The 1919 Chicago Black Sox Were The Tip Of The Iceberg
1919 Was a Perfect Storm Of Several Black Swans. The Black Sox Were the Tip of the Iceberg. And from Gatsby, to Field Of Dreams, the Latest MLB Cheating Scandal, and Spanish Flu comparisons to COVID-19 — Shoeless Joe and the Black Sox Never Really Left the American Zeitgeist. It’s time to learn why.
***Update. Today is 3/26/20 — Opening day 2020. The 2020 baseball season (at all levels) has been postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 outbreak. When I began writing this article in 2019, I learned all about the horrors of Spanish Flu. When writers began comparing coronavirus to Spanish Flu in early March, it stopped me cold. I sincerely believe the Black Sox are an on ramp to the lessons of history. May we learn them. May we learn the difference between finite and infinite games. Every day is opening day of the rest of our lives.***
Over the years, baseball has weathered many storms. Gambling scandals, strikes, steroids, juiced balls, world wars, competition from other sports, and most recently the Houston Astros cheating scandal — have left their mark on America’s pastime as much as peanuts and crackerjack.
It was a missed opportunity when the 100-Year anniversary season passed quietly by with no official acknowledgment of the first and worst scandal in sports history — the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal.
As 2019 got under way I kept waiting, but there would be no press release, no black arm bands, no Bob Costas skybox-report. Even after MLB scheduled a game at Field Of Dreams for August 13th, 2020, there’s been no honoring of the Black Sox centennial — and the dark holiday that it is. This bothered me.
I decided to remedy my discomfort by rereading the book Shoeless Joe, by W.P. Kinsella. That’s to book which became Field Of Dreams. It’s a book and movie that I find moving in ways hard to express with words.
But I will say this — it’s easy to overlook how truly weird and mystical that story is. It’s a ghost story, with talking cornfields, and esoteric quotes like:
“There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers click and the universe opens up to show you what’s possible.”
Nowadays, we take the wild, weirdness of W.P. Kinsella for granted. But it’s not the type of esoteric thought you’d equate with Sports Illustrated, ESPN Sportscenter, the Instagram and Twitterverse, or jock athletes in general.
The story is an odd combination of mystical realism. A mixed media of thought. But it works on us. Oh does it ever.
I love the story — in a deep, hard to explain, bordering-on-religious, type of way. Maybe you love it that way too?
If you do, you’ll be pleased to know that Shoeless Joe — and all it’s mystical weirdness, influences this entire story.
But halfway through my reread last Spring, I had to put Shoeless Joe down. Too many questions had piled up regarding the backstory of what I was reading. I couldn’t finish the book again until I got to the bottom of things. I decided to figure out what really happened in 1919.
The search for answers begins
No one was coming forth to provide the answer that sufficiently explained how Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox could have thrown the 1919 World Series. So I went searching for myself.
As the project grew into the scope of what you’re reading — I first had to ask, “Why not me? Why shouldn’t I write this?”
I’m the inheritor of White Sox culture as much as anyone I know. I lived and worked on the Southside of Chicago for several years. Then I moved to Iowa.
Kinsella wrote Shoeless Joe while he was teaching at the University Of Iowa, my alma mater. Iowa City is featured heavily in the book. I know the territory.
To put it another way, I understand what’s going on around 35th & Shields, as well as in Dyersville, IA.
It isn’t the path many take. (And now, I have a creeping suspicion Field Of Dreams had something to do with all of it.)
Subsequently, I have the unique perspective required to make this analysis. I’m confident in my chops as a fan. As well as the Liberal Arts education I received, which prepared me with the ability to interpret the meaning of books, films, and culture.
In the end, who else am I going to turn to for answers?
The Problem Starts in Iowa
This whole problem began when I was born into a White Sox family. Actually, it started in Iowa, which is fitting. My dad was born and grew up in Iowa. He was a Yankees fan like everyone else in the late 50’s, and Mickey Mantle was his hero.
He did well in school and went to college at Northwestern University. There he met my mom who was raised on Long Island, NY, as a White Sox fan. She was a White Sox fan, unlike anyone in New York, under the tutelage of my grandfather, who grew up a Sox fan in Chicago.
My parent’s first date was a game at Comiskey Park between my father’s Yankees and my mother’s White Sox. They raised me and my brother in the same suburban school district where they were both teachers and still live in retirement.
After my Dad realized he was locked in to the Chciago burbs, he decided to choose a team. He elected the White Sox over the Cubs to please my mom and all the same reasons Nelson Algren wrote about in Chicago: City On The Make.
Growing up, I was taught to love the late-80’s teams of Harold Baines and Carlton Fisk. I loved Old Comiskey; the archway windows, exploding scoreboard, and Nancy Foust playing Gary Glitter. I got Minny Minosa’s autograph once during batting practice, and Mark McGwire’s after my father somehow got me inside the players’ entrance to the stadium.
We made the pilgrimage to Field Of Dreams after the movie came out. We conducted batting practice on the kitty litter infield, and ate sandwiches under the pines.
We went to opening weekend at the new stadium and sat in the upper deck. Frank Thomas, Black Jack McDowell, Snoop Dogg, and the new Sox hats. The strike in ’94 ruined a perfectly good pennant chase, and I boycotted a couple seasons of baseball to focus on Michael and the Bulls.
After I graduated from the University of Iowa, my Iowa girlfriend moved with me into an apartment downtown. I went to 41 games in 2003. That was when you could bring a Pepsi can to the park and get in for a half price on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Then I married my Iowa girl in October 2005, the greatest month of my life.
My quest for answers gets organized
In the end, I turned many places for answers about 1919. My search began with rereading Shoeless Joe. But I realized I couldn’t read just one book, I had to read them all.
I scoured countless books, documentaries, dark corners of the internet. I wanted answers, so I did the heavy lifting. The driving questions became:
- What really happened in 1919?
- How could they throw the world series?
- What is this deeper meaning that we feel when watching Field Of Dreams?
What unfolded was the deep dive that I’ll take you on today.
I wanted to understand the full historical fabric around 1919.
Ultimately, I have relied on the work of many people. As you will see throughout this piece, I pulled information and influence not just from a variety of media, but a variety of cultural sources — outside of baseball.
The Black Sox bubble pops, the collage of history floods in
Why did I start looking outside of baseball?
We know the Black Sox didn’t exist in a bubble, right? Why then, does seemingly everything ever written about them ignore the greater historical context of 1919?
To tackle the question of what really happened, my quest became an interdisciplinary exploration into the historic events from a Century ago.
I became eager to understand more than just baseball history. I built a fuller understanding of the full historical fabric around 1919.
Ultimately, what emerged is an interwoven collage of history. I weaved together a 1919 America that includes the Black Sox story with the context that has been sorely lacking.
I tie in military history, medicine, race, politics, business, society, literature and art to paint a more-complete picture of the 1919 cultural spirit — the zeitgeist.
This process of piecing together the 1919 zeitgeist left me surprised at nearly every turn.
