How the 1919 Black Sox scandal might not have happened if Hall of Famer Red Faber wasn't injured

·7 min read

CASCADE, Iowa — Lee Simon, a board member of the Tri-County Historical Society Museum, walks through the building's entrance and wanders over to the Red Faber wing.

Simon put together the part of the museum dedicated to the Hall of Fame pitcher from Cascade, Iowa. He points out a unique part of the collection hanging on the wall. It regards the "Black Sox” Scandal.

Simon has compiled photos and biographies of eight of Faber's teammates from the 1919 White Sox who were thrown out of baseball for fixing the World Series that year.

“It’s a part of his career,” Simon said as he looks at the wall.

It’s a largely forgotten part of Faber’s legacy. Faber was one of the best pitchers of his era but was unable to participate in the 1919 World Series. Already weakened by a previous bout of influenza, Faber injured his ankle ahead of the Series. It was during that series against the underdog Cincinnati Reds that key members of Faber's team took money from gamblers to intentionally lose.

The White Sox lost in eight games, and the series remains one of the biggest scandals in sports history. Faber, despite not playing in the games, was there for it all.

“He had nothing to do with it,” Simon said of the fix.

How might baseball history have been altered if Faber hadn't been injured? Had he been on the mound, perhaps the fix would not have been carried out.

And maybe Joe Jackson and seven of his White Sox teammates wouldn't have been banned from baseball for life.

And there wouldn't have been the 1989 classic "Field of Dreams." The film was adapted from W.P. Kinsella's book, "Shoeless Joe," which was inspired by the story of the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

And without that book and film, the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds would not be playing near the movie site in rural Dyersville on Thursday night in front of a nationally televised audience.

"If Faber had been healthy, I believe that it would have been almost impossible for the gamblers to have such a strong effect," said Jacob Pomrenke, who wrote "Scandal on the South Side: The 1919 Chicago White Sox."

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Red Faber was a Hall of Fame pitcher from Cascade.
Red Faber was a Hall of Fame pitcher from Cascade.

Before the 1919 World Series, gaining fame with his spitball

Faber was born in a house about 5 miles outside Cascade, a Dubuque County town of about 2,100 (1,200 when Faber was growing up). Faber made his big-league debut in 1914 and soon solidified himself as one of the best pitchers in the White Sox organization. In his first four seasons, he won 67 games and helped the White Sox to a World Series title in 1917.

His signature pitch was a spitball, the preferred offering of the era.

"Tricky is the word that comes to mind, just how much of an expert he was with the spitball," said Brian Cooper, the author of "Red Faber: A Biography of the Hall of Fame Spitball Pitcher."

Faber missed part of the 1918 season while serving in World War I. He was limited to 25 games during the 1919 season after losing significant weight from the influenza pandemic. Then came the ankle injury.

Faber, then 31 and entering the prime years of his career, was sorely missed during the World Series. The White Sox were considered heavy favorites, with two strong starters in Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams and one of the finest hitters in the game in Jackson. Cicotte won 29 games during the season and Williams followed with 23 victories. Jackson hit .351.

But none of it mattered during the World Series after gamblers conspired with Sox players — including Cicotte and Williams — to throw the World Series. Also in the fix were first baseman Chick Gandil, infielders Swede Risberg and Fred McMullin and outfielder Happy Felsch.

Jackson and third baseman Buck Weaver, who played well and reportedly knew about the fix, also were banished from baseball.

The White Sox lost that series five games to three. Chicago was 2-0 in games Cicotte and Williams didn't start and 1-5 when they did. Had Faber been healthy, he would have started some games and possibly prevented Cicotte and Williams from having such a determining role on the World Series.

"Shoeless" Joe Jackson as a member of the Chicago White Sox in 1917.
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson as a member of the Chicago White Sox in 1917.

"There's a real good case to be made that it certainly would have been hard or harder for the corrupt members of the team to throw the series," Cooper said.

Faber was in the ballpark but all he could do was watch from the bench as the White Sox kicked the ball around on defense and threw meatballs to Reds hitters. It angered Faber.

"He actually wanted to get in and pitch," Simon said.

Faber quietly became a part of baseball history as a member of perhaps the most infamous team in sports history. Cooper recalled a story of how former Chicago catcher Ray Schalk told people that had Faber been healthy, the White Sox would have won the Series.

Even if Faber were healthy, Pomrenke believes the gamblers wouldn't have approached Faber about their plans. Faber was close with Schalk and infielder Eddie Collins, two players who weren't involved.

"They were much more kind of straight-arrow shooters," Pomrenke said. "They weren't really rough-housing on the field.

Red Faber was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.
Red Faber was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.

After Black Sox scandal, Red Faber goes on to Hall of Fame career

The implications of the 1919 World Series are still felt.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball, banned the eight players from the sport. Jackson became the central figure in the movie "Field of Dreams," a beloved film about an Iowa farmer who plows over his corn to build a baseball field for the banished members to play on. In the film, Jackson helps the struggling farmer, played by Kevin Costner, restore his relationship with his late father.

Faber went on to thrive with a White Sox franchise gutted after the fix, playing on Chicago's South Side until 1933. The right-hander was one of the final spitball pitchers in baseball history and finished his career with 254 victories. Faber was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.

"A lot of his better-known contemporaries really were complimentary of Red and his ability," Cooper said. "Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb were certainly his admirers."

Faber died in 1976.

In Cascade, there's a sign at the edge of town to tell visitors that it's Red Faber's hometown. The house where he was born still stands.

There's also the museum, which has a replica of one of his lockers, an old camera he took on a world baseball tour and a watch he was once awarded. Many of the items were donated by members of Faber's family. A year ago, the museum got more attention than usual when the White Sox and New York Yankees played at the "Field of Dreams" movie site.

"The Field of Dreams has really spurred a lot of interest in baseball, and I think in past history, and that's why we're figuring that we'll have people come down to visit the museum that are coming up to the festivities in Dyersville," Cascade mayor Steve Knepper said.

Pomrenke can't help but think how different things may have been had Faber pitched in the 1919 World Series. Maybe the White Sox would have won and gone on to become a dynasty. Maybe Jackson and his seven teammates would have avoided the shame heaped upon them.

So much of sports history (and film history) could be different today if this one Iowan hadn't hurt his ankle.

"Who knows how it would have turned out?" Pomrenke said.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Red Faber could have swung the 1919 'Black Sox' World Series