My name is Charles Aaron. I was born July 11, 1886, on a farm just south of Baltimore, Maryland. And for a while, I had the greatest job in the world. I was in charge of a major league baseball team.
* * *
“Good morning sir,” I said, as I walked into Mr. Durant’s office that day, holding my morning newspaper. “Did you see the American this morning?”
“Of course I did, Charlie. What story did you mean?”
“The one that said I was right and you were wrong, sir,” I couldn’t help sounding as though I was gloating. Probably because I was gloating.
“Say, that would be big news,” Durant said. Topping me again. As usual. “What in particular?”
“Remember when I told you that there was something fishy about the White Sox losing last year’s World's Series? Turns out I was right. A bunch of the players are now being accused of throwing the games.”
“Which ones?” he asked. I had his full attention now – baseball had a way of doing that to him. Me too, really.
“Cicotte, Williams, Felsch, Risberg for sure. Weaver, McMullin, and Jackson maybe.”
Durant looked confused. “Jackson? But he was great in the Series. What did he bat?”
“.375, with 12 hits,” I answered immediately. He looked at me suspiciously.
“Did you just happen to know that?”
I knew he would see it later in the article. The same way I had. But I really did know it, I’d just forgotten. So I didn’t respond, only shrugged.
“So what are they going to do about it?” he asked me.
“Papers say the owners are scared to death that this is going to kill baseball. They’re planning on forming a commission to run things and clean out the gambling.”
He looked skeptical. “So the team owners will find somebody who’ll do what they tell him, put him in charge of the commission, and make sure nothing ever changes except what they want. How is that going to help?”
For some reason, I felt I had to defend baseball. Even though I really wasn’t defending baseball so much as the really rich men who owned the teams. “No, the story is coming out that the players who threw the games did it because Charlie Comiskey was so cheap with them. If that’s the way the press decides to play it, they’ll have to do something that looks like it favors the players over the owners.”
Durant stared at me for a moment. Then he smiled slightly. “Charlie, how manipulative you’ve become. But you’re right – it’s not what really happened that matters. It’s how the papers play it, how the owners play it.”
“That is kind of cynical for so early in the morning, isn’t it?” I admitted.
“But not inaccurate. Not at all. Charlie, will you do something for me?” It wasn’t a request. “Will you get Dale Lockman at the Baltimore American on the telephone for me?”
* * *
I didn’t get to chat with Mr. Durant very much over the next couple of weeks. I missed that, as he was always interesting to listen to. Plus, I wanted to talk about the World's Series that year, and the trial in Chicago. Both the Indians and Robins were in their first World's Series that year, and it was surely eventful.
Bill Wambsganss, the Cleveland second sacker, did something I don’t know will ever happen again. He turned an unassisted triple play in one of the games! Caught the line drive, stepped on second, then tagged the runner coming from first, all in about a split second. Then put his head down and trotted off the field as though it happened every day, while the rest of the players just stood there, not knowing what had happened. (Well, would you?)
But that was a pretty impressive game for other reasons, too. The first ever World's Series grand slam was hit in the same game, as well as the first World's Series home run by a pitcher! Boy, I would have loved to have been there that day. But men who work for the railroad don't usually get to go to the World's Series, even when they're very low level "executives" such as me. Even when they work for very high level executives, such as Mr. Durant.
But even while we were talking about this World's Series, the papers were full of talk about the previous one. And how the players had been approached to throw games. How cheap Charlie Comiskey was. It was…sad, really.
Not that gambling and baseball hadn’t gone together for years. But this…it just felt…wrong. Unclean. You just don’t mess with the World's Series, do you? It was too important. Baseball, too, really.
You have to understand. Baseball was a fascination for me long before I got to be involved in it. By the time I was ten, we were living in Baltimore. That meant I was there just in time for the “old” Orioles. John McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Wee Willie Keeler, Hughie Jennings (remember that one – he’ll come up again). Some of the best, most exciting, most innovative players ever, all on one team. Slipping out after school to head over to Union Park was heaven.
And nobody cried harder than I did when all the good players were taken to New York. Both times. And when the league contracted in 1899, and left Baltimore out, even though we’d had a good record, and were doing well. And don’t even get me started on the American League first giving us a team, then moving them to New York to become the Highlanders.
But we’d made up for it. We had a team in the International League pretty quickly after that. I had even played for them for a year or so, back in 1905 – 1906. Third base. But then I’d broken my leg sliding into second, and by the time I came back, the team had moved on. And, when I’m brutally honest, I was only a little better than average before the accident. After? Let’s just say that when a player whose chief asset is speed and defense can’t run or get to the ball very well, it’s time to think about alternatives. Thus, my time as an assistant to Mr. Durant at the B & O Railroad.
Anyway, the minor league Orioles did decently, those first ten years or so. Until the Federal League drove them out of business for a while. But still, no matter how much it hurt to think that the seventh most populous city in the whole nation wasn’t a major league city, at least we had something.
I didn’t know it, but we had a whole lot more coming.