The Black Sox and the Modern Game

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Given the day off by my employer, I decided to get ahead of myself and start on a few feature articles for the report. I found myself hitting a brick wall in trying to find the motivation to write articles on the minor league managers and coaches. Looking for inspiration, or perhaps just stalling for time, I switched on my DVR. Scrolling through the programs, I found that I recorded a broadcast of the movie Eight Men Out. I hadn't seen the movie since it was released on VHS (now I'm showing my age), so it was pretty fresh to me.

For those not familiar with the movie, it's based on the 1963 Eliot Asinof novel of the same name. It concerns the 1919 Chicago White Sox, and their conspiracy to "throw" the World Series. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox agreed with gamblers to allow the Cincinnati Reds to win the World Series. The player's motivation was believed unfair treatment by White Sox owner, Charles Comiskey. The frugal Comiskey held the players true to their contracts, but did manipulate them to avoid paying bonuses.

However, the conspiracy began to unravel almost as soon as it began. One player had second thoughts, and never participated. Another took the money, but didn't do much to alter his play. The gamblers failed to make their promised payoffs, and reporters smelled a rat right away. After the series, a cloud of suspicion hung over the Sox, and a Grand Jury was convened. Eventually, all eight players would end up being banned for life from Major League Baseball. As I watched, I kept telling myself that it wasn't a documentary, but a drama. However, I know from my given profession that every good story has a base in truth.

The first thing that struck me about the movie was the team's "chemistry". There were a lot of innuendoes, cliques, and petty jealousies. The patter ranged from mildly insulting to downright nasty. Yet they still won ballgames. We hear an awful lot about the value of a happy clubhouse in sports today, but seeing this gave me pause for reflection. How important is "chemistry" if the players are acting in a professional manner on the field? Despite the ugliness, the players in the movie performed like a team "between the lines". Pride in one's work meant something back then, at least, until they took the gamblers' money. Does that pride still exist in athletes today, or is it only "all about the money"?

Another thing I noticed was the employer/employee relationship. We hear reports from some of today's players saying how bad they have it. The image of the pouting player or one complaining about "communication" with management has now become part of the sports landscape. Could you imagine Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, or, dare I say, Milton Bradley playing for Charles Comiskey! Forget about the fireworks of the Bradley - Lou Piniella confrontation. A showdown between those forces could have been something people would talk about 100 years from now.

The attitudes of the fans and media were also different. Throwing garbage from the stands and dummies from airplanes, along with burning players in effigy make the complaints of LaTroy Hawkins, Jacques Jones, and Milton Bradley about playing conditions look weak. No fretting concerns over player safety from the fans back then. Rather, fans' voicing their displeasure with bad play was considered the norm. And could you imagine Bruce Levine or any other beat reporter walking into the Cubs' locker room and croon "I'm forever blowing ballgames" the way Ring Lardner did? To even think of any sportscaster or mainstream media outlet with that much courage these days is mind-boggling.

One thing that did stay the same was some of the players' attitudes. Ninety-two years later, we are still hearing about players not being "respected" by ownership (translation: not having money thrown at them); and how the fans come to see "them", and not the game. It's also disturbing to see that players can turn it "off" and "on" a lot more easily than people think they can.

Oh, and one more thing. It was interesting to note that a jury acquitted all the players, and their signed confessions "mysteriously" disappeared. I guess, in Chicago, some things never change.