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.’