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After Judge Hugo Friend denies a motion to quash the indictments against the major league baseball players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series, a trial begins with jury selection. The Chicago White Sox players, including stars Shoeless Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver and Eddie Cicotte, subsequently became known as the “Black Sox” after the scandal was revealed.
The White Sox, who were heavily favored at the start of the World Series, had been seriously underpaid and mistreated by owner Charles Comiskey. The conspiracy to fix the games was most likely initiated by first baseman Chick Gindil and small-time gambler Joseph Sullivan. Later, New York gambler Arnold Rothstein reluctantly endorsed it. The schemers used the team’s discontent to their advantage: Through intermediaries, Rothstein offered relatively small sums of money for the players to lose some of the games intentionally. The scandal came to light when the gamblers did not pay the players as promised, thinking that they had no recourse. But when the players openly complained, the story became public and authorities were forced to prosecute them.
The trial against the players was actually just for show. After a tacit agreement whereby the players assented not to denigrate major league baseball or Comiskey in return for an acquittal, the signed confessions from some of the players mysteriously disappeared from police custody.
The jury acquitted all of the accused players and then celebrated with them at a nearby restaurant. But the height of the hypocrisy surrounding the entire matter came when Shoeless Joe was forced to sue Comiskey for unpaid salary. During this trial, Comiskey’s lawyers suddenly produced the confessions that had disappeared during the criminal trial, with no explanation as to how they had been obtained.
Arnold Rothstein never even faced trial, and Comiskey hoped to go back to business as usual. However, all did not end well for everyone. Other baseball owners, hoping to remove any hint that the games were illegitimate, hired Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to be the new commissioner of baseball. Landis was a hard-liner (and also a racist—he prevented blacks from playing in the major leagues during his reign into the 1940s) who then permanently barred the implicated Black Sox players from baseball.
Landis’ decision has come under considerable criticism for its unfairness to a few of the players. Buck Weaver, by all accounts, had refused to take any money offered by the gamblers. He was purportedly banned from baseball for refusing to turn his teammates in. And although Shoeless Joe Jackson probably accepted some money, his statistics show that he never truly participated in throwing the games—he had the best batting average of either team in the series.
Chicago White Sox accused of throwing World Series - HISTORY
- MLB History
Rookie Dickie Kerr was not one of the dirty Sox, and he spun a three-hit shutout to beat the Reds 3-0 in Game 3. Cicotte started Game 4, and though he only allowed two runs -- both of them scoring on suspicious-looking errors by Cicotte himself -- the Sox lost as Cincy starter Jimmy Ring whitewashed Chicago on three hits. And Game 5 resulted in yet another three-hit shutout, as Hod Eller defeated Williams, 4-0. That made four wins for the Reds, but the 1919 World Series was played under the best-of-nine format, so the Sox were still alive.
By this time, most of the Chicago conspirators had become disillusioned with the plan to throw the World Series, and a number of those players contributed to the 10th-inning run which gave the Sox a 5-4 victory in Game 6. Kerr went the distance for Chicago.
Cicotte was solid in Game 7, beating the Reds 4-1 thanks to two RBIs each from Shoeless Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch (both of whom were in on the fix). Unaccountably, Sox manager Kid Gleason gave the Game 8 starting assignment to Lefty Williams, who (probably intentionally) couldn't escape the first. The rout was on, Hod Eller gaining credit for Cincinnati's World Series-clinching, 10-5 triumph.
The 1919 World Series: Did the White Sox Lose…or Did the Reds Win?
This year’s World Series will mark the 100th anniversary of the famed Black Sox scandal, in which eight (really six) members of the Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. The Sox were considered by some to be one of the best teams of all time, at least of the deadball era, and heavy favorites to win the nine-game series over the Reds.
Exceedingly gray history, that is.
The eight accused members of the Sox were officially banned from baseball in 1921, and ever since, countless investigations and unending research have been conducted to try and determine what really happened that fateful October a century ago. Eight Men Out, the famous 1963 book by Eliot Asinof (and the resulting 1988 film by John Sayles), once considered gospel, has been largely discredited as more thorough facts have been uncovered over the years. The book and film, while both entertaining and well done, paint a broad, and often unsubstantiated, stroke of the story. By comparison, and grandly accepted by historians and researchers, Gene Carney’s 2006 book, Burying the Black Sox, is a far more authoritative and factual piece than Asinof’s effort could ever claim to be.
Some believe that the entire series was fixed from the start. Others ascertain that after the players did not receive their promised money somewhere around the third or fourth game, they began to try to win. Yet others still would say that one of the chief tragedies (among many) in that series, is that proper credit has never been given to the Reds for being a great team – or for simply beating the White Sox.
The truth, as is often the case, is probably somewhere in the middle. In any event, there is much evidence to show that the Cincinnati Reds were no fluke, and very well could have been better than the mighty White Sox.
Cincinnati took the National League pennant with a sterling record of 96-44. They were a balanced team with an excellent infield and consistent, if not spectacular, starting pitching. The odds were highly in Chicago’s favor prior to the start of the series, before evening out before Game 1 due to rumors of the fix. It’s important to remember that in that era, fixing games and betting on baseball were nothing new, with rumors of such foul play surrounding virtually every big game. Several players had already been banned by 1919 for such acts as well, so some precedent was there.
While statistics don’t always tell the full story, especially in baseball, the Reds and White Sox draw some very interesting comparisons in several categories.
As a team, the Sox were better hitters than the Reds and their star power gave them the edge in terms of prestige. Despite the fact that very star power contributed to the team being divided and despising one another, they carried three Hall of Fame players on the roster in catcher Ray Schalk, second baseman Eddie Collins and pitcher Red Faber. That number could’ve been as high as eight, however, if the ban didn’t happen. Shoeless Joe Jackson was a lock, an argument could’ve been made for Eddie Cicotte, and if career trajectories stayed course, Buck Weaver, Happy Felsch and Lefty Williams may have entered the discussion too. The Reds meanwhile had just one future Hall of Famer on their club, outfielder Edd Rousch, but even without the vanity and splendor, they were a hungry, well-rounded club.
American League teams had won eight of the previous nine World Series’, including the White Sox in 1917, so that likely added to their reputation of superiority which gave folks the impression that they may have been better than they really were.
One of the biggest keys heading into the series of course was the starting pitching – advantage to the Reds here. They were able to attack the Sox with a strong five-man barrage of Dutch Ruether, Slim Sallee, Ray Fisher, Jimmy Ring and Hod Eller. Having a healthy and consistent five-man rotation is pretty crucial in a best-of-nine in any era. On the season, the Reds staff cached a team ERA of 2.23, compared to the Sox’ 3.04. Furthermore, while the Reds had a full rotation, the Sox had to rely on Cicotte and Williams to carry the burden, with each man making three starts in the series. Faber was injured and unavailable, which had a significant impact on this series and isn’t often mentioned. Had he been able to go, the complexion of the whole rotation changes instantly. Instead, young Dickie Kerr, theretofore a bit unproven in big games, despite having a strong regular season, had to step up big time. He did just that, winning two games and keeping the Sox in it, but it wasn’t enough. The fact that Cicotte and Williams were in on the fix notwithstanding, Cincinnati had more, better, and rested arms.
Defensively, the Reds were better than the White Sox. On the season, Cincinnati had fewer errors and a higher fielding percentage than their Chi-town counterparts. Additionally, the Reds compiled 23 shutouts to the White Sox’ 14. This easily can be attributed to a combination of both great pitching and defense. While the Sox certainly had both, they often relied on their ‘big inning’ offense to bail them out of many games. The Reds on the other hand made evident the time-honored belief that good pitching beats good hitting…most of the time. Advantage Reds here, too.
Heading down the pennant stretch into the series, the Reds were also the hotter and hungrier team. They went 47-16 in the second half compared to the Sox’ 40-26 mark, and only lost twice in September vs. the other pennant chasers (Giants, Cubs, Pirates). The Sox meanwhile, were just .500 in that same month vs. the Yankees, Indians and Tigers, who were competing for the American League flag. Season-long against the top contending teams in their league, Cincinnati wound up 38-22, whereas the White Sox went 35-25 in their version. The Reds took the National League pennant by 9 full games over the New York Giants, while the White Sox won the American League by 3 1/2 games over the Detroit Tigers.
The snapshot of what this means is that the Reds played better against the best teams in the NL than the White Sox did against the best in the AL. They showcased better pitching and defense throughout the year, and had a full staff of capable arms at their disposal in October.
As mentioned earlier however, the stats don’t always tell the full story. This is where intangibles come in, and the White Sox clearly had much worse to deal with than the Reds. In fact, the Sox had long been destroying themselves, well before the gamblers’ influence in fixing the series became the gas thrown on the proverbial fire.
What makes deciphering the scandal such a mess (100 years later or not), was that it was a mess in itself at the time. Nobody will ever know the real truth because, as has been reported, even the players themselves didn’t fully know what was going on. It was always unclear who was really trying and who wasn’t, and who was double-crossing who. That level of uncertainty alone would presumably cast major mental anguish on a ballplayer. Not to mention the constant barrage of questions from teammates, manager Kid Gleason, owner Charles Comiskey, reporters and fans, which must have added to the clubhouse distractions.
Individually, the clean Sox players, plus guys like Jackson and Weaver, who were grouped in on the fix but their excellent play indicates they were trying to win, must have gone through hell trying to play while not knowing their teammates’ intentions. This gives rise to the belief in a case of the Sox beating themselves, though that does not discredit Cincinnati’s efforts.
The Reds had to deal with none of this internal strife, by comparison. They just had to go and play their own game, and, as heavy underdogs, really had nothing to lose. These things alone could conceivably lighten the challenge.
Questions of course will always remain. Did the Reds catch the Sox at the worst possible time as they were tearing themselves apart from within? Or were they simply the better team?
The truth, again, is probably somewhere in the middle.
No matter what, the Reds of 1919 were no slouch, and that should not be forgotten.
Photo credit: Original photographer: Unknown Jam22smith [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
The 1919 Reds: Requiem for the Robbed by Jeff Kallman in SABR’s Black Sox Scandal Research Committee Newsletter vol 10 No. 2, December 2018
Chicago White Sox History: The Black Sox are Indicted
Shoeless Joe Jackson. Eddie Cicotte. Chick Gandil. Lefty Williams. Happy Flesch. Swede Risberg. Buck Weaver. Fred McMullin. These names, some of them all time greats, and others players who would have been forgotten, live together in infamy. They comprise the Eight Men Out, the players were were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series for the Chicago White Sox.
Rumors swirled around the team throughout the following season. Although the team was contending for another American League pennant, a grand jury was convened to investigate these claims that the White Sox threw the Series. Cicotte and Jackson confessed to their parts during the investigation, and on this day in 1920, those aforementioned players were indicted for their role in fixing the World Series.
It was on this day that the dark side of baseball was exposed for the world to see. Although gambling was rife in the game, the reputation of the ruffians and undesirables that had played in the early days had long since gone away. Baseball was more of a noble profession, with some of the players amongst the most recognizable faces in the country. It was a game that everyone, young and old, could enjoy together.
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In a way, the innocence of the game was lost. That sentiment was best stated by Charley Owens of the Chicago Daily News, who wrote the legendary headline: Say it Ain’t So, Joe. The greatest sin against the sport had been committed, and on the grandest stage.
We know how it ended. The confessions by Jackson and Cicotte were “lost,” and were later recanted. The testimony of various underworld figures muddied the waters, making guilt doubtful. All eight players were acquitted, and, in theory, would have been allowed to continue their careers, with due process having run its course.
That, as we know, did not happen. Kenesaw Mountain Landis was hired to conduct his own investigation, and banned all eight from organized ball for life. He would ban several other players, and established harsh rules in regards to gambling. It worked, as after time, the public once again grew confidence in the games played before them, as the sport became popular once more. Meanwhile, the great White Sox team was in shambles, and it would take years before they would be competitive once more.
The true start of the greatest scandal in baseball history began on this day in 1920, when the Chicago White Sox became forever known as the Black Sox.
The 1919 Black Sox Baseball Scandal Was Just One of Many
Although the 1919 Black Sox scandal has been portrayed as a unique event, baseball history indicates that throwing games likely happened a lot more than once.
In the 1919 scandal, eight members of the Chicago White Sox were found to have accepted money from gamblers to throw the World Series. Historians and journalists who have studied the scandal say that it didn’t happen in a vacuum–the culture of major league baseball and how the players were paid helped to shape the problem.
Understanding the Black Sox scandal
“I think it would be fair to say the Black Sox scandal was not a unique event,” baseball historian Steve Steinberg told Brian Blickenstaff, who was writing for Vice Sports. It’s hard to say how often it might have happened that a team threw a game or series for money, he said, but based on his knowledge of baseball’s past, he believes it certainly wasn’t confined to one series.
In fact, Evan Andrews writes for History.com, in spite of persistent rumors about the fix, “baseball’s leading figures appeared content to let the 1919 World Series go unexamined.” The thing that brought the possibility under the eyes of investigators was a rigged regular season game between the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies.
“A grand jury convened, and speculation soon turned to the previous year’s World Series,” the website writes.
“I don’t know why I did it… I needed the money. I had the wife and kids,” White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte confessed to the jury, prompting a series of confessions from other players. In total, eight men were indicted for conspiracy. They were ultimately found not guilty–though their careers were over and they would now be known in popular media as the "Black Sox," writes Andrews.The so-called "Black Sox"–members of the Chicago White Sox who participated in throwing the World Series–may well not have been the first. (Wikimedia Commons)
Players didn't feel they were paid fairly, which may have led to the scandals
As Jack Moore writes for Vice Sports, the method of compensating players for their participation in the World Series changed in 1918. This change, which caused the Boston Red Sox to strike, shows the precarious financial situation players found themselves in at the hands of team owners.
Previously, he writes, the players on the two World Series teams received their pay from ticket revenue, but in 1918, the National Commission decided that teams would be paid a flat rate. That rate, of course, was less than they would have received before. “While the change was reported in the papers that winter, the news was never directly relayed to the players—not that they had any formal recourse if they disagreed with the new policy.”
