My last blog post covered Howard Unruh’s 1949 “Walk of Death” in Camden, New Jersey. This week’s case concerns the Chicago “Black Sox” scandal. In 1919, the Chicago White Sox were favored to win the World Series against Cincinnati. But mobster Arnold Rothstein concocted a scheme to bribe Chicago players to throw the Series.
The 1919 “Black Sox”
Charles Comiskey owned the Chicago White Stockings (shortened to the White Sox in 1904) from 1900 to his death in 1931. A former major league standout player himself, Comiskey was known as miserly (his supporters called him “frugal”). The Sox were one of the top teams in the American League. Still, Comiskey had a reputation for underpaying his players. Despite his stingy reputation, Comiskey was probably no worse than most team owners of the period. The team payroll for the 1919 Sox, winners of the 1917 World Series, was the largest in baseball.
Two factions emerged in the clubhouse. One group resented the more straightlaced players, who included second baseman Eddie Collins, catcher Ray Schalk, and pitchers Red Faber and Dickie Kerr. The two groups seldom spoke to each other, united only in their hatred of Comiskey.
The “Black Sox” Fix is In
On September 21, 1919, several White Sox players met in Arnold “Chick” Gandil’s room in New York’s Ansonia Hotel to discuss a fix. They would intentionally lose the Series in exchange for cash from a gambling syndicate reputed to be headed by mobster Arnold Rothstein. Some attendees were ready to proceed, while others were there only to listen.
When the Series opened on October 1 at Redland (later Crosley) Field, rumors of a fix abounded. When these rumors reached the press box, several correspondents agreed to compare notes on any players and plays they deemed suspicious. Most fans, though, took the games at face value.
Pitcher Eddie Cicotte, one of the conspirators, started Game One for Chicago. After throwing a strike to leadoff batter Morrie Rath, his second pitch hit Rath in the back. This was the signal that the fix was in. Cicotte made a bad throw to second in the fourth inning, and Cincinnati went on to win 9-1.
The “Black Sox” Have Second Thoughts
After Game Five, Chicago had a single win to Cincinnati’s four (the World Series was a best-of-nine series in 1919). But by then, the “Black Sox” players, angry at not having received the promised money from the gambling syndicate, attempted to double-cross the gamblers. “Clean Sox” pitcher Dickie Kerr won Game Six, while “Black Sox” pitcher Eddie Cicotte won Game Seven.
Alarmed by this rebellion, the gamblers threatened violence against the Chicago players and their families. “Black Sox” pitcher Lefty Williams started Game Eight, which Cincinnati won 10-5. Williams set an unenviable Series record by losing three games. Dickie Kerr, on the other hand, won his two starts.
For their efforts, the players involved in the fix received $5,000 each (more than $86,000 in 2022). Chick Gandil, as the ringleader, received $35,000 (over $602,000 in 2022).
Fallout from the “Black Sox” Scandal
Throughout the 1920 season, rumors of the fix followed the Chicago White Sox as they fought the Cleveland Indians for the American League pennant. With the regular season almost over and the Sox and the Indians tied for first place, Comiskey suspended seven players. “Chick” Gandil, the purported ringleader, left the White Sox in 1920. The suspensions cost the White Sox the pennant. Cleveland went on to win the American League championship and the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In September 1920, a grand jury convened to investigate the scandal. Eddie Cicotte confessed on September 28 (he later recanted, as did “Shoeless” Joe Jackson). On October 22, the grand jury handed down its decision, implicating eight players and two gamblers. Comiskey, the supposed skinflint, gave bonuses of $1,500 (more than $22,000 in 2022) to the ten players not involved and to manager Kid Gleason. The checks represented the difference between the winners’ and losers’ share of the 1919 World Series.
The players went to trial in the summer of 1921. Former White Sox pitcher “Sleepy Bill” Burns, who was under indictment, testified for the prosecution. The trial lasted ten days. The jury deliberated only three hours before returning verdicts of not guilty.
Desperate to clean up baseball’s image, team owners solicited respected federal judge (and baseball fan) Kennesaw Mountain Landis to head a reformed National Baseball Commission. Landis agreed to accept, but only if he were the sole commissioner. The owners agreed, giving the judge unprecedented control over the major and minor leagues.
Despite their acquittal, Landis banished all eight Sox players for life. Buck Weaver, who never received money, was banned for knowing about the fix and not reporting it. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson received a lifetime ban despite not attending the Gandil meeting. Jackson’s 12 base hits set a Series record that stood until 1964. He led both teams in batting with a .374 average, hit the Series’ only home run, and made no errors. His participation in the scandal remains controversial today.
Arnold Rothstein, the mob figure allegedly behind the plot to fix the Series, died on November 6, 1928, after being shot two days earlier. Rumors linked the shooting to debts owed from a days-long high-stakes poker game.
One of the first and best-known books about the 1919 World Series is Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out. First published in 1953, it remains a valuable resource, although later writers contend Asinof’s analysis of the players’ compensation is flawed. Dan Helpingstine’s 2019 book, The 1919 Black Sox Scandal, is a more recent treatment of the scandal. Turning the Black Sox White by Tim Hornbaker is a biography of team owner Charles Comiskey.
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