Astros are bad, but they aren't the Black Sox

There were many people on social media and the mainstream media comparing the Astros sign stealing saga and that of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, or “Black Sox” as they were called.

There isn’t much of a comparison between the two. The ’19 Sox accepted money from gamblers to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.They lost on purpose.There was an absence of a will to win, therefore that series was never going to be competitive.

In Houston’s case, the desire to win was very much there, in a very insecure and immoral fashion.However the competitiveness between Houston and their opponents wasn’t in question. In 1919, it was.

During the 1919 World Series the White Sox pitchers crossed up catcher Ray Schalk (i.e. not throwing the pitch that was called) or shaking him off until they got the sign for the fastball.Eddie Ciccotte and Lefty Williams, the two pitches aces of the Sox, either grooved batting practice type fastballs over the plate or suddenly lost their control for an inning or two, allowing the Reds to have big innings.Cincinnati had a loaded and deep pitching staff, especially for that era, and easily made the big leads hold up.Their outfielders would play deep for weak hitters, and shallow or out of position for big hitters, and had some obvious base-running mistakes to waste potential big innings.

The Black Sox almost certainly weren’t the only team during the first twenty years of last century to throw a series of games.The seventh game of the 1912 Series was almost certainly lost on purpose by Red Sox starter Smokey Joe Wood.The 1914 Series has always been under suspicion when the “Miracle Braves” swept an Athletics team that was in the Fall Classic for the fourth time in five years and featured five Hall of Famers. Games in the 1915 and 1916 World Series have been under scrutiny, and that’s before I mention Hal Chase, a first baseman in the ‘00s and ‘10s who gambled and threw games his entire career.

When news of the 1919 World Series became public, baseball had to do something.They knew the issues that had plagued the game but were able to keep it away from the public.Everyone made money so everyone was happy.However, when the ’19 Series, do to so many people being involved and the entire Series being in doubt, found its way into the press, baseball “cleaned itself up.”Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, hired as the all-powerful commissioner of baseball (the first ever for a major sports league) suspended the players involved for life. Landis used the Black Sox as an example for the public.Other players whose dirty deeds occurred before or after were given the blind eye, and the Black Sox paid for everyone’s sins.

White Sox ace Eddie Ciccotte was 29-7 with a 1.82 ERA in 1919, but allowed 8 runs in 12.2 innings when he allowed himself to get slugged in his first two World Series starts.He’d turn the table on the gamblers with a win in Game Seven (that series was a best of 9).

And, like the steroid-fueled homerun race of 1998 that led fans back to baseball, Landis and the owners allowed new balls be put in play when they were scuffed, livelier balls that carried farther, and Babe Ruth and the modern day game were born.As is now the case, fans 100 years ago loved offense.

There was no bribery in the Astros case, which to some, may actually make their situation worse. However, they didn't win the Series in 2018 or 2019 despite their advantages, though they enjoyed outstanding regular seasons (oddly, their title came with their weakest team during that stretch. Two AL teams had a better run differential than Houston that season, and they had the second best WAR. They were clearly not the best in their own league that season or in 2018. In '17 they had one of the worst pitching staffs to ever win a title, according to ERA+ and other metrics). Therefore, the competitive, up in the air nature of sport was still there. The White Sox sold their careers for money, the Astros for winning. Neither was a good idea, but what Houston did isn’t in the same level as that of the White Sox.

Photos: cleveland.com, talkingchop.com

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