Although the policy was reversed after 1918, it left a lasting impact, as seen in the 1919 World Series.
“In a way, baseball got its just desserts that World Series, which the White Sox players were willing to dump—jeopardizing their livelihoods, their legacies, and even their freedom for a mere $20,000, simply because the owners refused to share the pie,” Moore writes.
A previous fix may have been part of the reason for the 1919 fix
Besides the money, there may have been another reason for what happened in 1919. In 1927, Charles "Swede" Risberg, the ringleader of the eight Black Sox, told the Chicago Tribune that he knew about four rigged games between the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers, and that the entire Detroit team knew too. Those games were played in two double-headers on Sept. 2 and 3, 1917.
Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Landis called Risberg in to testify, and he confirmed what he said to the paper. He also linked those games to the 1919 scandal, alleging that the games were “thrown by Detroit in exchange for money, and that Chicago had thrown three games in 1919 as a kind of belated thank you.”
After hearing further testimony, the commissioner ruled that the fix hadn’t taken place–although money had changed hands for some reason between the White Sox and the Tigers, writes Blickenstaff. He then ruled that baseball teams could no longer give money to other teams for any reason and that players who bet on other baseball games would be banned for a year—players that bet on their own games would be banned for life.
About Kat Eschner
Kat Eschner is a freelance science and culture journalist based in Toronto.
Read the Full Transcript
Tonight marks the 100th anniversary of a notorious moment in baseball's history, the White Sox losing to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series.
The scandal that followed stained the sport's reputation and is still talked about to this day.
As our correspondent Stephanie Sy discovered, new research has called into question much of what baseball fans long thought they knew to be the scandal's underlying narrative.
It was 1919. World War I wasn't far in the rear-view mirror. Race riots were engulfing the nation. And on the South Side of Chicago, the White Sox were batting 1000, favored to win the World Series.
So when they lost to the Cincinnati Reds that year, even with Shoeless Joe Jackson slugging it out with 12 hits, baseball fans were shocked. It was this play that first alerted baseball insiders that something funny might be going on.
The three-second clip shows the White Sox botching a chance to turn a double play against the Reds. Eight White Sox players were later accused of conspiring with gamblers to throw the World Series, including Shoeless Joe, whose exact role is still disputed.
He and the others were banned for life from professional baseball.
For decades, Eliot Asinof's book "Eight Men Out" was viewed as the definitive account of what happened.
I will put my Joe Jackson up against any player in the circuit.
As was the movie adaptation, which told the story of a miserly team owner, Charles Comiskey, known for spending on everything but his own talented players.
The resentful players, the story went, were led by ruthless gamblers to throw the game.
Eddie is the key. We don't get Eddie, we forget about it.
But 100 years since the 1919 World Series, a very different story is coming out.
The 1919 White Sox were one of the highest paid teams in baseball.
Jacob Pomrenke chairs a committee whose sole purpose is researching the Black Sox scandal. Its findings have been compiled in an online article titled "Eight Myths Out" and examined in a new podcast, "Infamous America."
This idea that the Black Sox players conspired to fix the World Series because they were underpaid, because they felt resentful toward their salaries or their poor treatment by their owner doesn't really hold up to scrutiny.
All baseball players in the early 20th century were paid better than typical American workers.
Was it ultimately greed that drove those players?
I think &mdash yes, greed is, I think, the primary motivation for how the Black Sox scandal happened. I think the Black Sox players saw a high reward for what they were doing. They could make as much as their yearly salary in one week for fixing the World Series.
And I think they saw very little risk of getting caught or getting punished.
I have to keep the best interests of the club in mind, Eddie.
The scene in "Eight Men Out" when pitcher Eddie Cicotte is denied a bonus by the team owner?
Twenty-nine is not 30, Eddie.
Completely made up, says Pomrenke. And that's not all.
It was originally believed that it was the gamblers that approached the players about the fix. You say that's not true.
No, this is another one of the myths about the Black Sox scandal, is that the players were kind of conned into throwing the World Series. But it was actually their idea.
How do you know that? Was that through testimony that was later revealed?
Yes, that is through the grand jury testimony of Eddie Cicotte and Shoeless Joe Jackson and some of the other players.
Jeff Kisseloff, Eliot Asinof's literary executor and friend, maintains that Asinof's conclusions about the players' motivations for cheating still hold up.
He shared Asinof's research notes and letters from players from the 1960s, which back up his thesis about poor pay. In an e-mail, Kisseloff said: "It should be pointed out the bulk of what Eliot wrote more than 50 years ago holds up to a remarkable degree. He should be paid respect for his enduring and pioneering work."
For his part, Pomrenke doesn't cast aspersions on Asinof, who died in 2008.
I had no idea when I started researching this story that there would be so much new evidence that has come to light. A lot of the new sources of information, such as the contract cards at the Baseball Hall of Fame, the legal documents at the Chicago History Museum, and even the film footage that you can now watch on YouTube of the 1919 World Series, all of that stuff is new in the 21st century.
Another common refrain when people describe this scandal is that it was a singular event.
No, this is &mdash one of the most important aspects about understanding the Black Sox scandal is to know just how rampant gambling was in the baseball culture at this time.
We don't actually know if any other World Series were fixed, but it's possible that some other World Series were fixed before 1919.
The lasting impact of the Black Sox scandal was that the players' harsh punishment served its purpose. Not since 1919 has there been a major fixing scandal in baseball.
But the sport has had other scandals. And Jacob Pomrenke wonders if the times aren't becoming ripe for a repeat of history. Sports gambling has again become big business, with a Supreme Court ruling last year allowing states to legalize it, opening the door to a multibillion-dollar industry.
I think baseball has to take great precautions to protect the integrity of the game, because, as we saw in the Black Sox scandal, it's very easy for people to get caught up in the gambling and possibly altering the outcome.
Do you think America wants to hear this version of events?
It's certainly a more complex story, but most history is, right? Most history is a lot less simple than kind of the myths that we all want to believe.
The filmmaker of "Eight Men Out," John Sayles, wrote in an e-mail that he was aware at the time, as was Eliot Asinof, that most of his information came from participants and observers who had their own agendas.
But he pointed that the new revelations are only somebody's else's version, and you have to decide what to believe.
The Black Sox Scandal
Over the decades, major-league baseball has produced a host of memorable teams, but only one infamous one — the 1919 Chicago White Sox. Almost a century after the fact, the exact details of the affair known in sports lore as the Black Sox Scandal remain murky and subject to debate. But one central and indisputable truth endures: Talented members of that White Sox club conspired with professional gamblers to rig the outcome of the 1919 World Series.
Another certainty attends the punishment imposed in the matter. The permanent banishment from the game of those players implicated in the conspiracy, while perhaps an excessive sanction in certain cases, achieved an overarching objective. Game-fixing virtually disappeared from the major-league landscape after that penalty was imposed on the Black Sox.
Something else is equally indisputable. The finality of the expulsion edict rendered by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis has not quelled the controversy surrounding the corruption of the 1919 Series. Nor has public fascination abated. To the contrary, interest in the scandal has only grown over the years, in time even spawning a publishing subgenre known as Black Sox literature. No essay-length narrative can hope to capture the entirety of events explored in the present Black Sox canon, or to address all the beliefs of individual Black Sox aficionados. The following, therefore, is no more than one man’s rendition of the scandal.
The plot to transform the 1919 World Series into a gambling insiders’ windfall did not occur in a vacuum. The long-standing, often toxic relationship between baseball and gambling dates from the sport’s infancy, with game-fixing having been exposed as early as 1865. Postseason championship play was not immune to such corruption. The first modern World Series of 1903 was jeopardized by gambler attempts to bribe Boston Americans catcher Lou Criger into throwing games. Never-substantiated rumors about the integrity of play dogged a number of ensuing fall classics.
The architects of the Black Sox Scandal have never been conclusively identified. Many subscribe to the notion that the plot was originally concocted by White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil and Boston bookmaker Joseph “Sport” Sullivan. Surviving grand-jury testimony portrays Gandil and White Sox pitching staff ace Eddie Cicotte as the primary instigators of the fix. In any event, the fix plot soon embraced many other actors, both in uniform and out. Indeed, dissection of the scandal has long been complicated by its scope, for there was not a lone plot to rig the Series, but actually two or more, each with its own peculiar cast of characters.
Since it was first deployed as a trial stratagem by Black Sox defense lawyers in June 1921, motivation for the Series fix has been ascribed to the miserliness of Chicago club owner Charles A. Comiskey. The assertion is specious. Comiskey paid his charges the going rate and then some. In fact, salary data recently made available establish that the 1919 Chicago White Sox had the second highest player payroll in the major leagues, with stalwarts like second baseman Eddie Collins, catcher Ray Schalk, third baseman Buck Weaver, and pitcher Cicotte being at or near the top of the pay scale for their positions.
But the White Sox clubhouse was an unhealthy place, with the team long riven by faction. One clique was headed by team captain Eddie Collins, Ivy League-educated and self-assured to the point of arrogance. Aligned with Cocky Collins were Schalk, spitballer Red Faber, and outfielders Shano Collins and Nemo Leibold. The other, a more hardscrabble group united in envy, if not outright hatred, of the socially superior Collins, was headed by tough guy Gandil and the more amiable Cicotte. Also in their corner were Weaver, shortstop/fix enforcer Swede Risberg, outfielder Happy Felsch, and utilityman Fred McMullin.
According to the grand-jury testimony of Eddie Cicotte, his faction first began to discuss the feasibility of throwing the upcoming World Series during a train trip late in the regular season. Even before the White Sox clinched the 1919 pennant, Cicotte started to feel out Bill Burns, a former American League pitcher turned gambler, about financing a Series fix. Again according to Cicotte, the Sox were envious of the $10,000 payoffs rumored to have been paid certain members of the Chicago Cubs for dumping the 1918 Series against the Boston Red Sox. The lure of a similar score was enhanced by the low prospect of discovery or punishment.
Although they surfaced periodically, reports of player malfeasance were not taken seriously, routinely dismissed by the game’s establishment and denigrated in the sporting press. And the imposition of sanctions arising from gambling-related activity seemed to have been all but abandoned. Even charges of player corruption lodged by as revered a figure as Christy Mathewson and corroborated by affidavit were deemed insufficient grounds for disciplinary action, as attested by the National League’s recent exoneration of long-suspected game-fixer Hal Chase. By the fall of 1919, therefore, the fix of the World Series could reasonably be viewed from a player standpoint as a low risk/high reward proposition.
In mid-September the Gandil-Cicotte crew committed to the Series fix during a meeting at the Ansonia Hotel in New York. Likelihood of the scheme’s success was bolstered by the recruitment of the White Sox’ No. 2 starter, Lefty Williams, and the club’s batting star, outfielder Joe Jackson. In follow-up conversation with Burns, the parties agreed that the World Series would be lost to the National League champion Cincinnati Reds in exchange for a $100,000 payoff.
Financing a payoff of that magnitude was beyond Burns’s means, and efforts to secure backing from gambling elements in Philadelphia came up empty. Thereafter, Burns and sidekick Billy Maharg approached a potential fix underwriter of vast resource, New York City underworld financier Arnold Rothstein, known as the “Big Bankroll.” In all probability, word of the Series plot had reached Rothstein well before Burns and Maharg made their play. According to all concerned (Burns, Maharg, and Rothstein), Rothstein flatly turned down the proposal that he finance the Series fix. And from there, the plot to corrupt the 1919 World Series thickened.
The prospect of fix financing was revived by Hal Chase who, by means unknown, had also gotten wind of the scheme. Chase put Burns in touch with one of sportdom’s shadiest characters, former world featherweight boxing champ Abe Attell. A part-time Rothstein bodyguard and a full-time hustler, the Little Champ was constantly on the lookout for a score. Accompanied by an associate named “Bennett” (later identified as Des Moines gambler David Zelcer), Attell met with Burns and informed him that Rothstein had reconsidered the fix proposition and was now willing to finance it. The credulous Burns thereupon hastened to Cincinnati to rendezvous with the players on the eve of Game One.
In the meantime, the campaign to fix the Series had opened a second front. Shortly before the White Sox were scheduled to leave for Cincinnati, Gandil, Cicotte, Weaver, and other fix enlistees met privately at the Warner Hotel in Chicago. A mistrustful Cicotte demanded that his $10,000 fix share be paid in full before the team departed for Cincinnati. He then left the gathering to socialize elsewhere. The others remained to hear two men identified as “Sullivan” and “Brown” from New York. A confused Lefty Williams later testified that he was unsure if these men were the gamblers financing the fix or their representatives.
The first Warner Hotel fixer has always been identified as Gandil’s Boston pal, Sport Sullivan, but the true identity of “Brown” would remain a mystery to fix investigators. Decades later, first Rothstein biographer Leo Katcher and thereafter Abe Attell asserted that “Brown” was actually Nat Evans, a capable Rothstein subordinate and Rothstein’s junior partner in several gambling casino ventures. Whoever “Brown” was, $10,000 in cash had been placed under the bed pillow in Cicotte’s hotel room before the evening was over. The Series fix was now on, in earnest.
The Warner Hotel conclave was unknown to Burns, then trying to finalize his own fix arrangement with the players. He, Attell, and Bennett/Zelcer met with all the corrupted players, save Joe Jackson, at the Sinton Hotel in Cincinnati sometime prior to the Series opener. After considerable wrangling, it was agreed that the players would be paid off in $20,000 installments following each White Sox loss in the best-five-of-nine Series.
Later that evening, Burns encountered an old acquaintance, Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton. Like most experts, Fullerton had confidently predicted a White Sox triumph. But something in the tone of Burns’s assurance that the Reds were a “sure thing” unsettled Fullerton. Burns made it sound as though the Series had already been decided. Almost simultaneously, betting odds on the Series shifted dramatically, with a last-minute surge of money transforming the once-underdog Reds into a slight Series favorite. To Fullerton and other baseball insiders, something ominous seemed to be afoot.
