11 November 2002

Say It Ain't So, Eddie...

Speaking (albeit briefly) of
Shoeless Joe, I have wondered for some time about another of the permanently banned Chicago Black Sox players, who seems to me to have surprisingly little acclaim as a pitcher, though (I think) if not for the Black Sox Scandal, he might have made the Hall of Fame: Eddie Cicotte. If you saw the movie Eight Men Out (based on the book of the same title by Eliot Asinof), Cicotte was the ace knuckleballer played by David Strathairn, who happens to be one of my favorite actors.

In the movie, Cicotte is cheated out of a $10,000 bonus he had been promised if he won 30 games that year. He won 29, even though he had missed three weeks in August simply because White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey had Cicotte benched "to save him for the [World] Series." He could easily have won at least one of his four starts during that span, but was not given the chance, because Comiskey was such a cheap bastard. (And to think, just five years ago, Steve Avery was purposely given a sufficient number of starts to kick in a $3.9 million option for the following year with the BoSox, despite having an ERA over 6.00 at the time!)

This slight, I suppose, Cicotte felt was justification for taking part in throwing the Series against the Cincinatti Reds. (Not "Redlegs", the moniker used in the movie. The term "Red" did not develop negative, Communistic connotations and subsequent taboos until later, and the Reds did not use the name Redlegs until McCarthyism was at its height in the early 1950's, I believe.) However he rationalized it to himself, the evidence is there that he took money from gamblers, took part in fixing the Series, and took his own name from the running for Cooperstown (though it didn't exist at the time...the HoF, not the town). His career similarity scores include four members of the Hall: Stan Covelski, Chief Bender, Jack Chesbro and Dazzy Vance. Carl Mays, also with very similar career numbers to Cicotte, might have made it to Baseball Immortality as well, if he hadn't first achieved Baseball Infamy as the Only Man Ever to Kill A Player With A Pitch.

But consider the following, about what was and what might have been for Edward Victor Cicotte:

What Was: Cicotte's 208 career wins place him 88th on the career list, ahead of HoFers Bob Lemon, Rube Marquard and Hal Newhouser.]

What Might Have Been: Cicotte only pitched 14 years, having been expelled from baseball after the 1920 season when he was only 36. If he'd gotten to pitch another four or five years (not uncommon for a knuckleballer), he should easily have had 250-270 wins, putting him in league with Jim Palmer, Bob Feller and Carl Hubbell. The fact that Cicotte's "shine ball" would have been legally grandfathered under the new rules would have only prolonged his career.

What Was: Cicotte's career 2.38 ERA places him 24th on the all-time list, in the same neighborhood as Eddie Plank and Chief Bender, both Hall of famers.

What Might Have Been: Well, with four or five more years of pitching, his ERA likely would have risen a bit, but even if he finished around 2.70 or 2.80, he'd have still been in pretty good HoF company (Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax, Chesbro).

What Was: Cicotte's career .583 winning percentage is better than Cooperstown members Ted Lyons, Jim Bunning, Dons Drysdale and Sutton, Burleigh Grimes, and Eppa Rixey, just to name a few.

What Might Have Been: Eh, probably about the same, maybe a slight drop, but still very good. Over the course of his career, the teams Cicotte played on had a .570 W%, slightly below his own.

What Was: Eddie Cicotte, according to the increasingly useful and wonderful fount of searchable knowledge over at , was one of only SIX 20th century pitchers to win at least 200 games, have an ERA under 2.50, pitch at least 3000 innings, and win over 58% of his decisions. The other five?

Walter "Big Train" Johnson
Christy "Big Six" Matthewson
Charles "Chief" Bender
"Gettysburg" Eddie Plank
Mordecai Peter Centennial "Three-Finger" Brown (my favorite baseball name)

Wow. Or, as they say in France: Holy Schnikies.

What Might Have Been: Do we really need to ask what might have been?! Isn't what actually happened good enough? Look at that list again! Five Hall of Famers. OK, so Bender's kinda marginal, but the rest are all top-notch Cooperstown cronies.

So what's the point of all this? Before people start sending me piles of flaming hatemail with lots of mis-spellings, I am NOT advocating for Eddie Cicotte's enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Obviously, I cannot do so in good conscience, especially after rallying against Pete Rose's candidacy as vehemently as I have. I am simply trying to spread awareness that Charlie Hustle and Shoeless Joe are not the only great players kept out of Cooperstown because of their alleged dealings with gamblers.

On the other hand, hatemail may be better than no mail, so flame away!

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