Thursday, January 21, 2010

Red Faber - The Man Who Could Have Saved the 1919 World Series

Babe Ruth called Red Faber the nicest man in the world. But apparently not between the lines. Faber pitched inside - knocking down Ty Cobb on 3 consecutive pitches once.

Faber was famous for 2 things: what he did in the 1917 World Series and what he didn't do in the 1919 World Series.

Faber was born on a farm in a small town in Iowa - where the cold winters insure that folks work hard and take care of one another. When Faber started out, he could throw hard. But just when he was about to break into the Big Leagues, he injured his arm. He saved his career by learning the spitter. The White Sox signed him for the 1914 season. He would pitch the next 21 years with them.

The White Sox were a power house in 1917. They played the Giants in the World Series. Faber, after a so-so season, as the number 2 starter, won 3 games for Chicago in the Series, including the clinching 6th game.

But then the US entered the Great War. Faber enlisted in the Navy and spent 1918 in Michigan. When he got out of the service for the 1919 season he had ankle and arm problems. Toward the end of the season he caught the flu - the year the Spanish Influenza pandemic killed at least 50 million persons world-wide. Faber got hammered in a game in August and spent the rest of the season on the bench - sick and in pain.

He was also on the bench (but on the roster) for the 1919 World Series - the year the Black Sox threw the Series. Ray Schalk, Faber's friend and battery-mate, said that had Faber been well, the Series would never have been fixed. I think he was right. Look at it from the gambler's viewpoint. They needed to be sure that the key players would take a dive. And that meant the pitching. Once Ed Cicotte, the Sox' best pitcher, and Lefty Williams, number 2, were on board, the gamblers had their sure thing. But Faber would have been the number 2 starter had he been well. Dickey Kerr, the number 4 rookie pitcher for the Sox, won 2 games in the Series.

If Faber had been well, the odds would have favored the White Sox even with 5 key players intentionally underperforming. The gamblers would never have offered the money to buy off the players. And remember, the White Sox almost won the Series anyway, losing 5 games to 3 to Cincinnati. With Faber healthy, it is certain that the Series would have played out differently.

The Black Sox scandal led to the White Sox becoming a perennial second division team. But Faber had his greatest success during the 3 years starting in 1921. He went 69 - 45 for threadbare White Sox teams.

After that he remained steady. The spitball was outlawed after the 1920 season but Faber was one of the fewer than 20 pitchers allowed to use the pitch for the rest of his career. He hung on until 1933 when he was 45 years old. His career record was 254 - 213. His career and stats are comparable to the Phillies' Jamie Moyer. Moyer has a career record of 258-195. Moyer was still pitching last year at 46. (No word on whether Moyer plans to retire now that he's 47.) Moyer was also a soft tosser who caught fire in the middle of his career and remained steady thereafter for a long time.

After Faber retired, he knocked around selling cars until he caught on with Cook County, Illinois as a survey crewman. He worked at the job until he was nearly 80.
Faber just missed being included in the classic T-206 baseball card set. Most of the cards featuring him during his career were forgettable black and white issues like the 1922 Caramel seen above and to the left. That card is interesting, though, for showing Faber in a black White Sox uniform. By hanging on until 1933, Faber caught a break. He was included in the 1933 Goudey set - his most famous card. I have a copy of that card (#79) in my collection. Faber is shown just after he's completed throwing a pitch in a thoroughly white uniform unadorned by any team logos. The Veteran's Committee elected him into the Hall in 1964. He died in his adopted hometown of Chicago in 1976.

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