The metaphors that I used to frame my exploration of 1919 history lead me from baseball to literature and art. From there it became obvious I had to go even deeper into the realms of psychology and philosophy.
I drew upon the work of psychologists named Freud, Jung, and Peterson. James Carse explained the difference between “finite and infinite games.”
I expanded my mind and tried to match wits with the mystical, magical weirdness of W.P. Kinsella and Field Of Dreams.
The final result is a deeper, holistic understanding of the Black Sox story and its ongoing impact on American culture. Indeed, even while the history of 1919 has been forgotten, the Black Sox have never actually left the zeitgeist.
Top 3 revelations about the Black Sox found in this article:
- Our World has forgotten that 1919 was a perfect storm of chaos. World War One, Spanish Flu, Race Riots, and the Red Scare. The Black Sox story is just part of this greater context. The Black Sox seem more like a symptom of 1919 — a canary in the coal mine. Put another way, the Black Sox a the tip of a massive, dark, historical iceberg.
- After descending the full contextual depth of the 1919 Iceberg, we find that the mystical retelling of the Black Sox story in Field Of Dreams brings something profound and archetypal out of its viewers. Something hidden in the depths of the collective unconscious and human DNA.
- The “have a catch” scene in Field of Dreams drills deep into the bedrock and forms the foundation of a new legacy. One not of perfection, but of wholeness. Indeed, after a heroes’ journey, we find that through weird, mystical, alchemical ways — the Black Sox are what saved — and what saves — the game of baseball.
In order to unbox these revelations, we’ll organize our investigation into two parts. In part one, we’ll investigate the historical context and zeitgeist of 1919 using an iceberg as a metaphor:
- Black Sox echoed in the current context of legal sports gambling, enormous player contracts, cheating scandals (and now COVID-19).
- 1/8 — The tip of the iceberg —the Black Sox, Gatsby, and Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory.”
- 2/8 — The Great War, every man for himself, and the lost season.
- 3/8 — Spanish Flu, a unique epidemic that killed more than WW1.
- 4/8 — The Red Summer race riots and fear of the other.
- 5/8 — The first Red Scare and fear of Socialism.
- 6/8 — The Federal League, the rise of a monopoly.
- 7/8 — Gambling in 1919 baseball.
- 8/8 — Prohibition gets passed, and the role of alcoholism.
- Culture Applauds The Lost Generation: Fitzgerald and Hemingway.
- The Dada Movement, Fountain, the Kantian Sublime, and Abstract Art
In part two, we’ll interpret the deeper implications of 1919 using another iceberg as a metaphor:
- Another Iceberg Theory — Freud, Jung, Peterson and the monster of the deep.
- More baseball scandals — Pete Rose, strikes, steroids, and cheaters.
- Finite and infinite game theory.
- The archetypal shadow.
- The ancestral Father.
- In Sterquiliniis Invenitur — In filth it will be found.
- Alchemical processes and the Philosopher’s Stone.
- How the Black Sox and Field Of Dreams save baseball.
- The final analysis — a new legacy.
Introduction: A Cosmic Irony?
Adding irony to the Black Sox centennial, on June 2nd of 2019, the State of Illinois legalized sports gambling. Hype surrounding sports gambling has skyrocketed over the last year as States rush to legalize gambling and get their share of tax dollars.
Before the beginning of the 2020 MLB season, new mobile phone gambling apps are set to launch that feature in-game, Super Bowl-style, “prop betting” options.
Soon, fans who wish to gamble on the Chicago White Sox or Cubs will be allowed — encouraged — to bet while sitting on their bum in the Wrigley Field bleachers and make it rain from the concourse shower at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Meanwhile, MLB owners continue to gamble on Superstars, signing players to $3+ Billion in new contracts and extensions in 2019 alone. Mike Trout hit the jackpot with a 12-year deal worth Half a Billion dollars.
Seems like a lot of money especially considering the Superstar players of last generation are now locked out of the Hall Of Fame with Shoeless Joe based on their Steroid use.
On the Black Sox centennial, with the legalization and mainstreaming of sports gambling, and huge contracts for this generation’s superstars, and MLB coming to the Field Of Dreams, you can’t help but ask what it means for the legacy of 1919?
Let’s dive in.
1/8- the Tip of the 1919 Iceberg
It seems like we sorta just know the story of the Black Sox.
Isn’t it odd that we know the story of Shoeless Joe and the Black Sox better than most stories from 100 years ago?
Joe Jackson was nicknamed “Shoeless” after playing a game in his socks because his new cleats hurt his feet. He was a Southerner playing a Northerner’s game.
He was illiterate, and ashamed about it. Several of his teammates were Ivy League grads.
His famous bat “Black Betsy” helped him become one of the greatest hitters of all time.
Shoeless Joe still holds the third-highest lifetime batting average in baseball history at .356. What’s new, and more amazing is how he achieved those numbers.
Joe Jackson’s revolutionary swing
The years before 1920 were considered the Deadball-Era, and Joe Jackon’s swing was considered revolutionary for how hard a swing he created.
Babe Ruth regarded as the greatest player of all time is on record as saying, “I copied (Shoeless Joe) Jackson’s style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen, the greatest natural hitter I ever saw. He’s the guy who made me a hitter.”
We also know the White Sox’ cheapskate owner, Charles Comiskey. “The Old Roman,” who had assembled the greatest team in Baseball, then paid them like they were the worst.
We know how they were already called the Black Sox before 1919, because Comiskey wouldn’t pay for their dirty uniforms to be laundered.
And according to legend, when the White Sox won the 1917 World Series, Comiskey’s big bonus for the players wasn’t cash, but a few bottles of flat champagne.
We know that two years after they won it all, eight White Sox players, including the great Shoeless Joe, conspired with a group of gamblers to fix the 1919 World Series.
The scandal leaked out, they were put on trial, found innocent, but banned for life from Baseball anyway.
And in 1920, Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees by the Boston Red Sox, became a full time hitter, hit 54 home runs, buried the Dead Ball era, announced to the country that the Roaring Twenties would be different, and by all accounts, saved Baseball.
The Great American Novel
We know the Black Sox story thanks in large part to three classic 1980’s baseball movies which featured elements of the Black Sox Scandal— “Field of Dreams”, “Eight Men Out” and “The Natural.”
Those three movies each came from a book, written decades earlier. But the first work of literature to canonize the Black Sox in popular culture is also considered one of “the Great American novels.”
Elliot Asinof begins his book, “Eight Men Out,” with the famous quote from “The Great Gatsby,” about “the man who fixed the 1919 World Series.”
Fitzgerald’s Gatsby still has the power to send a young mind reeling with its defining vision of the American dream —the girl, the mansion, the car, the parties, and of course — the money.
This was on full display at the 2019 NFL Draft, when Kyler Murray, the number one overall draft pick, walked onto stage, in a personal-branding-era-defining moment, wearing a custom tailored pink suit, and matching Nike’s, inspired by his favorite movie, The Great Gatsby.
However — when you begin investigating the Black Sox story, you see Fitzgerald’s artistic liberty, the fiction, behind the idea that 1919 was all fixed by one man.
