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Flashback: May 1918

The dead ball withers White Sox bats, and sends the champs slipping toward .500

Comizeratin’: White Sox manager Pants Rowland [right] and pitcher Eddie Cicotte have a chat in the Comiskey Park dugout — perhaps addressing the manager’s run of quick hooks that marked the month of May in 1918.
Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

[Editor’s Note: Hey, yeah, it’s July and just now publishing the May 1918 Flashback. These babies can be a bit of a bear, so I may be running behind the rest of the way. Hang with me, I promise there’s some fun stuff to come!]

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Flashback: April 1918

The 1918 White Sox’s bold logo.

It’s impossible to take a look back on the centennial of the Chicago White Sox’s second-to-last defending champion season without the shadow of World World I hovering over everything.

The military draft would loomed large in baseball in 1918. And May is when it came to a head, with specific regard to star outfielder Joe Jackson.

If drafted, Jackson said he would enlist as a shipbuilder to avoid seasickness in traveling overseas to Europe. Fair or not, Jackson (and other baseballers drafted but wishing to avoid combat) was castigated for his choice. By comparison, Red Faber’s announcement before the 1918 season that he had already been drafted, and was happy to serve in whatever capacity, whenever, didn’t help Jackson.

And worst of all was owner Charles Comiskey erupting over Jackson’s supposed cowardice. The owner, at 59 and unable to serve, backed his ruckus to some degree by donating $17,000 to the Red Cross in 1917 (roughly $350,000 today) and pledging to donate 10% of 1918’s gate receipts as well.

By mid-May, the American League had lost 70 players to the military draft. Understandably, in the local papers of the day, there were daily updates of Jackson’s draft status.

On May 13, the word had finally come in that Jackson had been drafted, and he left the team to work for Harlan & Hollingsworth Shipbuilding in Delaware. somewhat ironically, Jackson was eligible to play in the Bethlehem Steel Baseball League.

At the time, General Enoch Crowder, who was in charge of the military draft, was busy investigating the supposed special treatment given baseball players, including Jackson’s stateside appointment as a shipbuilder. AL president Ban Johnson said that any coddled players should be “yanked into the Army by the coat collar.”

Meanwhile, Jackson just wanted to play ball. The outfielder had to call back to manager Pants Rowland to have his baseball cleats sent to him out east, as Jackson had left them at Comiskey Park.

Both on and off the field, the defending champion White Sox were frazzled. Players fought injury, travel demands (22 of 25 games played in May were on the road), cold waves, and even phantom postponements.

May 1 was a loss that wound up a series with Cleveland, 6-5, although Chicago did take two of three overall. Cleveland committed four errors, but still won. Eddie Cicotte fell to 0-3, but had a 1.464 OPS as a hitter. Joe Jackson was at 1.079, and Chick Gandil 1.138. The White Sox rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth, but fell short, and fell to 5-3 on the season.

The first road trip of the month began by boat, from Cleveland to Detroit.

May 2-5 at Detroit, lost three of four (6-6)

On May 2, the White Sox knocked Tigers starter Bill James from the game before he could record an out, with three hits, four earned runs, leaving him with a 29 game score (GS). But Detroit rallied to win, 9-6.

On May 3, the White Sox got a measure of revenge, trouncing Detroit, 19-3. James came back to start the next game for the Tigers and was crushed again: 2 IP, six runs (one earned), 28 GS. Chicago had 25 hits. Buck Weaver went 5-for-7 with five singles and an RBI. Everyone in the Chicago lineup had at least two hits except starter Lefty Williams, who was 1-for-5 but threw a complete game and improved to 4-0 on the season. The White Sox slash for the contest was .532/.585/.723.

On May 4, Eddie Collins and his injured leg were sent ahead to Philadelphia, and the Sox lost again, 2-1.

On May 5, the White Sox again outhit Detroit, 9-6, and again lost. Had three errors to the Tigers’ two. The Tigers scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth to eke out a 3-2 win. Gandil went 1-for-4 with a triple and an RBI, and was the last regular with an OPS better than 1.000, at 1.057. Dave Danforth pitched a complete game for a 60 GS but fell to 0-2 on the season.

In the series, the White Sox outscored Detroit, 28-17, but lost three of four games.

May 6-8 vs. Cleveland, won two of three (8-7)

Amazingly, this series qualified as the only homestand of the month.

May 6, a 6-4 win, saw Shano Collins end the game with a .429 average, Gandil .400. Joe Benz started and earned the win to go to 2-0 despite pitching just two innings — this was before a starter needed to go five innings to qualify for a win. Faber earned a seven-inning save! Just ahead of a coming rainstorm, a three-bagger by “little Ray” Schalk cleared the bases in the second inning.

