their way off the field. Buck Weaver, a fiery infielder and former team captain with a perpetual smile no matter how tight a spot he was in, was never one to back down from a brawl. Weaver grabbed a baseball bat and started swinging in all directions. Reserve infielder Fred McMullin used a more traditional weapon — his fists — to get away from the violent scrum.33 Both teams escaped safely to the clubhouse and milled around under the stands for more than 35 minutes before the Boston police sent officers on horseback to Fenway Park to restore order. In the Tribune, Crusinberry wrote: “It was the boldest piece of business ever perpetrated by a baseball crowd.”

Immediately, Crusinberry and other writers blamed gamblers for the riot:

The trouble was started by the horde of gamblers that assembles each day in the right field pavilion and carries on operations with as much vigor and vim as one would see in the wheat pit of the Chicago board of trade. … The truth is that during [Boston’s losing streak] the last two weeks, the gamblers here have been stung, stung for a greater amount than in years. When they saw they were likely to get another trimming and that it might be averted by breaking up the ball game, they incited the fans to riot.34

In The Sporting News, George S. Robbins wrote:

The result is one of the most disgraceful scenes ever witnessed in a major league ball park. A riot of fans incensed at what are believed to be unfair decisions by umpires is one thing … but when a horde of gamblers, permitted to run riot in a major league ball park, seek to stop a ball game, and urge hoodlums to attack visiting players to save their dirty coin — that is still another thing. All the rowdyism that could be crowded into a season … can not do the game half as much damage as the one incident that occurred in Boston last Saturday.35

1917 -- 06-17 -- Boston Globe gamblers riot cartoon

Cartoon published in the Boston Globe, June 17, 1917

Player-fan violence was not atypical in that era. Displeased fans were known to throw anything from lemons to glass bottles onto the field, and sometimes players threw them back.36 A player climbing into the stands to retaliate against persistent verbal abuse was also not unheard of — at least two Hall of Famers, Rube Waddell and Ty Cobb, were punished by Ban Johnson for beating up spectators, and another, manager/executive Ed Barrow, was escorted to jail for throwing a bucket of water over jeering fans during an exhibition game in Nashville, Tennessee.37 Even Christy Mathewson, baseball’s first gentlemanly hero, once punched a lemonade boy passing in front of the bench supposedly for making a remark about a New York Giants teammate. After the game, several thousand people reportedly mobbed the Giants and “pelted them with stones and other missiles before police could quell the mob.”38 The White Sox were not the first nor the last major league team to tangle with a rowdy crowd.

Now that the rain had stopped, the field at Fenway Park was in decent shape after everyone was finally cleared off the playing surface. Despite the gamblers’ efforts — or maybe because of them — umpires McCormick and Connolly ordered the game to go on. But they encountered resistance from a surprising source: Harry Frazee. The Red Sox owner, who stood to make about $7,000 in gate receipts if his team got one more out and the game became official, inexplicably refused to permit his groundskeepers to remove the canvas tarpaulin that had covered the field while the rain was falling.39 McCormick pulled out his watch and gave Frazee an ultimatum: Remove the tarp or forfeit the game. Frazee finally relented. The infield dirt was still somewhat muddy, so sawdust was spread to make the field playable again.40 All told, the delay lasted 45 minutes before the game resumed. Collins then took his long-awaited turn at-bat with two outs in the fifth inning against Ruth. He flied out to center field.

Portrait of Buck Weaver

Buck Weaver

The White Sox extended their lead to 3-0 in the sixth inning on a two-out RBI single by Happy Felsch while Eddie Cicotte continued to stifle the Boston hitters, tossing a shutout through the first seven innings. The Chicago ace, who turned 33 three days later, had developed into the top pitcher in the American League after being cast off in 1912 by the Red Sox, who considered him to be undisciplined and underachieving.41 He set career bests in 1917 with 28 wins and a 1.53 ERA, both league-leading totals. But Cicotte’s shutout bid ended in the eighth inning as the Red Sox nicked him for two runs on four hits to cut the lead to 3-2. They would get no closer.