To those unaware of these developments, the Game One matchup typified the inequity between the two sides. On the mound for the White Sox was 29-game-winner Eddie Cicotte, a veteran member of Chicago’s 1917 World Series champions and one of the game’s finest pitchers. Starting for Cincinnati was left-hander Dutch Ruether, who, prior to his 1919 season’s 19-win breakout, had won exactly three major-league games.
Aside from control master Cicotte plunking Reds leadoff batter Morrie Rath with his second pitch, the match proceeded unremarkably in the early going. Then Cicotte suddenly fell apart in the fourth. By the time stunned Chicago manager Kid Gleason had taken him out, the White Sox were behind 6-1. The final score was a lopsided Cincinnati 9, Chicago 1. Following their delivery of the promised loss, the players were stiffed, fix paymaster Attell reneging on the $20,000 payment due.
The White Sox fulfilled their side of the fix agreement in Game Two, in which Lefty Williams’s sudden bout of wildness in the fourth inning spelled the difference in a 4-2 Cincinnati victory. With the corrupted players now owed $40,000, Burns was hard-pressed to get even a fraction of that from Attell. Accusations of a double-cross greeted Burns’s delivery of only $10,000 to the players after the Game Two defeat. Still, he and Maharg accepted Gandil’s assurance that the Sox would lose Game Three. The two fix middlemen were then wiped out, losing their entire wagering stake when the White Sox posted a 3-0 victory behind the pitching of Dickey Kerr.
Whether the Series fix continued after Game Two is a matter of dispute. Joe Jackson would later inform the press that the Black Sox had tried to throw Game Three, only to be thwarted by Kerr’s superb pitching performance. Those maintaining that the White Sox were now playing to win often cite the decisive two-RBI single of erstwhile fix ringleader Chick Gandil.
With the Series now standing two games to one in Cincinnati’s favor, Cicotte retook the mound for Game Four, the most controversial of the Series. Locked in a pitching duel with Reds fireballer Jimmy Ring, Cicotte exhibited the pitching artistry that had been expected from him at the outset. His fielding, however, was another matter, with the game turning on two egregious defensive misplays by Cicotte in the Cincinnati fifth. Those miscues provided the margin in a 2-0 Cincinnati victory.
Cicotte later maintained that he had tried his utmost to win Game Four, but whether true or not, Eddie had received little offensive help from his teammates. The White Sox, both Clean and Black variety, were mired in a horrendous batting slump that would see the American League’s most potent lineup go an astonishing 26 consecutive innings without scoring. Chicago bats were silent again in Game Five, managing but three hits in a 5-0 setback that pushed the Sox to the brink of Series elimination.
Meanwhile, uncertainty reigned in gambling quarters. After the unscripted White Sox victory in Game Three, Burns, reportedly acting at the behest of Abe Attell, approached Gandil about resuming the fix. Gandil spurned him. But whether that brought the curtain down on the debasement of the 1919 World Series is far from clear. The Burns/Attell/Zelcer combine was not the only gambler group that the White Sox had taken money from. Admissions later made by the corrupted players make it clear that far more than the $10,000 post-Game Two payoff was disbursed during the Series. But who made these payoffs when/where/how they were made how much fix money in total was paid out by gambler interests, and how much of that money Gandil kept for himself, remain matters of conjecture.
More well-settled is the fact that awareness of the corruption of the World Series was fairly widespread in professional gambling circles. After the post-Game Two player/gambler falling-out, a group of Midwestern gamblers convened in a Chicago hotel to discuss a fix revival. Spearheading this effort were St. Louis clothing manufacturer/gambler Carl Zork and an Omaha bookmaker improbably named Benjamin Franklin, both of whom were heavily invested in a Reds Series triumph. The action, if any, taken by these Midwesterners is another uncertain element in the fix saga.
Back on the diamond, the White Sox teetered on the brink of elimination, having won only one of the first five World Series games. Their outlook turned bleaker in Game Six when the Reds rushed to an early 4-0 lead behind Dutch Ruether. At that late moment, slumbering White Sox bats finally awoke. Capitalizing on timely base hits from the previously dormant middle of the batting order (Buck Weaver, Joe Jackson, and Happy Felsch), the White Sox rallied for a 5-4 triumph in 10 innings. The ensuing Game Seven was the type of affair that sporting pundits had anticipated at the Series outset: a comfortable 4-1 Chicago victory behind masterly pitching by Eddie Cicotte and RBI-base hits by Jackson and Felsch.
Now only one win away from evening up the Series, the hopes of the White Sox faithful were pinned on regular-season stalwart Lefty Williams. Williams had pitched decently in his two previous Series outings, only to see his starts come undone by a lone big inning in each game. In Game Eight, disaster struck early. Lefty did not make it out of the first inning, leaving the White Sox an insurmountable 4-0 deficit. The Reds continued to pour it on against second-line Chicago relievers. Only a forlorn White Sox rally late in the contest made the final score somewhat respectable: Cincinnati 10, Chicago 5.
The next morning, the sporting world’s approbation of the Reds’ World Series triumph was widespread, tempered only by a discordant note sounded by Hugh Fullerton. In a widely circulated column, Fullerton questioned the integrity of the White Sox’ Series performance. He also made the startling assertion that at least seven White Sox players would not be wearing a Chicago uniform the next season. More explicit but little-noticed charges of player corruption quickly followed in Collyer’s Eye, a horse-racing trade paper.
Although a few other intrepid baseball writers would later voice their own reservations about the Series bona fides, Fullerton’s commentary was not well-received by most in the profession. A number of fellow sportswriters characterized the Fullerton assertions as no more than the sour grapes of an “expert” embarrassed by the misfire of his World Series prediction. In a prominent New York Times article, special World Series correspondent Christy Mathewson also dismissed the Fullerton suspicions, informing readers that a fix of the Series was virtually impossible.
For its part, Organized Baseball mostly ignored Fullerton’s charges, leaving denigration of Fullerton and his allies to friendly organs like Baseball Magazine and The Sporting News. In the short run, the strategy worked. Despite reiteration in follow-up columns, Fullerton’s concerns gained little traction with baseball fans. By the start of the new season, the notion that the 1919 World Series had not been on the level was mostly forgotten — except at White Sox headquarters.
Unbeknownst to the sporting press or public, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey had not dismissed the allegations made against his team. While the 1919 Series was in progress, Comiskey had been disturbed by privately received reports that his team was going to throw the championship series. Shortly after the Series was over, club officials were dispatched to St. Louis to make discreet inquiry into fix rumors. Much to Comiskey’s chagrin, disgruntled local gambling informants endorsed the charge that members of his team had thrown the Series in exchange for a promised $100,000 payoff. Lingering doubt on that score was subsequently erased when in-the-know gamblers Harry Redmon and Joe Pesch repeated the fix details to Comiskey and other club brass during a late December meeting in Chicago.
Of the courses available to him, Comiskey opted to pursue the one of self-interest. Rather than expose the perfidy of his players and precipitate the breakup of a championship team, Comiskey kept his fix information quiet. Early in the new year, the corrupted players were re-signed for the 1920 season, with Joe Jackson, Happy Felsch, Swede Risberg, and Lefty Williams receiving substantial pay raises, to boot. Only fix ringleader Chick Gandil experienced any degree of Comiskey wrath Gandil was tendered a contract for no more than his previous season’s salary. When, as expected, Gandil rejected the pact, Comiskey took pleasure in placing him on the club’s ineligible list. That suspension continued in force all season and effectively ended Chick Gandil’s playing career. He never appeared in a major-league game after the 1919 World Series.
From a financial standpoint, Comiskey’s silence paid off. Fueled by a return to pre-World War I “normalcy” and the unprecedented slugging exploits of a pitcher-turned-outfielder named Babe Ruth, major-league baseball underwent an explosion in popularity. With its defending AL champion team intact except for Gandil, the White Sox spent the 1920 season in the midst of an exciting three-way pennant battle with New York and Cleveland. With attendance at Comiskey Park soaring to new heights, club coffers overflowed with revenue. Then late in the 1920 season, it all began to unravel. The immediate cause was an unlikely one: the suspected fix of a meaningless late August game between the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies.
At first the matter seemed no more than a distraction, the latest of the minor annoyances that bedeviled the game that season. That spring, baseball had been mildly discomforted by exposure of the game-fixing proclivities of Hal Chase, revealed during the trial of a breach-of-contract lawsuit instituted by black-sheep teammate Lee Magee. Then in early August, West Coast baseball followers were shaken by allegations that cast serious doubt upon the legitimacy of the 1919 Pacific Coast League crown won by the Vernon Tigers. In time, the PCL scandal would have momentous consequences, providing Commissioner Landis with instructive precedent for dealing with courtroom-acquitted Black Sox defendants. In the near term, however, the significance of these matters resided mainly in their effect upon Cubs president William L. Veeck Sr. Unhappy connection to both the Magee affair and the PCL scandal — Veeck’s boss, Cubs owner William Wrigley, was livid over the prospect that his Los Angeles Angels might have been cheated out of the PCL pennant — prompted Veeck to make public disclosure of the Cubs-Phillies fix reports and to pledge club cooperation with any investigative body wishing to delve into the matter.
Revelation that the outcome of the Cubs-Phillies game might have been rigged engaged the attention of two of the Black Sox Scandal’s most formidable actors: Cook County Judge Charles A. McDonald and American League President Ban Johnson. Only recently installed as chief justice of Chicago’s criminal courts and an avid baseball fan, McDonald promptly empaneled a grand jury to investigate the game fix reports.
But within days, influential sportswriter Joe Vila of the New York Sun, prominent Chicago businessman-baseball fan Fred Loomis, and others were pressing a more substantial target upon the grand jury: the 1919 World Series. Privately, Johnson, a longtime acquaintance of Judge McDonald, urged a similar course upon the jurist. Like Comiskey, Johnson had conducted his own confidential investigation into the outcome of the 1919 Series. And he too had uncovered evidence that the Series had been corrupted. McDonald was amenable to expansion of the grand jury’s probe, and by the time the grand jury conducted its first substantive session on September 22, 1920, inquiry into the Cubs-Phillies game had been relegated to secondary status. The panel’s attention would be focused on the 1919 World Series.
The ensuing proceedings were remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which was the wholesale disregard of the mandate of grand-jury secrecy. Violation of this black-letter precept of law was justified on the dubious premise that baseball would benefit from the airing of its dirty laundry, and soon newspapers nationwide were reporting the details, often verbatim, of grand-jury testimony.
This breach of law was accompanied by another extra-legal phenomenon: almost daily public commentary on the proceedings by the grand-jury foreman, the prosecuting attorney, and, on occasion, Judge McDonald himself. In a matter of days, the transparency of the proceedings permitted the Chicago Tribune to announce the impending indictment of eight White Sox players: Eddie Cicotte, Chick Gandil, Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, Lefty Williams, Happy Felsch, Swede Risberg, and Fred McMullin — the men soon branded the Black Sox. For the time being, the charge against them was the generic conspiracy to commit an illegal act. The scandal spotlight then shifted briefly to Philadelphia, where a fix insider was giving the interview that would blow the scandal wide open.
In the September 27, 1920, edition of the Philadelphia North American, Billy Maharg declared that Games One, Two, and Eight of the 1919 World Series had been rigged. According to Maharg, the outcome of the first two games had been procured by the bribery of the White Sox players by the Burns/Attell/Bennett combine. The abysmal pitching performance that cost Chicago any chance of winning Game Eight was the product of intimidation of Lefty Williams by the Zork-Franklin forces, Maharg implied.
Wire service republication of the Maharg expose produced swift and stunning reaction. A day later, first Eddie Cicotte and then Joe Jackson admitted agreeing to accept a payoff to lose the Series when interviewed in the office of White Sox legal counsel Alfred Austrian. The two then repeated this admission under oath before the grand jury. Interestingly, neither Cicotte nor Jackson confessed to making a deliberate misplay during the Series. Press accounts that had Cicotte describing how he lobbed hittable pitches to the plate and/or had Jackson admitting to deliberate failure in the field or at bat were entirely bogus. According to the transcriptions of their testimony, the two had told the grand jury no such thing. While each had taken the gamblers’ money, Cicotte and Jackson both insisted that they had played to win at all times against the Reds. The other player participants in the Series fix were identified by Cicotte and Jackson, but apart from laying blame on Gandil, neither man disclosed much knowledge of how the fix had been instigated or who had financed it.
This exercise repeated itself when Lefty Williams spoke the following day. Like Cicotte and Jackson, Lefty admitted joining the fix conspiracy and accepting gamblers’ money, first confessing in the Austrian law office, and thereafter in testimony before the grand jury. But Williams also denied that he had done anything corrupt on the field to earn his payment. He said he had tried his best at all times, even during his dismal Game Eight start. For the grand-jury record, Lefty officially identified the fix participants as “Cicotte, Gandil, Weaver, Felsch, Risberg, McMullin, Jackson, and myself.” Williams also put names on some of the gambler co-conspirators. At the Warner Hotel in Chicago, they had been named “Sullivan” and “Brown.” At the Sinton Hotel in Cincinnati, the fix proponents had been Bill Burns, Abe Attell, and a third man named “Bennett.”
A similar tack was taken by Happy Felsch when interviewed by a reporter for the Chicago Evening American. Like the others, Felsch admitted his complicity in the fix plot and his acceptance of gamblers’ money. But his subpar Series performance, particularly in center field, had not been deliberate, he said. Lest the underworld get the wrong idea, Felsch hastened to add that he had been prepared to make a game-decisive misplay, but the opportunity to do so had not presented itself during the Series. Unlike the others, Happy confined admission of wrongdoing to himself, although he had come to admire the way that Cicotte had demanded his payoff money up-front. Felsch did not know who had financed the fix, but he was willing to subscribe to press reports that it had been Abe Attell.
A far different public stance was adopted by the other Black Sox. Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, Fred McMullin, and Buck Weaver all protested their innocence, with Weaver in particular adamant about his intention to obtain legal counsel and fight any charges preferred against him in court. Those charges would not be long in coming. On October 29, 1920, five counts of conspiracy to obtain money by false pretenses and/or via a confidence game were returned against the Black Sox by the grand jury. Gamblers Bill Burns, Hal Chase, Abe Attell, Sport Sullivan, and Rachael Brown were also charged in the indictments.