Instead, the 1919 World Series was exactly how Nick Carraway assumed in Gatsby — “the end of some inevitable chain.”
Some inevitable chain indeed — more like a perfect storm.
“The Iceberg Theory”: The Source Of Our Metaphor
The decade of 1910–1920 was especially marked by disaster — both natural and man-made. Sometimes, it was a combination of both, as was the case of the “unsinkable” Titanic, which sank in 1912 after an iceberg tore the bottom out of its hull, leaving 1503 dead.
When researching the Black Sox and the “Dead Ball Era,” you notice that Baseball writers treat the sport and its players as though they existed within a bubble.
There is no consideration of the effects of the outside world on the inner world of the players. In short, we never get the whole story, not even close.
Instead, we get Fitzgerald’s “one man” — and those mystical rows of Iowa corn.
That sense of omission surrounding the Black Sox story mirrors the work of another famous “Lost Generation” writer, Ernest Hemingway.
Iceberg Theory is what Hemingway called his minimalist writing technique, his theory of omission.
“The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” — Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway purposefully omitted things (usually the biggest thing) from his narratives. He believed this lead the reader to complete their own mental picture via gestalt principles, via the power of suggestion, via the way the human mind deals with the other seven-eights of an iceberg.
Hemingway said, “Big Two-Hearted River,” is about a boy coming home from the war. So the war, all mention of the war, anything about the war, is omitted.”
The Iceberg Theory is why we are taught that with Hemingway, what isn’t said is as important as what is.
Thus far, that’s how the Black Sox story has been told. Lets tell it a different way.
On the centennial of the 1919 Black Sox, lets finally say the things that haven’t been said. In doing so, perhaps we’ll find out why it was so important to omit context from the Black Sox story in the first place.
2/8- The Great War
Just beneath the surface of the Black Sox scandal lies World War I, a war that every generation seems to have struggled to comprehend, including the one that fought it.
“The War to End All Wars,” began in 1914 with the assassination of the Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand, saw 15–20 million people killed and 23 million wounded, and ended with Armistice Day on November 11, 1918.
One of America’s earliest interactions with the War in Europe occurred in 1915 with echoes of the Titanic — when the Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine, killing 1198 people.
The sinking of the Lusitania was thereafter heavily referenced in propaganda efforts to sway public opinion against Germany.
When the war began America had only 100,000 men in the Army. After war was declared on Germany on April 6, 1917, the armament process of spooling up the nation for war took another year.
With initial recruitment efforts slow, America’s first Draft began on May 17, 1917. By the end of the war, two million men had enlisted, and 2.8 million were drafted into military service.
The 1917 Baseball season remained on schedule while the war machine built steam. MLB teams held “Military Days” showed their support for the War Effort by having players march in formation before games.
The 1918 baseball season was a completely different story.
By Spring 1918, American Troops were in Europe getting their first taste of trench warfare. Baseball had fallen into controversy, and there was hostility towards ball players. Why should the obviously able-bodied players be exempt from the draft and war?
Other sports like Hockey, Horse Racing and College Football saw their schedules reduced or shut down. One by one, all the minor leagues of Baseball were shut down. The talk of shutting down Major League Baseball horrified owners.
Owners continued to make public gestures of support; they donated large sums of money to war related causes, they shortened the 1918 season, they relocated spring trainings and took other travel-reducing measures.
Owners also solemnly announced they had reduced players’ salaries and trimmed playoff bonuses (thus the flat champagne in 1917).
“Work or Fight”
Despite pleas that Baseball boosted American morale (the call that would save the game during WW2), public outcry intensified. Attendance at games was already dropping when the Secretary of War, Warren Baker, stepped in.
Baker declared Baseball “non-essential.” The “Work or Fight” ultimatum would end the 1918 season on July 1.
All able-bodied men in non-essential industries must enlist, find work directly related to the war effort — or expect to get drafted.
Every Man For Himself
Because each player was at the mercy of the draft board in his home state, 1918 amounted to every man for himself.
Every player had to figure out the best situation for himself and his family.
Teams were left scrambling, as an average of 15 players disappeared from every MLB roster.
Joe Jackson found work. Originally Jackson was safe from the draft. He had three brothers already serving, was married and was the primary provider for his mother, and thus had been given a class-4 designation by South Carolina.
But after only 17 games with the White Sox in 1918, Jackson’s draft status was inexplicably changed to a 1-A classification. After finding himself at the front of the line to be drafted, Jackson scrambled and found a position to work (and play ball) for the Harlan Shipbuilding arm of Bethlehem Steel.
Joe Jackson spent the 1918 summer in Wilmington, DE. as a “ship painter” by day and ballplayer for the Harlan Shipbuilding Company team nights and weekends. His team won the 1918 Steel League championship.
Many major leaguers avoided combat working in this way. But because Jackson was one of the first, and biggest, names to play in the Steel League, he got criticized heavily in the press as unpatriotic.
Meanwhile, two of the five first ballot Hall of Famers, Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb, enlisted and were sent to fight in Europe.
Both men were subsequently involved in a training accident and gassed by eaponized chemical gas. Cobb escaped the site without harm. Christy Mathewson inhaled a large amount of the poisonous gas. The event officially ending his Hall of Fame career, and left his weakened lungs susceptible to the tuberculosis he would fight until it killed him seven years later.
Grover Cleveland Alexander, one of the best pitchers of all time, had won an astounding 94 games between 1915–17. In 1918 while serving in France, he was gassed and nearly died in a mortar attack. He was left shell-shocked but lived, and continued his Hall Of Fame baseball career while fighting epileptic seizures, hearing loss and alcoholism.
The Lost Season
Baseball Ownership lobbied hard and won a small reprieve of two months. The 1918 regular season would end not July 1st but September 1st, and the World Series thereafter.
Babe Ruth remained with the Boston Red Sox for the entire 1918 season —he avoided combat by enlisting in the National Guard, was never called into duty — and his pitching helped defeat the Chicago Cubs in the only World Series ever played entirely in September.
After the 1918 season ended, Ruth signed on with Harlan Steel as a “blueprint deliverer.” The Steel League season was completed by then as well, but he played in one game, a Steel League All-Star game made up entirely of major leaguers — before contracting influenza and getting sent home to Baltimore to recover.
If the war had continued another 6 months, the consensus of Baseball Historians is that the 1919 season would never have been played. If that had happened, there would only have been Steel League baseball.
Anticipating that possibility when the 1918 season ended, team owners conspired and released every player in the league. That way they didn’t have to pay the players for the month they didn’t play.
Ultimately, only eight MLB players and 20 minor leaguers died in the war before Armistice Day.
All players were re-signed to the same team as before the war, and the 1919 season began on schedule.
In 2019, the MLB put a poppy patch on every uniform for Memorial Day, the traditional symbol honoring fallen soldiers, and a reference to the World War I poem, In Flanders Fields.
But in 1919, the war was still a fresh wound. Think about it. The war had to have been on everyone’s mind. There was no space for reflection yet, just the cramped, crazy dash of 1.7 million soldiers returning home to a good old American, “new normal.”
