The Black Sox Scandal took place during the play of Major League Baseball's 1919 World Series. The Chicago White Sox lost the series to the Cincinnati Reds, and eight White Sox players were later accused of intentionally losing games in exchange for money from gamblers. The players were acquitted in court, but nevertheless, they were all banned for life from organized baseball.
The conspiracy was the brainchild of White Sox first baseman Arnold "Chick" Gandil, who had longstanding ties to underworld figures. He persuaded Joseph "Sport" Sullivan, a friend and professional gambler, that the fix could be pulled off. New York gangster Arnold Rothstein supplied the money through his lieutenant Abe Attell, a former featherweight boxing champion.
Gandil enlisted several of his teammates, motivated by a dislike of club owner Charles Comiskey (whose miserliness they resented) to implement the fix; Comiskey had developed a reputation for underpaying his players for years (under the MLB reserve clause, players either had to take the salary they were offered, or they couldn't play Major League Baseball, as no other team was allowed to sign them). All of them were members of a faction on the team that resented the more straight-laced players on the squad, such as second baseman Eddie Collins, a graduate of Columbia College of Columbia University, catcher Ray Schalk, and pitcher Red Faber. By most contemporary accounts, the two factions almost never spoke to each other on or off the field, and the only thing they had in common was a resentment of Comiskey.
Starting pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude "Lefty" Williams, outfielder Oscar "Happy" Felsch, and shortstop Charles "Swede" Risberg were all principally involved with Gandil. Third baseman George "Buck" Weaver attended a meeting where the fix was discussed, but decided not to participate. He was later banned with the others for knowing about the fix but not reporting it. The scheme got an unexpected boost when Faber was ruled out due to a bout with the flu. Years later, Schalk said that if Faber had been available, the fix would have likely never happened (since Faber would have almost certainly gotten starts that went to Cicotte and/or Williams).
Although Weaver attended meetings with some of his teammates and the gamblers, he played to the best of his ability during the series and batted .324 with 11 hits in 34 at-bats. Those stats were higher than some of his batting averages in his previous years. He had a career batting average of .272, which was lower than what he batted in the World Series. Weaver was also the only player to attend the meetings who didn't receive any money.
Although he hardly played in the series, utility infielder Fred McMullin got word of the fix and threatened to report the others unless he were in on the payoff. As a small coincidence, McMullin was a former teammate of "Sleepy" Bill Burns', who had a minor role in the fix. Both played for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. Star outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson was also mentioned as a participant, though his involvement is disputed.
Stories of the Black Sox scandal have usually included Comiskey as a villain, focusing in particular on his intentions regarding a clause in Cicotte's contract that would have paid Cicotte an additional $10,000 bonus for winning 30 games. According to Eliot Asinof's account of the events, Eight Men Out, Cicotte was "rested" for the season's final two weeks after reaching his 29th win, presumably to deny him the bonus. However, the record is perhaps more complex. Cicotte won his 29th game on September 19, had an ineffective start on September 24, and was pulled after a few innings in a tuneup on the season's final day, September 28 (the World Series beginning 3 days later). However, the allegation is probably substantiated in reference to the 1917 season, when Cicotte won 28 games before being benched.
Even before the Series started on October 2, there were rumors among gamblers that the series was fixed, and a sudden influx of money being bet on Cincinnati caused the odds against them to fall rapidly. These rumors also reached the press box where a number of correspondents, including Hugh Fullerton of the Chicago Herald and Examiner and ex-player and manager Christy Mathewson, resolved to compare notes on any plays and players that they felt were questionable. Despite the rampant rumors, gamblers continued to wager heavily against the White Sox.
However, most fans and observers were taking the series at face value. On October 2, the day of Game One, the Philadelphia Bulletin published a poem which would quickly prove to be ironic:
- Still, it really doesn't matter,
- After all, who wins the flag.
- Good clean sport is what we're after,
- And we aim to make our brag
- To each near or distant nation
- Whereon shines the sporting sun
- That of all our games gymnastic
- Base ball is the cleanest one!