The White Sox put the game out of reach in the ninth, scoring four more runs to set their final winning margin at 7-2. The big blow was Buck Weaver’s home run over Fenway’s 31-foot-high wooden wall42 — not yet painted green or called a Monster — in deep left field, a rare feat in the Deadball Era. As a team, the Red Sox had only hit six home runs over the left-field wall since the ballpark had opened in 1912, an average of about one per season.43 The mighty blast, which carried out to Lansdowne Street outside the ballpark, did little to endear Weaver to the rowdy fans who had witnessed him swinging his bat during the riot. He reportedly dodged a pop bottle thrown at him after the game.44 The mounted policemen, who “watched the rest of the game from their saddles” following the riot,45 helped keep the violence to a minimum as the White Sox left the ballpark.  

1912-Fenway-Park-police-horses-color

Weaver was out of harm’s way physically — but not legally. When the White Sox returned to Fenway Park on Monday, June 18 for a Bunker Hill Day doubleheader, he and teammate Fred McMullin were served with arrest warrants between games. A Boston fan, Augustine Joseph McNally, a 37-year-old paper mill worker from Norwood,46 had filed assault charges against the pair stemming from the gamblers’ riot. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the Chicago Tribune reported that “during the fussing [McNally] is supposed to have bumped McMullin’s fist with his eye. Also he is supposed to have had his fingers on the railing just when Weaver let his bat fall.”47

McMullin-Fred-1919

Fred McMullin

Because the White Sox were scheduled to begin their 27-hour train ride home immediately after the second game, the hearing was deferred until Chicago’s next trip east in the summer. Nathan Tufts, the district attorney of Middlesex County, put up his house as security that the players would appear in court when they returned to Boston.48

In the meantime, American League president Ban Johnson was angry enough to assault someone himself — preferably Frazee. He announced to the press that gambling would be stamped out in Boston “regardless of cost” and took a shot at the Red Sox owner in the process:

Gambling never has been tolerated by our league. There was an attempt to introduce it on a large scale in New York early this year and we went after the guilty parties immediately. … President Frazee of the Boston club is new to baseball. There are many angles with which he is not entirely familiar. This constant effort of the gambling element to wedge into baseball is something new to him. … If the Boston owners can not handle the situation, the league as a whole will go after the gambling clique.49

Johnson was especially disturbed by reports that there were not enough police officers present to quell the riot before it got out of hand. Frazee did not make the same mistake in the Monday doubleheader, with officers stationed on the field and four mounted police ready for any trouble. The only incident was a loud argument between White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil and Red Sox pitcher Ernie Shore,50 coaching on the baselines, but it was stopped by umpire McCormick before any punches were thrown.51 The Sporting News chastised Frazee for looking the other way during Saturday’s riot: “If this had been the first time that gamblers had staged a disturbance in a Boston park, the club management might have some excuse for saying it was unexpected, but it was not the first time,52 not by several years. But it is likely to be the last, if Ban Johnson has his way.”53

Ban-Johnson-headline1

Johnson pressed Frazee to take serious action against gamblers. When it became clear that Frazee had no intention to do so, the AL president made a special trip to Boston. “This thing has gone far enough,” he declared. “I am going after it strong.”54 Frazee suspected that Johnson was actually more interested in going after him. He was right. When Johnson was quoted as saying “gambling was countenanced by the Boston club” and that “Frazee would be forced to sell his holdings,” Frazee responded: “I have done and will continue to do everything I can to stamp out gambling, but I absolutely will not allow Mr. Johnson to single out the Boston Red Sox as a target.”55

Comiskey-Charles

Charles Comiskey

White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, who had once been a close friend of Johnson’s but was no longer on speaking terms with him, rushed to Frazee’s defense: “The subterfuge under which Johnson would force Frazee out of the American League is that he has gambling in his park. No greater joke was ever perpetrated.”56 The feud between Frazee and Johnson escalated over the next two years, ranging over such topics as a disputed suspension of pitcher Carl Mays and the US War Department’s “work or fight” decree that forced baseball to end its season early in 1918. Later, Frazee would join forces with Comiskey’s White Sox and the New York Yankees to form the “Insurrectionists” against Johnson and lobby for federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to take over as baseball’s sole authority figure. 

