17, No. 16 May 3, 2001 Issue
Striking out a baseball myth
By Amy Geiszler-Jones
George Platt, WSUs unofficial historian, is trying to strike out a myth about the first Shocker baseball player to play in the major leagues.
And hes headed to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., to pitch the truth during the halls 13th Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture June 6-8, which is focusing on the sports myths, legends and tall tales.
Platt will challenge a popular, longstanding belief among baseball historians that former Shocker Claude Hendrix, a 10-year pitcher in the major leagues, was among the players banned in the aftermath of the infamous 1919 Black Sox World Series scandal.
A lifelong baseball fan, Platt was serving as the universitys centennial celebration coordinator in 1995-96 when he started researching the first two Shockers, both pitchers, to play major league baseball.
Hendrix, the first, had an eight-year career in the National League and spent two years in the Federal League from 1911-20. Hailing from Johnson County, hed played for the Shockers in 1908, while he was a student at Fairmount Academy, living in Fiske Hall. Sports teams in the universitys early days included athletes from the high school-level academy, which was part of WSUs predecessor, Fairmount College.
Platts interest was heightened even more when he saw the impressive statistics Hendrix compiled playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Federal Leagues Chicago Whales and the Chicago Cubs. His stats included a win-loss record of 143-117, an earned run average of 2.65, a no-hit game, 27 shutouts and 1,092 strikeouts.
A right-handed pitcher who "could work the spitball to perfection," according to Wichita newspaper reports, he led the National League with his winning percentage in 1912 and 1918 and played in the 1918 World Series. Hendrix had the distinction of being the winning pitcher in the first game in the ballpark later renamed Wrigley Field.
His career stats would rank him among the top former Shocker athletes whove turned professional, Platt says.
"I said to myself, Why, if someone has these kinds of credentials, do we know so little about him?" Platt recalls when he first saw Hendrixs record.
Thats when he discovered Hendrixs link to one of baseballs most notorious gambling scandals as he poured over newspaper accounts, acquired through interlibrary loans, and other sources located with the help of WSUs special collections.
The 1919 World Series, it was discovered in grand jury hearings held in 1920, was thrown by several Chicago White Sox players. Eight players were indicted and then banned from baseball for throwing the series.
Hendrix, a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, had been linked to the scandal because it was events surrounding the Aug. 31, 1920, game he was scheduled to pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies that led to the hearings. Cubs president Bill Veeck got phone calls and telegrams saying Detroit gamblers were betting heavily that the Phillies, ranked at the bottom of the league, would beat the Cubs, a top team. The Cubs switched their rotation and went with their better pitcher, Grover Cleveland Alexander, instead but still ended up losing the game.
A grand jury was convened in Chicago to investigate this particular incident, and during the course of the investigation the Black Sox scandal emerged. It never ruled on whether the Cubs/Phillies game was linked to gambling.
In the aftermath, federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed baseballs first commissioner and he banned the White Sox players from the sport.
He never banned Hendrix, Platt contends. But thats been the popular belief because Landis 1947 biography, written by The Sporting News publisher, made that claim.
Hendrix, an only child and widower with no children, had died three years before the biography was published. "The final line in my presentation is that he left no one to defend his name," Platt says.
"Landis had a huge ego, and from what I know about him, he probably loved the idea he was credited with banning Claude even though he didnt. From then on (most) people whove written about baseball have used terms like barred, banned, axed, thrown out, or unofficially blacklisted."
In fact, Platt says, Hendrixs career was on a downturn in 1920, and he had announced his retirement at the end of the season, while the grand jury was still convened. In February 1921, the Cubs gave him an unconditional release and Veeck issued a statement that Hendrixs release had nothing to do with events of 1920, alluding to the Cubs/Phillies game and the rumors that had circulated.
For Platt, an associate professor emeritus of public administration, clearing Hendrixs name "has become more and more a process of righting a wrong as one reads books saying he was banned from baseball."
|Inside WSU is published by the Office of University Communications for Wichita State University faculty, staff and friends on biweekly Thursdays during the fall and spring semesters. Items to be considered for publication should be sent to campus box 62 or Amy.Geiszler-Jones@wichita.edu 10 days before publication.|