By Roger Weber
The movie, "Eight Men Out," was very popular and brought to light
and expressed one depiction of baseball's most famous scandal. For effect the movie continually refers to the 1919 White Sox
as the greatest baseball team ever. Of course the moviemakers wanted to show the magnitude of throwing the series, but the
White Sox finished the season just 88-52. The Reds finished 96-44. Many statisticians maintain that the National League was
the weaker league in 1919, but the Reds' superior record and the White Sox' fairly average record for a World Series team
does not provide great evidence for the idea that the White Sox were the greatest team ever.
They of course had some great players. Joe Jackson was clearly
one of the best players of his era and in the discussion of best outfielders ever. But were the Sox really the better team
heading into the series?
The Reds' closest competitor in the National League was the New
York Giants. The Reds finished 12-8 against the Giants, so it can be seen that the Reds were not incapable of beating good
competition. Of course, the White Sox also finished 35-25 against teams with winning records during the regular season. The
1919 Reds rank 14th all time in winning percentage with a .686 mark but are often left off lists of the greatest
baseball teams ever because of the scandal.
The Reds scored fewer runs than the White Sox but had comparatively
better pitching. The Reds had an average margin of victory of 1.9 runs and the Sox just 1.7. The Reds scored 65% of all runs
in games they played while the Sox scored just 61%.
And although Brian Connolly did a through study to show that streakiness
is not really caused by much more than chance, it is interesting to note that the Reds finished the season "hot". Their worst
months were May and June but in they finished the season 59-22 over the last three months, a 73% winning clip.
Bill James has a system of predicting World Series winners based
on various statistics and how often the stats correlate with the World Series victor. The system covers stats like runs, batting
average, team doubles, walks given up, shutouts and postseason winning percentage among others. For the 1919 series, based
on regular season stats, the Reds get more points than the White Sox using the predictor. In fact the margin is 84-32 discounting
Based on these findings, there is no reason given the team stats
to think that the White Sox losing the World Series had anything to do with their betting. The possibility is there, but is
not shown through these data. In fact, James' system, by my calculations, predicts that the Reds would win the series 5 games
to 2, not 5 to 3 as it was.
The contention that the American League was the stronger league
holds good validity. The A.L. took 10 of the first 15 World Series prior to 1919. That seems like a lot, but if the leagues
were equal, with a .5 chance for each league to win the World Series every year, the 67% of World Series' that American League
took of the first 15 is still well within a reasonable confidence interval, which means we cannot attribute that with certainty
to anything but chance. There was a .1 probability of the A.L. gaining an edge at least that large.
The American League won four straight World Series' heading into
the 1919 matchup. This could be due to some unknown factor, but it is likely just chance. Runs of four or even five or six
in a row are common if the probability is .5 that one occurrence will happen. Still, the dominance is tough to dispute.
The White Sox were an impressive team, but most of the evidence
says they were not the better team in 1919. In fact, the Reds were a very strong opponent. The White Sox may have been a great
team and they may have thrown the series, but the Reds by most accounts I have looked at were a strong team and had a good
shot at winning the series honestly.