1883: Chicago White Stockings

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The Curse of Peg Leg Sullivan/1883: Chicago White Stockings
The House Theatre
Written By The House Theatre

The House is Chicago's premier home for intimate, original works of epic story and stagecraft. Founded and led by Artistic Director Nathan Allen and driven by an interdisciplinary ensemble of Chicago’s next generation of great storytellers, The House aims to become a laboratory and platform for the evolution of the American theatre as an inclusive and popular artform.

In 1871, after the Great Fire burned down the Chicago White Stockings' Union Baseball grounds, the White Stox built a new ballfield, Lakefront Park, on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Peg Leg Sullivan, who had kept a low profile since the fire 12 years earlier, ventured to Lakefront Park in 1883 to see the White Stockings play. Limited by his peg leg and fearful of large crowds, Sullivan resolved to watch the game on the rail tracks behind the short right field wall. He was joined at his side by a group of hooky-playing children. 

The children would take turns scaling the fence to see GRAHAM, the White Stockings’ pitcher, unleash a blistering fastball, or MCCORMICK, the shortstop, slap a base hit into the outfield grass. But all decorum went out the window when star slugger OTTERBECK stepped to the plate. Everyone, save the man with a bum leg, scrambled to the top of the fence to look upon the legend himself.  

Peg Leg stood back on on the tracks, squinted, and watched. The batter took the first pitch — a strike. Then he swung and missed at the second one. No balls, two strikes. The pitcher reared back and fired a looping curveball. CRACK The ball popped off the bat, flying in a gracious arc over the right field fence, and over the amazed faces of the the children, who soured into dismay as they realized the ball would land out of their reach. 

Peg Leg followed the ball's path until it hit the ground no more than a dozen feet away from him, skidded across the dirt, and thudded softly against his wooden leg. He picked up the prize, smiling at his luck. The children bounded down and surrounded him. “Hey mister! Wouldya give us that ball?” they begged him. “Please mister!” Sullivan refused at first, but softened by their cute dirt-stained faces, he eventually conceded — under one condition. He wanted to play stickball with them for one afternoon.

Before he handed over the coveted baseball, Sullivan asked if he could take a swing at it. A boy named HEINEMAN offered him a thin wooden broom handle to whack the ball with, but Sullivan declined, proceeding to unlatch the peg leg from his stump. Standing on one leg, Sullivan balanced the prosthetic on his right shoulder and squared up to receive the pitch. The kids cheered when Peg Leg poked a sharp line drive up the middle with his gruesome leg-bat. Satisfied, Sullivan kept his promise and gave the home run ball to a little kid named MINOW before saying farewell. 

Sadly, Peg Leg’s curse was already at work on the ball, and it caused years of sandlot mischief as it passed from hand to hand. But the true power of the curse wasn’t revealed until years later. One summer, a sweet boy nicknamed “Happy” came to visit from Milwaukee. As he played with the beaten-up, unraveling relic, a sense of mischief came over him, and he slyly tucked the ball into his pocket and brought it home.

Years passed. The White Stockings switched ballparks several times. They changed their names to the Cubs. Meanwhile, and a new American League team came to town, named themselves the White Sox, and settled into the south side. Early on, they recruited a young man out of Milwaukee, one Mr. Happy Felsch.

Happy had hung onto Peg Leg’s ball over the years. In 1919, looking for some luck during a tough stretch of games, he pulled it out and put it in his locker to serve as a good luck charm. Sadly for Happy, the curse went to work, causing him to make a truly terrible decision.

That year, the White Sox won the American League pennant, and they were overwhelming favorites to defeat the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. They were considered one of the greatest baseball teams ever assembled. Incredibly, they lost.

The truth came out soon enough. They had thrown the series. Eight players colluded with gamblers to lose the series, in exchange for a hefty sum of cash. Among those players was the first accidental target of Peg Leg's curse: Happy Felsch.

Happy and company were banned from professional baseball with their reputations irrevocably tarnished. They were forever known, ignominiously, as the Black Sox. Felsch never played at the highest level again. He kept the ball until his death.

Answer is 5 letters.
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The Curse of Peg Leg Sullivan

1883: Chicago White Stockings

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