We all know the story of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox, the pinnacle of an era when ballplayers colluding with gamblers and throwing games was not uncommon. But it is believed by many that the Chicago Cubs threw the 1918 World Series against Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox. If they did, it was likely a Cardinals pitcher by the name of Gene Packard who orchestrated the fix, and created what author Sean Devaney dubbed "the Original Curse."
Gene Packard was the very definition of a journeyman. A right-handed swingman (before that term was even in use), he played for five different teams in an eight-year career, and actually accumulated more value with his bat than with his arm.
Packard joined the Chicago Cubs for the 1916 season, after playing for the Kansas City Packers of the Federal League during the only two years of their existence. In the Cubs first season in Wrigley Field, Packard joined a clubhouse that contained three other players who would ultimately be implicated for fixing games.
Released midway through the 1917 season, Packard caught on with the Cardinals and pitched in St. Louis for the remainder of that year and all of 1918. He was traded to the Phillies during the offseason, appeared in 21 games in 1919 and then was out of baseball.
Or perhaps I should say, he was out of playing baseball.
On Aug. 31, 1920, Cubs President Bill Veeck, Sr. received a rash of calls and telegrams saying that the day's game against the Phillies was fixed. Veeck phoned the manager to change starting pitchers and reported the incident publicly, which ultimately led a Grand Jury to be convened.
That Grand Jury shifted its focus to fixing in baseball more broadly, and ultimately brought to light the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. The Cubs/Phillies incident was largely forgotten, but during his testimony, American League President Ban Johnson said a Kansas City Reporter had informed him one of the principals involved in fixing the Cubs/Phillies game was "Eugene Packard, a former major league baseball player."
According to Johnson's testimony, a notorious Kansas City gambler went through Packard to get his former Cubs teammate Claude Hendrix, the scheduled starting pitcher, to throw the game.
As the Grand Jury was shifting its focus to the 1919 White Sox, their owner, Charles Comiskey, was already deep into his own investigation of his players and their actions. His right-hand man, Harry Grabinar, kept a detailed diary of the investigators findings. Among the names listed in that diary was the following entry:
"Gene Packard: 1918 series fixer"
In Grand Jury testimony which only became public four years ago, White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn in Eight Men Out) said the players had heard the Cubs threw the 1918 series and were paid $10,000 for doing so.
In fact, it appears that Ban Johnson was aware during the 1918 season of a plot to fix the World Series by a St. Louis Gambler named Henry "Kid" Becker. Johnson even went to American League owners looking for money to hire investigators, but was rebuffed.
Many of those reports also suggest that Becker abandoned his plan because he also couldn't raise the money to fix the 1918 series. Becker and his associates were also alleged to be involved with Arnold Rothstein in the 1919 fix, though Becker himself was murdered before that plot came to fruition.
Despite the original impetus for the Grand Jury involving the Cubs, and the allegations about the 1918 series, the Grand Jury would ultimately deliver indictments only related to players and gamblers involved in the 1919 series. Those eight players would be banned for life by newly-appointed Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and both baseball and the courts turned a blind eye to the other allegations which had come to light.
Gene Packard stayed away from baseball for the rest of his life, as you might expect from a man who narrowly escaped a Grand Jury indictment. He died in Riverside, California in 1959.
So, was the 1918 World Series fixed?
Unless some truly "smoking gun" document comes to light, we will probably never know. But the atmosphere was certainly ripe. Players salaries were slashed in 1918, and at the time of the series, it was widely believed that the 1919 season would be cancelled and most players drafted to fight in World War I.
Overall, the Cubs played well in the series - but there were notable exceptions. The shenanigans seemed to begin after Game 3, when the teams rode the train together from Chicago to Boston and reportedly discussed what they had just learned would be their paltry World Series shares.
Cubs Right Fielder and Leadoff Hitter Max Flack was picked-off twice in Game 4. In the same game, with Babe Ruth coming to the plate and two men on, Flack positioned himself very shallow in right field. Cubs Pitcher Lefty Tyler repeatedly waved Flack to play deeper, but Flack ignored him. Ruth drove a triple over Flack's head, driving in two runs.
Later that game, Cubs Reliever Phil Douglas fielded a sacrifice bunt and threw wildly into right field, allowing the winning run to score. Douglas would be banned from baseball a few years later after offering to retire in the midst of a playoff race if he were paid to do so.
Before Game 5, both teams refused to take the field in protest of their diminished Series shares, delaying the game by an hour. In Game 6, Flack dropped a routine fly ball which allowed two Red Sox to score. They won the game 2-1 and clinched the series.
The evidence is largely circumstantial, and some of the sources a bit sketchy. Grabinar's diary, which pegs Packard as the "1918 series fixer", has been lost, so the only record of that account comes via Bill Veeck Sr.'s autobiography (though other items from the diary as reported by Veeck have been verified).
But as circumstantial evidence goes... a lot of things line-up. Many league officials believed there was at least a plot to fix the 1918 series, whether or not it was executed. And if a St. Louis Gambler were to fix the series, it's easy to where Gene Packard would fit in: A Cardinals pitcher who had played for those same Cubs and knew which players might be open to such a proposition. Would Packard do such a thing? Well, he was implicated just two years later for doing exactly that in the Cubs/Phillies game.
Maybe it didn't happen. But maybe the Cubs did throw the 1918 World Series. And maybe - if you believe in such things - that shameful act put a curse on the team that continues to this day. And maybe a Cardinal player was the serpent that dangled the apple. And if that serpent was really the devil, and the curse is magic...
Cardinals. Devil. Magic.