Eddie Cicotte: From the Hall of Fame Library player files

Eddie Cicotte in 1918. (Library of Congress)

Last week, I drove to Cooperstown to spend the afternoon in the Hall of Fame's library, going through several Whie Sox player files. By stroke of luck, a colleague of mine wrote a story on the Hall's colllection of player files on Sunday, if you want to know more about them.

Basically, they're collections of news clippings and other documents that are pertinent to a player's career. The earlier the career, the better the reading, since the "journalism" is a lot more colorful than what we get now.

At any rate, I'm going to be going through what I found on a near weekly basis, and I'll start with Eddie Cicotte. In this case, the below is a collection of interesting snippets from both his player file and a scrapbook of his career compiled by his wife. Many articles didn't have dates or sources.

Why Eddie Cicotte?

We all know that Cicotte was one of eight White Sox banned from baseball for life in the Black Sox Scandal. But while everybody talks about the legacy that Shoeless Joe Jackson never got to finish, Jackson's best years happened in a Cleveland uniform. Cicotte, on the other hand, didn't become a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher until the White Sox made a waiver claim in 1912.

Over his nine years with the White Sox, Cicotte went 156-101 with a 2.25 ERA. After Ed Walsh's 40 wins in 1908, Cicotte owns the next two highest single-season totals, winning 29 in 1917, and 28 in 1919. Considering his career came to an end while he was in near-peak form, he probably could have finished in the neighborhood of 250 career wins. Alas.

There's plenty out there about Cicotte's role in the Black Sox Scandal, so that didn't interest me nearly as much as the pitcher he was like beforehand.

And hey, he doctored baseballs when it was mostly allowed.

 

Pronunciation

I'll admit it: I had never quite known for sure how to pronounce "Cicotte," mostly because I'd heard it pronounced several different ways by people who should have known, and I never sought out a definitive source.

Apparently, I wasn't alone. Even when Cicotte played, many, many people got it wrong, and it was such an issue that it warranted an entire story.

Since the World Series started there has been almost as much argument over the pronunciation of Eddie Cicotte's name as there was about the famous problem, "How old is Ann?" Out in Chicago the announcer at Comiskey Park calls him "Sigh-Cotty." The manager, Clarence Rowland, calls him "Sigh-Cott," and so do all the players. Coming back on the White Sox special from Chicago he was looking over a game of draw, when the HERALD reporter asked him what he really called himself. He wrote it down on a piece of cardboard, and, as he ought to know, it should settle all arguments. The star pitcher of the White Sox calls himself "See-Cot," and he affixed his signature to the affirmation of that. He said that his ancestors over in France used to spell their name with an initial "S" and that they were never know by any other pronunciation than "See-Cot."
-- Chicago Herald, Oct. 15, 1917.

So there you go. What else?

Before the White Sox

Cicotte was a well-regarded pitching who grew up in the Detroit area, and the Tigers offered him a tryout in 1905. He appeared with the Tigers later that year, but he didn't resurface until the Boston Red Sox purchased his contract from Indianapolis in 1908. He earned a bit of a minor-league legend in the meantime:

"Little Cicotte looks pretty small to be a good pitcher, but he delivers the goods. His drop is like Niagara and his movement is quick. In fact, the little fellow seems to be a veritable jar of ginger."

Cicotte has a new ball that catchers and batters say actually has a double break or double curve. The ball has been named the 'snake,' for the reason that its road made by a snake. When its owner has it in good working order the major portion of the batters strike out or bat up easy flies for the Hoosier fielders.

He is coming to pitch for Des Moines. Who is he? Why, Eddie Cicotte, the owner of the famous "snake-ball." What is the snake ball? It is a double shoot that is said to throw Frank Merriwell's wonderful double shoot in the shade.

Look out, you batters of the Western league. Your averages are to be cut down, and all Western league strike out records are to be doubled if one-half that is said of Eddie Cicotte is true.

How did he get to the White Sox?

Cicotte had his problems with Boston Red Sox owner John Taylor, stagnating over his last three years in Boston after a breakout season (14-5, 1.94 ERA) in 1908. Another slow start in 1913 doomed him there, and the Carmines' loss became the Pale Hose's gain.

He turned around his career in fairly short order for a couple reasons. One was his condition. As he described it:

"When I was with the Boston Red Sox I did not get enough work and last spring, while the White Sox were training at Pasa Robles, Cal., Gleason told me that I would be worked harder in 1913 than ever before," said Eddie this morning." I worked in numerous exhibition games and at the beginning of the season, I was in better shape than at the same time in previous years."

"I had rid myself of all surplus flesh and during the season Manager Callahan sent me in on an average of once in four days, and in the spare time I worked with the batters and on the side lines. I did not take on flesh so rapidly as in other years and there wasn't a time during the entire season that I was not in condition."

I will have to incorporate "surplus flesh" into future posts. But while his waistline contracted, his pitching repertoire expanded.

During the early part of the season of 1912 the majority of the American League clubs had solved Cicotte's "knuckle ball," and thus his effectiveness was at an end. Waivers were asked by the Boston management and every aggregation in the Johnson circuit passed up Eddie, except Chicago. Cicotte went to the Windy City for the usual waiver price.

What all did he throw?

Cicotte was one of the first masters of the knuckleball, which he supplemented with a fastball (that he called the sailor) and a curve. But he was best known for throwing a pitch he wouldn't admit throwing -- the shine ball.

Eddie Cicotte is to blame! He is the cause of all this discussion about the "shine ball." He started by inventing this new way of making a ball do "tricks." Eddie is a veteran of long standing in big league baseball. He is known as a pitcher who "uses his head." In this particular case, he certainly used it. He found that by putting a soapy or wax substance on a certain part of a baseball the baseball would act as it had a fit.

He denied doctoring the baseball when asked about it...

Everybody knows that Cicotte for several years has kept in baseball by using some sort of a trick delivery - everybody but Eddie himself, who won't admit it. The balls he has pitched have been submitted to President Ban Johnson, who couldn't see anything illegal in their doctoring. They have been passed around among players, scribes and fans. All agree they have been doctored. But Eddie Cicotte won't admit it.
-- Oct. 30, 1919

But he also enjoyed being demonstrative around the mound to show hitters he might be doing something to it.

"Cicotte did rub the ball on his uniform repeatedly and brought the sphere up to his mouth. This might have been for effect, but the fact remains that aside from his attempts to fool the batsman by uncanny means Cicotte uses brain in hurling as few other pitchers in baseball." ...

"All the pitching deliveries concoted by the imagination were tabooed in certain quarters after Cicotte made a success in fooling the batters last year," said Manager Rowland. "They talked about the mud ball, the paraffin ball, the licorice ball, the talcum ball, and about every other kind of delivery."
-- May 2, 1918

Cicotte's shine ball was so tough that they pondered what he did to the ball long after the Black Sox Scandal.

What is believed to have been the secret of Pitcher Cicotte's famous "sailor" ball while a member of the Chicago White Sox was revealed today in a demonstration of the use of resin on a new baseball by George Moriarty, American League umpire. 

Cicotte, when banned from organized baseball after the "Black Sox" scandal, took the secret of the "sailor" ball with him.
-- Jan. 1, 1926

Additional reading material

If you want to learn more about "the husky Frenchman" (as one story put it), his SABR baseball biography is a great place to start.

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