In December 1918, Johnson’s investigation culminated in the arrest and conviction of thirty-three gamblers known to be operating in Boston, including at Fenway Park. Frazee took the credit for himself, claiming he had been working with police detectives and Suffolk County District Attorney Joseph Pelletier to eliminate the problem.57 He may well have been, but Pelletier was not exactly known for his ethical scruples. In 1921 he was removed from office by the Massachusetts Supreme Court after charges of extortion and malfeasance. Nathan Tufts, the Middlesex County DA who prosecuted the White Sox assault case, was also removed from office in 1921 for the same reasons.58

Weaver and McMullin waited months for their day in court. During the White Sox’s next trip to Boston in July 1917, their hearing was again adjourned. When they returned on September 21, McNally, their accuser, did not show up. The judge dismissed the assault charges. Afterward, he talked baseball with the players until it was time for the next case.59 By then, the White Sox were coasting to the American League pennant, propelled largely by a stretch of 18 wins in 19 games between August 23 and September 14.60 Weaver suffered a broken hand in early September and McMullin stepped in admirably to replace him at third base. When Weaver returned, the “super-sub” McMullin was playing so well that manager Pants Rowland kept him in the lineup and shifted Weaver to shortstop for the postseason.61 The lineup was successful, as the White Sox defeated the New York Giants in a six-game World Series.

Despite Ban Johnson’s public pronouncements in 1917, gambling remained as pervasive in baseball as it had always been, particularly in Boston. The following year, Cincinnati Reds infielders Lee Magee and Hal Chase were accused of throwing games to the Braves after approaching a Boston-based gambler, Jim Costello, with the proposition.62 Magee was never officially punished, but was quietly blackballed from the major leagues. Chase, widely considered to be the most crooked player in baseball history, became a major figure in the 1919 Black Sox scandal — a plot that also had roots in Boston. It was at Boston’s Hotel Buckminster in September 1919 where the White Sox’s Chick Gandil met with the gambler Sport Sullivan to plan the fixing of the World Series.63 Sullivan had not been arrested in Ban Johnson’s gambling sweep in 1918.

Baseball officials mostly turned a blind eye until they had no choice but to deal with the gambling menace. As historians Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills wrote in Baseball: The Golden Age:

The evidence is abundantly clear … that the groundwork for the crooked 1919 World Series, like most striking events in history, was long prepared. The scandal was not an aberration brought about solely by a handful of villainous players. It was a culmination of corruption and attempts at corruption that reached back nearly twenty years. Nevertheless, when the scandal of 1919 became public knowledge, the men who controlled Organized Baseball acted as though it were a freakish exception, a sort of unholy mutation.64

After learning during the World Series that his team had arranged a plot to throw the games, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey “seemed to be doing his best to simultaneously collect all the evidence he could and suppress that evidence. He knew at once that if the fix became public knowledge, he could lose the service of some of his most talented players.”65 Ban Johnson, meanwhile, stopped at nothing to ensure that his friend-turned-foe Comiskey was thoroughly embarrassed in the 1919 World Series scandal. He spent thousands of dollars of the American League’s money to dig up information on the accused Chicago players, even going so far as to track down one of the gamblers, “Sleepy” Bill Burns, who had fled across the border to Mexico. Burns, a former White Sox pitcher, became the prosecution’s star witness when the Black Sox went on trial in the summer of 1921.66

In the end, Johnson’s determination to punish his enemies backfired on everyone. When the owners sought to replace the ineffective National Commission as baseball’s ruling power in 1920, Comiskey, Frazee and New York Yankees co-owners Jacob Ruppert and Cap Huston — the Insurrectionists — joined the eight National League owners to recommend Kenesaw Mountain Landis, not Johnson, as baseball’s first czar. As commissioner, Landis ruled the game with an iron fist for the next two decades, and Johnson clashed with him often. Johnson was forced out as American League president in 1927 after even the five AL owners still loyal to him got tired of the feuding.67 Burdened by increasing debt as Red Sox attendance plummeted during the war, Frazee sold off all of his star players, including Babe Ruth, and finally got rid of the team entirely in 1923. Johnson, predictably, was delighted when he heard the news.68

Largely because of Johnson’s efforts to find Bill Burns, the World Series scandal finally came to light at the end of the 1920 season. Seven White Sox players — Buck Weaver, Eddie Cicotte, Chick Gandil, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Happy Felsch, Swede Risberg and Lefty Williams — were eventually acquitted in a farce of a trial that featured stolen confessions, prosecutorial clumsiness and a post-verdict dinner party involving the jurors and players.69 Despite widely varying degrees of guilt, Landis levied the same punishment on all eight Chicago players: banishment for life. Landis’ strong reaction, like NL president William Hulbert nearly 50 years before him, helped restore confidence in the game during its “darkest hour.”70 Babe Ruth, the Red Sox’s starting pitcher in the gamblers riot game on June 16, 1917, took care of the rest.

