Chicago White Sox 1915-20
One of the infamous "Eight Men Out" banned for their roles in fixing
the 1919 World Series, the plight of Oscar "Happy" Felsch has become lost in the sentimentality and romanticism that surrounds
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson, and the justifiable rage that supporters of George "Buck" Weaver possess. A star in his own
right, Felsch was entering the prime of his career when Commissioner Landis' ruling barred him from the game for life.
of six children, Oscar Emil Felsch was born in Milwaukee, WI on August 22, 1891. While all the Felsch brothers played
baseball, Oscar stood out with uncommon ability. Nicknamed "Happy" because of his easy going nature and omnipresent
smile, Felsch's career took off when he joined the local Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association during the 1913 season.
He began the 1914 season with the Brewers, and was leading the league with 19 home runs when the White Sox purchased his contract
late in the season.
A raw talent and superb fielder, Felsch joined the Sox for the 1915 season and batted .248 in
121 games. In 1916 the 25-year-old showed tremendous improvement at the plate, hitting .300 with 70 RBI, while establishing
himself as one of the AL's best defensive center fielders.
The happy-go-lucky, free wheeling Felsch enjoyed the big
league lifestyle and it's fast-living ways. As a result he was drawn to the rabble-rousing clique on the team, led by
1B Chick Gandil and SS Swede Risberg. The group, which also included star OF Joe Jackson and 3B Buck Weaver, enjoyed
the nightlife and spent more than it's fair share of time in taverns and saloons.
By 1917, Felsch had developed into
a star. Only the great Tris Speaker could rival him with the glove in center field, and his hitting was constantly improving.
Felsch finished the 1917 campaign with a .308 average (5th in the AL), 102 RBI (2nd in the AL), and 26 stolen bases.
The White Sox meanwhile, captured the AL pennant and defeated John McGraw's New York Giants in the World Series.
a war interrupted 1918 campaign, in which he was limited to just 53 games, Felsch and the White Sox were primed for greatness
in 1919. The team cruised to the AL pennant, and entered the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds as heavy favorites.
Felsch did his part that season, hitting .275 with 86 RBI, and playing his usual spectacular defense.
It was in the
World Series, as has been well documented, that everything began to fall apart. The Sox played surprisingly inconsistent
in the Fall Classic and were upset by the Reds in eight games (in an effort to increase revenue after a tough 1918 season,
the owners decided to make the World Series a best of nine affair in 1919). Felsch hit just .192 (5-26) in the World
During the winter that followed, rumors swirled that the Series hadn't been played on the level. White
Sox owner Charles Comiskey however, did his best to downplay the rumors fearing such a scandal would ruin his team.
1920 season began as usual, and the White Sox made a strong push to defend their AL championship. Felsch, meanwhile,
had his best season. The Milwaukee native established career highs in batting average (.338, 9th in the AL), home runs
(14, 4th in the AL), and RBI (115, 6th in the AL). By September however, the Sox pennant hopes and the careers of eight
of the players came to a bitter end.
Felsch, along with teammates, Gandil, Risberg, Jackson, Weaver, Fred McMullin,
Eddie Ciciotte, and Lefty Williams, was indicted for conspiring to defraud the public and ruin Comiskey's business by deliberately
losing the 1919 World Series.
The court proceedings drug on for almost a year, but finally the jury came back with
a "not guilty" verdict. The players celebrated, thinking the ordeal was behind them and that they could resume their
careers. Newly appointed commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis however, had other ideas, and banned all eight men
from professional baseball for life.
After the best season of his career, Felsch was left without a job. He
returned home to Milwaukee and played in local sandlot games. At one point, he even joined some of his banished ex-teammates
in barnstorming tours throughout the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Wherever he played however, Felsch was never able
to overcome the stigma of the fix, facing taunts and jeers from fans as well as opposing players.
settled down in Milwaukee and found work as a crane operator before opening a tavern and grocery store. The taunts continued,
mostly from patrons of the tavern that had tipped one too many drinks. Mostly "Happy" smiled and nodded, not allowing
the drunks the pleasure of seeing his pain.
On August 17, 1964, Oscar "Happy" Felsch died of a liver ailment.
He was less than a week shy of his 73rd birthday. During his final years, Felsch rarely spoke of the fix, he made only
one statement for the record:
"I'm not saying that I double-crossed the gamblers, but I had nothing to do with the
loss of the World Series," he said. "The breaks just came so that I was not given a chance to do anything towards throwing
the games. Whether I could actually have gotten up nerve enough to carry out my part in throwing the games, I cannot
say. The gold looked awfully good to all of us and I suppose I would have gone ahead with the double-cross, but as I
said, I was given no chance to decide. I am as guilty as the rest. It looks like the joke's on us, doesn't it."
-David Zingler, October 2003
Felsch @ Baseball-Reference.com
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