On the second pitch of the Series, Eddie Cicotte struck Cincinnati leadoff hitter Morrie Rath in the back, delivering a pre-arranged signal confirming the players' willingness to go through with the fix.
Williams, one of the "Eight Men Out," lost three games, a Series record. Dickie Kerr, who was not part of the fix, won both of his starts. Cicotte bore down and won Game 7 of the best-of-9 Series; he was angry that the gamblers were now reneging on their promises, as they claimed that all the money was in the hands of bookies. Sullivan then paid infamous gangster Harry F to threaten to hurt Williams and his family if he didn't lose the last game. The White Sox lost Game 8 on October 9, ending the series.
Shoeless Joe Jackson
The extent of Joe Jackson's part in the conspiracy remains controversial. Jackson maintained that he was innocent. He had a Series-leading .375 batting average – including the Series' only home run – threw out five baserunners, and handled 30 chances in the outfield with no errors. However, he batted far worse in the five games that the White Sox lost, with a batting average of .286 in those games (although this was still an above-average batting average; the National and American Leagues hit a combined .263 in the 1919 season). Three of his six RBIs came in the losses, including the aforementioned home run, and a double in Game 8 when the Reds had a large lead and the series was all but over. Still, in that game a long foul ball was caught at the fence with runners on second and third, depriving Jackson of a chance to drive in the runners. Statistics also show that in the other games that the White Sox lost, only five of Jackson's at-bats came with a man in scoring position, and he advanced the runners twice.
One play in particular has been subjected to much scrutiny. In the fifth inning of Game 4, with a Cincinnati player on second, Jackson fielded a single hit to left field and threw home. Chick Gandil, another leader of the fix, later admitted to yelling at Cicotte to intercept the throw. The run scored and the White Sox lost the game 2–0. Cicotte, whose guilt is undisputed, made two errors in that fifth inning alone.
Another argument, presented in the book Eight Men Out, is that because Jackson was illiterate, he had little awareness of the seriousness of the plot, and thus he consented to it only when Risberg threatened him and his family.
Years later, all of the implicated players said that Jackson was never present at any of the meetings they had with the gamblers. Lefty Williams, Jackson's roommate, later said that they only brought up Jackson in hopes of giving them more credibility with the gamblers.
The rumors dogged the White Sox throughout the 1920 season, as they battled the Cleveland Indians for the American League pennant that year, and stories of corruption touched players on other clubs as well. At last, in September 1920, a grand jury was convened to investigate.
Two players, Eddie Cicotte and Shoeless Joe Jackson, confessed their participation in the scheme to the Chicago grand jury on September 28, 1920. On the eve of their final season series, the White Sox were in a virtual tie for first place with the Cleveland Indians. The Sox would need to win all 3 of their remaining games and then hope for Cleveland to stumble, as the Indians had more games in hand. Despite the season being on the line, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey suspended the seven White Sox still in the majors (Chick Gandil had not returned to the team in 1920 and was playing semi-pro ball). He said that he had no choice but to suspend them, even though this action likely cost the White Sox any chance of winning that year's American League pennant. The White Sox lost 2 of 3 in their final series against the St. Louis Browns and finished in second place, two games behind Cleveland.
The damage to the sport's reputation led the owners to appoint federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the first Commissioner of Baseball prior to the start of the 1921 season. With the unprecedented powers granted to him by the owners, and using a precedent that saw Babe Borton, Harl Maggert, Gene Dale, and Bill Rumler banned from the Pacific Coast League for match fixing, Landis placed all eight accused players on an "ineligible list", banning them from major and minor league baseball. Comiskey supported Landis by giving the seven who remained under contract to the White Sox their unconditional release.
Prior to the trial, key evidence went missing from the Cook County Courthouse, including the signed confessions of Cicotte and Jackson, who subsequently recanted their confessions. The players were acquitted. (Some years later, the missing confessions reappeared in the possession of Comiskey's lawyer.)
Player John F. "Shano" Collins is named as the wronged party in the indictments of the key figures in the Black Sox scandal. The indictment claims that by throwing the World Series, the alleged conspirators defrauded him of $1,784.
