Black Sox Scandal
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The Black Sox Scandal took place during the play of the 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 were nevertheless banned for life from baseball.
- 1 Background
- 2 Fallout
- 3 Popular culture
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Sources
- 7 External links
Tension in the clubhouse
Club owner Charles Comiskey was widely disliked by the players and was resented for his miserliness. Comiskey long had a reputation for underpaying his players, even though they were one of the top teams in the league and had already won the 1917 World Series. Because of baseball's reserve clause, any player who refused to accept a contract was prohibited from playing baseball on any other professional team. Because of the clause, players were prevented from changing teams without permission from their team, and without a union the players had no bargaining power. Comiskey was probably no worse than most owners—in fact, Chicago had the largest team payroll in 1919. In the era of the reserve clause, gamblers could find players on many teams looking for extra cash—and they did. In addition, the clubhouse was divided into two factions. One group resented the more straitlaced players (later called the "Clean Sox"), a group that included players like second baseman Eddie Collins, a graduate of Columbia College of Columbia University, catcher Ray Schalk, and pitcher Red Faber. By 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.
Planning the conspiracy
A meeting of White Sox ballplayers—including those committed to going ahead and those just ready to listen—took place on September 21, in Chick Gandil's room at the Ansonia Hotel in New York. It was a meeting that would eventually shatter the careers of eight ballplayers, although whether all eight were actually in attendance is a matter of dispute. Weaver was the only player to attend the meetings who did not receive money. Nevertheless, he was later banned with the others for knowing about the fix but not reporting it.
Although he hardly played in the series, utility infielder Fred McMullin got word of the fix and threatened to report the others unless he was 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 mentioned as a participant, though his involvement is disputed.
The scheme got an unexpected boost when the straitlaced Faber could not pitch 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.
October 2, there were rumors amongst 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.
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!
After throwing a strike with his first pitch of the Series, Eddie Cicotte's second pitch struck Cincinnati leadoff hitter Morrie Rath in the back, delivering a pre-arranged signal confirming the players' willingness to go through with the fix.
Claude 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 promised progress payments (to be paid after each game lost). The gamblers claimed that all the money was let out on bets, and was in the hands of the bookmakers. Joseph J. "Sport" Sullivan, the gambler who initiated the fix, then paid infamous gangster Harry F to threaten to hurt Lefty Williams and his family if he did not lose the upcoming game 8. The White Sox lost Game 8 (and the series) on October 9, 1919. Whatever Williams had been told made its impression. In the first inning throwing nothing but mediocre fastballs, he gave up four straight one-out hits for three runs before manager Kid Gleason relieved him.
Grand jury (1920)
The rumors dogged the White Sox throughout the 1920 season as they battled the Cleveland Indians for the American League pennant, and stories of corruption touched players on other clubs as well. At last, in September 1920, a grand jury was convened to investigate; Eddie Cicotte and Shoeless Joe Jackson confessed their participation in the scheme to the grand jury on September 28.
On the eve of their final season series, the White Sox were in a virtual tie for first place with the Indians. The Sox would need to win all three of their remaining games and then hope for Cleveland to stumble, as the Indians had more games left to play than the White Sox. Despite the season being on the line, 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 two of the three games in the final series against the St. Louis Browns and finished in second place, two games behind Cleveland.
The grand jury handed down its decision on October 22, 1920, and eight players and five gamblers were implicated. The indictments included nine counts of conspiracy to defraud. The ten players not implicated in the gambling scandal, as well as manager Kid Gleason, were each given bonus checks in the amount of $1,500 by Comiskey in the fall of 1920, the amount equaling the difference between the winners' and losers' share for participation in the 1919 World Series.
The trial began on June 27, 1921 in Chicago, though author Pietrusza has its beginning date at July 18, 1921. Player Shano Collins was named as the wronged party in the indictments, accusing his corrupt teammates of having cost him $1,784 as a result of the scandal. Before the trial, key evidence went missing from the Cook County courthouse, including the signed confessions of Cicotte and Jackson, who subsequently recanted their confessions. Some years later, the missing confessions reappeared in the possession of Comiskey's lawyer.
Landis appointed Commissioner, bans all eight players (1921)
Long before the scandal broke, many of baseball's owners had nursed longstanding grievances with the way the game was then governed by the National Commission. The scandal and the damage it caused to the game's reputation gave owners the resolve to make major changes to the governance of the sport. The owners' original plan was to appoint the widely respected federal judge and noted baseball fan Kenesaw Mountain Landis to head a reformed National Commission. When Landis made it clear to the owners that he would only accept an appointment as the game's sole Commissioner, and even then only on the condition that he be granted essentially unchecked power over the sport, the owners agreed to appoint him as the first Commissioner of Baseball with virtually unlimited authority over every person in both the major and minor leagues. Upon taking office prior to the 1921 Major League Baseball season, one of Landis' first acts as Commissioner was to use the unprecedented powers granted to him by the owners to place the eight accused players on an "ineligible list," a decision that effectively left them suspended indefinitely from all of professional baseball.
