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Banished: Eddie Cicotte

Career Paths
Marcus' Memoirs


Detroit Tigers 1905
Boston Red Sox 1908-12
Chicago White Sox 1912-20

When Eddie Cicotte hit the leadoff batter in Game 1 of the 1919 World Series, it signaled the beginning of the sorriest episode in our National Pastime's history. Actually, Cicotte was the key man in the fix. If he hadn't agreed to participate, the Black Sox scandal may not have occurred. Cicotte was not only the staff ace, he was assured of starting at least three games of the best-of-nine affair, and his involvement persuaded the team's number two starter, Claude "Lefty" Williams to participate in the fix.

Edward Victor Cicotte was born on June 19, 1884 in Springwells, MI. By 1905, he found himself pitching for a semipro team in Georgia with a young outfielder named Ty Cobb playing behind him. In fact, both he and Cobb were purchased on the same day by the Detroit Tigers late in the 1905 season.

Cicotte debuted with Detroit on September 3 of that year, and would appear in two more games for the Tigers that season. Despite posting a respectable 3.50 ERA in 18 innings, he spent the next two seasons in the minor leagues before resurfacing with the Boston Red Sox in 1908.

In 39 appearances (24 starts) in 1908, the right-hander compiled an 11-12 record and solid 2.43 ERA. Cicotte returned to Boston in 1909, and established himself as a reliable, if not good, major league pitcher, winning 13 games with just 5 losses and posting a sparkling 1.97 in 159 2/3 innings.

After going 26-26 with a sub 3.00 ERA in 1910-11, Cicotte began the 1912 season with a 1-3 record and was sold to the Chicago White Sox on July 22. It was in Chicago that he became a star. In 1913, his first full season in the Windy City, Cicotte won 18 games and finished second in the American League with a 1.58 ERA.

Using his array of off-speed pitches and intelligence to outwit hitters, Cicotte became one the AL's best pitchers during his years in Chicago. His most famous pitch was his knuckleball which ranks among the best of all time. He used it so effectively that many teammates and opponents referred to him simply as "Knuckles."

The 1917 season was the crafty veteran's finest to date. His 28 wins were tops in the AL, as was his microscopic 1.53 ERA and 346 2/3 innings pitched. The White Sox meanwhile, won the pennant and defeated the New York Giants in the World Series. For his part, Cicotte went 1-1 with a 1.57 ERA in the Fall Classic.

After a mediocre 1918 campaign (12-19, 2.77 ERA), Cicotte came back with a vengeance in 1919. His 29 wins and 30 complete games were a career high and paced the AL, and his 1.82 ERA was second in the circuit. The Sox cruised to another pennant that season, but all was not well on the South Side.

While the 29 victories were nice, it was the 30th that Cicotte needed to receive a $10,000 bonus (his salary was $6,000). The veteran hurler felt that owner Charles Comiskey sabotaged his attempt at the milestone by ordering manager Kid Gleason to bench the pitcher late in the season. Comiskey's explanation was that with the pennant already in hand, he simply wanted his ace pitcher to be rested for the Series.

Cicotte wasn't the only member of the White Sox that was frustrated by Comiskey's thrifty ways. In an era of cheap owners, Comiskey was known as the cheapest. Soon a dissident sect of the team, led by 1B Arnold "Chick" Gandil began to unhatch a scheme that would make them some money under the table.

When first approached by Gandil's group, Cicotte was reluctant. But finally, after some consideration, he accepted on the condition that he receive his full $10,000 share before Game 1 of the Series. Shortly before the Series began, Cicotte found a wad of cash under the pillow of his hotel bed. He counted it, sewed it into the lining of his jacket for safe keeping, and the fix was on.

After baffling hitters all season, the AL's best pitcher in 1919 was suddenly very hittable. In 4th inning of Game 1, Cicotte surrendered 5 runs to the underdog Reds before being pulled. The White Sox lost the game 9-1 and the Series five games to three.

While rumors of the fix swirled during the off season, nothing was concrete, and the 1920 season began with business as usual. The Sox were contenders once again, and Cicotte remained their ace, compiling a 21-10 record. Chicago pulled within 1.5 games of first with three games remaining when disaster struck.

All eight players that were involved in fix, including Cicotte, were indicted for fraud. While the group was acquitted by a jury, newly appointed commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned all eight players from playing professional baseball for the rest of their lives.

At age 37, with playing days over, Cicotte returned to his native Detroit and worked for the Ford Motor Company. He had hoped the $10,000 he was paid for the fix would lead to an early retirement, but he ended up working several more years. On May 5, 1969, Eddie Cicotte died at the age of 84.

In his career Cicotte won 208 games against 149 losses, with a 2.38 ERA. Had he not participated in the fix, and pitched effectively for three to four more years, Cicotte may have found himself in the Hall of Fame. As it is, his outstanding career has been all but forgotten because of what transpired in the 1919 World Series.

-David Zingler, April 2004


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