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'Black Sox' Trial: 1921

"Black Sox" Trial: 1921

Defendants: Edward Victor "Eddie" Cicotte, Oscar Emil "Happy" Felsch, Arnold "Chick" Gandil, Joseph Jefferson Wofford, "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, Frederick William "Fred" McMullin, Charles August "Swede" Risberg, George Daniel "Buck" Weaver, Claude Preston "Lefty" Williams, David Zelser, and Carl Zork
Crimes Charged: Statutory conspiracy and common-law conspiracy to fix the outcome of the 1919 World Series
Chief Defense Lawyers: Michael Ahern, Henry A. Berger, A. Morgan Frumberg, Max Lusker, Thomas D. Nash, Thomas J. O'Brien, and Benedictine J. Short
Chief Prosecutors: George E. Gorman, Edward Prindeville, and John F. Tyrrell
Judge: Hugo N. Friend
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Dates of Trial: July 18-August 3, 1921
Verdict: Not guilty

SIGNIFICANCE: The first American trial involving national sports figuresheroes to many after the horrors of WWIended an ineffective three-person National Baseball Commission. It also saw the arrival of Kenesaw Mountain Landis to the new office of Baseball Commissioner. The day after the acquittal verdict, Landis ruled that the eight players who had been tried were banned from playing professional baseball for life.

In 1918, the baseball season ended on Labor Day to show baseball's support of the nation's World War effort. The next year, apparently to make up for lost time, the World Series was increased from the best of seven to the best of nine games. The National League's Cincinnati Reds went to bat against the American League's Chicago White Sox that September.

Cicotte Hits First Batter

In the first inning of game one, White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte faced leadoff batter Maurice Rath. Famed for his pinpoint control, Cicotte had won 29 games with a 1.82 ERA (earned run average) in the regular season. Only Walter Johnson was considered a better pitcher. Cicotte hit Rath smack between the shoulder blades, and by the end of the fourth inning he had given up seven hits and six runs. The Reds won, 9 to 1.

In game two, Chicago's "Lefty" Williams, who had a 23-11 record in a league-leading 40 starts, uncharacteristically walked six and struck out only one. The Sox lost, 4 to 2.

Dickie Kerr won game three for Chicago with a three-hit shutout. Cicotte lost game four in another three-hit shutout, forChicagoand the Reds took game five with series' third successive three-hit shutout. Game six saw Williams give up three hits and a walk in a four-run sixth inning that also brought a remarkably unusual throwing error by center fielder "Happy" Felsch. The Reds won again, 5 to 0.

Kerr and Cicotte won games six and seven for the Sox. But Williams, pitching game eight, was pulled in the first inning after yielding two singles and two doubles with only one out. "Shoeless Joe" Jacksonwho, with a lifetime average of. 356 was considered a hitter second only to Ty Cobb-homered and doubled to no avail. The Reds won, 10 to 5, to take the series, 5 to 3.

Rumors began to spread about the reasons for Chicago's loss. Sportswriters asked how come Cicotte, an ace at dusting batters, hit leadoff man Rath and blew that opening game? How could Williams, a 23-game winner, lose all 3 of his series' games? Could it be true that White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey paid his players so little they would stoop to accepting bribes? Comiskey was a known tightwad who charged his players 25 cents for cleaning their uniforms. Hence, they were called the "Black Sox" because, refusing to pay, they played in dirty outfits.

"Say It Ain't So, Joe"

In September 1920, a grand jury began investigating allegations by a professional boxer, William Maharg, that he and former White Sox pitcher Bill Burns had been go-betweens for White Sox players who fixed games for gamblers. Summoned before the grand jury, Cicotte, Felsch, Jackson, and Williams admitted taking bribes for throwing the World Series. Comiskey suspended seven players (in addition to "Chick" Gandil, who was alleged to have made the deal with the gamblers and who was already suspended in a salary dispute).