The stage thereupon shifted to the criminal courts for a whirl of legal events, few of which are accurately described or well understood in latter-day Black Sox literature.
The return of criminal charges in the Black Sox case coincided with the Republican Party’s political landslide in the November 1920 elections. An entirely different administration soon took charge of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, the prosecuting agency in the baseball scandal. When the regime of new State’s Attorney Robert E. Crowe assumed office, it found the high-profile Black Sox case in disarray. The investigation underlying the indictments was incomplete. Evidence was missing from the prosecutors’ vault, including transcriptions of the Cicotte, Jackson, and Williams grand-jury testimony.
Worse yet, it appeared that their predecessors in office had premised prosecution of the Black Sox case on cooperation anticipated from Cicotte, Jackson, and/or Williams, each of whom had admitted fix complicity before the grand jury. But now, the trio was standing firm with the other accused players, and seeking to have their grand-jury confessions suppressed by the court on legal grounds. This placed the new prosecuting attorneys in desperate need of time to rethink and then rebuild their case.
In March 1921, prosecutors’ hopes for an adjournment were dashed by Judge William E. Dever, who set a quick peremptory trial date. This prompted a drastic response from prosecutor Crowe. Rather than try to pull the Black Sox case together on short notice, he administratively dismissed the charges. Crowe coupled public announcement of this stunning development with the promise that the Black Sox case would be presented to the grand jury again for new indictments.
Before the month was out, that promise was fulfilled. Expedited grand-jury proceedings yielded new indictments that essentially replicated the dismissed ones. All those previously charged were re-indicted, while the roster of gambler defendants was enlarged to include Carl Zork, Benjamin Franklin, David (Bennett) Zelcer, and brothers Ben and Lou Levi, reputedly related to Zelcer by marriage and long targeted for prosecution by AL President Ban Johnson.
With the legal proceedings now reverting to courtroom stage one, prosecutors had acquired the time necessary to get their case in better shape. That extra time was needed, as the prosecution remained besieged on many fronts. The State was deluged by defense motions to dismiss the charges, suppress evidence, limit testimony, and the like. Prosecutors were also having trouble getting the gambler defendants into court. Sport Sullivan and Rachael Brown remained somewhere at large. Hal Chase and Abe Attell successfully resisted extradition to Chicago, and Ben Franklin was excused from the proceedings on grounds of illness.
Former major-league pitcher Bill Burns was the prosecution’s star witness in the Black Sox criminal trial in 1921. It took quite an adventure — and a lot of money from the American League treasury — to get him on the stand. (BaseballHall.org)
In the run-up to trial, however, prosecution prospects received one major boost. Retrieved from the Mexican border by his pal Billy Maharg (via a trip financed by Ban Johnson), Bill Burns had agreed to turn State’s evidence in return for immunity. Now, prosecutors had the crucial fix insider that their case had been lacking.
Jury selection began on June 16, 1921, and dragged on for several weeks. Appearing as counsel on behalf of the accused were some of the Midwest’s finest criminal defense lawyers: Thomas Nash and Michael Ahern (representing Weaver, Felsch, Risberg, and McMullin McMullin did not arrive in Chicago until after jury selection had begun, and for this reason, the trial went on without him and the charges against him were later dismissed) Benedict Short and George Guenther (Jackson and Williams) James O’Brien and John Prystalski (Gandil) A. Morgan Frumberg and Henry Berger (Zork), and Max Luster and J.J. Cooke (Zelcer and the Levi brothers). Cicotte, meanwhile, was represented by his friend and personal attorney Daniel Cassidy, a civil lawyer from Detroit.
Although outnumbered, the prosecution was hardly outgunned, with its chairs filled by experienced trial lawyers: Assistant State’s Attorneys George Gorman and John Tyrrell, and Special Prosecutor Edward Prindiville, with assistance from former Judge George Barrett representing the interests of the American League in court, and a cadre of attorneys in the employ of AL President Johnson working behind the scenes.
About the only unproven commodity in the courtroom was the newly assigned trial judge, Hugo Friend. Judge Friend would later go on to a distinguished 46-year career on Illinois trial and appellate benches. But at the time of the Black Sox trial, he was a judicial novice, presiding over his first significant case. Although his mettle would often be tested by a battalion of fractious barristers, Friend’s intelligence and sense of fairness would stand him in good stead. The Black Sox case would be generally well tried, if not error-free.
In a sweltering midsummer courtroom, the prosecution commenced its case with the witnesses needed to establish factual minutiae — the scores of 1919 World Series games, the employment of the accused players by the Chicago White Sox, the winning and losing Series shares, etc. — that the defense, for tactical reasons, declined to stipulate. Then, chief prosecution witness Bill Burns assumed the stand. For the better part of three days, Burns recounted the events that had precipitated the corruption of the 1919 World Series. Those who had equated Burns with his “Sleepy Bill” nickname were in for a shock. Quick-witted and unflappable, Burns was more than a match for sneering defense lawyers, much to the astonishment, then delight, of the jaded Black Sox trial press corps. Newspaper reviews of Burns’s testimony glowed and, by the time their star witness stepped down, prosecutors were near-jubilant. Thereafter, prosecution focus temporarily shifted to incriminating Zork and the other Midwestern gambler defendants.
Halfway through the State’s case, the jury was excused while the court conducted an evidentiary hearing into the admissibility of the Cicotte, Jackson, and Williams grand-jury testimony. Modern accounts of the Black Sox saga often relate that the prosecution was grievously injured by the loss of grand-jury documents. That was hardly the case. When prosecutors discovered that the original grand-jury transcripts were missing, they merely had the grand-jury stenographers create new ones from their shorthand notes. These second-generation transcripts were available throughout the proceedings, and Black Sox defense lawyers did not contest their accuracy.
What was contested was whether, and to what extent, the trial jury should be made privy to what Cicotte, Jackson, and Williams had told the grand jurors. According to the defense, the Cicotte, Jackson, and Williams grand-jury testimony had been induced by broken off-the-record promises of immunity from prosecution. If this were true, the testimony would be deemed involuntary in the legal sense and inadmissible against the accused.
With testimony restricted exclusively to what had happened in and around the grand-jury room, the proceedings devolved into a swearing contest. Cicotte, Jackson, and Williams testified that they had been promised immunity. Lead grand-jury prosecutor Hartley Replogle and Judge McDonald denied it. During the hearing, grand-jury excerpts were read into the record at length. After hearing both sides, Judge Friend determined that the defendants had confessed freely, without any promise of leniency. Their grand-jury testimony would be admissible in evidence — but not before each grand-jury transcript had been edited to delete all reference to Chick Gandil, Buck Weaver, or anyone else mentioned in it, other than the speaker himself. Once this tedious task was accomplished, the redacted grand-jury testimony of Eddie Cicotte, Joe Jackson, and Lefty Williams was read to the jury, a prolonged and dry exercise that seemed to anesthetize most panel members.
The numbing effect that the transcript readings had on the jury was not lost on prosecutors. Wishing to close their case while it still enjoyed the momentum of the Burns testimony, prosecutors made a fateful strategic decision. They jettisoned the remainder of their scheduled witnesses (Ban Johnson, Joe Pesch, St. Louis Browns second baseman Joe Gedeon, et al.) and wrapped up the State’s case with another fix insider: unindicted co-conspirator Billy Maharg. The affable Maharg provided an account of the fix developments that he was witness to, providing firm and consistent corroboration of many fix details supplied by Bill Burns earlier.
Pleased with Maharg’s performance, prosecutors rested their case. Now they would be obliged to accept the cost of short-circuiting their proofs. In response to defense motions, Judge Friend dismissed the charges against the Levi brothers for lack of evidence. He also signaled that he would be disposed to overturn any guilty verdict returned by the jury against Carl Zork, Buck Weaver, or Happy Felsch, given the thinness of the incriminating evidence presented against them. These rulings, however, did not visibly trouble the prosecutors, for they had plainly decided to concentrate their efforts on convicting defendants Gandil, Cicotte, Jackson, Williams, and the gambler David Zelcer.
The defense had long advertised that the Black Sox would be testifying in their own defense. But that would have to wait, as the gambler defendants would be going first. Once the Zelcer and Zork defenses had presented their cases, the Gandil defense took the floor, calling a series of witnesses mainly intended to make a liar out of Bill Burns.
Also presented was White Sox club secretary Harry Grabiner, whose testimony about soaring 1920 club revenues undermined the contention that team owner Comiskey or the White Sox corporation had been injured by the fix of the 1919 World Series. (Years later, jury foreman William Barry would tell Judge Friend that the Grabiner testimony had had more influence on the jury than that of any other witness.)
Then, with the stage finally set for Chick to take the stand, the Gandil defense abruptly rested. So did the other Black Sox. Little explanation for this change in defense plan was offered, apart from the comment that there was no need for the accused players to testify because the State had made no case against them. Caught off-guard by defense maneuvers, the prosecution scrambled to present rebuttal witnesses, most of whom were excluded from the testifying by Judge Friend. As little in the way of a defense had been mounted by the player defendants, there was no legal justification for admitting rebuttal.
The remainder of the trial was devoted to closing stemwinders by opposing counsel and the court’s instructions on the law. Then the jury retired to deliberate. Less than three hours later, it reached a verdict. With the parties reassembled in a courtroom packed with defense partisans, the court clerk announced the outcome: Not Guilty, as to all defendants on all charges. A smiling Judge Friend concurred, pronouncing the jury’s verdict a fair one.
Minutes after the Black Sox were acquitted on August 2, 1921, the players, their attorneys, and members of the jury (in shirt sleeves) celebrated the verdict by posing for a photo on the courthouse steps. (Chicago Tribune)
With that, pandemonium erupted. Jurors shook hands and congratulated the men whom they had just acquitted. Some in the crowd even hoisted defendants onto their shoulders and paraded them around. Thereafter, defendants, defense lawyers, jurors, and defense followers gathered on the courthouse steps, where their mutual joy was captured in a photo published by the Chicago Tribune. Later, a post-verdict celebration brought the defendants and the jurors together once again at a nearby Italian restaurant. There, the revelry continued into the wee hours of the morning, closing with jurors and Black Sox singing “Hail, Hail, The Gang’s All Here.”
This extraordinary exhibition of camaraderie suggests that the verdict may have been a product of that courthouse phenomenon that all prosecutors dread: jury nullification. In a criminal case, jurors are carefully instructed to abjure passion, prejudice, sympathy, and other emotion in rendering judgment. They are to base their verdict entirely on the evidence presented and the law. But during deliberations in highly charged cases, this instruction is susceptible to being overridden by the jury’s identification with the accused. Or by dislike of the victim. Or by the urge to send some sort of message to the community at large.
In the Black Sox case, defense counsel, notably Benedict Short and Henry Berger, worked assiduously to cultivate a bond between the working-class men on the jury and the blue-collar defendants. The defense’s closing arguments to the jury, particularly those of Short, Thomas Nash, A. Morgan Frumberg, and James O’Brien, stridently denounced the wealthy victim Comiskey and his corporation. The defense lawyers also raised the specter of another menace: AL President Ban Johnson, portrayed as a malevolent force working outside of jury view to ensure the unfair condemnation of the accused.
In the end, of course, the underlying basis for the jury’s acquittal of the Black Sox is unknowable all these years later. Significantly, the fair-minded Judge Friend concurred in the outcome. Still, jury nullification remains a plausible explanation for the verdict, particularly when it came to jurors’ resolution of the charges against defendants Cicotte, Jackson, and Williams, against whom the State had presented a facially strong case.
Few others shared the jurors’ satisfaction in their verdict, with many baseball officials vowing never to grant employment to the acquitted players. That sentiment was quickly rendered academic. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis had taken note of the minor leagues’ prompt expulsion of the Pacific Coast League players who had had their indictments dismissed by the judge in that game-fixing case. Landis, who had been hired as commissioner in November 1920, now utilized that action as precedent.
With a famous edict that began “Regardless of the verdict of juries …,” Landis permanently barred the eight Black Sox players from participation in Organized Baseball. And with that, Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Buck Weaver, and the rest were consigned to the sporting wilderness. None would ever appear in another major-league game. The Black Sox saga, however, was not quite over.
Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned the eight Black Sox players for life from Organized Baseball in 1921. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)
In the aftermath of their official banishment from the game, Buck Weaver, Happy Felsch, Swede Risberg, and Joe Jackson instituted civil litigation against the White Sox, pursuing grievances grounded in breach of contract, defamation, and restraint on their professional livelihoods.
Outside of Milwaukee, where the Felsch/Risberg/Jackson suits were filed, little attention was paid to their complaints. Jackson’s breach-of-contract suit was the only one that ever went to trial. It was founded on the three-year contract that Jackson had signed with the White Sox in late February 1920, months after the World Series. The club had unilaterally voided the pact when it released Jackson in March 1921, and he had gone unpaid for the 1921 and 1922 baseball seasons.
In a pretrial deposition, plaintiff Jackson disputed that his termination by the White Sox had been justified by his involvement in the Series fix. On that point, Jackson swore to a set of fix-related events dramatically at odds with his earlier grand-jury testimony. Jackson now maintained that he had had no connection to the conspiracy to rig the 1919 Series. He had not even known about it until after the Series was over, when a drunken Lefty Williams foisted a $5,000 fix share on Jackson, telling him that the Black Sox had used Jackson’s name while trying to persuade gamblers to finance the fix scheme.
When the suit was tried in early 1924, its highlight was Jackson’s cross-examination by White Sox attorney George Hudnall. Confronted with his grand-jury testimony of September 28, 1920, Jackson did not attempt to explain away the contradiction between his civil deposition assertions and his grand-jury testimony. Nor did he attempt to harmonize the two. Rather, Jackson maintained — more than 100 times — that he had never made the statements contained in the transcript of his grand-jury testimony.
