Swede And A Rose

Did The Swede Tell the Truth? Did The Tigers Throw 1917 Pennant? In Pettibone, North Dakota, it was the topic of conversation on a blissful, summer Sunday in 1929 as all was well with nearly everyone in the land. Prices of wheat were at record levels. People had money. And America’s pastime was baseball…everywhere, including Pettibone, it was baseball.

‘See that guy playing shortstop over there?’, Frank asked his young 10-year-old son, Stanley, while attending a Deluge Cuban game in Lignite, North Dakota. ‘Who is he?’, Stan asked. ‘He’s Swede Risberg.’ Stan asked, ‘Who’s Swede Riseberg?’ It was a beautiful, hot summer’s day and for once in his life, Frank was not working the farm. It was Sunday. And today it was all about baseball. Besides, he was there to see his oldest daughter’s (Irene) boy friend play, a big fellow called Harry Fleming. It was said he was the Babe Ruth of these parts. Big hands. Big arms. And he was very fast. Could hit the ball a mile.

While Harry was on deck, Frank told Stan that ‘Swede’ ‘was one of the infamous Chicago Black Sox, banned from major league baseball for life because he took a bribe and threw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. I watched him play with the Mesaba Range Black Sox along with two other member of the old powerful Chicago American League team, Happy Felsch and Lefty Williams when I visited Stein (his wife’s brother).’ ‘Was he any good with the White Sox?’, Stan asked. ‘He was OK, but in 1919, he was better but went 2 for 25 in the Series plus he made 8 errors. You just knew something was up.’

‘What did he do?’, Stan asked again. Frank said that Chicago was a heavy favorite in the 1919 World Series but he and a group of White Sox players decided to intentionally lose the series in exchange for parents from a group of gamblers. Swede was the ringleader. He convinced some of this teammates like Shoeless Joe Jackson’ to accept the payments. Rosberg got $15,000 for the fix. He made $3,250 a season, so that was quite a take.’

The Chicago White Sox were split into two factions in 1919. One was the more educated group of players, led by second baseman and team captain Eddie Collins and the other, more rough-and-tumble group led by former boxer and current first baseman, Arnold ‘Chick’ Gandil. Swede belonged to the rough and tumblers. He was the youngest White Sox.This was the group that agreed to throw the 1919 World Series in exchange for payoffs from gamblers.

‘He’s a real snitch’, Frank told Stan. He threatened to kill Shoeless Joe if Jackson blabbed about the fix. Jackson was reputed to have said ’Swede is a hard guy’.

Everyone considered Risberg a bad guy. ’The idiot even sent a telegram before the Series to his friend, St. Louis Browns infielder Joe Gideon, informing Gideon that the Series was fixed and advised him to bet on Cincinnati.’ ‘Really!’, Stan exclaimed. ‘Yep.’ replied Frank. ‘Did he bet on the Reds?’, Stan asked. ‘Don’t know,’ Frank replied, ‘but a year later Gideon informed on Risberg to the White Sox, in hopes to collect a $20,000 reward offered by that tightwad Charles Comiskey for information on the fix.’ Stank asked, ‘Did he get it?’ ’No,’ Frank replied. ‘Gideon didn’t get the reward, but he was later banned from baseball for his prior knowledge. Ya gotta love that Comiskey.’

On December 30, 1926, The Chicago Tribune reported the 1917 Tigers had thrown a four-game series to the White Sox to help Chicago win the pennant. Within the week, Commissioner Judge Landis began a hearing to investigate the charges.

Risberg was called by Landis to testify about a gambling scandal involving Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. Although he had nothing to add to that case, Swede (with the help of Chick Gandil) suggested that in September 1917, the Detroit Tigers deliberately lost four games to the White Sox, helping Chicago capture the pennant. Two weeks later, Rosberg added, he and Gandil collected $45 each from White Sox players, and forwarded the money to players in Detroit. Landis called many Tiger players to testify. But the former White Sox and Detroit players contradicted Swede’s story claiming that the money was paid out to Detroit players as a reward for winning late-season games against the Boston Red Sox, Chicago’s chief rival for the pennant. This practice of ‘rewarding’ opponents was common during the Deadball Era. But Landis quietly banned it and cleared the Tigers of any wrongdoing. Will Rogers attended Rosberg’s hearing and in his view, ‘It was just that bottled up hate against everything that made Risberg think he hadn’t had a square deal in the game, and he exaggerated the incident.’ Landis dismissed all charges. Landis could not find any witnesses to confirm any part of Swede Risberg’s claim.

Risberg’s first wife, Agnes, at the time of the events stated about Swede’s game-fixing scandal, that Risberg grew fond of saying, ‘Why work when you can fool the public?’.

Did the Swede tell the truth that the Tigers threw the 1917 Pennant?

