Now comes the real challenge for the AL champion Chicago White Sox, in a city still burdened by the legacy of another Sox team -- one that permanently stained the tapestry of baseball in a scandal that left eight players banned from the sport, each of them involved in a conspiracy to fix the 1919 World Series.
These White Sox will have to go a long way to erase the memory of those Black Sox.
Just like this year, Chicago had the best team in the American League that season, a roster crammed with stars and a team two years removed from a World Series championship. They were also a very unhappy group of players.
The penurious practices of owner Charles Comiskey were legendary. He paid his players as little as possible, ordered them benched if they were approaching bonuses and generally left the team on the edge of revolt. Comiskey's players were angry with the owner and easy targets for gamblers anxious for an edge, an opportunity to make a score.
A handful of unsavory characters headed by professional gamblers Arnold Rothstein and Joseph "Sport" Sullivan hatched the Black Sox plot, using former featherweight champion Abe Attell as their bag man. Their targets were some of the best players on Comiskey's White Sox, including pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams and outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.
In a confession that was leaked by a grand jury but disappeared before the players went to trial, Cicotte described how the scheme fell into place during a meeting in his hotel room, four days before the start of the series against Cincinnati. Also in the meeting were the other conspirators: first baseman Chick Gandil, who apparently made the first contact with the gamblers; shortstop Swede Risberg; utility infielder Fred McMullin; outfielder Happy Felsch; third baseman Buck Weaver; Williams; and Jackson.
"Gandil was the master of ceremonies," Cicotte said in the account printed in the New York Times on Sept. 29, 1920. "We talked about throwing the Series. Decided we could get away with it. We agreed to do it."
Cicotte demanded a high price for his participation -- $10,000 up front, cash in advance, which was delivered under his pillow the night before the opening game. On his mind was the mortgage on his farm.
"I paid it off with the crooked money," he said.
Cicotte was the ace of the White Sox' staff with 29 victories that season, one win short of a promised bonus that Comiskey prevented him from getting by depriving him of late-season starts. He would start the first game of the Series against the Reds, and when he hit leadoff man Morrie Rath in the back with his second pitch, it was a signal to the bettors.
The fix was on.
"I wasn't putting a thing on the ball," he said. "You could have read the trademark on it when I lobbed the ball up to the plate."
The Reds knocked Cicotte out in a five-run fourth inning, en route to a 9-1 victory. On the Cincinnati bench, the players suspected something was up.
"I thought something funny was going on," outfielder Edd Rousch said years later. "Rumors were flying all over the place."
Chicago's Game 2 starter was Williams, a 23-game winner that year. White Sox catcher Ray Schalk had heard the rumors and when Williams, a control artist, walked three batters in the fourth inning, the catcher knew something wasn't right.
Williams walked six batters and crossed up his catcher repeatedly in the game won by the Reds, 4-2. When it was over, Schalk confronted the pitcher under the stands and had to be restrained by teammates.
Now the rumors were really rampant. In the press box, writers such as Hugh Fullerton circled suspicious plays on his scorecard.
Chicago won Game 3 when Dickie Kerr, uninvolved in the fix, threw a three-hitter in a 3-0 victory. It should be noted that Gandil's double drove in Jackson and Felsch with two of the White Sox' runs.
Cicotte was back on the mound in Game 4, determined to be less obvious about his intentions. The game was scoreless in the fifth inning when he threw wild to first on one play and then cut off and fumbled a throw that might have caught a runner at the plate. The two errors by the best fielding pitcher in the American League gave the Reds two unearned runs in a 2-0 victory.
"I muffed the ball on purpose," Cicotte said in his confession. "All the runs scored against me were due to my own deliberate errors. I did not try to win."
With the White Sox trailing three games to one, Gandil delivered two envelopes to Williams, each containing $5,000. One for the pitcher, the other for Jackson. In Game 5, Williams lost again with Jackson and Felsch butchering plays in the outfield in a four-run sixth inning as the Reds won, 5-0.
Now Cincinnati was leading the best-of-nine Series 4-1, but the White Sox players were growing annoyed with the uneven flow of payoffs by the gamblers. There was supposed to be a $20,000 drop on the morning of Game 6, but it never occurred, leaving the fixers angry. The White Sox were determined to get even.
Suddenly, the fix was off.
Kerr pitched Game 6 and Gandil singled home Weaver with the deciding run in the 10th inning as Chicago won, 5-4. Cicotte started Game 7 and, for the first time in the Series, the White Sox ace delivered a victory, 4-1.
The two straight White Sox wins left the gamblers on edge. They decided to make sure Game 8 would go their way, and not with money. On the night before the game, Williams was confronted on his way back to his hotel after dinner. He was to lose Game 8, he was told. He was to make sure of that, or he might never pitch again.
Williams was shaken. And so, he made sure. He got just one out and was pummeled for four runs in the first inning in what was to become Cincinnati's clinching 10-5 victory.
The Series was over. The White Sox had become the Black Sox.
Within a year, a grand jury heard testimony about the shenanigans that had taken place in the 1919 World Series. In June 1921, the fixers were all found innocent in court, but not by baseball. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, hired to clean up the game, barred the eight players for life.
As he left the courthouse after appearing as a witness, Joe Jackson encountered a youngster. According to the Chicago Herald and Examiner, the boy tugged at Jackson's sleeve as he left the courthouse.
"Say it ain't so, Joe," the boy pleaded. "Say it ain't so."
But Cicotte's words make it clear that it really was.
"I never did anything I regretted so much in my life," he said in his confession. "I would give anything in the world if I could undo my acts. . . . I played a crooked game and I have lost."
So did the Black Sox.