May 7, 7-1 loss, saw Chicago record more errors (four) than hits (three). Worse, the White Sox were no-hit until the eighth inning by Cleveland starter Jim Bagby. Benz pitched two innings in relief the day after his two-inning start. Was Rowland pulling some The Opener magic, 100 years ahead of the 2018 trend? Williams started, and was rocked, taking his first loss of the season and falling to 4-1.

On May 8, White Sox won, 9-5, with Jackson going 3-for-5 with two doubles. Cicotte started and went just two innings, despite no runs, no hits and two strikeouts; Williams came back a day after throwing six innings and recorded a three-inning save.

On May 9, Happy Felsch left the team and headed to Brownsville, Texas to tend to his brother, who was trampled by a horse while in Army camp and was said to be in dire condition. He would be away for almost two weeks.

Off the field and between starts, Cicotte was using a cane for his “bum ankle.”

May 10-11 at Philadelphia, split two (9-8)

On May 10, the White Sox won 5-3 in 11 innings, without Felsch, Gandil (food poisoning) or Eddie Collins (leg) — both Cicotte and Gandil didn’t even leave the team hotel. Shano Collins was 3-for 5 with a double and two RBIs, while Faber went 8 13 innings in his start and strukc out just one batter. Strangely for the dead ball era, all three A’s runs came off of homers, two by George Burns and one from Tillie Walker. One of the round-trippers was hit completely out of Shibe Park, the first time a ball hit out to left field had ever completely left the premises.

The next day, the White Sox could only muster one hit, a Swede Risberg single, as Scott Perry killed Chicago with an 86 GS, 1-0 shutout. The eventual winning run scored in the bottom of the eighth, after Charlie Jamieson doubled and Burns singled him in.

May 12 at Cleveland, win (10-8)

Can’t really tell what the deal is with this one-off tilt, sandwiched between pairs of games in Philadelphia. It doesn’t appear to be a makeup of one of the many games rained out during an uncommonly soggy April. Weird.

Anyway, speaking of rain, this game at Cleveland was rained out in the sixth, with the White Sox scoring the only run of the shortened game in the fourth, Gandil scoring off of one of Tris Speaker’s two errors. On the flip side defensively, Shano Collins helped preserve the win with a somersault catch.

The White Sox were 10-8, and within a half-game of first place. Not to spoil the season story here, but this may have been as close as the South Siders got to first place all season.

May 13-14 at Philadelphia, split two (11-9)

In the 6-4 loss on May 13, Shano Collins went 2-for-4 with a homer, to raise his batting average to .500. For the Athletics, Walker went 4-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs.

On May 14, the White Sox exacted some revenge for the one-hitter three days earlier, knocking off A’s pitcher Perry courtesy of a three-hitter from Faber, 3-0. Faber whiffed only two en route to an 81 GS and a 2-0 record. His ERA was down to 0.98 on the season.

May 15-18 at Washington, split four (13-11)

What a weird series. Three games went into extras, an 11-, 13- and 18-inning game.

May 15 was the craziest, a 1-0 loss in 18 innings. Gandil and Shano Collins, two of Chicago’s best hitters, went 0-for-7. Risberg and Eddie Murphy both had doubles for the White Sox, but couldn’t come around to score. Williams threw a complete game of 17 13 innings, giving up eight hits, an earned run, two walks and getting three Ks — for a 109 game score. By the end of the marathon, his ERA fell from 2.49 to 1.96.

Williams was ever so slightly overshadowed by his opponent, Walter Johnson, who pitched a complete game of 18 innings, with 10 hits, a walk and nine Ks — a 120 game score. The ridiculous effort lowered his ERA from 1.25 to 0.98.

May 16 was a 4-2 win 11 innings for Chicago, despite getting just six hits to Washington’s 11. Shano Collins had the game-winning single. Benz was yanked early, just 23 innings in, after giving up four hits and two earned runs for a 36 GS. Dave Danforth came on and pitched the remaining 10 13 innings, giving up seven hits, two walks and getting two Ks.

On May 17, the White Sox again lost, 1-0, getting three-hit by Jim Shaw. In the bottom of the ninth, Clyde Millan had a one-out double and with two outs Joe Judge singled him in for the win. Cicotte fell to 0-5 despite 8 23 innings, seven hits, one earned, four Ks and a 70 GS.

On May 18 the White Sox evened the series with a 5-3 win in 13 innings, being helped by four errors from the Senators. Gandil went 3-for-6 with two RBI, and Weaver had a pinch-hit infield single in the 13th, which brought home both runs courtesy of the final Washington error. Senator hurler Earl Yingling lost, despite a 71 GS and a 3-for-5 day at the plate. Faber pitched all 13 innings for the White Sox, with 12 hits, three earned, three walks, four Ks and a 72 GS, upping his record to 3-0.

