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Sunday, November 28, 2010

1920 - GOING OUT WITH A BANG

I admit that the game of Tuesday August 31st, 1920 between the last place Philadelphia Phillies, playing 23 games below .500 and nineteen games out of first place, and the Chicago Cubs, battling for the National League title, arouses some suspicion just by reading the box score. The cellar dwelling Phillies won, three to zip.
The losing pitcher for Chicago was their best, right hander (Old) Pete Alexander. He had not been scheduled to pitch that day, but hours before the start time the Chicago club president, Bill Veeck, had offered Alexander a $500 bonus if he won the game. The problem seems to have been that somebody else was offering other members of the Chicago Cubs more if they threw the game.
The Phillies scored two runs in the second inning, and one in the ninth. Chicago right fielder Max Flack, with a .306 batting average, went one for four that day. Short stop Zeb Terry went oh for three. The heart of the Chicago batting order, Robertson, Barber and Paskert, went one for sixteen. The Cubs left 6 men on base and batted a sickening .172. It might have been written down as an off day for the Cubs, but Bill Veeck had received several telegrams warning that the game was fixed. The Chicago Herald Examiner had also gotten a letter claiming that Detroit gamblers had bet “thousands” on Philadelphia.
The public reaction to the newspaper’s allegation convinced Illinois State’s Attorney Maclay Hoyne to convene a Cook County Grand Jury on Tuesday, September 7, 1920, to investigate the game. On advice from Chief Justice Charles MacDonald, Hoyne broadened the investigation to include the rumor plagued 1919 World Series. The Black Sox scandal was off and running.
While this was going on, the Boston Red Sox were beginning their long retreat into mediocrity. On Thursday, September 2, 1920, they split a four game series against the New York Yankees, which brought their record to 62 wins and 64 losses.
On Saturday, September 11, 1920 Sacco and Vanzetti were indicted for the robbery and two murders in Braintree, Massachusetts. It was not a surprise. Many saw it as justice. And many others saw it an example of racism and religious bigotry.
On Sunday, September 12, 1920, the Boston Globe ran a feature story, under the headline, “Marry Young If You Wish Success, Says Millionaire, Once Newsboy” The millionaire was 37 year old Archie Andrews. He told the readers, “There is nothing in the world that drives a man like responsibility.” He also advised young men to begin their business careers in sales. “He can learn to know men in this way as in no other, no matter whether (you are) selling shoes, phonographs, real estate or insurance…It is only a question of psychology, anyhow.”
Just before noon, on Thursday September 16, 1920 a lesson in psychology was offered to the American protestant ruling class, if they cared to learn such a lesson. A produce wagon, pulled by an old dark bay horse, was driven through the narrow streets of Manhattan’s financial district. At that hour the streets were jammed with autos and horse drawn cabs and delivery wagons, and pedestrians. The nondescript wagon stopped at the corner of Wall and Broad Street.
To anyone in the world in the know this was simply “The Corner”.  Down Broad Street was the New York Stock Exchange. In 1920, at 14 Wall Street was Federal Hall,  now a Federal Reserve Bank. On the south side of the street was number 23, the fortress offices of J.P. Morgan (above), the world’s most politically powerful bank. Unnoticed in the self obsessed rush, the driver abandoned his wagon, in the back of which were 500 pounds of dynamite connected to a clock and timer, surrounded by 500 pounds of cast iron sash weights. At one minute after noon the bomb went off.
The expanding shock wave shattered the wagon and the horse. The sash weights were likewise converted into shrapnel. Flesh and blood, metal and concrete were ripped apart. Bone was shattered. Window awnings 12 stories above the blast caught fire from the heat. The huge windows in the front of NYSE shattered, showering glass on the trading floor. A woman’s head, still wearing her hat, was stuck to the exterior wall of the JP Morgan building. A financial reporter watched as a mutilated body in the street, “half-naked and seared with burns, started to rise. It struggled, then toppled and fell lifeless to the gutter.” “A messenger lay decapitated, a packet of stocks smoldering in his hand. An eyeless clerk, his feet blown off, tried to crawl away.”
Joe Kennedy, who would be the father of a President and three senators, was thrown to the floor of the stock exchange by the blast wave. J.P. Morgan’s son was killed, as was the chief clerk for his father’s bank. In all 38 died, 143 were seriously wounded. Almost all the victims were, like the horse, beasts of burden, messengers, clerks, brokers and stenographers. The truly powerful perhaps heard the blast, or saw its aftermath, if they were quick enough and interested enough to approach the scene.
For the first time in its history, trading on the NYSE exchange was halted. 1,700 police officers and 75 Red Cross nurses poured into the disaster scene. A company of troops from Governor’s Island marched through the streets. At 3:30 p.m. the board of governors for the NYSE decided to reopen for business the next day, as usual. Overnight the streets were cleaned, sweeping up the blood and the evidence and carting it away.
The next morning the Stock Exchange opened on time. At noon, Friday September 17, 1920, a rally sponsored by the Sons of the American Revolution, drew thousands to “The Corner.” Patriotic songs were sung and patriotic speeches were made. But no one was ever charge for this act of terrorism.
Chief amongst the suspects was Mike Boda, AKA Mario Buda, the owner of the car whose retrieval had led to the capture of Sacco and Vanzetti. He was in New York City on the 16th, and shortly thereafter returned to Italy. He was never even questioned about the explosion.
One week later, on Friday, September 24, 1920, New York Giants Pitcher Rube Benton testified before the Cook County Grand Jury that he knew the 1919 World Series was fixed, and he mentioned the names of several Chicago Cubs players who were involved. The following Monday, September 27, 1920, details of the secret grand jury hearings appeared in several newspapers. The next day, Cubs pitcher Eddie Ciotte appeared before the jury at his own request and confessed. On Wednesday the 29th , the New York Times headline read, ““Eight White Sox Players Are Indicted, On Charge of Fixing 1919 World Series, Cicotte got $10,000, And Jackson $5,000” in payoff money.
This same day, Chicago outfielder, “Shoeless “Joe Jackson called the courthouse to say he also wanted to confess. Charley Comisky (above), owner of the Cubs, immediately suspended all players named before the Grand Jury. He insisted he knew nothing about the scandal, even tho Shoeless Joe had tried to warn him at the time. Cominsky had refused to hear him. The Yankees, in a publicty move, offered their entire team to the deaf man in Chicago to replace his suspended players, but he never took them up on it.
The Red Sox would end September and their season with 72 wins, against 81 losses; 25 ½ games out of first place. During the year they scored 650 runs, but gave up 698. Against the Ruth’s Yankees (above) they had  nine wins against thirteen loses. The next time the Red Sox had a chance at winning the American League Championship would not come until long after Babe Ruth retired from the Yankees in 1934.
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