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  • Writer's pictureKirk Jenkins

Wrapping Up the Simulated 1919 World Series

So our simulated 1919 World Series . . . ended up exactly the same way the real one did, other than having fewer gamblers, with the Reds winning five games to three. What does it all mean?

Notwithstanding their acquittal in the later criminal trial, the evidence seems relatively strong that at least some of the players took at least some money – it’s never been entirely clear which ones or how much. But as Kevin Costner says in Field of Dreams, whether some or all actively tried to lose the Series is a different question. In the wake of the Series, some people’s reason for suspecting a fix went no deeper than “The Reds won.” That doesn’t seem especially compelling to me. Even if the White Sox were the better team on paper – and that’s debatable – the Series involved eight games in eight days, that’s all. It’s a truism of many sports, and particularly of baseball, that anyone can win a short series, and the exhausting schedule in 1919 certainly qualifies. Everyone knows the story of Hughie Fullerton and Christy Mathewson sitting in the press box, marking questionable plays on their scorecards, but that seems debatable too. Does a mistake – even one that seems inexplicable to those of us in the stands – prove that a player is tanking? Sure, if a great fielder gets exactly the same ground ball ten or a hundred times, he’ll revert to the mean and make the play ninety, or ninety-five, or ninety-eight times. But we’re talking about a “sample” of one trial here – you get one chance. A mistake under those circumstances means very little.

So how did the “Black Sox” fare in our replay? Eddie Cicotte was 0-2 in the simulated series, 1-2 in the real series. His ERA for the simulated series was 4.44, considerably worse than his 2.91 in the real Series. Lefty Williams was 0-3 – identical to his record in the real series – with a 6.75 ERA, almost identical to his 6.61 in the real world. Turning to the position players, Joe Jackson was hot throughout, hitting .333 with three home runs, a triple and six RBIs. In the real series, he hit .375 with one homer and six RBIs. Happy Felsch missed most of the Series due to injury, hitting only .111 in only three games plus an inning. This is worse than the .192 he managed in the real series. Chick Gandil was mediocre, hitting .225 with two RBIs in our replay and .233 in the real series. Swede Risberg wasn’t much better in our simulation, hitting .233 while committing four errors in the field. But his real-world series was far worse, as he hit .080. Buck Weaver hit only .171 with a home run and two RBIs. In the real world, Buck was one of the few bright spots for the White Sox, hitting .324. Finally, the seldom used Fred McMullen hit .500 in only two pinch hitting appearances, including a game-winning double in Game 4. So Cicotte, Felsch and Weaver arguably played worse in our computer simulation than they did in the 1919 World Series. Lefty Williams and Chick Gandil had roughly equal stats to their real-world numbers. Joe Jackson’s simulated batting average was a little worse in this simulation, but he played well. Only Swede Risberg played “better” than his real-world performance when the fix was purportedly in – and I put “better” in quotes because hitting .233 with four errors is hardly a star turn.

The real story of the 1919 World Series will never be settled to everyone’s satisfaction. But can we argue that the Sox actually tried to lose based solely on the results of the games? We only ran this simulation once, and to really collect evidence, you’d need to run it hundreds of times. But it’s not so clear that the Reds’ Series victory really is tainted, or that the Black Sox really tried to tank the Series.

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