Unfortunately, normalcy would be placed in queue while society continued to wretch with upheaval and mass tragedy throughout 1919.
3/8- The Spanish Flu
We forget about this one. In the pre-Covid-19 days of my Black Sox investigation, I had never heard of the Spanish Flu. I honestly don’t remember being taught about the Spanish Flu at any point during my education.
But consider this. Spanish Flu killed more people, both in America and worldwide, than the Great War.
Between February 1918 and April 1920, Spanish Flu infected 500 Million people and resulted in an estimated 50–100 Million deaths worldwide.
Spanish Flu was one of the deadliest epidemics in recorded history, on par only with The Black Death of the 1300’s. It was truly a plague.
What factors made Spanish Flu so deadly? In the preceding decades, the Industrial Revolution had introduced mass transportation in the form of locomotives, street cars, and ocean travel. Parades, rallies, and other war related gatherings didn’t help. Thus, Spanish Flu was spread throughout the globe — in four deadly waves — via population and troop movements related to the War.
Along with spreading via population movement, Spanish Flu was also uniquely deadly — especially deadly for otherwise healthy young adults. Spanish Flu is said to have created a lethal cytokine storm — which is a rapid overreaction of the body’s immune system.
The weaker immune systems of children and older adults ultimately spared them. Meanwhile, the strong immune system reactions of young adults led to gruesome hemorrhaging that ravaged the body and killed quickly.
Medicine essentially had no answers for Spanish Flu. This is illustrated by the fact that influenza wasn’t determined to be caused by a virus until 1931.
That said, let’s turn back to the world of sports and think about this from the athlete’s perspective.
First of all, in Hockey, the 1919 Stanley Cup Playoffs got canceled. It was the middle of the Championship series, and several players on both teams contracted Spanish Flu. One player died, Hall of Famer, “Bad” Joe Hall.
Baseball players live out of their suitcase for six months a year. In 1919, the Black Sox would be traveling the same rails that spread the same Spanish Flu that was killing young, healthy people around the world, including several professional athletes.
The Wikipedia entry on Spanish Flu include this paragraph, that acknowledges the psychological stress imposed by Plague.
“The 1918 pandemic killed tens of millions and sickened hundreds of millions; the loss of this many people in the population caused upheaval and psychological damage to many people. There were not enough doctors, hospital rooms, or medical supplies for the living as they contracted the disease. Dead bodies were often left unburied as few people were available to deal with them. There can be great social disruption as well as a sense of fear. Efforts to deal with pandemics can leave a great deal to be desired because of human selfishness, lack of trust, illegal behavior, and ignorance. For example, in the 1918 pandemic: “This horrific disconnect between reassurances and reality destroyed the credibility of those in authority. People felt they had no one to turn to, no one to rely on, no one to trust.”
As noted above regarding the wartime draft, 1918 and 1919 clearly seems like a game of every man for himself.
Following the death of 5–8% of the world population to flu and , you might think the survivors to live in peace and harmony.
But population movement, immigration to America, and “The Great Migration” spread more than just Spanish Flu.
4/8- The Red Summer
The summer of 1919 is known as “The Red Summer.” This refers to the race riots which exploded throughout America, the worst of which broke out on the Southside of Chicago.
On July 27, 1919, a black youth, Eugene Williams, floated on a raft into territory claimed by white youths off 29th Street beach in Chicago.
Stones were thrown by white males, Williams was knocked from his raft, and he drowned. A stone-throwing melee between blacks and whites began. Police arrested a black man after the incident.
Two miles away at Comiskey Park the White Sox lost to the St. Louis Browns.
Fighting and riots broke out between mobs of both races. Violence escalated with each incident, and for 13 days the City of Chicago descended into chaos. Even the Chicago Stockyards closed.
By the time the riots ended, 23 blacks and 15 whites were dead, 537 injured, and 1,000 black families were left homeless.
Chicago’s population had exploded the prior two decades due to European Immigration, and ballooned further during “The Great Migration” which had seen 300,000–500,000 African Americans alone move North to manufacturing cities. Population explosion indeed.
It was a war for resources — jobs and space.
In 1915, the overloaded SS Eastland sank on Chicago River, right in the middle of downtown between State and LaSalle killing 884 of it’s 2500, mostly Czech immigrant, passengers.
Battle lines were drawn around neighborhoods based on ethnicity and race, as first-generation immigrants defended their newly established ethnic enclaves from new immigrants. It was Irish vs. Slav vs. Czech vs. Pole vs. Black.
All wars are a war for resources, even if that means hearts and minds. And in 1919, as the powerful divided the world in Versailles, street gangs were doing the same in Chicago. And while white baseball froze out Black ballplayers, the Black Sox were betraying Baseball.
Nevertheless, there was something that scared Washington DC in 1919 even more than race riots.
5/8- The Red Scare
“The Black Sox were the Reds of that October and mine was the guilt of association.” — Nelson Algren Chicago: City On The Make
In 1919, 1.7 Million soldiers abruptly got cut loose from military service. They returned home from the horrors of modern warfare to a country plagued by Spanish Flu, race riots, cramped neighborhoods, fewer jobs, lower wages and a soft economy.
This set the stage for The First Red Scare, which occurred in American immediately following the War.
After the 1917 Russian Revolution, fear and anxiety built in America that the Bolshevik revolution was coming our way next.
“Like a prairie-fire, the blaze of Revolution was sweeping over every American institution of law and order a year ago. It was eating its way into the homes of the American workmen, its sharp tongues of Revolutionary heat were licking the altars of the churches, leaping into the belfry of the school bell, crawling into the sacred corners of American homes, seeking to replace marriage vows with libertine laws, burning up the foundations of society. The Government was in jeopardy.” — US Attorney General Palmer, “The Case Against the ‘Reds’, Jan 2, 1920.
The American Communist Party was founded on May 1, 1919 and headquartered in Chicago. Their ideologies aligned with the labor movement, and membership swelled to 50,000 by August 1919. It all gave Washington anxiety. In something of a precursor to the domino theory that surfaced during the Cold War, it was feared that radical ideologies would lead to more strikes, riots, violence, to anarchy, to chaos and the unknown.
In 1919, labor unrest reached unprecedented levels as more than 4 million people went on strike including walkouts in steel, coal, the Boston PD, and the entire city of Seattle.
In 1919, 36 mail bombs were sent in April and 8 larger bombs in June, to prominent anti-communist politicians and businessmen.
One of the bombing targets was US Attorney General Palmer himself who countered with the Palmer Raids. Communist headquarters, meeting halls and homes throughout the country were raided, over three thousand radicals were arrested and hundreds were deported.
May Day 1919, was especially active for Leftist marches, rallies and riots. Cleveland, OH saw the worst violence that day with two dead and forty wounded after the military and tanks were brought in to restore order.
The Chicago White Sox played on April 30th, 1919 in Detroit, and would have been traveling by train to St. Louis on May 1st.
It doesn’t take much conjecture to imagine that Joe Jackson and his teammates would have a lot of time that May Day to discuss the topic of labor unions and workers’ rights — and the exact same struggles facing Major League Baseball players.
