Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |

Historical myth #4: The 'Black Sox' threw the 1919 World Series


By Roger Weber


Whether or not the Sox were the better team in the series, they still may have thrown the series. They obviously took the money but that doesn't necessarily mean they played worse on purpose. In "Eight Men Out," Eddie Cicotte appears to have tried the hardest to throw the series. Most fans weren't at the series and few have seen actual footage of the series. Even watching the series, you probably wouldn't be able to tell if the players were trying to lose. Many failures can be attributed to nervousness, pressure or just chance. After all in only eight games a wide range of outcomes can occur. Such a short series means a small sample size – this is why there can occasionally be improbable World Series sweeps.


To see if there is evidence to say that the White Sox threw the series, let's turn to the stats and look at the eight players associated with the deal. 

Eddie Cicotte: Eddie during the regular season held a 1.82 ERA. During the World Series his ERA was 2.91. According to Bill James, though, 56% of a pitcher's ERA is based on the batters he faces. The Reds averaged 4.12 runs per game. Given that he only pitched three games in the Series, his slightly higher but still well below the league average of 3.13, ERA is completely plausible given his regular season stats.


During the regular season Cicotte struck out 110 and walked 49, a 69:31 ratio. During the series his ratio was just 7:5 but this is attributable to chance and there is still a 21% chance that ratio would have occurred in any 12 at bats where a strikeout or walk was recorded, well within a 95% confidence interval.


Cicotte's stats point to him not having attempted to play worse in the series.


Joe Jackson: Joe actually performed better in the series than he did during the regular season. It's within range that he could have even done better in the series and that his performance was below what it could have been. Still there is almost no evidence to show that Shoeless Joe's .375 series batting average shows him trying to lose.


Claude Williams: During the regular season Williams had a 2.64 ERA but during the series that swelled to 6.61. He also led the series with eight walks and three losses. The chance of a difference so great even spanning only three games is just 2.2%, which falls outside the 95% confidence range. This means that there is reason to believe that Williams may have indeed tried to lose. But we don't want to say for sure as the difference may be attributable to other factors. 


Buck Weaver: Like Jackson, Weaver performed better in the series than he did during the regular season. His batting average jumped from .296 during the regular year to .324 during the series. Like with Jackson this does not rule out the possibility of him having attempted to play poorly but it does not support it.


Chick Gandil: Gandil's batting average dropped from .290 during the season to .233 during the series. There is more than 5% probability that over any random eight game span his average would be at least that low. He did only pull off one extra base hit, a triple, during the series. While he didn't perform as he did during the regular season in the series, there isn't significant evidence to point it to intentionally poor play.


Fred McMullin: McMullin only batted twice during the World Series so there isn't really enough data to make a judgment. But he did get one hit, a single.


Swede Risberg: Risberg batted just .080 in the series with a triple and three runs scored. Of course, his regular season average wasn't great either, just .256 and a .345 slugging average. While the dropoff was significant, there was still a .08 chance of this happening over any eight game stretch of the regular season. This means there is just about enough evidence to say his series performance was affected by something other than chance. Again, this wasn't necessarily intentionally poor play.


Happy Felsch: As with some of the other players, Felsch performed a little worse during the series- 83 batting average points, but there isn't enough evidence in his stats to say he was throwing the games through his play.

So while some of the players did have statistics worse than their regular season stats, that sort of occurrence can be expected in any series. The opponent is usually tougher than average competition. In 1919 the Reds were a great team so it is understandable that some performances were a little below normal. Some of the players actually did better in the series than in the regular season.


There does not appear to be much statistical data to show that they did. This doesn't prove that they didn't. If they accepted the money, they were likely at least compelled to satisfy the gamblers. And they did lose the series. But only two of the eight accused had stats lower than a reasonable expectation given their data from the regular season. Shoeless Joe and Buck Weaver performed better in the series than during the year and Cicotte performed better than might be expected against an opponent like Cincinnati.


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