1919 World Series

Mythology and art mesh at Black Sox 100th-anniversary exhibit

By George Castle

CBM Historian

Thom Ross makes his point – very sharply – about the Black Sox via his art in the most publicized exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of sports’ biggest scandal.

All of Ross’ drawings of the celebrities, sanctimonious arbiters and shadowy characters involved in the attempting throwing of the 1919 World Series have angular, almost severe lines. He did not sketch rounded, softer edges. The style makes everyone seem taller.

Sketch of Buck Weaver.

In fact, Ross’ depiction of Kenesaw Mountain Landis required a rectangular display case. The judge who threw the book – and then some – at the Black Sox almost seems to grow out of his confines with the artist making him long, lean and spare.

Artist Thom Ross

A lot of the motivations of the 1919 White Sox who took gamblers money and those who judged them are still up for debate. But not Ross’ MO in his sketching style. He has put it all together in an exhibit, “The Black Sox – A Century Later,” running through July at the Beverly Arts Center on the southwest corner of Western Avenue and 111th Street in Chicago. Commuters from nearby I-57 on 111th go up a sudden incline at Longwood Drive to Chicago’s highest point to gain a special perspective into baseball’s lowest moment that has been made into books, movies and endless recrimination.

“It’s just who I am,” Ross said, appropriately dressed in 1919 garb, complete with straw skimmer, for the opening of the exhibit. “My theory is things like mythology and legend are inspired by historical stories and truth.  But it gets warped (over the decades). That’s why these figures (with sharp edges) don’t look like photographs. In that mythic world, you appear like you do in a dream.

“Life is kind of a like a coin. It has two sides. It’s the same as who we are. We have a historical side that our friends may know, and a mythic side. When you look at historical interpretation in novels, poems and especially movies, it’s based on a true event. And then it’s altered.

“It’s in that alteration, that mythic realm, that these eight men have their power.  It might be a guilt power, it might be a tragic power, it could be a cautionary tale. People who don’t care about baseball who saw ‘Field of Dreams’ don’t care about Buck Weaver (or accuracy).”

Mythology added on through the decades

Around the 70th anniversary of the Black Sox, two movies further advanced the mythology.  “Eight Men Out” purported to tell the historical side, but the whole process surely was surely Hollywood-ized with fictional angles for dramatic effect.

Then came “Field of Dreams,” an all-time cinematic master of mythmaking and Americana. First Shoeless Joe Jackson, in the form of right-handed hitting Ray Liotta portraying the southpaw-swinging batsman, appeared in the cornfield. “It’s a myth, so maybe in the next world Shoeless Joe hits right-handed,” Ross said. Then Shoeless Joe’s Black Sox teammates wandered out of the stalks, complete with a catcher. As we know, 1919 White Sox catcher Ray Schalk  was one of the “Clean Sox” and no backup joined the plotters.

Whether history or myth, the Black Sox Scandal’s tentacles reached far beyond newbie baseball commissioner Landis’ banishment-for-life of seven active participants and Weaver. The third baseman purportedly heard of the scheming, but did not violate the eternal baseball code by tattling on his teammates. Weaver was caught in the dragnet of guilt-by-associaation. (http://www.clearbuck.com)

In fact, the Black Sox helped create even more mythology on even bigger stages. Babe Ruth’s “called shot” on Oct. 1, 1932 in Game 3 of the World Series was the outgrowth of Landis’ mid-summer ’32 investigation into Cubs manager Rogers Hornsby’s borrowing money from his player to cover racetrack debts.

STORY >>

Category Baseball Under Glass Blog Tags , , , , , , , , , , ,