May 20-23 at New York, split two (14-12)

In the opener, the White Sox won, 6-2, behind a 3-for-4, two-RBI day from Fred McMullin and a 2-for-4, three-RBI effort from Weaver. Williams upped his record to 6-2 on the season with a complete game win.

On May 22, Cicotte lost again to drop to 0-6, with a 13 13 inning complete game of seven hits, an earned run, three walks, seven Ks and a 94 GS. The winless Cicotte had a 2.84 ERA. Wally Pipp won the 1-0 game for the Yankees with a game-winning single in the 14th, knocking in Home Run Baker. The White Sox were “blanked by New York’s wonder recruit, Herbert Thormahlen, whose name makes you think of some kind of tooth powder or disinfectant.”

Swede Risberg used his left hand to dispatch of a ruffian hassling Red Cross girls — not to protect his throwing hand, but to “not kill the fellow.”

Strangely, the May 23 game against New York was postponed for no reason at all.

According to Rowland, the Yankees decision was the “yellowest kind of sportsmanship and rotten business judgment besides.” The manager suspected the postponement was a result of the Yankees having no pitchers left to go in the finale.

May 24-28 at Boston, lost three of four (15-15)

As the White Sox prepared to face the Carmines, General Crowder ordered the baseball season to end on July 1. Players around baseball were angry that actors were considered essential and draft-exempt, but baseball players were non-essential.

Bullet Joe Bush beat the White Sox, 5-4, on May 24, courtesy of a walk-off with none out in the ninth. And the Red Sox made it two straight walk-off games the next day, when with two outs in the 10th, Williams lost it. Felsch went 3-for-5.

Say what you will about withering criticism on SSS or the hostile social media environment of the 21st Century, but no one is calling the hapless 2018 White Sox “dull” or “dumb.” Not in a headline, anyway. Yet.

May 26 in Boston was the first scheduled Sunday game in the city’s history, with proceeds going to the Red Cross. The decision caused a great controversy — but the game ended up postponed due to cold, with observers noting that playing the game in that “weather would have been akin to suicide.”

Instead, it was the May 27 game that went to the Red Cross, and to the White Sox, 6-4, after Chicago rallied for four runs after the seventh inning. Nemo Liebold and Risberg both had three hits. Cicotte fell behind early and was yanked after one inning, three hits and two earned runs (39 GS), but the White Sox comeback got him off the hook for an 0-7 start.

The game raised $5,500 for the war effort, the equivalent of $100,000 today.

Cicotte came right back on May 28 but lost 1-0, as Felsch would tap Chicago’s only hit. Bush struck the White Sox again, with his second win in the series. Cicotte fell to 0-7 despite eight innings with five hits, no earned runs, two walks, six Ks and a 89 GS.

Over the past 46 innings with Cicotte on the mound, Chicago had provided the hurler with one run of support.

During the Boston series, it was observed that the absence of Jackson “seems to have taken the final punch out of the Rowlands.” (A common practice of the era was to nickname a team after the manager ... Philadelphia was the Macks for Connie Mack, and so on.)

May 30-31 at Cleveland, won two of three (17-16)

The “heat was torrid” in Cleveland for this series, mere days after bitter cold cancelled a game in Boston.

In the opener, Williams was knocked out of the box after one inning and four hits, three earned and a 33 GS. Frank Shellenback came on with 10 shutout innings, to earn the win as the White Sox used 15 hits to eke out a 4-3 win in the 11th. Murphy, Eddie Collins and Felsch, Chicago’s No. 2-4 hitters, each had three hits.

In the nightcap, McMullin was spiked badly by Ray Chapman while stealing third, (one of his three steals in the game) and McMullin had to be carried off of the field. Chicago rallied to tie the game with two runs in the top of the ninth, but Cleveland scored in the bottom of the frame for the walk-off. Cicotte came on to finish the game after Danforth couldn’t retire a batter in the ninth, but could only get one out before Cleveland won it.

May ended well for the White Sox, as the club finally scored for Cicotte (pitching again in relief, fresh off finishing the nightcap on May 30) in a 4-3 win. Murphy went 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI, while Eddie Collins reached base twice with hits, twice with walks, and drove in two. Williams was bounced early once again, pitching 1 23 innings and giving up a run due to wildness (four walks); Cicotte came on but strong, hurling 7 13 innings and upping his record to 1-7.

With a 9-9 road trip to finish the month, the White Sox greeted June at 17-16, in fifth place, five games in back of first-place Boston. Chicago had a 12-14 record in May, despite outscoring opponents by 18 runs.

June would promise a massive homestand — and additional setbacks for the World Champs.