6/8- The Federal League
The infamous Reserve Clause stated that the rights of a player were controlled entirely by team ownership. Indentured servitude is not a bad comparison.
When it came to a player’s yearly contract, The Reserve Clause gave him two options — take it, or leave it.
Joe Jackson never made more than $6,000, which is the equivalent in 2019 to about $86,000.
In 1911, Cleveland’s star player Addie Joss had died in the middle of the season to meningitis. An All-Star tribute game was organized by the players and raised $12,931 for Joss’ family — but his death exacerbated the anxiety players felt.
Even the best Baseball player in 1919 had no leverage to negotiate his salary, no free agency, no rights, no job security, no pension, no grievance procedures, no insurance. Tommy John surgery wasn’t invented until 1974.
In 1912, players had formed the Fraternity of Professional Baseball Players of America with the goal of eliminating the Reserve Clause and getting higher salaries. Both measures failed.
The Sherman Anti-Trust Act had passed in 1890, but 1914 was the first time free-market competition worked its intended effect on the National Pastime.
A brief reprieve from the Reserve Clause occurred with the introduction of The Federal League, a third Major League.
For two seasons, 1914–1915, The Federal League forced owners in the American and National Leagues to raise their payrolls to keep players from jumping to the new 3rd Major League.
Salaries rose across the board. In the case of first ballot Hall of Famers, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson, their salaries doubled those two seasons.
In 1915, The Federal League sued the existing Major Leagues for anti-trust, but the Feds would fold under financial strain when the Judge assigned to the case, future Commissioner of Baseball Kennesaw Mountain Landis, refused to make a ruling.
The Federal League Owners made out okay. They brokered a deal to gain shares of National League teams in Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, St Louis. And in Chicago, the Federal League Owner Charles Weegham was allowed to buy the Cubs.
The Cubs still play in a Federal League Stadium, Weegham Park — renamed Wrigley Field.
As soon as the Federal League folded, salaries fell back to previous levels, and the Players Fraternity disbanded. Each player was on his own.
7/8- The Existing Gambling Culture in Baseball
“I guess that was one way of learning what Hustlertown, sooner or later, teaches all its sandlot sprouts. “Everbody’s out for The Buck. Even big-leaguers. Even Swede Risberg.” —Nelson Algren, Chicago: City On The Make
Baseball historians talk about gambling like it is as old as the sport. There is a strong implication that gambling helped increase public interest in baseball. That same implication is one of the arguments for legalizing gambling in today’s competitive sports environment. Take fantasy sports. I’ve enjoyed playing fantasy baseball for the last 15 years, an evolution, in my opinion, of collecting baseball cards — a hobby with branding, identity and capitalist leanings as well.
“Any professional baseball club will ‘throw’ a game if there is money in it. A horse race is a pretty safe thing to speculate on in comparison with the average ball match.” — Beadle’s Dime Baseball Player Manual, 1875
Henry Chadwick, the New York newspaperman responsible for the rise of Baseball, wrote in the late-1800's, “Every low-minded, vicious rough, whose only enjoyment of baseball came from the gratification it offered as a means of gambling, of various excitement, or of intemperance, was the enemy of the baseball institution.”
Fans were not alone. Managers, umpires and some of the best players in Baseball history were involved in betting scandals prior to the Black Sox.
“Americans had inherited from their English forebears a love of gambling, and nothing lent itself better to that activity than betting on a team or an individual.” — John Rossi “The National Game”
As early as 1871, there were rumors of “hippodroming” — a 19th century term for “match-fixing” borrowed from horse racing.
In 1877, the Louisville Grays lost seven games in a row resulting in Baseball’s first gambling scandal. An investigation revealed that gamblers had bought off four players, Jim Devlin, George Hall, Al Nichols and Bill Craver, who were all banned from baseball. The players claimed they threw the games because their owner had failed to meet payroll.
Jack O’Connor, manager of the St Louis Browns, ordered his team play out of position to fix the 1910 Batting Title race in favor of Nap Lajoie over Ty Cobb, and was blacklisted out of baseball.
Lee Magee, outfielder for the Chicago Cubs, was banned from baseball by Kenesaw Mountain Landis after being found in court in 1920 to have had bet on his teams several times over the years.
Gene Paulette of the Philadelphia Phillies was banned from baseball for rumors of throwing games in 1919 and receiving gifts from the same St. Louis gamblers involved in the 1919 fix.
Joe Gedeon of the St. Louis Browns, was banned as a known friend and accomplice of the gamblers who conspired to fix the 1919 World Series, and is called “the Ninth Man Out.”
Hal Chase, won the 1916 batting title, who Babe Ruth called, “the best first baseman he ever saw,” was nicknamed “The Black Prince of Baseball.” Chase was known to gamble on games, offer bribes to players to throw games he’d bet on, and was found to have helped fix the 1919 series.
Heinie Zimmerman, winner of the 1912 Triple Crown, 98th on the list of 100-Greatest Chicago Cubs, and known gambler, was banned from Baseball by Commissioner Landis. He was involved in a suspicious play that began rumors that the 1917 World Series was thrown by the Giants.
There are stories that the Athletics threw the 1914 World Series. There are stories that the Cubs threw the 1918 World Series. Eddie Cicotte gave sworn testimony that he had knowledge that some Cubs’ players received $10,000 to throw the 1918 World Series.
Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker stood trial in 1926 after being implicated in a gambling plot to fix games during the 1919 Season. The proceedings were swept under the rug. Ty Cobb claimed his attorneys had brokered their reinstatement in 1926 by “threatening to expose further scandal in baseball” if the two were not cleared.
“With its evil twin, alcoholism, gambling would plague baseball throughout its history and at times the very existence of the game.” — John Rossi “The National Game”
The 18th Amendment, ratified on January 16, 1919, declared that alcohol would be made illegal starting on January 19, 1920.
It was a win for the Temperance Movement that believed an alcohol-free world would lead to the end of poverty, immoral behavior, violence, happier families and fewer industrial mistakes.
“The Noble Experiment” backfired. Thousands of jobs were eliminated in a weak economy for breweries, distilleries, barrel makers, trucking companies, waiters, and saloon keepers.
Instead, Prohibition was the birthplace of Organized Crime. Bootlegging was called a “gateway crime” that lead gangs to expand operations into narcotics, prostitution, loan-sharking, extortion, labor rackets — and gambling rackets.
Like the 2019 decision to legalize sports gambling — and recreational marijuana, the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 was an effort to recapture the tax revenue, decriminalize and regulate what had been illegal activity and commerce.
But Baseball history is full of heroes from every era who were pedestrian in their problem with alcohol.
Hall of Famer Mike “King” Kelly, the first great star of the game, was a trickster, had a handsome moustache, and a song about him “Slide, Kelly, Slide.” Kelly was massive drinker whose precipitous loss of athletic ability, and death at 36, were due to alcoholism.
Hall of Famer, Ed Delahanty, one of the greatest hitters of his era, who was a functioning alcoholic and died in the midst of the 1903 season. He got kicked off the team train for drunken behavior, decided he’d walk across a bridge on foot, fell into the Niagara River, and got swept over Niagara Falls.
