Remembering the Black Sox, and some who weren’t “black”

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the 1919 World Series, the one that was fixed. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox (or was it really just seven) threw the Series so crooked gamblers could cash in on a Cincinnati upset win. Cincinnati did win the best of nine series, five games to three.

Harry Stein has a good account of it in this article for City Journal. I’d like to add a few side notes.

First, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, the biggest star among the Black Sox, batted .375 in this World Series. At the plate, he went 12 for 32 with a home run and drove in 6 runs in 8 games. His OPS was .957 (not bad for the “dead ball era”). This was better than his offensive performance in the 1917 Series, which was on the up-and-up and which Chicago won.

In the field, Jackson played errorless ball and had one outfield assist.

This doesn’t mean that Jackson didn’t “throw” some at-bats. What it shows is Jackson’s greatness as a player. How many players could have a performance like his while tanking even a little?

Second, Dickey Kerr, who wasn’t on the take and who won both of his starts, went on to manage Stan Musial in the low minor leagues. Musial was a pitcher at the time, and a good one. However, he suffered a career threatening arm injury in a freak accident.

Kerr encouraged Musial to keep playing, but as a position player, not a pitcher. Kerr invited Musial and his pregnant wife to live with him and his family while he transitioned into a full time hitter. When Musial’s wife gave birth to a son, Stan named him Dickey.

In 1958, nearly 20 years later, Musial was the best hitter in the National League and Kerr was out of baseball working, at age 65, for an electrical company in Houston. The two met up in Houston where the St. Louis Cardinals were playing an exhibition game.

Before leaving town, Musial bought his old mentor a house for somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000. At the time Musial was making $100,000. (To put these numbers in the perspective of the late 1950s, the comfortable four bedroom house my parents purchased in the D.C. suburbs the year before cost $18,000). Kerr lived in that house until he died from cancer five years later.

Third, Nemo Leibold played in the outfield for Chicago, along with Black Sox Jackson and Happy Felsch. Leibold was not on the take, but managed only one hit in 18 at-bats.

Leibold went on to play in two World Series for the Washington Senators (1924 and 1925). When he passed away in 1977, one headline read, “An honest man dies.”

Fourth, you never hear much about the Cincinnati team that won the 1919 World Series. It was a fine team that, although the underdog in the Series, had a substantially better record than the White Sox did. Cincinnati went 96-44 in the regular season. The White Sox were 88-52.

The two stars for Cincinnati were Edd Roush, a future Hall of Famer, and Heine Groh, perhaps the best third baseman of the dead ball era.

However, their hitting star in the World Series was Greasy Neale. He went 10-28 with an OPS of .864. Not as good as Shoeless Joe, but by far the best of any Cincinnati Red.

Neale liked to boast that he hit a triple off of Kerr, who was honest. He also claimed that all the pitchers were honest after the first game, when the Black Sox didn’t receive their money.

During his baseball years, Neale worked as a college football coach in the off season. His college coaching career continued after he retired from baseball in 1924. It included stints as head coach of the University of Virginia (1923–1928) and West Virginia University (1931–1933).

Perhaps his proudest college coaching accomplishment occurred in 1922 while he was still a baseball player. He led Washington & Jefferson to the Rose Bowl. The “Presidents” tied might California.

In 1941, Neale became an NFL coach with the Philadelphia Eagles. He led the Eagles to the NFL championship in 1948 and 1949, winning both title games by shutouts.

Neale is a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the NFL Hall of Fame. Combine that with a World Series win as a player, a trip to the Rose Bowl as a college coach, and two NFL championships as a pro coach, and you have a pretty good legacy.