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Damon Runyon on the 1917 Chicago White Sox: Trick Ball Pitchers

The 1917 White Sox had a cast very similar to the more famous 1919 (Black) Sox. Led by spitball pitcher Red Faber, they 1917 team won the World Series, beating John McGraw's New York Giants.

Damon Runyon looks at the White Sox with a month to go in the 1917 season, on August 31, 1917, when they had a slim lead over the world champion Boston Red Sox . He examines the charges that were swirling around the team, that their pitchers resorted to illegal pitches to gain an edge in the pennant race.

They [baseball observers "out west"] think the White Sox slabmen would prove more formidable against the big town crew [the New York Giants] than the Red Sox, and this opinion especially prevails among baseball managers and baseball players. Players who have seen both clubs declare that the White Sox slingers will astonish the Giants.

There is a firm belief among many managers and players in the American League that the success of the White Sox pitchers has been due to trickery –to "monkeying" with the baseball—and it is quite evident that this belief has something to do with the professional opinion about the potential strength of the Chicagoans against the Giants.

It has been quite openly charged for some time that Commy's [White Sox owner Charles Comiskey] carvers have been using vaseline and other substances on the ball. During the last series between the Sox and the Yanks Umpire "Silk" O'Loughlin appropriated a ball of which the Yankees had complained and sent it to President Johnson.

It is believed that this ball had some bearing on Johnson's very belated prohibition of the use of any foreign substance by pitchers. If the rule is strictly enforced, it will be interesting to note the progress of the White Sox pitchers from now on.

Some ball players declare that the baseballs used in the Sox games are tampered with before play begins. They claim that a nail file is employed to lift just enough of the seam of the ball to give it a "sailor" effect when it is thrown. It is the same thing as the old emery ball which Russ Ford discovered and used with smashing success.

These charges may or may not be true. The only peculiarity we ever noticed about the pitching of any of the White Sox moundsmen is Eddie Cicotte's practice of rubbing the ball on his trousers just before delivering it to the batsmen. Ball players claim that this rubbing is done to produce a "shine" on a doctored ball.

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