The commissioner of baseball found that eight members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to fix the World Series in 1919 in exchange for cash bribes. The "Black Sox" scandal that forced "Shoeless" Joe Jackson's squad into banishment from the game is the most infamous black eye in Major League Baseball history. It's not the only time something like that happened in baseball, but it's the event we know the most about.
That's why the discovery of 4 1/2 minutes of footage from the '19 Series is such an important find. The silent footage from British Canadian Pathé News doesn't necessarily inform us much about the scandal itself, but it certainly gives us a time-capsule glimpse into what baseball looked like nearly 100 years ago. While the edges of the film are degraded, the center of the frames is astonishingly clear and sharp. Most of all, it's just neat.
Even for fans familiar with the scandal and the Joe Jackson era, the closest thing most probably have seen to video of him playing ball was in movies such as "Eight Men Out." This is the real deal, and it's just one of 85,000 films British Pathé recently uploaded in high def to YouTube.
Aesthetically, the best parts are the panoramic shots of Comiskey Park in Chicago and Crosley Field in Cincinnati — which fans of a certain age remember and even might have visited before they were demolished. It's fun to see the players warm up, shake hands with each other and even the game footage from far away is provocative.
Jacob Pomrenke at SABR has blogged about the film's release, and says some of the footage appears to show a key play in the fourth inning of Game 1 that increased suspicion that something untoward was happening behind the scenes:
A quick 3-second clip beginning at the 3:06 mark of the video online appears to be one of the most disputed plays of the World Series, one of the plays famously circled by sports writer Hugh Fullerton on his scorecard in the press box: the botched double play ball hit by the Reds' Larry Kopf and fielded by White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte in the fourth inning.
Cicotte was said to have made "a dazzling play" to field the ball, but Swede Risberg was unable to turn the double play. At full speed, the play doesn't appear to be unusually suspicious and it is impossible to tell with any certainty whether Cicotte's throw to Swede Risberg at second base was too low or too slow, or whether Risberg delayed in making the double-play throw to Chick Gandil at first base. But according to the Chicago Tribune account of the game afterward, the Reds' 5-run rally in that inning "hung on the toenail" of Kopf beating the throw to first.
Only one thing is for sure: All three of the White Sox players involved in that play later admitted to receiving bribe money from gamblers to fix the World Series.
There are some other smaller cool details to watch for, too:
• After the last out of an inning is made, a player heads from the bench to his position in the field and picks up his glove — which he had left in play, as players of that era often did.
• Puffs of smoke rising from men in the grandstand who were wearing hats that weren't baseball caps.
• A vendor making his way down an aisle.
• Mentioning of Dickie Kerr, a White Sox pitcher who won Game 3 (and wasn't involved in the fix)
• The hilarious gathering of fans in New York City (probably 99 percent gamblers) who "watched" the progress of the game on an intricate scoreboard — some kind of cuckoo clock-like contraption — updated by attendants probably getting information via telegraph. It was the Gameday of its time! Uni-Watch years ago wrote about this mechanical scoreboard called a Playograph.
• The aerial shot of Crosley (called Redland Field at the time) from a biplane (watch for its shadow on the ground).
• No dugouts at Redland — just benches!
• It's always worth noting about the Black Sox scandal that there's no evidence White Sox third baseman Buck Weaver took money. But he was banned anyway because he had heard about the fix and said nothing. Jackson has defenders too, but experts on the scandal often say the evidence does not support his innocence.
Enjoy this footage. You don't get to see stuff like this often.
Big BLS H/N: CBS Eye on Baseball
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