Charles August Risberg
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 175 lb.
- Debut April 11, 1917
- Final Game September 27, 1920
- Born October 13, 1894 in San Francisco, CA USA
- Died October 13, 1975 in Red Bluff, CA USA
Risberg, born in San Francisco, CA of Scandinavian parents, had little formal education. He had a cannon for an arm, however, and began his professional career as a pitcher, signing with the Vernon Tigers of the Pacific Coast League at age 17 in 1912. He pitched only one game for the team though, then in 1913 was sent down to the Class D Northwestern League and to the Union Association where he became a shortstop. He hit .358 for Ogden of the UA in 1914, earning him a return ticket to the PCL at the end of the year. He played 175 games in 1915 and 185 in 1916 even though he was a mediocre hitter, and spent time at first base, second base, shortstop, the outfield, and even pitched a few games.
Swede Risberg was purchased by the Chicago White Sox for the 1917 season and unseated Zeb Terry for the team's shortstop job. He almost quit the team in June, suffering a bad bout of homesickness, but still played in 149 games. However, his average was only .203, and he fell in a bad slump towards the end of the season which convinced manager Pants Rowland to sit him down for the World Series against the New York Giants. Buck Weaver moved over from third base to shortstop, while Fred McMullin took over at third, and Risberg was reduced to two pinch-hitting appearances as the White Sox won the championship. In 1918, he got into 82 games as a utility player, hitting .256, before leaving the team on August 8 to find employment in in a shipyard in Alameda, CA (players were instructed to either find work in defense industries or face the military draft, and Risberg chose the first option like many of his teammates). Most of his work consisted of playing for the shipyard's ballclub, however.
He returned to the White Sox in 1919 and got his old job back as the team's shortstop. He hit .256 again and drew raves for his strong arm and defense as the Sox cruised to a second pennant in three years. However, the Sox were a divided team, with two separate cliques, one consisting of the educated players around second baseman Eddie Collins, and the other of the rough-and-tumble characters under first baseman Chick Gandil. The latter group, in which Risberg fell, felt they were poorly paid by tight-fisted owner Charles Comiskey and devised a plan to throw the upcoming World Series in return for $10,000 each. The plan succeeded, although not all the conspirators received the money promised; as one of the leaders, Risberg did, however and in return contributed to the defeat with a terrible .080 batting average and four errors in the Series against the Cincinnati Reds (he claimed that he was bothered by a bad cold). However rumors that something had been amiss started immediately, and towards the end of the 1920 season, became public when one of the fixers, Billy Maharg, confessed his role to the press. Risberg, who had hit .266 in 126 games that season, was acquitted in the trial that followed, but then was still banned for life by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis alongside seven teammates.
He played the rest of his career in outlaw ball far away from Major League citys but apparently made a good living. In 1924, Risberg, alongside banned teammates Happy Felsch and Joe Jackson, sued the White Sox for unpaid wages following his banning. He asked for $750 from his 1920 salary and an unpaid $1,500 bonus for "good and efficient play" that year. He initially also asked for an additional $100,000 because the banning had destroyed his reputation and ability to earn a living, but dropped the claim as it would have been too hard to prove. He eventually settled out of court with the White Sox for $288.88 plus interest and court costs. In 1926, he was asked to testify in an inquiry Commissionner Landis was conducting regarding another alleged betting scandal involving superstars Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. He made incriminating depositions stating that White Sox players had payed a large sum of money to members of the 1917 Detroit Tigers for their help in beating rivals for the pennant that year. However, his testimony was dismissed because he was seen to hold a large grudge against Major League Baseball. Nevertheless, such "gifts", once common, are formally banned to this day as a result of this affair.
Risberg always refused to discuss his role in the Black Sox Scandal, even though he was the last of the banned players to be alive. He curtly turned away Eliot Asinof when he sought to interview him in 1962, claiming he remembered nothing, and died in a convalescent home in Red Bluff, CA in 1975.
- Gene Carney: "New Light on an Old Scandal", in The Baseball Research Journal, Society for American Baseball Research, Cleveland, OH, # 35 (2007), pp. 74-81.
- Kelly Boyer Sagert and Rod Nelson: "Charles August 'Swede' Risberg", in David Jones, ed.: Deadball Stars of the American League, SABR, Potomac Books, Inc., Dulles, VA, 2006, pp. 525-526.
- Kelly Boyer Sagert and Rod Nelson: "Swede Risberg", in Jacob Pomrenke, ed.: Scandal on the South Side: The 1919 Chicago White Sox, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2015, pp. 171-176. ISBN 978-1-933599-95-3