Landis was not as forgiving, and was quick to quash any prospect that he might re-instate the implicated players. On August 3, 1921, the day after the players were acquitted, the Commissioner issued his own verdict:
Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.
Landis had not explicitly described his decision as being "lifetime" or "permanent" suspensions. In the film Eight Men Out Landis (played by John Anderson) is portrayed to have said "no player who throws a ball game... will ever play professional baseball again." however Landis is not contemporarily documented using the word again. Nevertheless, regardless of what Landis' exact words were, he had made it clear that he had no intention of ever re-instating any of the accused players. Thus, following the Commissioner's statement it was universally understood that all eight implicated White Sox were to be banned from Major League Baseball for life. Two other players believed to be involved were also banned.
With seven of their best players permanently sidelined, the White Sox crashed into seventh place in 1921 and would not be a factor in a pennant race again until 1936, five years after Comiskey's death. They would not win another American League championship until 1959 (a then-record 40-year gap) nor another World Series until 2005, prompting some to comment about a Curse of the Black Sox.
After being banned, Risberg and several other members of the Black Sox tried to organize a three-state barnstorming tour. However, they were forced to cancel those plans after Landis let it be known that anyone who played with or against them would also be banned from baseball for life. They then announced plans to play a regular exhibition game every Sunday in Chicago, but the Chicago City Council threatened to cancel the license of any ballpark that hosted them.
The 10 players not implicated in the gambling scandal, as well as manager Kid Gleason, were each given bonus checks in the amount of $1500 by Charles A. Comiskey in the fall of 1920 — the difference between the winners' and losers' share for participation in the 1919 World Series.
- Eddie Cicotte, pitcher, died on May 5, 1969, had the longest life; living to the age of 84. Admitted involvement in the fix.
- Oscar "Happy" Felsch, center fielder, died on August 17, 1964, at 72.
- Arnold "Chick" Gandil, first baseman. The leader of the players who were in on the fix. He did not play in the majors in 1920, playing semi-pro ball instead. In a 1956 Sports Illustrated article, he expressed remorse for the scheme, but claimed that the players had actually abandoned it when it became apparent they were going to be watched closely. According to Gandil, the players' numerous errors were a result of fear that they were being watched. He died on December 13, 1970, at 82.
- "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, the star outfielder, one of the best hitters in the game, confessed in sworn grand jury testimony to having accepted $5,000 cash from the gamblers. He later recanted his confession and protested his innocence to no effect until his death on December 5, 1951, at 64; he was the first of the eight banned White Sox players to die. Years later, the other players all said that Jackson had never been involved in any of the meetings with the gamblers, and other evidence has since surfaced that casts doubt on his role.
- Fred McMullin, utility infielder. McMullin would not have been included in the fix had he not overheard the other players' conversations. He threatened to tell all if not included. His role as team scout may have had more impact on the fix, since he saw minimal playing time in the series. He died on November 20, 1952, at 61.
- Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop. Risberg was Gandil's assistant. The last living player among the Black Sox, he lived on until October 13, 1975, his 81st birthday.
- George "Buck" Weaver, third baseman. Weaver attended the initial meetings, and while he did not go in on the fix, he knew about it. Landis banished him on this basis, stating "Men associating with crooks and gamblers could expect no leniency." On January 13, 1922, Weaver unsuccessfully applied for reinstatement. Like Jackson, Weaver continued to profess his innocence to successive baseball commissioners to no effect. He died on January 31, 1956, at 65.
- Claude "Lefty" Williams, pitcher. Went 0–3 with a 6.63 ERA for the series. Only one other pitcher in baseball history – reliever George Frazier of the 1981 New York Yankees – has ever lost three games in one World Series, although it should be noted that the third game Williams lost was Game Eight - baseball's decision to revert to a best of seven Series in 1922 significantly reduced the opportunity for a pitcher to obtain three decisions in a Series. Williams died on November 4, 1959, at 66.