The harshness of the Landis sanctions – particularly in the case of Buck Weaver – has long been the subject of criticism. But the punitive treatment of the Chicago players was a product of baseball’s struggles in the early twentieth century to effectively deal with the gambling element that was pervasive throughout the game. The 1917 Boston gamblers riot was one of the most highly visible links between gambling and baseball in that era, and it might have served as a catalyst for baseball to rid itself of the menace once and for all. Instead, Ban Johnson’s anger was directed mostly at Harry Frazee; his quest to get rid of the Red Sox owner took precedence over kicking gamblers out of Fenway Park or any other ballpark. It took the severity of the Black Sox scandal, plus Judge Landis’ unilateral decision to permanently punish every player associated with it, to finally make it clear that gambling and baseball would not be allowed to mix so freely ever again.

Boston Post gamblers riot photo 19170617_Page_1

This is the only known photo of the Fenway Park Gamblers Riot, published in the Boston Post on June 17, 1917

 

NOTES

1. Daniel E. Ginsburg, The Fix Is In: A History of Baseball Gambling and Game Fixing Scandals (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1995) 2.

2. Ginsburg, 44-48. The four Louisville players involved in the 1877 scandal were star pitcher Jim Devlin, outfielder George Hall, shortstop Bill Craver and substitute Al Nichols. The Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 are generally considered to be baseball’s first professional team.

3. Ginsburg, 49. Ginsburg wrote that the Louisville incident was “baseball’s greatest scandal until the Black Sox in 1919.”

4. Ginsburg, 70.

5. Ibid.

6. But not always. The most famous game-fixing incident in the first decade of the World Series era occurred in 1910, when popular Cleveland star Napoleon Lajoie was credited with an improbable eight hits in eight at-bats during a season-ending doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns to win the coveted batting title over the hated Ty Cobb of Detroit. Ban Johnson’s subsequent investigation found that Browns manager Jack O’Connor had ordered third baseman John “Red” Corriden to play well behind third base, and Lajoie, who was known for his powerful hitting, responded by laying down six bunt singles. Johnson also learned that Browns pitcher Harry Howell had written a note to the St. Louis official scorer, promising him a suit if he gave Lajoie the benefit of the doubt during his at-bats. Despite this evidence, Johnson publicly absolved Corriden, O’Connor and Howell, clearing them of all wrongdoing. Author Daniel E. Ginsburg wrote that Johnson’s reasoning “is generally believed to be the wish to avoid exposure of the scandal, but some historians feel that O’Connor’s role in helping to recruit players for Johnson during the American League’s early days was a factor in Johnson’s decision.” In any case, O’Connor and Howell were quietly released by the St. Louis club in the offseason and never worked for a major league team again.

7. Michael T. Lynch Jr., Harry Frazee, Ban Johnson and the Feud That Nearly Destroyed the American League. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2008) 32.

8. Mike Kopf, “Jimmy McAleer and the 1912 World Series.” RobNeyer.com. Articles related to Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders accessed online at http://www.robneyer.com/book_05_Serious1912.html on October 10, 2011.

9. Hugh S. Fullerton, “In The Wake Of The News,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 20, 1912.

10. “Bar Gamblers From Fenway Park Games,” Boston Telegram, May 3, 1921; “American League Records – Black Sox Collection, 1914-1969,” San Diego Public Library, San Diego, California.

11. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills, Baseball: The Golden Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011 ed.) 290-291.

12. Harry Neily letter to Ban Johnson, February 2, 1921; “American League Records – Black Sox Collection, 1914-1969,” San Diego Public Library, San Diego, California.

13. Irving Stein, The Ginger Kid: The Buck Weaver Story (Dubuque, Iowa: The Elysian Fields Press, 1992) 88; George S. Robbins, “Can’t Hold Off Any Longer In This Case,” The Sporting News, Jun. 21, 1917.

14. Daniel R. Levitt, Mark L. Armour and Matthew Levitt, “History versus Harry Frazee: Re-revising the Story,” The Baseball Research Journal, Vol. 37 (SABR, 2008).