Following the players' acquittals, Landis was quick to quash any prospect that he might reinstate 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.
Making use of a precedent that had previously seen Babe Borton, Harl Maggert, Gene Dale, and Bill Rumler banned from the Pacific Coast League for match fixing, Landis made it clear that all eight accused players would remain on the "ineligible list," banning them from organized baseball. The Commissioner took the line that while the players had been acquitted in court, there was no dispute they had broken the rules of baseball, and none of them could ever be allowed back in the game if it were to regain the trust of the public. Comiskey supported Landis by giving the seven who remained under contract to the White Sox their unconditional release.
Following the Commissioner's statement it was universally understood that all eight implicated White Sox players were to be banned from Major League Baseball for life. Two other players believed to be involved were also banned. One of them was Hal Chase, who had been effectively blackballed from the majors in 1919 for a long history of throwing games and had spent 1920 in the minors. He was rumored to have been a go-between for Gandil and the gamblers, though it has never been confirmed. Regardless of this, it was understood that Landis' announcement not only formalized his 1919 blacklisting from the majors, but barred him from the minors as well.
Landis, relying upon his years of experience as a Federal Court Judge and attorney, used this decision (this “case”) as the founding precedent (of the reorganized league) for the Commissioner of Baseball, to be the highest, and final authority over this organized professional sport in the United States. He established the precedent, that the Commissioner of Baseball was invested by the league with Plenary power; and the responsibility, to determine the fitness or suitability of anyone, anything, or any circumstance, to be associated with professional baseball, past, present, and future.
Eight members of the White Sox baseball team were banned by Landis for their involvement in the fix:
- 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 had the shortest lifespan, dying on November 20, 1952 at 61.
- Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop. Risberg was Gandil's assistant and the 'muscle' of the playing group. He went 2-for-25 at the plate in the World Series. 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, and died in 1941.
The indefinite suspensions imposed by Landis in relation to the Black Sox Scandal remain the most to be imposed simultaneously in the history of organized baseball, and were the most suspensions of any duration to be simultaneously imposed until 2013 when thirteen player suspensions of between 50 and 211 games were announced following the doping-related Biogenesis scandal.
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. Though this was still an above-average batting average (the National and American Leagues hit a combined .263 in the 1919 season), Jackson hit .351 for the season, fourth best in the major leagues (his .356 career batting average is the third best in history, surpassed only by his contemporaries Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby). 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. But statistics also show that in the five games the White Sox lost, Jackson batted .385 (5/13) without runners in scoring position (bases empty or a runner just on first) but one for eight with runners in scoring position, the one hit- a two-run double- coming in the bottom of the eight inning of the Series finale with the White Sox already trailing 10-1.
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.
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.
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.
Rumors also surfaced that some of the players later played minor league baseball under assumed names. In the final scene of the movie Eight Men Out, Buck Weaver is shown to be in the stands watching a minor league game in New Jersey in 1925. The center fielder for Hoboken, a player named "Brown," is playing well above the level of the others and a spectator near Weaver openly believes him to be Joe Jackson. While also not revealing himself, Weaver, who recognised his former team mate, kept Jackson's cover by telling the fan that while Jackson was the best player he had seen, he wasn't Brown.
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 (2002), 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 (played by John Cusack) as the one banned player who did not take any money. Also starring in the film were Charlie Sheen (Hap Felsch), Michael Rooker (Chick Gandil), David Strathairn (Eddie Cicotte), John Mahoney (Kid Gleason), Christopher Lloyd ("Sleepy" Bill Burns), Clifton James (Charles Comiskey) and D. B. Sweeney as Shoeless Joe Jackson. Sayles himself portrayed sports writer Ring Lardner.
- The 1989 film Field of Dreams, based upon the novel by W. P. Kinsella, discussed the scandal and featured two of the players involved, Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) who played a large part in the film, and Eddie Cicotte (Steve Eastin). Field of Dreams starred Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan and James Earl Jones.
- The 2013 film The Great Gatsby, based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, speaks of the man who fixed the 1919 World Series.
- In the first season of Boardwalk Empire and the second season, the scandal is a large subplot involving Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano and their associates.
- 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, in the style of a tall tale.
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- Carney, Gene. Burying the Black Sox. Potomac Books Inc. 2007. ISBN 978-1-59797-108-9
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