An outraged Judge John J. Gregory subsequently cited Jackson for perjury and had him jailed overnight. The court vacated the jury’s $16,711.04 award in Jackson favor, ruling that it was grounded in false testimony and jury nonfeasance. After the proceedings were over, civil jury foreman John E. Sanderson shed light on the jury’s thinking. Sanderson informed the press that the jury had entirely disregarded Jackson’s testimony about disputed events. The foreman also rejected the notion that the panel had exonerated Jackson of participation in the 1919 World Series fix.
Rather, the jury had premised its judgment for Jackson on the legal principle of condonation. As far as the jury was concerned, White Sox team brass had known of Jackson’s World Series fix involvement well before the new three-year contract was tendered to him in February 1920. Having thus effectively condoned (or forgiven) Jackson’s Series misconduct by re-signing him, the club was in no position to void that contract once the public found out what club management had known about Jackson all along. Jackson was, according to the Milwaukee jury, therefore entitled to his 1921 and 1922 pay.
In time, the four civil lawsuits, including that of Jackson, were settled out of court for modest sums. Little notice was taken, as the baseball press and public had long since moved on. In the ensuing years, the Black Sox Scandal receded in memory, recalled only in the random sports column, magazine article, or, starting with the death of Joe Jackson in December 1951, the obituary of a Black Sox player.
Revival of interest in the scandal commenced in the late 1950s, but did not attract widespread attention until the publication of Eliot Asinof’s classic Eight Men Out in 1963. Regrettably, this spellbinding account of the scandal was marred by historically inaccurate detail, attributable presumably to the fact that much of the criminal case record had been unavailable to Asinof, having disappeared from court archives over the years. This had compelled Asinof to rely upon scandal survivors, particularly Abe Attell, an engaging but unreliable informant.
Asinof also exercised artistic license in his work, creating, apparently for copyright protection purposes, a fictitious villain named “Harry F.” to intimidate Lefty Williams into his dreadful Game Eight pitching performance. Asinof likewise embellished his tale of the Jackson civil case, inserting melodramatic events, such as White Sox lawyer Hudnall pulling a supposedly lost Jackson grand-jury transcript out of his briefcase in midtrial, into Eight Men Out that are nowhere memorialized in the fully extant record of the civil proceedings.
Over the years, the embrace of such Asinof inventions, as well as the repetition of more ancient canards — the miserly wage that Comiskey supposedly paid the corrupted players, the notion that disappearing grand-jury testimony hamstrung the prosecution, and other fictions – has become a recurring feature of much Black Sox literature.
In 2002 scandal enthusiast Gene Carney commenced a near-obsessive re-examination of the Black Sox affair. First in weekly blog posts and later in his important book Burying the Black Sox: How Baseball’s Cover-Up of the 1919 World Series Fix Almost Succeeded (Potomac Books, 2006), Carney circulated his findings, which were often at variance with long-accepted scandal wisdom. Sadly, this work was cut short by Carney’s untimely passing in July 2009. But the mission endures, carried on by others, including the membership of the SABR committee inspired by Carney’s zeal.
That scandal revelations are still to be made is clear, manifested by events like the surfacing of a treasure trove of lost Black Sox documents acquired by the Chicago History Museum several years ago. As the playing of the 1919 World Series approaches its 100th anniversary, the investigation continues. And the final word on the Black Sox Scandal remains to be written.
WILLIAM F. LAMB is the author of “Black Sox in the Courtroom: The Grand Jury, Criminal Trial and Civil Litigation” (McFarland & Co., 2013). He spent more than 30 years as a state/county prosecutor in New Jersey. In retirement, he lives in Meredith, New Hampshire, and serves as the editor of “The Inside Game,” the quarterly newsletter of SABR’s Deadball Era Research Committee. He has contributed more than 50 bios to the SABR BioProject.
This essay is drawn from a more comprehensive account of the Black Sox legal proceedings provided in the writer’s Black Sox in the Courtroom: The Grand Jury, Criminal Trial, and Civil Litigation (McFarland & Co., 2013). Underlying sources include surviving fragments of the judicial record the Black Sox Scandal collections maintained at the Chicago History Museum and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Giamatti Research Center the transcript of Joe Jackson’s 1924 lawsuit against the Chicago White Sox held by the Chicago Baseball Museum newspaper archives in Chicago and elsewhere and contemporary Black Sox scholarship, particularly the work of Gene Carney, Bob Hoie, and Bruce Allardice.
Could players throw World Series today as Black Sox did 100 years ago?
SportsPulse: Yes, it's fun to point out the Nationals got to the World Series a year after Bryce Harper left. No, he's not the reason one way or the other they got there. Current Nats explain. USA TODAY
A century after the Chicago Black Sox threw the 1919 World Series, it might seem impossible that such a scandal could happen again &mdash much less when the Washington Nationals play the Houston Astros in the 2019 World Series, which starts Tuesday.
&ldquoListen, never say never,&rsquo&rsquo retired FBI special agent Andrew Arena told USA TODAY Sports. &ldquoCould it happen? I mean, I think anything&rsquos possible.&rsquo&rsquo
Sports gambling scandals are nothing new to Arena. He was in charge of the Detroit's FBI office in 2007 when agents there broke open a point-shaving scandal at the University of Toledo involving four basketball players and three football players.
All seven athletes were sentenced to probation and ordered to pay fines and perform community service for their part in taking money and other things of value to influence games between 2004 and 2006. The lead gambler was sentenced to six years in prison and his gambling partner was sentenced to two years in prison.
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson was among eight members of the White Sox who were banned for life by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis for their role in throwing the 1919 World Series. (Photo: Anonymous, AP)
It was an example of how organized crime could influence college sports, Arena said at the time. And this week he described how gathering information about the mob&rsquos attempts to infiltrate sports for gambling purposes was among his tasks when he worked for the FBI&rsquos organized crime unit from the late 1980s to the 1990s.
Yes, Arena said, he understands that professional athletes make massive amounts of money that would be at risk if they were caught trying to fix games &mdash conceivably a powerful deterrent.
&ldquoAthletes make a lot of money, but they can blow through it pretty quickly too,&rsquo&rsquo said Arena, now executive director of the Detroit Crime Commission. &ldquoSome of them just like the action.
&ldquoI was always worried more about (college sports). But where there&rsquos a will, there&rsquos a way.&rsquo&rsquo
Undeniably, there was a will and a way in 1919. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox, now better known as the Black Sox, were accused of intentionally losing the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Although the players were acquitted in a trial, they were banned from Major League Baseball for life and widely presumed as guilty of a conspiracy that sparks debate today &mdash a very different time for sports gambling and perhaps for potential game fixers too.
Last year, the Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on sports betting and legalized sports gambling quickly spread. In addition to Nevada, 10 states offer sports betting &mdash a change that retired FBI agent Keith Slotter has followed with interest.
Slotter was head of the FBI&rsquos San Diego field office when agents carried out "Operation Hook Shot,&rdquo which uncovered a sports bribery case at the University of San Diego.
Brandon Johnson, then the program&rsquos career scoring leader was sentenced to six months in prison for his role in fixing games during the 2009-2000 season. A former assistant coach who served as a middleman between the players and the gamblers was sentenced to a year in prison and the lead gambler in the scheme was sentenced to 2½ years in prison.
Slotter also spent three years with the FBI&rsquos financial crimes unit that looked in part for corrupt gambling activity.
But Slotter, who retired in 2012, said he doesn&rsquot foresee another Black Sox scandal.
&ldquoAny crime like that, whether it&rsquos sports fraud or betting or anything along those lines, two elements that are always required are motivation and opportunity,&rsquo&rsquo Slotter said. &ldquoAnd in today&rsquos world, unlike 100 years ago, I don&rsquot think either of those exist in a realistic sort of way.&rsquo&rsquo
Slotter pointed out that "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, the Black Sox's star, was paid like an Average Joe by the team &ndash creating far more incentive to throw games for profit than presumably would exist for the multimillionaires that populate the today&rsquos professional sports leagues.
Another contrast: In 1919, there wasn&rsquot even a radio broadcast of the game. (The first baseball game broadcast on radio took place in 1921.)
&ldquoNow you&rsquove got millions of eyes and replay watching ever single thing they do from every conceivable angle,&rsquo&rsquo he said. &ldquoAnd in addition to that, a lot of money is on the line in the huge sports betting industry. So with that type of scrutiny and the money they&rsquore already making, it just wouldn&rsquot make sense. it would be very difficult to pull off.&rsquo&rsquo
Whereas the eight Black Sox players faced a prosecutor, now MLB has its very own. Well, former federal prosecutor &mdash Bryan Seeley, senior vice president and deputy general counsel for investigations, compliance and security at MLB.
&ldquoThe idea that someone could manipulate a nine-inning game in Major League Baseball, it&rsquos hard to think that could happen again these days,&rsquo&rsquo Seeley said. &ldquoBut we&rsquore certainly always on guard for it.&rdquo
MLB has partnered with with Sportradar, a company collects and analyzes betting data to help ensure the integrity of sports contests. (The NFL, NBA and NHL use similar services.)
Seeley said Sportsradar &ldquois able to look at line movements across a large number of bookmakers in many different jurisdictions, both legal and illegal bookmakers. And gives us alerts if there is any sort of unusual betting activity or unusual line activity that night cause concern or might require us to look more deeply into that.
&ldquoIf someone were to try to do what was done in 1919 and influence players to reach certain outcome in a game in order to profit on that you have to bet on that, right? There has to be money put into the betting markets at some point. Putting in a large amount of money in the betting market is likely going to move a line somewhere and that&rsquos how you can initially spot that something could be up.&rsquo&rsquo
Kevin Braig, an attorney from Ohio who has studied the Black Sox scandal and the current sports gambling landscape, would be happy to take a wager from anyone betting on a modern-day Black Sox sequel. Impossible, he said of the chances of a team throwing the World Series. But the notion triggered a thought.
&ldquoHere&rsquos a little known fact that nobody talks about with the 1919 World Series,&rsquo&rsquo Braig said. &ldquoHave you ever heard of Hal Chase?&rsquo&rsquo
Chase was a first basemen who in 1919 played for the New York Giants &ndash and was rumored to be a middleman between the players and the gamblers in the Black Sox scandal.
&lsquo&rsquoHe was an addicted gambler,&rsquo&rsquo Braig said. &ldquoHe had a lot of addictions and people with addictions have a lot of debts.&rsquo&rsquo
A modern-day Hal Chase, Braig suggested, is someone MLB should fear &mdash especially if such characters are lurking in the shadows.
&ldquoAs Judge Brandeis always said, &lsquoSunshine is the best disinfectant.&rsquo &rdquo Braig offered. &ldquoThe best way to ensure the integrity of the game with sports betting, from my point of view, is to make it as open and transparent as possible, regulate it appropriately and have the incentives in the right places.
Chicago White Sox accused of throwing World Series - HISTORY
It was almost unthinkable: players throwing the World Series? Yet, that's what happened--or maybe didn't happen--in the fall of 1919.
The players on the Charles Comiskey's 1919 Chicago White Sox team were a fractious lot. The club was divided into two "gangs" of players, each with practically nothing to say to the other. Together they formed the best team in baseball--perhaps one of the best teams that ever played the game, yet they--like all ball players of the time--were paid a fraction of what they were worth. Because of baseball's reserve clause, any player who refused to accept a contract was prohibited from playing baseball on any other professional team. The White Sox owner paid two of his greatest stars, outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and third baseman Buck Weaver, only $6000 a year. Comiskey's decision to save expenses by reducing the number of times uniforms were laundered gave rise to the original meaning of "The Black Sox." Comiskey has been labeled the tyrant and tightwad whose penurious practices made his players especially willing to sell their baseball souls for money, but in fact he was probably no worse than most owners--in fact, Chicago had the highest team payroll in 1919. In the era of the reserve clause, gamblers could find players on lots of teams looking for extra cash--and they did.
In 1963, Eliot Asinof published Eight Men Out, a book about the Black Sox scandal which later became a popular movie and has, more than any other work, shaped modern understanding of the most famous scandal in the history of sports. In Asinof's telling of history, the bitterness Sox players felt about their owner led members of the team to enter into a conspiracy that would forever change the game of baseball. Asinof suggested that Comisky's skinflint maneuvers made key players ready to jump at the chance to make some quick money. For example, Asinof wrote that Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte was intensely irritated when, in September of 1917, as Cicotte approached a 30-win season that would win him a promised $10,000 bonus, Comiskey had his star pitcher benched rather than be forced to come up with the extra cash. Whether the story about the denied bonus or true is subject of dispute among baseball historians.
More recently, several writers have questioned Asinof's explanation for the fix. Gene Carney, for example, author of Burying the Black Sox , concluded that "the Sox who took the bribes were not getting even, they were just trying to get some easy money." Whatever the reason, a long and complicated story unfolded in the fall of 1919. One of the key players in the scandal, gambler Abe Attell, later summarized the fix as "cheaters cheating cheaters."
It's a story that arises at a time when "the lines between gamblers and ballplayers had become blurred." Some players were big bettors and some gamblers were former big league players. Most teams, many historians believe, had at least one player on the roster willing to help tip a game for a little money. Baseball in 1919, according to Carney, "was in the stranglehold of gamblers, and had been for some time."
Asinof contends that the idea of fixing the Series sprang into the mind of a tough thirty-one-year-old Sox first baseman named Chick Gandil. Whether or not the initial idea was his, or that of a gambler, it is clear no player is more closely connected to the fix than Gandil. In a 1956 Sports Illustrated interview, Gandil frankly admitted, "I was a ringleader." Asinof placed the beginning of the fix in Boston, about three weeks before the end of the 1919 season. Gandil asked an acquaintance and professional gambler named "Sport" Sullivan to stop by his hotel room. After a few minutes of small talk, Gandil told Sullivan, "I think we can put it [the Series] in the bag." He demanded $80,000 in cash for himself and whatever other players he might recruit. (In 1956, Gandil offered his own--somewhat different--account, crediting Sullivan and not himself for the idea. Gandil claims he initially told Sullivan a fix involving seven or eight players was impossible. Sullivan replied, "Don't be silly. It's been pulled before and it can be again.")