Also banned was Joe Gedeon, second baseman for the St. Louis Browns. Gedeon placed bets since he learned of the fix from Risberg, a friend of his. He informed Comiskey of the fix after the Series in an effort to gain a reward. He was banned for life by Landis along with the eight White Sox.
The indefinite suspensions imposed by Landis in relation to the Black Sox Scandal were the most to be imposed simultaneously in the history of organized baseball; thirteen player suspensions, all between 50 and 211 games, were a byproduct in 2013 of the Biogenesis scandal in regards to doping (and other players' suspensions were also related to that).
"Black Sox" name
Although many believe the Black Sox name to be related to the dark and corrupt nature of the conspiracy, the term "Black Sox" may already have existed before the fix. There is a story that the name "Black Sox" derived from parsimonious owner Charles Comiskey's refusal to pay for the players' uniforms to be laundered, instead insisting that the players themselves pay for the cleaning. As the story goes, the players refused and subsequent games saw the White Sox play in progressively filthier uniforms as dust, sweat and grime collected on the white, woolen uniforms until they took on a much darker shade. Comiskey then had the uniforms washed and deducted the laundry bill from the players' salaries.
On the other hand, Eliot Asinof in his book Eight Men Out makes no such connection, mentioning the filthy uniforms early on but referring to the term "Black Sox" only in connection with the scandal.
- Eliot Asinof's book Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series is the best-known history of the scandal.
- Brendan Boyd's novel Blue Ruin: A Novel of the 1919 World Series offers a first-person narrative of the event from the perspective of Sport Sullivan, a Boston gambler involved in fixing the series.
- In F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby, a minor character named Meyer Wolfsheim was said to have helped in the Black Sox scandal, though this is purely fictional. In explanatory notes accompanying the novel's 75th anniversary edition, editor Matthew Bruccoli describes the character as being directly based on Arnold Rothstein.
- In Dan Gutman's novel Shoeless Joe & Me (2012), the protagonist, Joe, goes back in time to try to prevent Shoeless Joe from being banned for life.
- W. P. Kinsella's novel Shoeless Joe is the story of an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball field in his cornfield after hearing a mysterious voice. Later, Shoeless Joe Jackson and other members of the Black Sox come to play on his field. The novel was adapted into the 1989 hit film Field of Dreams. Joe Jackson plays a central role in inspiring protagonist Ray Kinsella to reconcile with his past.
- Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel The Natural and its 1984 filmed dramatization of the same name were inspired significantly by the events of the scandal.
- Harry Stein's novel Hoopla, alternatingly co-narrated by Buck Weaver and Luther Pond, a fictitious New York Daily News columnist, attempts to view the Black Sox Scandal from Weaver's perspective.
- In the film The Godfather Part II (1974), the fictional gangster Hyman Roth alludes to the scandal when he says, "I've loved baseball ever since Arnold Rothstein fixed the World Series in 1919."
- Director John Sayles' Eight Men Out, a 1988 film based on Asinof's book, is a dramatization of the scandal, focusing largely on Buck Weaver as the one banned player who did not take any money.
- Murray Head's 1975 album Say It Ain't So takes its name after an apocryphal question put to Shoeless Joe Jackson during the court case.
- On Jonathan Coulton's album Smoking Monkey, his song "Kenesaw Mountain Landis" greatly fictionalizes the commissioner's quest to ban Jackson from baseball.
- Chicago Historical Society: Black Sox
- Famous American Trials: The Black Sox Trial
- Asinof, Eliot. Eight Men Out. New York: Henry Holt. 1963. ISBN 0-8050-6537-7.
- Carney, Eugene. Burying the Black Sox. Potomac Books Inc. 2007. ISBN 978-1-59797-108-9
- Ginsburg, Daniel E. The Fix Is In: A History of Baseball Gambling and Game Fixing Scandals. McFarland and Co., 1995. 317 pages. ISBN 0-7864-1920-2.
- Pietrusza, David Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, New York: Carroll & Graf, 2003. ISBN 0-7867-1250-3
- Chicagohs.org Chicago Historical Society on the Black Sox
- John Sayles based on Asinof's book
- baseball-reference.com Box scores and info on each game
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