In 1919, the Black Sox were famously divided into two factions. The teetolling college educated group, led by Ivy League product and Hall of Famer Eddie Collins. And the drinkers, lead by Chick Gandil, and included the other seven Black Sox.
Joe Jackson was a drinker. He is said to have carried a flask of his own homemade clear corn whiskey everywhere he went.
Jackson biographer, David Fleitz, wrote that when Joe went North as a rookie to play for the Phillies, his “embarrassment over his illiteracy” often led him to avoid the public shame of the menu at team meals by “drinking alone in his room.” Was Joe alcoholic?
Joe Jackson nearly quit baseball in 1915 for the stage after spending the winter months headlining a Vaudeville show that toured the south. His wife threatened divorce until he reported for Spring Training.
As the Twenties roared on, finding a drink proved easy, especially in big Baseball cities. But in 1919, the idea of the coming, forced, Prohibition may have been a source of great personal anxiety for the Black Sox, or any heavy drinker. Drinkers stop when they’ve decided they had enough, not when they’re told.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” — HP Lovecraft
Fitzgerald was an alcoholic, Hemingway too. Seems par for the course for The Lost Generation and the romantic, cocktails-in-Paris notion we have of them.
But psychologist Carl Jung, who served as an officer in the Swiss Army during the Great War, stripped the romance from addiction:
“Often the addictive behavior allows the personal shadow the only opportunities to live and to be. The more cut off and unconscious we are of our personal shadows, the more vulnerable we are to having those shadows break out and be set free for a time by addictive behaviors.” — Carl Jung
The Lost Generation
Why was the greater context and interpretation of the1919 Iceberg previously been omitted from the Black Sox story? Why are only a handful of authors given a pass for getting lost after the war?
Why do Baseball Historians omit any discussion of lingering effects from the outside world on the Black Sox, or any MLB players? Why do we not talk about the Black Sox much at all?
Baseball writers typically rush from the 1919 Black Sox to the part where Babe Ruth got traded to the Yankees in 1920, got turned into an outfielder, hit 54 homeruns, obliterated the Deadball Era, marked the dawn of the modern game with his “all-in” swing, and saved baseball.
But the Literature, and Art, from the 1920’s informs us of a different truth.
In Literature, a deeper analysis of The Great War was given room to breathe and continued well into the post-war years. An equal-but-opposite reaction to the war seems obvious now as we reverently call the post-war years, “The Roaring Twenties,” “The Crazy Years,” “The Jazz Age” and “The Lost Generation.”
The disoriented, aimless wandering of the war-survivor-artist in the early post-war years is romanticized, because Art.
We allow the writers time. T.S. Elliot published “The Wasteland” in 1922. “The Great Gatsby” was published in 1925. Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” was published in 1926. Hemingway didn’t publish the definitive World War I novel, “A Farewell To Arms” until 1929.
It’s a forgone conclusion that the authors of the Lost Generation should have processed, lingered and reflected on the War for several years before turning their experiences into Art.
In 1919, Hemingway was just returning to his parents’ house, recovering from his shrapnel injury, lamenting Oak Park’s “wide lawns and narrow minds.”
It took Hemingway a decade to master his iceberg theory, and publish one of the definitive statements on World War I in A Farewell To Arms:
“I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it…. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene.
The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure that it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you.”
100 years later, we’ve had time to learn. We know Hemingway wrote short, beautiful sentences. But he was racist, alcoholic and suicidal. Fitzgerald wrote a Great American novel, would be broken by alcohol and die in 1940.
100 years later, we know there were other artists whose work echoes another iceberg theory — Work that moved the visual art world away from surface-level beauty, to something deeper.
The Dada Movement
The beginning of the Dada Movement in the Arts coincided with the outbreak of war in Europe.
Dada was a Modernist counterpoint reaction to the ideologies of bourgeois capitalist society it believed shepherded the world into war. Dada was “a rejection of logic, an embracing of chaos and irrationality.”
Dada Art often featured a collage patchwork of images, words, heads and body parts that mirrored the exploded bodies and chaotic visuals seen on battlefields.
Hausmann’s dismembered-head represented the spirit of modern man with his external forms of measurement, dead eyes and tin cup heart, aching to be filled.
But the most famous product of the Dada Movement is Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 readymade piece, Fountain — voted in 2004 by 500 art experts, “The Most Influential Artwork of the 20th Century.”
Fountain is a standard urinal. But the idea behind Fountain was revolutionary. It was the first to ask the question, “What is Art?” And with that, Art was no longer about beautiful images — but beautiful ideas.
“Duchamp adamantly asserted that he wanted to “de-deify” the artist. The Readymades provide a way around inflexible either-or aesthetic propositions. They represent a Copernican shift in art. Fountain is what’s called an “acheropoietoi,” an image not shaped by the hands of an artist. Fountain brings us into contact with an original that is still an original but that also exists in an altered philosophical and metaphysical state. It is a manifestation of the Kantian sublime: A work of art that transcends a form but that is also intelligible, an object that strikes down an idea while allowing it to spring up stronger.”
The Kantian Sublime, A Copernican Shift
This chase for the Kantian sublime set off by Fountain is why the Dada Movement lead into Surrealism, Post-Modernism, Concept Art, Installation Art, Pop Art and everything else you’ll see walking around the Modern Wing of any Art Museum.
But since they existed in the same context, since they are part of the same 1919 Iceberg we’ve been discussing — what if we overlay Saltz’ Copernican-shifting interpretation of Fountain onto the Black Sox?
Let’s see… the Black Sox scandal continues to transcend the form (Baseball). It certainly de-deifies the artist (the Heroic Baseball Player). The Black Sox scandal struck down the idea (Hallowed Baseball) while allowing it to spring up stronger (cue Babe Ruth). And the Black Sox exist in an altered philosophical and metaphysical state (cue Kevin Costner).
Thus, by Saltz’ definition, one could declare, for what its worth, that the Black Sox scandal is a manifestation of the Kantian sublime. A work of Art. The Zeitgeist. (Cue scoreboard fireworks).
The Dada movement, the spirit of the age, destroyed existing preconceptions in Art at a time when preconceptions were getting eviscerated left and right.
Dada destroyed the concept that good Art meant beautiful images, and introduced the world to the realm of ideas — to the depths of the mind.
The Other Iceberg Theory
Another Iceberg, a metaphorical iceberg, was used by both Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud to explain their psychological theories about the human psyche.
Freud believed that talking about a past crisis brought catharsis. We also know what Freud might have said about the Sox :)
Carl Jung considered the 1/8th above the surface as representative of our conscious mind. The 7/8ths submerged, our unconscious mind. And the Ocean represents the collective unconscious.
Jung’s theoretical divergence from Freud occurred in 1912. Soon after, Jung had premonitions about the coming War — describing a reoccurring dream about a sea of blood that flooded Europe.
While serving in World War 1, Carl Jung was also writing “Liber Novus: The Red Book,” which contains the source material for all his life’s work.