Talk of a possible fix began among a group that included outfielder Oscar "Happy" Felsch, third baseman Buck Weaver, and Eddie Cicotte. Gandil knew that Cicotte, Chicago's ace pitcher, Cicotte, had money troubles, having bought a farm in Michigan that came with high mortgage payments. Cicotte at first resisted Gandil's suggestion that he join in a fix of the Series, but eventually his scruples gave way. Three days before the Series began, he told Gandil, "I'll do it for $10,000--before the Series begins." In 1920, Cicotte explained his decision to join the fix to a grand jury: "They wanted me to go crooked. I needed the money. I had the wife and kids. I had bought the farm." According to Cicotte's later confession, when he went back to his room later, "I found the money under my pillow I had sold out 'Commy' and the other boys."
With Cicotte and Felsch on board, Gandil's efforts to recruit additional Sox players took off. Shortstop "Swede" Risberg and utility infielder Fred McMullin said that they were in. Starting pitchers would be critical in any successful fix, so when the team was in New York, Gandil went after--and soon convinced--Claude "Lefty" Williams to join. To round out the fix, Gandil approached the teams best hitter, Joe Jackson. (In his 1920 "confession," Jackson would testify that he was promised $20,000 for his participation, but only got a quarter of that amount.)
A meeting of White Sox ballplayers--including those committed to going ahead and those just ready to listen--took place on September 21, at 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. (Joe Jackson claimed not to have made the meeting--and Jackson's claim was repeatedly supported by Lefty Williams.) In his 1956 article in Sports Illustrated , Gandil offers this account of the September 21 meeting:
Things started to get complicated. According to Asinof, another gambler, "Sleepy" Bill Burns (working with an associate Billy Maharg), having heard talk of a possible fix, approached Cicotte and offered to top any offer Sullivan might make. Gandil, meeting with Cicotte and Burns, announced that they would work a fix with Burns and Maharg for an upfront $100,000. In a 1922 deposition, Maharg would confirm this story, testifying that in the original $100,000 deal, $20,000 each was to go to Gandil, Cicotte, Williams, Felsch, and Risberg--an original group of "five men out." Burns and Maharg set off for New York to meet with the most prominent gambler-sportsman in America, Arnold "Big Bankroll" Rothstein.
In Asinof's account, Burns and Maharg approached Rothstein as he watched horses at Jamaica Race Track. Rothstein told the two men that he was busy, and that they should wait in the track restaurant, where he might get to them later. Instead, Rothstein dispatched his right-hand man, Abe Attell, to meet with Burns and Maharg and find out what they had in mind. When Attell reported back that night about the plan to fix the Series, Rothstein was skeptical. He didn't think it could work. Attell relayed the news to a disappointed Burns. Undeterred, Burns and Maharg cornered Rothstein later that night in the lobby of the Astor Hotel in Times Square and pressed their plan to fix the Series. Rothstein told the two men, for "whatever my opinion is worth," to forget it, and Burns and Maharg did--for awhile.
Asinof's very detailed story of the meeting with Rothstein is not confirmed by other sources and "A. R.'s" role in the fix remains something of a mystery. Leo Katcher, author of The Big Bankroll , concluded that Rothstein declined the offer to participate in fixing the Series, deeming the enterprise too risky--too many players and too many people watching. Katcher's conclusion seems to have been shared by American League President Ban Johnson who initially believed the fix's trail led to Rothstein, but later--after Rothstein testified to a 1920 grand jury--deemed him innocent. On the other hand, historian Harold Seymour contended that affidavits found in Rothstein's files after his death showed "he paid out $80,000 for the World Series fix." Regardless of whether or not he funded the fix, many gamblers and players at the time believed that he was behind it. A telegram, supposedly from Rothstein but actually fraudulently prepared by lower-level gamblers, seemed to show A. R. backed the fix. With Rothstein's influence and nearly unlimited financial resources, players more willingly jumped on board--the gambler's lawyers and connections seemed to ensure no one would be punished. Rothstein may or may not have been a backer of the fix, but he clearly knew about it and made a substantial amount of money (estimates range up to $400,000) betting on Series games.
In Asinof's telling, Abe Attell, or the "Little Champ" as ex-prize fighter was called, saw an opportunity to make some big bucks, and he decided to take it. Attell and former ballplayer Hal Chase contacted Burns and told him that Rothstein had reconsidered their proposition and had now agreed to put up the $100,000 to fund the fix. Burns whirled into motion, calling Cicotte and wiring Maharg to tell them the fix was on. Sport Sullivan, meanwhile, continued independently to pursue his own fix plans. He also contacted Rothstein. Sullivan, unlike Burns and Maharg, was known and respected by Rothstein. When Sullivan laid out his plans for the fix, according to Asinof, Rothstein expressed an interest in the scheme he had previously withheld. Rothstein saw the widespread talk of a fix as a blessing, not a problem: "If nine guys go to bed with a girl, she'll have a tough time proving the tenth is the father!" He decided to sent a partner of his, Nat Evans, to Chicago with Sullivan to meet with the players.
In Asinof's account, on September 29, the day before the Sox were to leave for Cincinnati to begin the Series, Sullivan and Evans (introduced as "Brown") met with the players. Evans listened to the players' demand for $80,000 in advance, then told them he would talk to his "associates" and get back to them. When Evans reported back, Rothstein agreed to give him $40,000 to pass on to Sullivan, who would presumably distribute the cash to the players. The other $40,000, Rothstein said, would be held in a safe in Chicago, to be paid to the players if the Series went as planned. Rothstein then got busy, quickly laying bets on the Reds to win the Series. With forty $1,000 bills in his pocket, Sullivan decided to bet nearly $30,000 on the Reds instead of giving it to the players as planned. They could get the money later, he thought.
Odds were dropping quickly on the once heavy underdog Reds team--the best Sullivan could do was get even money. Gandil, in his 1956 account of the story, said Sullivan passed the remaining $10,000 to him, and that he put the money under the pillow of the starting pitcher for game one of the Series, Eddie Cicotte. (Other sources have the $10,000 being delivered after the Series started.) Cicotte reportedly later sewed the money into the lining of his jacket.
Frustrated and angry at getting only $10,000 from Sullivan, seven of the players (only Joe Jackson was absent) met on the day before the Series opener at the Sinton Hotel in Cincinnati with Abe Attell. Attell refused to pay the players any cash in advance, offering instead $20,000 for each loss in the best-of-nine Series. The players complained, but told the gamblers that they would throw the first two games with Cicotte and Williams as the scheduled starting pitchers.
At least two syndicates and half a dozen gamblers have been linked to the fix, but both numbers are probably underestimates. There may have been five or six syndicates and perhaps twenty or more gamblers involved. Some sources have the players selling out in St. Louis, Detroit, Boston, and Kansas City, as well as Chicago. Abe Attell told sports reporter Joe Williams of the Cleveland News , "They not only sold it, but they sold it wherever they could get a buck. They peddled it around like a sack of popcorn." The true extent of the 1919 Series fix will probably never be known.
Photo from Game Two of the 1919 Series
October 1, 1919, Opening Day, was sunny and warm. The game was a sell-out, with scalpers getting the unheard of price of $50 a ticket. At the Ansonia Hotel in New York, Arnold Rothstein strode into the lobby just before the scheduled opening pitch. For Rothstein and the several hundred other persons gathered in the lobby, a reporter would read telegraphed play-by-play accounts of the game as baseball figures would be moved around a large diamond-shaped chart on the wall. The gamblers had sent word that Eddie Cicotte was to either walk or hit the first Reds batter, as a sign that the fix was on. The first pitch to lead-off batter Maurice Rath was a called strike. Cicotte's wild second pitch hit Rath in the back. Arnold Rothstein walked out of the Ansonia into a New York rain.
The game stood 1 to 1 with one out in the fourth when the Red's Pat Duncan lined a hanging curve to right for a single. The next batter, Larry Kopf, hit an easy double play ball to Cicotte, but the Sox pitcher hesitated, then threw high to second. The runner at second was out, but no double play was possible. Greasy Neale and Ivy Wingo followed with singles, scoring the Reds' second run. Then the Reds' pitcher, Dutch Reuther, drove a triple to left, scoring two more. The bottom of the Cincinnati order was teeing off on the Sox's ace. The game ended with the Reds winning 9 to 1 [game stats link]. Meeting later that night with Charles Comiskey, Sox manager Kid Gleason was asked whether he thought his team was throwing the Series. Gleason hesitated, then said he thought something was wrong, but didn't know for certain.
The fourth inning turned out to be determinative in Game Two as well. Lefty Williams, renown for his control, walked three Cincinnati batters, all of whom scored. Final: Cincinnati 4, Chicago 2. Sox catcher Ray Schalk, furious, complained to Gleason after the came: "The sonofabitch! Williams kept crossing me. In that lousy fourth inning, he crossed me three times! He wouldn't throw a curve." After the game, Sleepy Burns left $10,000 (of the $20,000 that they were promised) in Gandil's room.
In Asinof's account, before Game Three in Chicago, Burns asked Gandil what the players were planning. Gandil lied. He told Burns they were going to throw the game, when in fact they hadn't yet decided what to do. Gandil and the rest of players in on the fix were angry at so far receiving only a fraction of their promised money. He saw no reason to do Burns any favors. Burns and Maharg, on Gandil's word, bet a bundle on the Reds to win Game Three. The Sox won the game, 3 to 0, with Gandil driving in two of his team's runs.
Gandil told Sullivan that he needed $20,000 before Game Four, or the fix was over. Sullivan made the deadline--barely. Jackson and Williams each received $5,000 pay-offs after the game, which was won by the Reds, who broke a scoreless tie in the fifth when pitcher Eddie Cicotte made two fielding errors. According to Williams's 1920 confession, after Game Four, the pitcher went to Gandil's room: "There were two packages, two envelopes lying there, and he says, 'There is your dough." Williams testified, "Gandil told me, 'There is five for yourself, and five for Jackson, and the rest has been called for.'"
In the sixth inning of Game Five, "Happy" Felsch misplayed a fly ball, then threw poorly to Risberg at second, who allowed the ball to get away from him. Before the inning was over, Felsch would misplay a second ball hit by Edd Roush, allowing three runs to score. Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, watching from the press box commented on the disaster: "When Felsch misses a fly ball like Roush's--and the one before from Eller--then, well, what's the use?"
When gamblers failed to produce the promised additional $20,000 after the loss in game five, the Sox players decided they'd had enough. It would be the old Sox again--the Sox that won the American League pennant going away. They took Game Six 5 to 4, then won again in Game Seven, 4 to 1. With a win in game eight, the best-of-nine Series would be tied.
Asinof's Eight Men Out includes a dramatic, but entirely fictional, report of what happened before the Game Eight. Asinof admitted in 2003 that the story was made up--in part, he claimed, to identify when his account was being used without his permission. In his book, Asinof claimed that Rothstein told Sullivan in no uncertain terms that he did not want the Series to go to nine games--and to make sure it doesn't. In the book's account, Sullivan contacted a Chicago thug known as "Harry F" who then paid a visit to the starting Sox pitcher in game eight, Lefty Williams, and threatened harm to him or his family if the game were not thrown--in the first inning. Asinof described Williams being greeted by a cigar-smoking man in a bowler hat when he and his wife were returning home from dinner. The man asked to have a word with Williams in private. He did--and Williams got the message. There was no "Harry F." But it made for a good story and added drama to the 1988 movie version of Asinof's book. Threats were, however, made. Both Cicotte and Jackson later described threats and their own fear of being shot and, although Lefty Williams never told of any threats against him or Lyria, his wife, Lyria did. In a 1920 interview, Maharg also hinted that a threat to kill Williams's wife might indeed have been made before Game Eight.
Threat or no threat, Williams pitched poorly in Game Eight. He threw only fifteen pitches, allowing four hits and three runs, before being taken out of the game with only one out. Cincinnati went on to win the game and the Series, 10 to 5. For the Williams (who was undoubtedly in on the fix), it was his third loss in three Series starts. The pitcher with a reputation as a control artist had thrown an average of a walk every other inning he played.
How Many Men "Out"?
Of eight Series games, at least two were thrown, Games Two and Eight. Notably, however, if the Sox had won Games Two and Eight, they--and not the Reds--would have been 1919 World Series champs. There is also evidence that Game Four was thrown and a failed attempt was made to throw Game Three. In general, people who were looking for suspicious plays in the Series found them, while others saw nothing that looked out of line. Reds manager Pat Moran thought the Series was on the up and up: "If they threw some of the games they must be consummate actors. for nothing in their playing gave me the impression they weren't doing their best." Umpire Billy Evans expressed surprise as well when news of the fix eventually broke "We'll, I guess I'm just a big dope, " Evans said, "That Series looked all right to me." James Hamilton, official scorer for the Series, said he saw only one suspicious play, a deflection by Cicotte of a throw to home in Game Four. On the other hand, writer Hugh Fullerton and former pitching star Christy Mathewson circled seven plays in their scorebook that they agreed looked suspicious, in addition to having questions about Sox pitching in a few of the games. (Fullerton had heard buzz about a fix well before the first pitch of the Series was thrown, and informed Comiskey about a possible fix before Game One.)
Of the "Eight Men Out," four players clearly played to lose in the thrown games, Gandil, Williams, Cicotte, and Risberg. Risberg, by all accounts a tough guy, served as internal enforcer of the fix, threatening any player who might reveal the players' agreement with the gamblers. A few historians have suggested that Cicotte, at least after facing the first batter in Game One, gave 100%, but his own words seem to belie that conclusion: "I've played a crooked game." Cicotte pitched poorly in Game One and hit the first batter, apparently to signal the fix was on. In his 1920 grand jury testimony, Cicotte admitted that he purposely put that first batter on base, but then had misgivings: "After he passes, after he was on there, I don't know, I guess I tried too hard. I didn't care, they could have taken my heart and soul that's the way I felt about it after I'd taken that money. I guess everybody is not perfect." In Game Four, Cicotte made a couple of glaring errors on the field. According to a September 28, 1920 account of his grand jury testimony, Cicotte said, "I deliberately intercepted a throw from the outfield to the plate which might have cut off a run. I muffed the ball on purpose." He also admitted that on another play in Game Four, "I purposely made a wild throw. All the runs scored against me were due to my own deliberate errors." Happy should probably also be added to the "players out" list, as he went just six for twenty-six during the Series and committed several uncharacteristic miscues in the centerfield. (On the other hand, he hit the ball hard and made a couple of spectacular catches. In an interview in the Chicago Evening American , Felsch admitted he was "in on the deal," but claimed he "had nothing to do with the loss of the World Series.") Utility infielder Fred McMullin, Risberg's drinking buddy, got one hit in just two Series at-bats, hardly the basis for a conclusion that he contributed to the Series defeat. Jackson, however, testified that McMullin, along with Risberg, were the two principal "pay-off" men during the fix.
