Friday, December 30, 2011
The Gems of Junk Wax, Pt. 7: 1988 Pacific "Eight Men Out"
The story of the 1919 World Series is one of the most fascinating tales in baseball history. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the World Series in exchange for a nice payday from gamblers. In the end, the ballplayers got very little of the money they were promised, and most of the gamblers came away penniless after the White Sox allegedly double-crossed them after not receiving their money. The players were later banned from baseball, even after being found not guilty in court.
The most tragic member of the 1919 Sox was third-baseman Buck Weaver. He always insisted he never took a penny from gamblers (he was blackballed because he knew about the fix and never said a word). He unsuccessfully tried to clear his name until his death.
The 1988 film "Eight Men Out" chronicles this tale. I rarely see this movie pop up on anyone's "Favorite Baseball Movies" lists. It's my personal favorite baseball film (if "The Sandlot" doesn't count).
Pacific released a set to coincide with the movie's release. Like the movie, I almost never see this set get any recognition. It's a great set. Since it was unlicensed, Pacific was able to produce cards of the "Eight Men Out", something that Topps, Donruss, and Fleer didn't have the ability to do.
The design of this set works well with the time period it seeks to recognize. The player cards are made to look like "old-timey" picture frames. The neat throwback Sox logo in the top-right adds to the look of this set.
Chick Gandil and Swede Risberg were the two ringleaders of the fix. Risberg certainly did his part, as he batted just .080 in the series.
The guys needed the ace of the Sox staff if they were ever going to get serious about throwing the series. Eddie Cicotte was the man they needed, as he had won 29 games during the regular season (he received $10,000 for his part in the fix). He pitched terribly in the games one and four and lost both. He won game seven (it was a nine-game series), but it was too late to save the series.
Happy Felsch probably would've been lost to history had he not participated in the fix. He was an average player in the 1910's. He hit just .192 in the 1919 series.
Another thing that's great about this set is that they feature some of the 1919 White Sox players who had nothing to do with the fix. Future Hall-of-Famer Ray Schalk was the catcher for the Sox that year, hitting .304 in the series.
Another future HOFer, Red Faber, was also part of the 1919 White Sox squad, but he was injured and didn't participate in the World Series.
Some of the opposing Reds players are featured in this set as well. Morrie Rath was the second baseman for the 1919 series-winning Reds. An interesting tidbit from the back of this card: Rath's last day in the majors came on October 2, 1920, when he became one of just four players to have played in a modern-era tripleheader.
Pat Moran was the Reds' manager in 1919. He always maintained that the Reds were better than the White Sox that year, no matter if the series was fixed or not.
The person who banned the eight members of the "Black Sox" was commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. The actual Judge Landis is shown here beside his actor portrayal in the 1988 film.
Another great part about this set is that it features turning points in the film. The top card shows the two sportswriters who would later uncover the fix (Hugh Fullerton and Ring Lardner) expressing their concerns to manager Kid Gleason before Game 1. The film is fairly similar to the Eliot Asinof book (which the film was based off), but one difference is that it was actually former pitcher Christy Mathewson who worked with Fullerton during the 1919 series, circling plays that looked odd to them (although Lardner did play a role in blowing the lid off the fix as well).
The bottom card shows manager Gleason confronting Cicotte before Game 7, telling Cicotte that he won't be starting that day. Cicotte convinces Gleason to let him pitch and rewards him with a masterpiece victory.
Some of the cards showcase the actors that portrayed the players in the film. This one shows Don Harvey, who played the role of "Swede" Risberg.
I really wish I had more cards from this 110-card set. The ones I've shown in this post are about all I have. I've been lucky to pluck a handful of these out of dime boxes over the last year or two. One of these days, I might break down and buy a box or the complete set, but I'm going to try my luck with dime boxes for a little while longer.
This set is truly a gem for any fan of baseball history!