One of Jung’s observations was that War and the times are a “psychic epidemic.”
“The gigantic catastrophes that threaten us today are not elemental happenings of a physical or biological order, but psychic events. To a quite terrifying degree we are threatened by wars and revolutions which are nothing other than psychic epidemics. At any moment several million human beings may be smitten with a new madness, and then we shall have another world war or devastating revolution. Instead of being at the mercy of wild beasts, earthquakes, landslides, and inundations, modern man is battered by the elemental forces of his own psyche.” — Carl Jung
Jung’s Unconscious Iceberg is the metaphorical equivalent to a recurring theme found throughout literature and mythology — the idea that the terrible thing lurks in the abyss beneath everything, that can make its emergence, and when it does it will knock the bottom out of everything.
That’s “Monstro” in Pinocchio, that’s Jaws, that’s Moby Dick, Godzilla, and H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu.
In 1919, H.P. Lovecraft published the first sea monster story in his Cthulu Mythos, Dagon, the story of a morphine-addicted WW1 Officer who witnesses the long-drowned horrors of the deep rise to the surface.
The sea monster metaphor is a Jungian way to think about 1919. The unconscious collective of mankind emerges from the deep as a psychic epidemic on mass scale.
“What the unconscious really contains are the great collective events of the time. In the collective unconscious of the individual, history prepares itself; and when the archetypes are activated in a number of individuals and come to the surface, we are in the midst of history, as we are at present. The archetypal image which the moment requires gets into life, and everybody is seized by it. That is what we see today.” — Carl Jung
So it happened, at a dark hour, that eight men with their backs were against the wall abandoned their virtue. A world thirsting for heroes and hope instead got another example of the failings of Man.
Baseball is “a game of failure,” and the Black Sox represent one of its biggest.
But we can not stop there.
Because the failure integral to the game of Baseball is also one of it’s primary metaphors for Life. Even the greatest Superstars fail seven times out of ten.
Considered more deeply, within the full context of 1919 — the Black Sox become a reminder of how terrible everything can get, of how much Man can fail.
In 1919, the entire world had its back against the wall. If I’m being completely honest, I might have looked around at the world in shambles, and taken the money too.
At very least, there are ways the world has never fully recovered from 1919.
For example, many scholars say WWII was a continuation of WWI, and the Cold War to be a continuation of WWII. Which would mean theoretically, that WWI ended in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down.
And if you want to argue whether we still live in the remnants of the Cold War, where does that leave us?
1919 Was Not Baseball’s Last Crisis
It has been theorized that Shoeless Joe was on the brink of getting reinstated to baseball when the Pete Rose gambling scandal broke in 1989. At that moment, their fates became intertwined.
The ESPN 30-for-30 documentary “Backstory: Banned For Life” explains this relationship in detail.
Basically, because of Pete Rose’s demeanor and the fact that he denied gambling on baseball until 2004, he’ll never be reinstated while he’s alive. And because you can’t have one in the hall of fame without the other, Joe Jackson may never get reinstated either.
The ongoing war between owners and players which played a role in 1919, and continued through the decades. Everything finally came to a breaking point on August 12th, 1994 when “the strike” lead to that year’s World Series being canceled.
Baseball survived two World Wars and the Great Depression, yet 1994’s contract dispute caused the World Series to be canceled for the first time since 1905.
1993 set the record for highest total attendance in Baseball history. 1994 was on pace to break that record again. The game was at the peak of its popularity in 1994. But not playing the World Series in 1994 severed something between Baseball and its fans.
And it opened the door to the NBA and NFL to compete for revenue dollars and popularity — an aftermath still felt today by Baseball.
The great home run chase and steroid era
Then in 1998 happened. It’s widely agreed that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire saved Baseball with their great home run chase. Both men broke Roger Maris’ season record of 61 home runs.
Then Barry Bonds broke the season home run record again in 2001.
But by 2006, when Bonds passed both Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron’s record for the most career home runs, the steroid-era allegations had already begun.
Congress called in Sosa and McGwire and others to discuss PEDs. The truth about steroid use in baseball came out, and baseball faced yet another crisis.
Now, the list of the steroid-era sluggers who are frozen-out of the baseball hall of fame consists of nearly all of the greatest superstars of their generation.
It’s another lost generation.
Even in 2019, while baseball is considered “clean,” the ball itself is now under scrutiny for being “juiced.”
The suggestion remains a simple equation. Those enormous contracts require maximum revenue dollars, and it seems like fan interest goes the way of the home run.
But the MLB has something wrong.
Is Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and all the home runs what saved baseball? If so, how can baseball continue to survive after the cheating is exposed?
2020 brings yet another update — the Houston Astros trash can, sign stealing scandal. The world now knows that the Astros 2017 World Series championship team (and presumably 2018 and 2019 teams as well) created and used an elaborate sign-stealing system to inform their hitters what pitches were coming.
Like the gambling, steroid, lock out, and juiced ball scandals, baseball will survive the Astros scandal too.
How? The only explanation is that something else is saving baseball. Perhaps something bigger than baseball. Something that can’t be measured or counted.
The Finite and The Infinite Game
“He always said with baseball, anything’s possible. There’s no clock. You can play an infinite number of innings until somebody wins. There’s no limit to how far somebody can hit a ball, there’s no limit to how far somebody can throw a ball, it’s endless possibilities.
And I think when you look at his baseball fiction, that’s what it is. His question he would ask as a writer was: What if? What if Shoeless Joe Jackson comes back from the dead? … And when you start asking that ‘what if’ question, anything’s possible.” — Willie Steele about W.P. Kinsella
Throughout mythology and film history there are countless examples of the archetypal hero’s journey. The hero must encounter the abyss, face the monster — and win the treasure.
In sports, teams and athletes follow the same narrative arch. You could argue that’s why we love sports so much and invest so deeply.
For example, that was the narrative when the Chicago White Sox defied expectations, and won the 2005 World Series.
But winning the World Series only satisfies the Finite Game.
According to NYU professor James P. Carse, there are two kinds of games: Finite and Infinite.
“A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.
1. Finite games are those instrumental activities — from sports to politics to wars — in which the participants obey rules, recognize boundaries and announce winners and losers.
2. The infinite game includes any authentic interaction, from touching to culture, that changes rules, plays with boundaries and exists solely for the purpose of continuing the game. A finite player seeks power; the infinite one displays self-sufficient strength.”
Winning the 2005 World Series is an example of winning a finite game. We know that because the Black Sox story is still a guilt-laden and unintegrated part of the White Sox.
Depsite 2005 and Field of Dreams, the White Sox still haven’t fully integrated their shadow, and it makes them incomplete.
The Jungian shadow
Carl Jung defined the shadow as, “the hidden, repressed, inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious.’’
When you look at the White Sox logo, Carl Jung might have said that for the shadow was never not there.
Jung also said the process of integrating one’s shadow is integral to self-actualization. Self-actualization can be thought of as the archetypal hero’s journey which each of us must take in life.
