Reds Report - Redsline - August '06

 

Shedding New Light on '19 Series, Roush

by Mark Schmetzer

 

So let me get this straight.

There's going to a test on this book?

That's one impression created in the early going of "Red Legs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series" (Publishers Group West, 350 pages, $16.95). It stems from stumbling across test book like footnotes at the end of each chapter.

To find such references in this baseball book really isn't surprising. The author, Tampa, Fla. resident Susan Dellinger, has a doctorate and also has written books such as "Communicating Beyond Our Differences", Psycho-Geometrics", and "Communicating Effectively".

More to the point regarding this most recent effort, though, is she is the granddaughter of Roush, the Hall of Fame center fielder for the Cincinnati Reds, who beat the Chicago White Sox in the 1919 World Series that of course, was marred by a gambling scandal that shook the foundation of the sport.

The series has been minutely examined in several previous books, including Eliot Asinof's exemplary "Eight Men Out" and William Cook's disappointing "The 1919 World Series: What Really Happened", so another book focusing solely on that subject would border on redundant.

But Dellinger doesn't fall into that trap. "Red Legs and Black Sox" is as much a much-needed biography of Roush as it is a look at the infamous World Series - and it succeeds on both fronts.

Side note here: The Reds really need to find a way to honor Roush a Great American Ball Park. Simply adding his name to the line of retired numbers on the wall of the press box would be sufficient. Retiring his number is out of the question. He didn't have one.

Alternatively, the team could retire "62" in his honor. He was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

Dellinger draws on interviews with her grandfather and grandmother, Essie Mae Swallow Roush, and significant research to give readers a portrait of the man voted by Reds fans in1969 as the team's greatest player over the first 100 years of its existence. We get to see Roush growing up in tiny Oakland City, Ind., starting his baseball career on the old-fashioned town team who wooing and winning Essie.

We learn why Roush's parents spelled his first name the way they did and the roots of Roush's notorious hard-line negotiating, which often caused him to miss significant parts of seasons and sit out the entire 1930 season while holding out for the salary he believed he deserved.

Dellinger's book is almost as much a loving look at the closely bonded relationship between her grandparents as it is a baseball biography of her grandfather, but she never loses sight of the primary objective. We watch Roush's progress from town teams through the minor leagues to, ironically, his major league debut with the White Sox in 1913 and, from there, to the "outlaw" Federal League before finally reaching the National League with John McGraw's New York Giants. He joined the Reds with Christy Mathewson and later Reds manager Bill McKechnie in a 1916 mid-season trade.

That set the stage for the momentous 1919 season and the emotional series with Chicago. As mentioned, much of the ground over which Dellinger treads already is covered with overlapping sets of footnotes, but she is still able to unearth some nuggets of new information that previously were unreported.

Another is the role played by Jimmy Widmeyer, operator of a popular newsstand in the center of the city and a sports fan with unusual access to the inner sanctum of the game.

Also explored is the involvement of gamblers other than Arnold Rothstein, the New York financier who is most often connected with the whole story.

Dellinger explores several new angles, but the most fascinating is the impact on the emotions of Edd and his bride. Roush, as self-assured as any player on the field, saw his feelings about the White Sox players fixing of the Series - alleged at the time - vary from denial to confusion to fear to anger. Mixed in was the disappointment in his own play. He hit just .214 in the eight-game series.

Roush always swore that the Reds would have won that World Series without any help from the White Sox, but his confidence was shaken somewhat by a chance meeting in 1928 at a hospital in St. Louis with a man who swore the he knew the inside story of the whole scandal - yet another development previously unreported.

Dellinger's book, which stemmed from an article titled "A Shadow in the Night: Edd Roush and the 1919 World Series" that appeared in the program for the 2004 convention of the Society for American Baseball Research, is spiced with photos of Roush in and out of baseball, along with scenes of other people and places associated with his life and times and newspaper cartoons that helped illustrate the mood of the era.

Minor glitches, such as one chapter in which the notes don't match up to their reference numbers, do next to nothing to take away from the quality and impact of Dellinger's book.

Roush played through the 1931 season, mostly with the Reds, and compiled a .323 career batting average. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame with Jackie Robinson, Bob Feller, and his longtime friend, McKechnie. Almost appropriately, he passed away at the age of 95 on March 21, 1988, after suffering a heart attach in the press room at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Florida where the Pittsburgh Pirates where conducting spring training.

Dellinger reports that her grandfather "died in the ambulance as it sped across the diamond in the outfield. Edd had died where he wanted to be - in center field".

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