Both baseball and the nation as a whole celebrated the end of World War I in 1919. With the conflict in Europe drawing to a close, players who joined the military to support the war effort returned to their respective teams, raising the level of play in both major leagues. The sport once again flourished, with attendance figures at ballparks nearly doubling from the marks posted one year earlier. However, the national pastime suffered a devastating setback by season’s end when eight members of the American League champion Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers to fix the 1919 World Series.
The White Sox replaced Boston atop the American League standings in 1919, winning their second pennant in three years by finishing the abbreviated regular season with a record of 88-52, 3 ½ games ahead of the second-place Cleveland Indians. Clearly the junior circuit’s most well-balanced team, the White Sox led the league in runs scored (667) and finished second in runs allowed (534). Shoeless Joe Jackson paced Chicago on offense, placing among the A.L. leaders with 96 runs batted in, a .351 batting average, a .422 on-base percentage, and a .506 slugging percentage. Eddie Collins also contributed significantly to the Chicago attack, batting .319, compiling a .400 on-base percentage, and leading the league with 33 stolen bases. Meanwhile, Ed Cicotte and Lefty Williams gave the White Sox the league’s most formidable pitching duo. Cicotte posted a record of 29-7, to lead all A.L. hurlers in victories. He also topped the circuit with 306 innings pitched and 30 complete games, placed second with a 1.82 ERA, and threw five shutouts. Williams finished 23-11, with a 2.64 ERA and 298 innings pitched.
The White Sox subsequently entered the 1919 World Series as heavy favorites to defeat the less-talented Cincinnati Reds. However, history has recorded that eight Chicago players accepted bribes from known gamblers to throw the Fall Classic, which Cincinnati won, five games to three. In retrospect, the most dramatic moments of the Series took place in Games Three and Six, when Chicago pitcher Dickie Kerr overcame the best efforts of his eight dishonest teammates to post victories of 3-0 and 5-4 for his ball club. Ed Cicotte and Lefty Williams, both in on the fix, combined to lose all five games for Chicago, with Williams coming up short in all three of his starts. Meanwhile, Joe Jackson, the best-known conspirator, continued to proclaim his innocence through the years, pointing to his Series-high .375 batting average and six runs batted in.
Although the “Black Sox Scandal” nearly ruined the national pastime, presenting it in a far less favorable light to baseball fans everywhere, the 1919 campaign nevertheless produced a number of memorable moments and crowning achievements. Notable events from around the American League and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• Playing the outfield regularly for the first time in his career, Boston’s Babe Ruth established a new major league record by hitting 29 home runs (in only 432 at-bats). Ruth’s 29 homers put him 19 ahead of league runners-up Tilly Walker, George Sisler, and Frank Baker. Ruth also batted .322 and led the American League with 114 runs batted in, 103 runs scored, a .456 on-base percentage, and a .657 slugging percentage.
• Ruth became the first player to hit four grand slams in a season. He also became the first man to hit a home run in every A.L. ballpark in the same season.
• Washington’s Walter Johnson led all American League pitchers with a 1.49 ERA.
• Johnson pitched a record fifth Opening Day shutout by blanking the A’s 1-0 in 13 innings.
• Ty Cobb won his final American League batting title with a mark of .384.
• Ray Caldwell of Cleveland threw a no-hitter against New York on September 10.
• Doc Johnston of Cleveland established a new American League record by collecting a hit in nine consecutive trips to the plate.
• Tris Speaker led the American League in total chances by an outfielder for a record eighth straight season.
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- 1919 World Series, American League, Babe Ruth, Black Sox Scandal, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Doc Johnston, Eddie Cicotte, Eddie Collins, Frank Baker, George Sisler, Joe Jackson, Lefty Williams, Ray Caldwell, Tilly Walker, Tris Speaker, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson