CHICAGO – If Chicago has been willing to believe that a cow caused the Great Chicago Fire, maybe it will buy this one: The White Sox got the idea to throw the 1919 World Series after the Cubs did the same thing one year earlier.
That's the suggestion — more of a hint, really — from Eddie Cicotte, one of the infamous Black Sox banned from baseball after their tainted World Series against Cincinnati.
In a 1920 court deposition the Chicago History Museum recently put on its website, Cicotte said "the boys on the club" talked about how a Cub or a number of Cubs were offered $10,000 to throw the 1918 Series they lost 4-2 to the Boston Red Sox.
Cicotte is as vague as vague can be, failing to name any names or provide any details about how the players might have done it or even if he believes the Cubs threw the Series. But if what he suggests is true it means that when it came to fixing ball games in the early 20th century, Chicago was nobody's Second City.
"It is interesting to me as a Cubs fan and a historian of Chicago that both teams could be involved in back-to-back years," said Peter Alter, an archivist at the museum who examined the document and other artifacts that the museum paid $100,000 for at auction.
If Cicotte's deposition lacks specifics, it does offer a glimpse into the life of a player when their lives were a lot more like the working stiffs who rooted for them than the wealthy owners they played for.
Players commonly groused about being underpaid and there wasn't anyone in the majors who didn't hear rumors about fixes. It was impossible not to see the gamblers at the games, the lobbies of the hotels where they stayed or in the taverns where they drank.
And they talked about such rumors all the time, including, Cicotte said, on a long train ride from Chicago to the East Coast.
"The ball players were talking about somebody trying to fix the National League ball players or something like that," Cicotte is quoted as saying in the deposition.
"Well anyway there was some talk about them offering $10,000 or something to throw the Cubs in the Boston Series," he said. "Somebody made a crack about getting money, if we got into the Series, to throw the Series."
Cicotte apparently likes the sound of $10,000 because that is what he said somebody left in his hotel room for his role in the fix of the 1919 Series. He died in 1969.
Whether any of this is true is unknown, but an author who wrote about the 1918 Series after examining the deposition and other material said not only was such a fix possible, it was understandable.
"They didn't make much money," said Sean Deveney, a reporter with The Sporting News whose book, "The Original Curse," said a fix by the Cubs was likely. "They had the incentive to do something like that."
Both the Cubs and the Red Sox were upset that the teams' owners were not paying their fair share of the World Series receipts, Deveney said. Before one Series game in Boston, the two squads refused to come on the field until the owners paid them what they were promised.
"The owners said no," Deveney said.
Deveney said the players quickly understood that they could not win a public relations battle by refusing to play a game during World War I, not in a ball park filled with soldiers. So they played.
So did the Cubs throw the Series? No great hitter suddenly forgot how to hit, and the Cubs pitchers were terrific, finishing the Series with an astonishing 1.04 ERA.
Still, "there were definitely some suspicious plays," Deveney said, and most of them involved outfielder Max Flack.
In the fourth game, Flack was picked off not once, but twice. Flack turned a catchable fly ball in the sixth and final game into an error that allowed two runs to score in the Red Sox's 2-1 win.
And there was the time Babe Ruth came to the plate for the Red Sox — a pitcher at the time, but emerging as one of the game's best hitters — and the Cubs' pitcher, Lefty Tyler, saw that Flack was not playing deep enough in right field.
"He waved him back and Flack just stood there," Deveney said. "Sure enough, Babe hit one over his head" for a triple that scored two runs.
Later in the game, Cubs pitcher Phil Douglas came in the game long enough to field a grounder and throw the ball over the first baseman's head, allowing the decisive run to score in the Red Sox's 3-2 win.
A few years later, Douglas was banned from baseball for what the papers called "treachery" after proposing that another team in the pennant race pay him to leave the team and "go fishing."
All six games in the 1918 Cubs-Red Sox Series were close — Boston never won a game by more than a run — and it would only take a dropped ball here or a badly thrown ball there to turn victory into defeat.
"It didn't take much to throw a game," Deveney said. "It really didn't."
If there is a record of a baseball official asking Cicotte a single question about the 1918 World Series, Deveney doesn't know about it.
"Baseball didn't want to investigate," he said. "They wanted to make it all about the Black Sox and say, 'OK, gambling's gone.'"
And what if the Cubs — a team that hasn't won a World Series in 103 years, blaming the curse of a goat and the glove of a fan named Steve Bartman along the way — had actually beaten Boston back in 1918?
"It would have bumped the curse up a decade," joked Alter. "We could be looking at a century (without winning a World Series) seven years from now."
Chicago History Museum: http://www.chicagohs.org