To fans, the heartbreaker was the accusation against Jackson, who not only batted. 351 in the regular 1919 season but, in the World Series loss, hit for. 375 and achieved a perfect 1.000 fielding average. He had been endeared to fans as "Shoeless Joe" since 1908 when, playing for Greenville, South Carolina, he played one game in his stocking feet when a new pair of spikes gave him blisters. After the confessions, writer Charley Owens of the Chicago Daily News penned a lump-in-the-throat tribute headlined, "Say it ain't so, Joe." The phrase became legend when it was erroneously attributed to a child outside the trial's courthouse.

The suspended players at this point went back on their confessions and now demanded to have their day in court. New indictments were brought, and extradition proceedings failed to round up several named "fixers," including former featherweight boxing champion Abe Attell, former White Sox player Hal Chase, White Sox 1919 utility man "Fred" McMullen, and gamblers Rachel Brown and John J. "Sport" Sullivan.

As the trial opened on July 18, 1921, with Judge Hugo N. Friend presiding, Sox pitcher Bill Burns, who had turned state's evidence, testified that the indicted players had agreed to make the series "a made-to-order one" for famed big-time gambler Arnold Rothstein of New York (who wasn't indicted), Attell, Maharg, and indicted gamblers David Zelser and Carl Zork. Burns quoted Cicotte as saying, "I will throw the first game if I have to throw the ball clear out of the Cincinnati park."

Burns said he met with the players and told them the gamblers would pay $20,000 as they lost each of five games. He also said Jackson was not present when he had talked with the players.

A Double, Double Cross

After the White Sox lost the first game, said Burns, Attell failed to provide the first $20,000. Still unpaid after the second game and suspecting a double cross, the players accepted a sop of $10,000 just before the third game began, but played that one to winand did. Thus the gamblers, betting heavily on Cincinnati, lost all they had won on the first two games.

July 22 brought the news to the courtroom that immunity waivers signed by Cicotte, Jackson, and Weaverproving that rewards had not been promised to the defendants for their confessionshad disappeared. Gone also were the confessions themselves and other documentary evidence supporting the indictments. (American League president Ban Johnson publicly charged Arnold Rothstein with. paying $10,000 for the confessions and, not finding his name mentioned, giving them to a New York newspaper editor who then offered them for sale.)

Judge Charles A. McDonald, who had directed the grand jury inquiry, testified that Cicotte had told him that after throwing the first game he had found $10,000 under his hotel pillow. Then, said the judge, Cicotte's conscience began to bother him and he decided not to throw another gamebut he did not return the money.

As the prosecution and the defense rested, Judge Friend told the jury the state had to prove that it was the intent of the ballplayers and gamblers not merely to throw the games but to defraud the public and others as well. After deliberating for two hours and 47 minutes, the jury took only one ballot to vote not guilty. With hats sailing into the air, the several hundred people jamming the courtroom shouted "Hooray for the clean Sox!" Bailiffs pounded for order and then, seeing the judge's smile, joined in the whistling and cheering.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis, recently appointed to the new office of Baseball Commissioner to clean up the game in the wake of the scandal, was not amused. He imposed a lifetime ban from professional baseball on the eight indicted, and acquitted, players. "Regardless of the verdict of juries," he proclaimed, "no player that throws a ball game, no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball. Baseball is entirely competent to protect itself against crooks, both inside and outside the game."

Bernard Ryan, Jr.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Asinoff, Eliot. Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series. New York: Henry Holt, 1963.

Burns, Ken, and Geoffrey C. Ward. Baseball. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Gropman, Donald. Say lt Ai,'t So, Joe! The True Stoy of Shoeless Joe Jackson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1979.

Luhrs, Victor. The Great Baseball Mystery The 1919 lW'orld Series. South Brunswick, N.J.: A.S. Barnes, 1966.

Thompson, Joe. Growing Up with "Shoeless Joe." Laurel Fork, Va.: JTI Publishing, 1997.

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