Hugh S. Fullerton, the Black Sox Scandal, and the Ethical Impulse in Sports Writing




Klein, Steven Mark

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History is the study of the past in all its splendid messiness, writes the historian Simon Schama. And for a baseball fan, what more splendid mess could there be than the crooked World Series of 1919? F. Scott Fitzgerald, no great baseball fan despite his friendship with Ring Lardner, found the Black Sox scandal to be the perfect metaphor for American disillusionment after World War I. Fitzgerald wrote his great American novel, The Great Gatsby, with its memorable references to the fix, within easy memory of the scandal. Fitzgerald understood that the illegitimacy of the defining event of the Great American Pastime represented the ultimate deception of American popular culture that is so well articulated in the mythology, if not the reality, of baseball. Although most sportswriters of the day had a sense that the 1919 World Series between the heavily favored Chicago White Sox and underdog Cincinnati Reds was not on the square, only one among them had the courage at the time to write it. Hugh S. Fullerton, then 46-years old and considered among the leading baseball writers of his era, wrote the story that Lardner, given his cynicism, and Grantland Rice, in the sweetness of his nature and style, would not and could not write. “The fake world series of 1919 produced some of the worst newspaper reporting that the American press ever has been guilty of, and while all of us who were detailed to cover the show were not fired for missing the greatest sport story in 20 years is something that I have never understood. We were terrible,” wrote columnist Westbrook Pegler from the more convenient perspective of 1932. Yet today, we celebrate Lardner, revere Rice and barely remember Fullerton, who may have been more respected than either in their day.