If--and it's a big "if"--any two players have been unfairly included in the "Eight Men Out" they are Shoeless Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver.
For the Series, Jackson had batted .375 (nearly twenty points better than his career average of .356), scored five runs, got six RBI's, the only homerun, and not committed a single error. "If he really did try to lose games," a 2009 article in the Chicago Lawyer Magazine observed, "he failed miserably." Nonetheless, questions have been raised about Jackson's performance in the field. (Jackson himself later admitted that he "could have tried harder." He also reportedly said that the players in on the fix "did our best to kick [Game Three], but little Dickie Kerr won the game by his pitching.") Not debatable is that Jackson clearly did accept the money of gamblers ($5000, after demanding $20,000, according to Cicotte) and having the batting star's name mentioned in connection with the fix gave the scheme credibility. Jackson admitted in his 1920 grand jury testimony to accepting the money. Most likely, Jackson did not try to throw the Series. He did, however, commit a serious error of judgment in accepting the money of gamblers and, perhaps, in not more aggressively trying to report the fix to Comiskey or Gleason.
Perhaps none of the infamous Eight have more defenders than Buck Weaver. Weaver knew of the fix, attended at least three meetings in which the fix was discussed, watched Gandil count out pay-off money from gamblers, and yet failed to report the scheme to club officials. For this "guilty knowledge," Buck might have got nothing but trouble. It's not clear he ever received a dime from the fix. (A report circulated, originating with his mother-in-law, that a package containing a large amount of currency was delivered to his house by McMullin during the Series. The pay-off, it indeed that's what the package was, may have been returned.) He arguably he played the best baseball he knew how, batting .324 during the Series. A 1953 letter from Weaver to Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. In the letter, Weaver claimed (implausibly) that he "knew nothing" about the fix and (more plausibly) "played a perfect Series."
In addition to the fix, there was a second, arguably just as significant, scandal: the cover-up. Asinof noted that "the cover-up was far better organized than the fix itself." It involved owners, managers, players, and (with just a couple of notable exceptions) the press. A lot of people had an interest in preserving the public's faith in America's pasttime.
The Fix is Revealed
Assistant State's Attorney Hartley Replogle with Joe Jackson
Charles Comiskey tried to discourage talk of a fix, brought on by his team's dismal performance in the Series, by issuing a statement to the press. Comiskey told reporters,
"I believe my boys fought the battle of the recent World Series on the level, as they have always done. And I would be the first to want information to the contrary--if there be any. I would give $20,000 to anyone unearthing information to that effect." Meanwhile, Comiskey hired a private detective to investigate the finances of seven of the eight men who were part of the original conspiracy. (Weaver was the player not under suspicion.)
A bombshell was thrown into the winter baseball meetings on December 15, 1919, when Hugh Fullerton, a Chicago sportswriter, published in New York World a story headlined IS BIG LEAGUE BASEBALL BEING RUN FOR GAMBLERS, WITH BALLPLAYERS IN THE DEAL? Fullerton angrily demanded that baseball confront its gambling problem. He suggested that Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a federal judge, be appointed to head a special investigation into gambling's influence on the national pastime.
Talk of a possible fix in the 1919 Series continued through the winter months into the 1920 season. In July, Sox manager Kid Gleason ran into Abe Attell at a New York bar. The Little Champ confirmed Gleason's suspicions about the fix. "You know, Kid, I hated to do that to you," Attell told Gleason, "but I thought I was going to make a bundle, and I needed it." Attell revealed that Arnold Rothstein was the big money man behind the fix. Gleason went to the press with the story, but was unable to convince anyone--because of fear of libel suits--to print it.
Exposure of the Series fix finally came from an unexpected source--just as the Sox were in a close fight for the 1920 American League pennant. Reports on another fix, this one involving a Cubs-Phillies game on August 31, led to the convening of the Grand Jury of Cook County. Assistant State Attorney Hartley Replogle sent out dozens of subpoenas to baseball personalities. One of those called to testify was New York Giants pitcher Rube Benton. Benton told the grand jury that he saw a telegram sent in late September to a Giants teammate from Sleepy Burns, stating that the Sox would lose the 1919 Series. He also revealed that he later learned that Gandil, Felsch, Williams, and Cicotte were among those in on the fix.
A couple of days later, the Philadelphia North American ran an interview with gambler Billy Maharg, providing the public for the first time with many of the shocking details of the scandal. Cicotte regretted his participation in the fix. He seemed to Gleason and others to have been stewing over something all summer. Perhaps because of the Maharg interview or perhaps because he knew that he had already been implicated in the fix by Henrietta Kelly (manager of the rooming house where he and other players stayed), Cicotte decided to talk.
"I don't know why I did it," Cicotte told the grand jury. "I must have been crazy. Risberg, Gandil, and McMullin were at me for a week before the Series began. They wanted me to go crooked. I don't know. I needed the money. I had the wife and the kids. The wife and the kids don't know about this. I don't know what they'll think." Tears came to Cicotte's eyes as he continued talking. "I've lived a thousand years in the last twelve months. I would have not done that thing for a million dollars. Now I've lost everything, job, reputation, everything. My friends all bet on the Sox. I knew, but I couldn't tell them."
Within hours, the other Sox players learned that Cicotte had talked. Who would be next? It was Joe Jackson that turned up in the chambers of presiding judge, Charles McDonald. Two hours after he began testifying, Jackson walked out of the jury room, telling two bailiffs, "I got a big load off my chest!" [link to Jackson confession] On the way out of the courthouse, according to a story that ran in the Chicago Herald & Examiner, a youngster said to Jackson, "It ain't so, Joe, is it?"--to which Jackson replied, "Yes, kid, I'm afraid it is." (Jackson later denied that such an exchange ever occurred: "The only one who spoke was a guy who yelled at his friend, 'I told you he wore shoes.'") Gandil, Risberg, and McMullin were not happy with developments, and let Jackson know that. According to Jackson, the other players told him before his testimony, "You poor simp, go ahead and squawk. We'll all say you're a liar." Jackson said he asked for protection from the bailiffs when he left the jury room because "now Risberg threatens to bump me off. I'm not going to get far from my protectors until this blows over."
That same day, in his office at Comiskey park, Charles Comiskey dictated a telegram that would be sent to eight of his players and then made public: YOU AND EACH OF YOU ARE HEREBY NOTIFIED OF YOUR INDEFINITE SUSPENSION AS A MEMBER OF THE CHICAGO AMERICAN LEAGUE BASEBALL CLUB. With those words, the hopes of Sox fans for the 1920 championship came to an end. The final games in St. Louis would still be played--Harry Grabner, White Sox secretary, told the press, "We'll play out the schedule if we have to get Chinamen to replace the suspended players"--but the results were predictable.
Defense attorney William Fallon knew that to protect his clients, which included Abe Attell and other gamblers, he would have to keep Attell and Sport Sullivan away from the Chicago Grand Jury. The two gamblers were called to Rothstein's apartment, where Fallon announced that Sullivan would go to Mexico and Attell to Canada. Vacation with pay, Fallon said, as Rothstein pulled out his wallet.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, more details about the fix were coming out. Lefty Williams became the third White Sox player to tell his story to the Grand Jury, testifying for more than three hours. Then Oscar Felsch told his version of events in an interview that ran in the Chicago American . "Well, the beans are spilled and I think I'm through with baseball," Felsch said. "I got $5000. I could have got just about that much by being on the level if the Sox had won the Series. And now I'm out of baseball--the only profession I know anything about, and a lot of gamblers have gotten rich. The joke seems to be on us."
Fallon decided to adopt a bold strategy for his client. With Sullivan and Attell out of the country, he would bring Arnold Rothstein to Chicago to testify before the Grand Jury. (Fallon had a second reason for heading west: he understood that Comiskey hated the investigation, and believed that a meeting with the Sox owner might be mutually beneficial.) Rothstein told the jury that he came to Chicago because he was "sick and tired" of all of the talk about his involvement in the fix. "I've come here to vindicate myself. The whole thing started when Attell and some other cheap gamblers decided to frame the Series and make a killing. The world knows I was asked in on the deal and my friends know how I turned it down flat. I don't doubt that Attell used my name to put it over." Fallon's strategy worked. After his testimony, Cook County Attorney Maclay Hoyne declared, "I don't think Rothstein was involved in it."
On October 22, 1920, the Grand Jury handed down its indictments, naming the eight Chicago players and five gamblers, including Bill Burns, Sport Sullivan, and Abe Attell. Rothstein was not indicted. The indictments included nine counts of conspiracy to defraud various individuals and institutions.
Shortly after the indictments came down, as the old staff of the Office of State's Attorney was ready to be replaced by the newly elected Robert Crowe (the same man who prosecuted the Leopold and Loeb case), some important papers walked out of the office. George Kenney, State Attorney Hoyne's personal secretary, probably for money offered by Attell's local counsel, had lifted the confessions and waivers of immunity of Cicotte, Jackson, and Williams.
Fallon begin to gather, for the players, some of the best and most expensive defense attorneys in Illinois. Clearly, the impoverished Sox players weren't going to be footing the legal bills--so who was paying for them? Comiskey? Rothstein? No one who knew talked. An acquittal would benefit Comiskey, who held out hope that his suspended players could be reinstated--possibly after serving brief suspensions.
Pushing most strongly for convictions was American League President Ban Johnson, who--to his credit--was determined to clean up the sport. Johnson became frustrated with the lack of support his investigation received from Comiskey: "We have been working on this case for three solid months and we have not had an iota of cooperation from the Chicago club," Johnson complained.
The defendants were arraigned on February 14, 1921. All the ballplayers were present, but none of the gamblers. Defense lawyers presented Judge William Dever with a petition for a bill of particulars, a statement that would specify the charges against their clients with more specificity than the indictments contained.
A month later, George Gorman, for the State, then announced the shocking news that the players' confessions had been stolen. A new set of charges was presented to a Grand Jury, who issued a superceding indictment, adding five new gamblers, on March 26.
Gambler "Sleepy Bill" Burns testifies at the 1921 trial
On June 27, 1921, the case of State of Illinois vs Eddie Cicotte et al opened in the Chicago courtroom of Judge Hugo Friend. The players faced charges of (1) conspiring to defraud the public, (2) conspiring to defraud Sox pitcher Ray Schalk, (3) conspiring to commit a confidence game, (4) conspiring to injure the business of the American League, and (5) conspiring to injure the business of Charles Comiskey. With the confessions still missing, George Gorman knew he faced a difficult fight. He did, however, have one key witness who could tie the players to the fix: Sleepy Burns. American League President Ban Johnson, with the help of Billy Maharg, had found Burns fishing in the Rio Grande in the small Texas border town of Del Rio. Promised immunity from prosecution, Burns reluctantly agreed to testify.
By July 5, with the defense's motion to quash the indictments having been rejected, jury selection began. Before a final jury of twelve was seated, over 600 prospective jurors were questioned about their support of the White Sox, their betting habits, and their views of baseball. On potential juror, William Kiefer, was excused because he was a Cubs fan, and presumbably bore ill will against the team's cross-town rival.
On July 18, George Gorman delivered the prosecution's opening statement. Gorman described the 1919 Series fix as a chaotic chess game between gamblers and players: "The gamblers and ball players started double-crossing each other untile neither side knew what the other intended to do." When he began to quote from a copy of Cicotte's confession, defense attorney Michael Ahearn (later called "Al Capone's favorite lawyer") objected, saying "You won't get to first base with those confessions!" Gorman countered, "We'll hit a home run with them!" "You may get a long hit," Ahearn acknowledged, "but you'll be thrown out at the plate." Ahearn proved to be the better predictor. Judge Friend did indeed call any mention of the confessions out of bounds.
The first witness for the prosecution was Charles Comiskey, who provided a history of his career in baseball, from his days as a player beginning in Milwaukee in 1876, to his current position as president of the White Sox organization. On cross-examination, defense attorneys tried to show that Comiskey had made more money in 1920 than any previous year, thus undercutting the State's theory that Comiskey had been financially injured by the alleged conspiracy. Judge Friend cut off this line of questioning, causing Ben Short to complain, "This man is getting richer all the time and my clients are charged with conspiracy to injure his business."
The following day saw Sleepy Burns, dressed in a green checkered suit with a lavender shirt and bow tie, take the stand. He spoke, as described in a newspaper account of the day, "in a low, even tone, which scarcely carried past the jury and repeatedly wiped his forehead with his handkerchief." Under questioning from prosecutor Gorman, Burns (who had been promised immunity in return for his testimony for the prosecution) identified Eddie Cicotte as the instigator of the fix and the man with whom he had met at the Hotel Ansonia in September of 1919. When Gorman asked about his conversation with Cicotte on September 16 or 17, however, the defense objected and their objection was sustained by Judge Friendly. Burns described meetings in New York with Cicotte, Gandil and Maharg during which a possible fix was discussed. He testified that he and Maharg "went to see Arnold Rothstein at a race track" to discuss possible financing. Later, Burns told jurors, he and other gamblers held a meeting, two days before the start of the Series, with seven of the Sox players during which the promise to pay the players $20,000 for each thrown game was made:
Q. [What players were there at the meeting at the Hotel Sinton]?
A. There was Gandil, McMullin, Williams, Felsch, Cicotte, and Buck Weaver.
Q. What about Jackson?
A. I didn't see him there.
Q. Did you have any conversation with them?
A. I told them I had a $100,000 to handle the throwing of the World Series. I also told them that I had the names of the men who were going to finance it.
