Thursday, December 6, 2007

Happy Felsch: Banned For Life

Yes, this is one of the infamous eight men out. His name was Oscar Emil Felsch. But everyone called him Happy. Before the scandals, he was an aspiring ballplayer in Milwaukee.

Happy, who is said to have been "born with a smile", according to his father, started with a tryout for the Eau Claire minor league team. From there he played for Fond Du Lac and finally landed on the American Association team, the Milwaukee Brewers in 1913.

In 1914, he started to play really well and was purchased by the Chicago White Sox. Happy made his debut with the Sox on April 14, 1915. He hit .248, which was around the league average that year. They didn't call it the dead ball era for nothing.

The next two years were better for Happy. He hit .300 in 1916 and .308 in 1917, the year the Sox won the World Series against the New York Giants. Like the previous two years, Happy had at least 10 triples. He was starting to be known for his bat, but he was better known for his defense. Happy had one of the best ranges in the outfield of his era and a strong arm to back it up.

1918 was essentially a lost year for Happy, at least when it came to baseball. He was only able to play in 53 games due to military service during WWI. Happy still managed to hit 5 triples during that shortened season, but his average dipped to .252.

1919 was a decent, but still down year for Happy. He hit .275 and hit 11 triples and 34 doubles, which was a personal best at the time. But for all the ups and downs at the plate, the White Sox still made it into the World Series. Then it all came crashing down.

During the Series, Happy hit a miserable .192. For his part in the 1919 World Series fix, he received $5,000. Happy was quoted in the Chicago American newspaper as saying, "Well, the beans are spilled and I think I'm through with baseball. I got $5,000. I could have got just about that much by being on the level if the Sox had won the Series. And now I'm out of baseball — the only profession I know anything about, and a lot of gamblers have gotten rich. The joke seems to be on us".

Ironically, Happy had his best season in 1920. He hit .338 with 14 home runs, 15 triples, 40 doubles and 115 RBI. All were career highs. There was more at stake than personal goals though. Rumors haunted the 1920 team and finally a grand jury was convened to investigate the allegations of the gambling fix.

During the investigation, Eddie Cicotte and Joe Jackson confessed. The timing couldn't have been any worse. The White Sox and the Indians were in a virtual tie for first place. The Sox needed to win their last three games and hope for the Indians to lose some of their games. Charles Comiskey suspended the seven accused players that were left on the team. The White Sox lost 2 of their last 3 games, leaving them in second place by only two games.

Although Happy and the others were acquitted in the Black Sox trial, newly appointed commissioner of baseball Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned the eight implicated players from baseball for life.

In 1924, Happy sued the Chicago White Sox for back pay. He settled out of court for back pay, interest and court costs. After baseball, Happy ran a grocery store and a few bars, and was also a crane operator. Happy only played six years of major league baseball. He was banned at the start of the live ball era. Imagine what he could have done if he didn't know about and/or participate in the fix.

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