15. Lynch, 41-42.

16. Robbins, “Can’t Hold Off Any Longer In This Case.”

17. George S. Robbins, “Joe Jackson’s Drive Starts Sox Scoring,” Chicago Daily News, Jun. 15, 1917.

18. George S. Robbins, “White Sox No Longer Fear the Southpaws,” Chicago Daily News, Jun. 12, 1917. Ruth had lost to White Sox, 8-2 on May 18 at Comiskey Park.

19. Edward F. Martin, “Loss of Punch Beats Red Sox,” Boston Globe, Jun. 17, 1917.

20. John Alcock, “Sox Riot Brings Vow of War on Gamblers by Prexy Johnson,” Chicago Tribune. Jun. 18, 1917.

21. James Crusinberry, “Riot at Sox Game Started by Gamblers of Boston,” Chicago Tribune, Jun. 18, 1917.

22. Edward F. Martin, “Fans Crowd on Fenway Diamond,” Boston Globe. Jun. 17, 1917.

23. Ibid.

24. “White Sox Notes,” Chicago Tribune, Jun. 19, 1917. The Tribune reported that an ejection from the bench was supposed to earn the offending player a three-day suspension, according to a 1916 rule adopted by the American League. But Mays’ suspension was not enforced for unknown reasons, so he was able to start and beat the White Sox in the morning game on June 18. Two years later, Ban Johnson did enforce a suspension against Mays in a controversy that figured prominently in the overhaul of baseball’s power structure and the hiring of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the first commissioner.

25. Martin, “Fans Crowd on Fenway Diamond”; George S. Robbins, “Rowlanders Win In Riotous Game,” Chicago Daily News, Jun. 16, 1917.

26. James Crusinberry, “Fans in Boston Riot on Field as Sox Win, 7-2,” Chicago Tribune, Jun. 17, 1917.

27. Ibid. Italics are the author’s.

28. Crusinberry, “Riot at Sox Game Started by Gamblers of Boston.” Under today’s rules, unlike in 1917, a game is not official until four-and-one-half innings are complete (if the home team is ahead) or five full innings are complete (if the visiting team is ahead). The host Red Sox, down by two runs, had yet to bat in the fifth inning.

29. “Tommy Connolly,” The Sporting News Umpire Index Cards. Retrosheet, Inc., Newark, Delaware. Accessed online at http://retrosheet.org/TSNUmpireCards/Connolly-Thomas.jpg on November 21, 2011.

30. Martin, “Fans Crowd on Fenway Diamond.”

31. Crusinberry, “Fans in Boston Riot on Field as Sox Win, 7-2.”

32. Martin, “Fans Crowd on Fenway Diamond.”

33. “Two Sox Served With Warrants,” Chicago Tribune, Jun. 19, 1917.

34. Crusinberry, “Riot at Sox Game Started by Gamblers of Boston.”

35. Robbins, “Can’t Hold Off Any Longer In This Case.”

36. Seymour and Seymour Mills, 112-114. They cite the 1907 case of Cubs player-manager Frank Chance, a future Hall of Famer, “badly injuring” a boy in the crowd at Brooklyn when he threw a pop bottle back into the stands. Later Chance admitted he had made a mistake, pleading that he had been “provoked beyond human patience.”

37. Ibid. The Cobb incident in 1912 is particularly noteworthy as it was one of the first player strikes in baseball history. The Detroit Tigers star was suspended indefinitely by Ban Johnson for assaulting a disabled fan who had been viciously heckling him at Hilltop Park in New York. All eighteen of Cobb’s Detroit teammates, many of whom disliked him personally, refused to take the field the next day against Philadelphia. The Tigers management hastily recruited a makeshift roster of local semi-pros that was drubbed 24-2 by the A’s in a farce of a game. Facing suspensions and fines, and at Cobb’s urging, the Tigers players returned to work the next day.

38. Seymour and Seymour Mills, 115.

39. Crusinberry, “Riot at Sox Game Started by Gamblers of Boston”; Crusinberry, “Fans in Boston Riot on Field as Sox Win, 7-2.”

40. Ibid.

41. Jim Sandoval, “Eddie Cicotte.” SABR Baseball Biography Project. Accessed online at http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/1f272b1a on November 21, 2011.

