Is History To Blame For The Cubs' Curse?

An article from ESPN Chicago ran today concerning the 1918 World Series between the Cubs and the Red Sox. Eddie Cicotte, best known for being a part of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, hinted in one of the documents from that case that the Cubs actually threw the 1918 Series. Being the historian that I am, I had to go and check this out. The Chicago History Museum has posted the document on its website and has given it a lovely little discussion. I’d also recommend reading the ESPN article, because that brings up the subject of outfielder Max Flack, who seems to be at the center of a number of questionable plays during some of the games.

What does that exactly tell you? Cicotte seems to be quite stuck on $10,000, which he uses as the arbitrary amount in the Cubs series since he also received the same amount for his “work.” If a player like Flack were to throw the series for what would have been a sizable amount of money in 1918, it would have been extraordinarily difficult to do so alone, however. Phil Douglas, a pitcher, is also mentioned in the ESPN article, having thrown a ball away over the first baseman’s head to allow a decisive run to score. The games were all decided by one-run margins. Little errors would have therefore cost every team big.

The Cubs that season were stellar – they had an 85-45 record and were 10.5 games ahead at the close of the season. The Red Sox were a paltry 75-51. Not bad, but the Cubs looked like the ’86 Mets in comparison. So basically, we’ve got a very good team on our hands here, a good team that ended up losing the World Series. It doesn’t look like they didn’t try, because the series went six games. In fact, an examination of the composite box score pretty much says it all:

The Cubs actually scored more runs overall than the Red Sox did in the series. The Red Sox just happened to score them when they counted, which made the difference. Also interesting is the error total – the Cubs’ five errors are kind of glaring. The Cubs also repeatedly tacked on runs late – four runs scored during the eighth inning, whereas the Red Sox only scored one run in the eighth and one in the ninth for the entire series. By comparison, the Red Sox piled the runs on early, with two in the third and five in the fourth over the entire series. The Cubs’ run-scoring is more spread out. If anything, this tells me that if players were attempting to throw the games, they were doing so at a very systematic time – either seizing opportunities to blow plays and getting their dirty work done early in the game or else purposely making errors very late when their plans were going awry.

Max Flack.

The fact that the Cubs scored fairly regularly throughout the games, though, makes me wonder. If a team was trying to throw a game, why would their offense be so consistent throughout a series? This is starting to sound more and more like Cicotte made the story up in an attempt to throw blame all around Chicago and not just on his team, that he was attempting to open up an investigation into something false to divert attention, or that he was just repeating something he’d heard somewhere once. Even reading over the document, it becomes very clear that Cicotte is just talking about a rumor and not actual verifiable fact – his wording makes it pretty obvious that it’s just something he heard and it may or may not have actually happened.

Consider yourself vindicated, Max Flack. I’m not blaming you for what happened to your team. Fenway’s a notoriously difficult outfield to play anyway, and every so often we all make mistakes, especially when we’re on a big stage like the World Series. There was pressure on the Cubs because they were expected to win, so players making mistakes…well, that was bound to happen. Besides, it’s the Cubs.

Basically, we can’t take this one document out of context and use it as proof of something that may or may not have happened. Whatever the 1918 Cubs did or didn’t do, it’s pretty unlikely that they threw the Series. If anyone tried, it was a relatively small number of players in comparison to what historians say happened in 1919. Either way, the Red Sox appear to just have had timing on their side, which is what did the Cubs in during this series – close games decided by convenient hitting (which neither of the clubs seem to be displaying as of late, but that’s irrelevant). I wouldn’t take this document as proof that the Cubs threw the series – there needs to be significantly more evidence before this point can even be considered valid.

Fair attempt at stirring up controversy, though. Nice try.

The composite box score for the series can be found here.