Yet for one moment on an August afternoon in 1920, Ralph Young symbolically controlled the future of both a star-crossed Major League season and a starstruck game. On August 23 at New York’s Polo Grounds, Young, acting in concert with his Detroit Tigers teammates, determined whether the American League pennant race continued or halted in place. And because the pennant race not only was compelling on its own merits but also was the engine of a broader force for change, Young’s decision held consequences well beyond the outcome of a single game.
Big league baseball stood at the cusp of crisis and change that summer. The focal point was the alleged fixing by gamblers of the previous year’s World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. In August 1920 there was no such thing as an investigation into the honesty of the 1919 World Series, but that would soon change. Within two weeks rumors of another fix—this time an obscure game between noncontenders in the other league—would trigger legal action . . . if games continued to be played.
Given the prevalence of such talk that summer, the lack of an investigation reflected the decrepit state of the American League management. The feuding principals were a oncepowerful but tottering league executive whose commands increasingly went ignored and a self-possessed club owner. Once a feared dictator, American League (AL) president Ban Johnson by 1920 lacked the power within his own ranks to pursue rot. Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey simply lacked motivation. Beyond that, since the two men hated each other, they refused to cooperate. So the matter of the game’s integrity simmered toward combustibility."
Bill Felber is the author of A Game of Brawl (Nebraska 2007), The Book on the Book: An Inquiry into Which Strategies in the Modern Game Actually Work, and other books. He has been the executive editor of the Manhattan Mercury (Kansas) since 1986.
To read a longer excerpt or to purchase Under Pallor, Under Shadow, visit http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/Under-Pallor-Under-Shadow,674773.aspx.