Q. Who were the financiers?
A. They were Arnold Rothstein, Attell, and Bennett.
Q. Did the players make any statements concerning the order of the games to be thrown?
A. Gandil and Cicotte said the first two games should be thrown. They said,however, that it didn't matter to them. They would throw them in any order desired, it was a made-to-order Series.
Q. What else was said?
A. Gandil and Cicotte said they'd throw the first and second games. Cicotte said he'd throw the first game if had to throw the ball over the fence [at Cincinnati's park. ]
Q. Who left the room first?
A. Attell and Bennett [alias of gambler David Zelcer of Des Moines, a defendant in the case]. I asked the players what I was to get. Gandil said that I would get a player's part. After the first game, I met Attell. and then we met Maharg. Attell said he bet all the money and couldn't pay the players until the bets were collected. I told the ballplayers and told Williams that Attell wanted to see them. Williams, Gandil, and I went to see Attell at a place on Walnut Street about a block and a half from the Sinton Hotel. That was about 8:30 p.m. Attell asked Williams if he would throw the game the next day and Williams said he would. I met Attell the next day and he showed me a telegram from New York [signed "A.R." and suggesting that Rothstein would back the fix]. I went to the ball players then--all except Jackson were present--and told them a telegram had been received and that twenty grand--$20,000--had been sent. I told them before the game [Game Two]. Gandil said they were being double-crossed. Gandil said the telegram was a fake. I said if it was, I wasn't in on it.
For three days, Burns remained on the stand, recounting the many trials and tribulations of the fix. On cross-examination, defense attorneys tried unsuccessfully to shake Burns' assertion that it was the players, and not him, that came up with the idea of throwing the Series. Although he was forced to admit that some of his dates of meetings were wrong, many in the press thought that the prosecution's star witness turned in a superb performance. (Members of the jury might have been less impressed, based on the comments of a juror in a post-trial interview with an AP reporter.) A Kansas City Times story from July 21, 1921 reported, "At the end of his twelfth hour on the stand, the witness appeared exhausted. His body was limp in the witness chair, his eyes were half closed, but his head was held back and his answers still came clearly and defiantly despite a cataract of innuendoes, disparaging remarks about his mentality and character and other bitter verbal shots heaped on by his questioners." "If that man's story is not proven false, we may as well consider our case lost," said one of the defense attorneys to a reporter.
The next witness for the prosecution was John O. Seys, secretary of the Chicago Cubs. Seys testified that he met Attell at the Sinton Hotel the day before the Series opener and that Attell said he was betting on Cincinnati. "Attell was taking all the White Sox money he could get," Seys told jurors. Meeting with Attell again before Game Three, Seys testified that the gambler told him "he wasn't going to bet on Cincinnati that day because it looked like Dick Kerr, the Sox pitcher, would win."
The big battle of the trial was over the issue of how to handle the missing confessions and immunity waivers. Judge Friend ruled that no evidence of the confessions could be introduced unless the State could prove that they were made voluntarily and without duress. Former State's Attorney Hartley Replogle testified that the statements were made voluntarily and without any offer of reward. Cicotte testified that Replogle had promised him that in return for his statement "I would be taken care of," which he assumed meant not prosecuted. Asked whether he was told that the statement he was about to make could be used against him, Cicotte said, "I don't remember." Prosecutor Gorman offered a different story, arguing Cicotte "was panic stricken and ran to the grand jury to confess." In his cross-examination of the pitcher, Gorman asked, "didn't you read about the ball scandal in the paper and tell everything of your own free will?" Cicotte replied, "No, they promised me freedom." "Didn't you cry bitterly?", Gorman asked. "I may have had tears in my eyes," Cicotte answered. Joe Jackson took the stand to offer a similar story. Jackson said that he was told that "after confessing I could go anywhere--all the way to the Portuguese Islands." Asked whether he read the document he signed before offering his statement, Jackson replied: "No. They'd given me their promise. I'd've signed my death warrant if they asked me to." After listening to this testimony, Judge Friend ruled that the confessions could be part of the State's case--but only to prove the guilt of the players giving the statements.
Judge Charles A. MacDonald testified as to meetings he had with Cicotte and Jackson before their grand jury testimony. Cicotte told him, he said, that after hitting the first batter in Game One "he played on the square." Cicotte told the judge he used his $10,000 pay-off to take care of a mortgage on a Michigan farm and buy stock. Jackson told the judge he was first approached in New York about participating in the fix, and made clear that it would take at least $20,000 for him to join. The initial offer, Jackson said to the judge, was so low "a common laborer wouldn't do a job like that for that price." MacDonald said that Jackson was concerned that his grand jury testimony be kept secret because he "was afraid Swede Risberg was going to bump him off, to use Jackson's words." On July 27, the confessions of Cicotte, Williams, and Jackson were read in court. According to a newspaper report of the trial, "The actual transcript of the confessions varied little from the frequently published reports of them." In Cicotte's confession, he expressed misgivings about his participation: "I would gladly have given back the $10,000 they paid me with interest." Jackson denied making any intentional fielding errors, but told the judge that he "might have tried harder."
Billy Maharg was the state's final witness. The gambler confirmed Burns's story about an intial meeting in New York involving Cicotte and Gandil. Maharg testified that Attell told him that Rothstein had agreed to finance the fix in return for his having once saved Rothstein's life. He also said that the first payment of $10,000 to Burns came when Attell pulled the money "from a great pile of bills under his mattress," money that Rothstein had apparently sent by wire.
The defense presented a variety of alibi, character, and White Sox players and team officials as witnesses. Sox manager Kid Gleason testified that the indicted Sox players were practicing at the Cincinnati ballpark at the time Burns alleged he was meeting with them in a hotel room. A series of Sox players not involved in the fix were called and asked whether they thought the indicted players played the Series to the best of their ability. The prosecution shouted its objections to each of these questions. The judge sustained the objections, as calling for opinions. Comiskey's chief financial officer, Harry Grabiner, was called to show that the Sox gate receipts in 1920 were well above those in 1919, when the players allegedly defrauded Comiskey of his property. The jury seemed intensely interested in the financial testimony, which undermined the prosecution's contention that the White Sox was damaged by the players' actions.
On July 29, Edward Prindeville summed up the case first for the prosecution. He told the jury that "Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, and Claude Williams sold out the American public for a paltry $20,000. This game, gentleman, has been the subject of a crime. The public, the club owners, even the small boys on the sandlots have been swindled." Prindeville said, "They have taken our national sport, our national pleasure, and tried to turn it into a con game." The prosecutor was particularly scathing in his attack on Cicotte: "Cicotte, the American League's greatest pitcher, hurling with a heavy heart--by his own confession--and a pocket made heavy by $10,000 in graft, was beaten 9 to 1. No wonder he lost. The pocket loaded with filth for which he sold his soul and his friends was too much. It overbalanced him and he lost." Prindeville asked the jury to return a "verdict of guilty with five years in the penitentiary and a fine of $2000 for each defendant." Gorman followed Prindeville. He asked the jury to remember the fans:
Although evidence suggests that the jury was already leaning toward acquittal, the outcome of the trial may have been sealed when Judge Friend charged the jury. He told them that to return a guilty verdict they must find the players conspired "to defraud the public and others, and not merely throw ballgames." (The New York Times editorialized that the judge's instruction was like saying the "state must prove the defendant intended to murder his victim, not merely cut his head off.")
The jury deliberated less than three hours. When the Chief Clerk read the jury's first verdict, finding Claude Williams not guilty, a huge roar went up in the courtroom. As the string of not guilty verdicts continued, the cheers increased. Soon hats and confetti were flying in the air and players and spectators pounding the backs of jurors in approval. Several jurors lifted players to their shoulders and paraded them around the courtroom.
Joe Jackson told reporters, "The jury could not have returned a fairer verdict, but I don't want to go back to organized baseball--I'm through with it." Buck Weaver said, "I had nothing to do with this so-called conspiracy I believe that I should get my old position back. I cannot express my contempt for Bill Burns." Claude Williams asked, "How could the verdict have been anything else?" Gandil also claimed "never have any doubt about the verdict" and blamed the whole trial ordeal on "those two liars, Bill Burns and Billy Maharg." Eddie Cicotte, while shaking hands with jurors, had little to say about the trial outcome: "Talk, you say? I talked once in this building, never again."
Defendants and lawyers with jury after the trial acquittal
The players joy was short-lived. The day after the jury's verdict, the new Commissioner of Baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, released a statement to the press:
Landis was true to his word. Despite the best efforts of some of the players, especially Buck Weaver, to gain reinstatement, none of the Eight Men Out would ever again put on a major league uniform.
What happened in 1919 still has relevance to a debate today: Should Shoeless Joe Jackson, the man with the third highest lifetime batting average in baseball (behind only Cobb and Hornsby) be admitted to the Hall of Fame? His actions in 1919 dishonored the game, but he wasn't a ringleader in the fix and came to regret his role. Over the years, many fans and former players, including the great Ted Williams, have argued for Jackson's enshrinement at Cooperstown. Williams said:
Chicago White Sox on trial
On October 22, 1920, eight Chicago White Sox players and five gamblers were indicted on nine counts of conspiracy and fraud including throwing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.
The trial started in July of 1921. The non-players involved were being accused of betting on a 1919 World Series game featuring the White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. The players were suspected of taking bribes to lose the game. A rumor started by Abe Attell who told a reporter from the Cleveland News, and turned the situation into one of the biggest scandals in baseball history.
One of the indicted players was 32-year-old Shoeless Joe Jackson who spent five seasons with the White Sox after playing with the Philadelphia Athletics and the Cleveland Naps. He received his nickname after taking his shoes off for an at-bat because they were giving him blisters.
Unfortunately, after they were accused of throwing a World Series game for $5,000 game Comissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned them for life even after being acquitted of all charges. Fans still want a jury to exonerate the teammates and put Jackson in the Hall of Fame.
“God knows I gave my best in baseball at all times and no man on earth can truthfully judge me otherwise.” -Shoeless Joe Jackson
“(Shoeless Joe) Jackson’s fall from grace is one of the real tragedies of baseball. I always thought he was more sinned against than sinning.” – Connie Mack
“I copied (Shoeless Joe) Jackson’s style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen, the greatest natural hitter I ever saw. He’s the guy who made me a hitter.” -Babe Ruth
World Series Scandal: Eight ‘Black Sox’ Indicted
The 28 th of September 1920 was a dark day in the history of baseball. The sport was enjoying a revival in fans’ interest after the disruption of WWI, and two of the premier teams – the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians – were going down to the wire in a tight pennant race as the season neared its end. Meanwhile, a grand jury in Chicago’s Cook County was investigating rumors of corruption in the national pastime, and that morning two famous players, pitcher Eddie Cicotte and outfielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, admitted the 1919 World Series had been fixed.
Photo: 1919 Chicago White Sox. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
That afternoon, the grand jury handed down indictments against eight of the Chicago White Sox players the “Black Sox” scandal was now public knowledge, and would forever be a blight on the sport’s reputation.
Photo: “Fix These Faces in Your Memory.” Credit: The Sporting News (7 October 1920) Wikimedia Commons.
During the players’ month-long trial the following summer, Cicotte and Jackson’s signed confessions had mysteriously disappeared, other evidence was lacking, and a jury deliberated less than three hours before deciding all eight players were innocent. However, baseball knew it had a problem, and the team owners created the office of baseball commissioner so that someone would have the authority to clean up the game.
The first man appointed to that role, federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, immediately exerted his authority the day after the trial ended by banning all eight “Black Sox” players from the game for life.
Commissioner Landis’s judgment was firm and left no room for doubt: “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.”
Here is a transcription of this article:
EIGHT WHITE SOX PLAYERS INDICTED: LATER SUSPENDED
By International News Service.
CHICAGO, Sept. 28. – Indictments against eight members of the Chicago White Sox for alleged crookedness in the 1919 World Series were voted by the Cook County grand jury, which has been probing conditions in organized baseball, this afternoon. The men indicted are:
Chick Gandil, former first baseman Fred McMullin, utility infielder “Happy” Felsch, center fielder “Swede” Risberg, shortstop Eddie Cicotte, pitcher Claude Williams, pitcher Joe Jackson, left fielder and “Buck” Weaver, third baseman.
The true bills charge conspiracy to commit an illegal act.
Charles A. Comiskey, owner of the White Sox, announced immediately after he heard of the voting of the indictments by the grand jury, that all eight of the players would stand suspended from the White Sox. This is virtually the elimination of the White Sox from the pennant race as none of the eight men, several of whom are bulwarks of the club, will be permitted to play in any of the remaining games of the season.
The action of Comiskey in suspending those indicted leaves Eddie Collins, Ray Schalk, John Collins and Amos Strunk as the only regular fielders in good standing, and Dick Kerr and Red Faber as the only regular pitchers.
Comiskey issued the following statement, addressed to each of the indicted players:
“You and each of you are hereby notified of your indefinite suspension as a member of the Chicago American League Baseball Club. If you can prove your innocence you will be returned to the team in good standing. If you are found guilty you are out of organized baseball for the rest of your lives.”
Eddie Cicotte was immediately taken into custody by an officer and taken to the criminal court building.
Eddie Cicotte, star pitcher, was one of the first witnesses before the grand jury today and his testimony is believed to have been one of the factors that induced the grand jury to return the indictments. He is said to have made a complete confession and to have signed an immunity waiver. His admissions are declared to have verified the statement of “Billy” Mahart, Philadelphia pugilist, who accused Cicotte of having been the principal in the promotion of the “fixed” series.
The men indicted are the eight men said to have been implicated in the $100,000 bribe to throw the series and whose bonus checks were held up by the White Sox management while an investigation was made after the series closed last Fall.
McMullin, Gandil and Cicotte were mentioned in several stories as the principals in the arrangements for the huge bribe which Abe Attell, former featherweight champion, is alleged to have undertaken to raise.
McMullin had been named as the chief paymaster for the gambling clique.
Note: An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s