The 1919 Black Sox scandal is regarded as a shameful black eye on America’s national pastime. Baseball was America’s number one game and its betrayal left a nation stunned, searching for its innocence. The mystery, scarcity, and myths behind the scandal help to fuel the demand for some of the industry’s most desirable collectibles. Black Betsy, Joe Jacksons’ bat, or his simple shaky signature are nearly impossible to obtain. The great White Sox hurler Eddie Cicotte won 156 games in his 8 1/2 years with the pale hose. According to the 1920 census Cicotte was the head of a household of 12, making $4,000 a year. What choice would you make in the same situation? Should Joe Jackson, and Buck Weaver be reinstated or allowed in the Hall of Fame?
Their play was impeccable during the Series, and both proclaimed their innocence until their final days. Jackson ran a liquor store in his old age, while Buck Weaver opened a drug store in Chicago. Charles Walgreen of the Walgreen drugstore chain approached Buck to become his partner. Buck declined, the Great Depression hit, forcing Buck’s drug store to close. In an ironic twist he made his living in his later years as a betting clerk at a racetrack.
Â A savior was needed to rescue the tarnished game and he arrived in a larger than life form named George Herman Ruth. The great Bambino was the whole package, a great pitcher, hit for average, and prodigious power. His home runs changed the game to its core. New lively baseballs were introduced allowing The Babe to excel even further. America loves a power hitter. The U.S. wasn’t big enough for Babe Ruth as he and Lou Gehrig enchanted Japan in 1934 during their world tour, introducing the game to an entirely new culture. During WWII Japanese soldiers would shout “To hell with Babe Ruth,” understanding that to an American there was no greater insult. The world tour helped plant the seed for today’s globalized game.
Â New eras enable new scandals and in the 1980’s cocaine was a widespread epidemic in the game of baseball. The Pittsburgh drug trials were a result, and suspensions were levied. The commissioner wanted all players periodically to be tested for drugs, but the players union declined, which leads us into the late 80’s and the bodybuilder physiques that seemed more at home at Muscle Beach rather than a baseball diamond.
America loves a power hitter, except this power supply was draining the game in the opposite way that Babe had energized us. We loved The Bash Brothers, and 500 foot homeruns had become common place. In 1994 Matt Williams was on a torrid pace to obliterate the Roger Maris single season homerun record with 43 and a third of the season left. The remainder of the season was cancelled due to a strike, and Baseball fans were left in shock as a World Series was not included in their October rituals.
People said “we’ll never go back, we are tired of the greed”. But the hiatus was interrupted when in 1998 the nation was once again captivated by the long ball. How has the history responded to different scandals? What will be the legacy in the collectible industry of players suspected, or convicted? Do we just chalk it up to a guilty era, and recognize Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens for their undeniable greatness with or without supplementation? How can we ever know who was clean or who was dirty?
Who will be Baseball’s next savior?