During the summer of 1922, Risberg joined Cicotte, Williams, Weaver, and Felsch on a traveling team known as the “Ex-Major League Stars.” They scheduled a series of games against teams from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, but lackadaisical play and poor management meant the players left with only a few hundred dollars afterward. Cicotte left the team in mid-June after an argument with Risberg over money. It seems the hard-nosed Swede reportedly responded by punching Cicotte in the mouth.

The New York Times claimed him as the worst player in the game.

Why kick off the Risberg story to kick off 2016?

Betting on baseball is illegal. Every player understands what will happen if they bet on the game. Pete Rose knew. Risberg was banned for life from the game. So was Rose. There should be no Hall of Fame talk for any of these who disgraced the game. After all, Risberg said it all…’Why work when you can fool the public.’

Play Ball!

Why #9 May Have Been The Greatest

“He stood out like a brown cow in a field of white cows.”, Eddie Collins said. While still in high school, this ‘brown cow’ was offered contracts with both the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees. His mother said no. He was too young to leave home. Instead, before his Senior year in high school, he signed and played with the then major league of the West, the Pacific Coast League’s local team, the San Diego Padres. This was Nuxhallian. A kid, ‘The Kid’ graduated and rejoined the Padres for his second year and entered the starting lineup on June 22nd with an inside-the-park home run in his first at bat. That season he would lead the PCL in hitting with a .291 average and 23 home runs, all of this in about 100 days and pushed the Padres to win the PCL Championship. That was 1937.

Born Teddy Samuel Williams (that’s right…not Theodore), this mother’s son did not take to his Mom’s Salvation Army soldiering nor her evangelism, but instead to a bat and a ball, for which he would gain immortality in the world of 109 stitches.

Then, history rewritten by baseball, states that Ted was signed as an amateur free agent in December 1937. In fact, the General Manager of the Boson Red Sox, one Eddie Collins, traded for his favorite brown cow and in turn, gave the San Diego Padres (who had been paying the brown cow for two season, hopefully more than hay and oats) two major league ballplayers and two minor leaguers plus $35,000. You’ve gotta love the story telling by the historians of  baseball. That’s where baseball’s fictional tale and Mr. Williams’ amateur status ends.

He spent one year with the Minneapolis Millers, then the Red Sox Triple A club, where he crafted his art of hitting and won the American Association Triple Crown. Then in his very first Major League game, on April 20, 1939, on Opening Day, the torch was passed. It was on that day, for the one and only time, Ted Williams played against Lou Gehrig. Ten days later, Gehrig played in his 2,130 consecutive game. He went hitless in that game against the Washington Senators and in the next game, at Detroit, he took himself out of the lineup. Tiger fans, upon the announcement being made over the public address system, gave Lou Gehrig a standing ovation. He never played in another game again. On June 13th, he went to the famed Mayo Clinic. On July 21st, the New York Yankees announced his retirement from baseball. On June 2, 1941 he died.

Gehrig was THE player before Williams. He was the torch bearer between Babe Ruth and ‘Teddy Ballgame’. Gehrig was the last man to have won a triple crown with .363 BA, 49 HR and 159 RBI in 1934. Here was the only player in history to have 400 total bases per year for five seasons.

Ted Williams was worthy of carrying on the tradition as he was the youngest man ever to hit .400 (.406 in 1941) and seventh youngest to ever win a batting title. Sure there was Joe DiMaggio, who throughout Williams early career, was his main rival. But for pure hitting, no one compared to ‘The Kid’. He was one of 15 men to win the Triple Crown and only the second ever to win it twice (the first being his former manager of the Minneapolis Millers, Rogers Hornsby). He also hit .388 sixteen years later in 1957 (age 39) and the oldest ever win the batting title at the age of 40 in 1958. ‘Teddy Ballgame’ was an All-Star 17 times; finished with a career .344 batting average, seventh best in the history of the game and 20 points better than DiMaggio; won the MVP twice; was the Runs leader six time and leader in doubles twice; took the Home Run title four times, and, perhaps most important, was the wingman for Marine Captain John Glenn in Korea.

He served his country through his military obligation not once, but twice. He volunteered and entered Naval Aviation which lead to his commission as Marine officer. He retired from the Marines after serving in both the Second World War and the Korean War. He was honored by earning an Air Medal with two gold stars; the Navy Unit Commendation, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W Bush; awarded the American Campaign Medal; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with service star; the World War II Victory Medal; the Navy Occupation Service Medal; the National Defense Service Medal; the Korean Service Medal with two service stars; the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation; the United Nations Service Medal and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.

On his 40th birthday, he received an oil painting of his hero with the inscription: “To Ted Williams – not only America’s greatest baseball player, but a great American who served his country. Your friend, Douglas MacArthur, General, U.S. Army”

Greatest hitter of all-time? How about the greatest United States Military Veteran baseball player of all-time!

The ‘Splendid Splinter’ was an American original, the last player to bat .400 in a season. He was simply magnificant.

Play Ball!