Pinochio embarks on the hero’s journey. He’s a marionette wishing to become a real boy, and thus become self-actualized. He willingly faces the abyss, and at the bottom of abyss he encounters the beast, Monstro.
But unlike Jaws or Moby Dick, Monstro packs one more metaphorical surprise. Unlike the other great beasts of the shadow unconscious— inside Monstro Pinochio finds his father.
This children’s story is rich in deep metaphor. It asks why must we rescue our father from the belly of the beast?
The Parable of the Ancestral Father in Pinochio
According to psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson, the metaphor of why Gepeto is inside Monstro took him thirty years to decipher and represents something that neurologists and geneticists have only recently discovered.
Peterson’s premise is scientists have determined that there are higher parts of our genetic code are locked within our physiology. Yet only when we voluntarily engage a challenge, will these gene expressions turn on, new synapses fire, and new pathways in the brain get created.
We literally unlock our genetic potential. And the key word to this process is voluntarily.
Only if you voluntarily push yourself to face the metaphorical monster, will something inside you click and turn on the higher genetic code.
Thus, in response to the monster lurking in the deep, your ancestral father will emerge from the infinite within.
This is how we become self-actualized. This is how we reach beyond our previous capacities. This is how we become sovereign, attain wholenesss, and feel like we are living a life with meaning.
Said another way, we can face the worst there is. But we must do so willingly. As Peterson says, “although the suffering is great, and the malevolence deep, our capacity to transcend it all is greater.”
Further, this is nothing short of the philosopher’s stone, the alchemical process of turning base metal into gold. Peterson points out that Carl Jung wrote of this same idea via the ancient greek dictum, “in sterquiliniis invenitur,” which translates to “in filth it will be found.”
To summarize this idea Peterson states, “that which you most want can be found where you least want to look.”
In Filth It Will be Found
Further, this is nothing short of the philosopher’s stone. Carl Jung wrote of this dictum, “in sterquiliniis invenitur.” It translates to “in filth it will be found.” This is the alchemical process of turning base metal into gold.
The stories which follow this arch are the ones that hold our intense attention, that fill our keeps, and batten our hatches against the storms of life.
How the Black Sox Saved baseball
“We have two lives, Roy, the life we learn with and the life we live with after that. Suffering is what brings us toward happiness.” — The Natural
I’ve always been enamored by the idea of our “two lives” from The Natural. I feel it’s another way of saying, “in filth it will be found.” And it’s fitting for the White Sox.
In their first life — because of the Black Sox scandal — the Chicago White Sox survived with the guilt and an inferior legacy, bearing a heavier burden and gravitas than any professional sports franchise.
They did it. They threw the series.
And not only that, maybe you and I would have too. When I look at the context of 1919, I see that the world was falling apart. And I‘m not totally certain I wouldn’t have fallen apart right along with it.
But you know what? From shit comes gold, to paraphrase.
Or like the Carl Jung quote, “No tree can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”
It’s a shock to realize that in their second life — also because of the Black Sox scandal — the Chicago White Sox now have a legacy of unparalleled ethereal lightness.
By What Alchemical Process Did That Happen?
- F. Scott Fitzgerald includes the Black Sox in The Great Gatsby, which becomes one of the great American novels, influencing countless high school English students.
- Elliot Asinof writes Eight Men Out.
- The Black Sox inspire W.P. Kinsella to dream up and write a book titled, Shoeless Joe while he was at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.
- Shoeless Joe becomes the movie, Field Of Dreams.
- And at the climax of Field Of Dreams, Kevin Costner delivers the line, “Hey Dad? Wanna have a catch?”
Not a single son who ever played catch with his Dad, not a single father who ever played catch with his kids, can hold back the tears when Ray finally forces those words out.
Your hair stands up, you get chills, you choke up. And the cosmic tumblers click.
That game of catch makes us feel a profound, crazy deepness — a physiological reaction akin to pure, raw, meaning.
It filled us with a profound sense of meaning that can’t be measured. As Pinochio saves Gepeto, Ray saves Jon.
***Update: 3/26/20 — The stark irony is not lost on me that while the 2020 baseball season at every level has been postponed indefinitely, one game remains. It is the game of catch. The infininte game.***
The Ancestral Father and Field Of Dreams
Could it be that the game of catch in Field of Dreams symbolizes this parable of the ancestral father passed on through our DNA. If it is, that’s essentially the deepest metaphor humans have and our highest aim. To not just pass on our genes, but our best expression of genes that give us the best chane
It’s Ray on a hero’s journey, who faces the monster of eternal oblivion, and returns to the community with the greatest treasure — meaning, and hope.
It’s the parable of how all human generations stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. Rays story tells us that it’s not only okay to be both “the role we play” and “ourselves” — but instructing us that becoming both is what life demands.
Life isn’t about being perfect, it’s about becoming whole.
And later, maybe you’ll find yourself like I have a few times, out in the yard or park after the heat of the day has passed. When the sun is glowing orange in the west, and your kid asks to play catch.
And all of sudden, you think about that game of catch in Field of Dreams. The way that scene made you feel rushes back through your body all over again.
You recreate that simple game of catch. And you feel the meaning hit you as certain as you feel the ball hit you in the pocket of your mitt.
Perhaps you think about your dad. Perhaps you think about all your forefathers. Those ancestral ghosts you carry in your DNA. What unknown sacrifices and acts of heroism were made in order for you to have this moment.
You think about your five year old. You think about the future. You think about him as a dad, playing catch with his kids. The unknown sacrifices and acts of heroism which allow the infinite game to continue.
It’s profound yet so simple. And a thought occurs to you like lightning. This, right here. This little game of catch. This back and forth, together. It symbolizes the whole human condition. It gives you unbelievable, gut-wrenching, happiness. But it’s a deeper emotion even than happiness.
It gives you meaning. This game of catch, between parent and child, is the meaning of life.
All the other moments, all the shit, is worth it for this game. We exchange everything, our very lives — gladly — for this feeling, in this fleeting, golden, moment. This is our time.
“There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers click and the universe opens up to show you what’s possible.”
This game of catch with your loved-one hardly resembles the MLB. This game of catch exists so far into the realm of metaphoric non-verbal communication — that it’s barely even baseball.
In essence, the game of catch represents the infinite game. It’s the game we play with the goal of continuing the play. It’s life, it’s death and it’s rebirth.
The Black Sox did that…
Somehow, from filth it is found. In sterquiliniis invenitur. Somehow, the Black Sox saved Baseball.
In the Final Analysis
In the final analysis, I think the Black Sox story reminds us of many things. Least of which, that there’s a choice: Will you fix things — or fix things?
Will you continue to search through all the shit until you find gold?
I can’t help but wonder, are we steamrolling towards another roaring twenties? Maybe we’re destined for another depressed thirties? Another flu epidemic? Another world war?
But maybe we can learn from the metaphors and memories of the past. Maybe we can make decisions going forward that won’t limit us to finite games. Perhaps we can resolve to do the difficult work in our individual lives and together, and make the world an infinitely better place.
Perhaps, if we learn the lessons at the bottom of the Black Sox story, it can save us all.