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Hylander Adds Historical Perspective to White Sox Scandal

story & photo by Christine Doyle, Contributing Writer

The Bellingham Senior Center was packed with people awaiting the arrival of Dr. Gary Hylander to give his talk about the Chicago White Sox or, as Hylander referred to them, the Chicago Black Sox. Those who have attended previous lectures know that Dr. Hylander is a very animated and humorous history professor and his historical talks about infamous people and events are always entertaining. 

To provide historical context, Dr. Hylander discussed troubling issues that had colored people’s feelings during the time of the scandal and the resulting fallout. It was near the end of the Great War and things appeared to be amiss in the world. 

For one thing there was the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, during which 6,000 people in Boston alone died. It was a modern-day version of the Black Plague in that it struck quickly, with someone feeling fine in the morning and extremely sick or dead by the end of the day. Church services were cancelled to prevent the spread of the illness. Many who were suspicious blamed the illness on the Germans or Bolsheviks. 

There was also the Boston Police strike in September 1919, when the police were trying to form a union for better conditions and higher wages.

Then there were the Palmer raids, which occurred during 1919 and 1920 because of a deep mistrust of anarchists and radical leftists and which further enhanced the mistrust many felt toward the Russian Bolsheviks as well as people from other foreign nations.
The year 1920 also saw a bombing on Wall Street that was considered the deadliest terrorist incident in the U.S. until the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
Prohibition was passed in 1920 and, although it was meant to restore order and curb so much reliance on foreign grain imports, it led to gangsters such as Al Capone running rampant by capitalizing on the bootleg trade and committing other serious crimes. 

All of these challenges and scares led to tremendous fear in our country. It appeared that these events were helping to create a great deal of mistrust in general. 

Dr. Hylander then painted a picture of what baseball looked like at the time. For the spectators it looked easy to play, fun to watch and interesting because of the interaction between the pitcher and the catcher. But all was not so happy within the baseball organizations. Ballplayers were making very little money and were treated terribly by the baseball clubs.

Players were owned by their clubs and could play only for them. The contracts bound them to the original team or they could be reassigned, traded or sold. The players had no right to change teams unless they were released from their contract. This reserve clause was eventually discarded, but not until 1975 after it was challenged by Curt Flood, who had protested feeling like a piece of property when he did not agree with being traded to another team. 

Charles Comiskey, the owner of the Chicago White Sox, was known to be miserly even with his quality baseball team. It was believed that all club owners were in salary and negotiating collusion so that the players would be at the mercy of the owners. Comiskey was known to be so cheap that he would not pay for new uniforms for the team, despite the fact that the once-white material was now so soiled and dirty that the team was jokingly referred to as the Chicago Black Sox. 
Arnold Rothstein, a well-known gambler and mobster from New York, who had heard about players being unhappy with the management, met with some of them in a hotel and involved them in corrupting the World Series. He discussed with them how they could make errors in order to throw the Series. The signal for the players to go ahead with the scheme by throwing the game was a ball thrown at the back of the Cincinnati Reds batter on the third pitch.
At this point Dr. Hylander discussed how runs could be shaved by errors such as players in the field allowing runners to advance or maybe those running bases doing it at a slower pace.

Fielders might also be slow to catch and throw the ball. The fix during the World Series was soon exposed and the fallout resulted in the appointment of Judge Kenesaw Landis as baseball’s first commissioner. 

Landis sought to clean up the sport, but he wanted complete authority, and the eight men involved were brought to trial. Although the men were found innocent, they were banned from baseball for life and denied post-career honors as well. 

Dr. Hylander encouraged us to watch the film Eight Men Out to learn more about this event, and he said to really pay attention to the dialogue. He then opened the discussion up to ask about thoughts from the audience about whether corruption is still present in sports. Some agreed that it still occurs and cited Pete Rose and his scandal while another dissented, doubting that players would actually still deliberately throw a game. 

Dr. Hylander maintains that corruption still exists and that it was a sad day when the White Sox scandal corrupted one of our favorite sports.  





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