42. Edward F. Martin, “Loss of Punch Beats Red Sox,” Boston Globe, Jun. 17, 1917; Philip Lowry. Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebration of Major League and Negro League Ballparks (New York: Walker Publishing Co., Inc., 3rd. ed., 2006) 28-30. Lowry’s research shows that in Fenway’s original dimensions before reconstruction in 1934, the wall that would later become the “Monster” was 25 feet high and made of wood on top of a 6-foot inclined slope (“Duffy’s Cliff”) in left field. Thus, Weaver’s home run cleared a 31-foot-high barrier.

43. E-mail to the author from Red Sox historian Bill Nowlin, October 14, 2011. Nowlin added: “In the six seasons from 1912 to 1917, the Red Sox hit 106 home runs — but only 23 of them were hit at Fenway Park while the other 83 were hit on the road.”

44. Stein, 89.

45. “White Sox Notes,” The Chicago Tribune, Jun. 17, 1917.

46. Ancestry.com. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918; 1920 United States Federal Census; 1930 United States Federal Census. Provo, Utah, 2005. Accessed online at Ancestry.com on October 18, 2011. The Bird Heritage: An American Success Story (Norwell, Mass.: Bird Inc., 1987).

47. “Two Sox Served With Warrants,” Chicago Tribune, Jun. 19, 1917.

48. Ibid.

49. Alcock, “Sox Riot Brings Vow of War on Gamblers By Prexy Johnson.”

50. Exactly one week after the gamblers’ riot, Boston’s Ernie Shore pitched one of the most famous games in baseball history. On June 23, 1917, Red Sox starter Babe Ruth walked the first Washington batter of the game and was immediately ejected for arguing with umpire Brick Owens. Shore entered in relief, the runner was thrown out stealing, and he then proceeded to set down the next 26 Washington hitters in order — a perfect game, or so it seemed. The controversy remained alive for decades before a baseball rules committee in 1991 officially credited Ruth and Shore with a combined no-hitter instead of a perfect game because a runner had reached base.

51. “White Sox Notes,” Chicago Tribune, Jun. 19, 1917.

52. In his Sporting News column “Can’t Hold Off Any Longer In This Case,” Robbins claimed that on the Red Sox’s last trip to Chicago, on May 18-20,1917, Boston gamblers had made up a story that White Sox manager Pants Rowland was about to be fired by owner Charles Comiskey. Their goal was apparently to upset the White Sox so much that the Red Sox would win and their heavy bets would pay off. Instead, the White Sox took two of three games, outscoring Boston 17-6 in the series.

53. Robbins, “Can’t Hold Off Any Longer In This Case.”

54. Lynch, 47.

55. “Frazee Sees Spite in Johnson Attack,” Boston Globe, Dec. 17, 1918.

56. Lynch, 56.

57. Ibid.

58. “Ask Impeachment of J.C. Pelletier,” New York Times, Sept. 30, 1921. “Pelletier Resigns As Knights’ Advocate,” New York Times, Jun. 30, 1922.

59. Stein, 90.

60. “1917 Chicago White Sox.” BaseballLibrary.com. Accessed online on November 21, 2011.

61. “Shifts White Sox,” Chicago Tribune, Sept. 19, 1917.

62. Seymour and Seymour Mills, 291.

63. Lynch, 249. Lynch uses Eliot Asinof’s evidence in Eight Men Out (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1963) and Glenn Stout’s evidence in Red Sox Century (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000) to determine that the most likely date of the Gandil-Sullivan meeting was September 18, 1919, the night before a White Sox game at Fenway Park.

64 Seymour and Seymour Mills, 293.

65. Gene Carney, Burying the Black Sox: How Baseball’s Cover-Up of the 1919 World Series Fix Almost Succeeded (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2006) 101.

66. “American League Records – Black Sox Collection, 1914-1969,” San Diego Public Library, San Diego, California.

67. Seymour and Seymour Mills, 320-323.

68. “Johnson Elated That Frazee Finally Is Out of Baseball,” The Sporting News, Jul. 19, 1923.

69. The charges against Fred McMullin and the other defendants who had not shown up for trial were dismissed by prosecutors shortly after the jury rendered its Not Guilty verdict. See Boston Globe/Los Angeles Times/Washington Post, Aug. 4, 1921.

70. Seymour and Seymour Mills, 294.