When Distrust Goes Viral

In 1919, the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds played a nine-game World Series that illustrates what happens when business and political leaders lack integrity.

The 1919 Chicago White Sox

The 1919 Chicago White Sox

Numerous players on Chicago’s team agreed to accept large bribes from gamblers to throw the series and lose. Indeed, the Reds won and the gamblers took home a fortune. The full story can be reviewed in the Ken Burns documentary on the history of baseball.

As a result of the corruption in the sport, which was already a national pastime in America, distrust went viral. No one could trust the game. No one knew when a game was fair or foul. Across the two major leagues, attendance at stadiums plummeted. Teams lost huge sums of money, even when they were completely honest.

Worse yet was what the corruption did to young boys who looked up to baseball stars as role models. Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a federal judge who in 1920 was hired as the first baseball commissioner to attempt to restore trust in the game, eloquently conveyed the impact on kids in this statement: 

“Baseball is something more than a game to an American boy,” Landis said. “It is his training field for life work. Destroy his faith in its squareness and honesty and you have destroyed something more—you have planted suspicion of all things in his heart.”

The same outcome happens when business leaders and politicians, for selfish gain and power, lie and cheat. Distrust goes viral. And when “suspicion of all things” is in our hearts, little parts of society die. Soon widespread distrust causes the breakdown of commerce, the erosion of community, and the atomization of individuals.

What happens on the baseball field doesn’t stay on the baseball field.