Black Sox Scandal

views updated May 23 2018

Black Sox Scandal

Although gambling scandals have been a part of professional baseball since the sport's beginning, no scandal threatened the game's stature as "the national pastime" more than the revelations that eight members of the Chicago White Sox had conspired to throw the 1919 World Series. Termed the "Black Sox Scandal," the event will go down in history as one of the twentieth century's most notorious sports debacles.

The Chicago White Sox of the World War I period were one of the most popular teams in the major leagues. They were led on the field by "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, an illiterate South Carolinian whose.356 career batting average is the third highest ever, and pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams. The Sox were owned by Charles A. Comiskey, a nineteenth-century ballplayer notorious for paying his star players as little as possible; Cicotte, who led the American League with 29 wins in 1919, earned just $5,500 that season. Comiskey's stinginess included not paying for the team's laundry in 1918—the team continued to play in their dirty uniforms, which is when the sobriquet "Black Sox" originated.

During the 1919 season, the White Sox dominated the American League standings. Several players on the team demanded that Comiskey give them raises. He refused. First baseman Chick Gandil began discussing throwing the World Series with his fellow players. The eight Sox players who attended meetings on throwing the Series were Cicotte, Gandil, Williams, Jackson, shortstop Swede Risberg, third basemen Fred McMullin and Buck Weaver, and outfielder Happy Felsch. In mid-September, Gandil met with small-time Boston gambler "Sport" Sullivan in New York, telling him his teammates were interested in throwing the upcoming World Series if Sullivan could deliver them $80,000. Two more gamblers, ex-major league pitcher Bill Burns and former boxer Billy Maharg, agreed to contribute money. These three gamblers contacted New York kingpin Arnold Rothstein, who agreed to put up the full $80,000.

Cicotte pitched the Series opener against the Reds. As a sign to the gamblers that the fix was on, he hit the first batter with a pitch. Almost instantly, the gambling odds across the country shifted from the White Sox to the Reds. The Sox fumbled their way to a 9-1 loss in Game One.

Throughout the Series, the White Sox made glaring mistakes on the field—fielders threw to the wrong cutoff men, baserunners were thrown out trying to get an extra base, reliable bunters could not make sacrifices, and control pitchers such as Williams began walking batters. Most contemporary sportswriters were convinced something was corrupt. Chicago sportswriter Hugh Fullerton marked dubious plays on his scorecard and later discussed them with Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson.

The 1919 Series was a best-of-nine affair, and the underdog Reds led four games to one after five games. When the gamblers' money had not yet arrived, the frustrated Sox began playing to win, beating Cincinnati in the sixth and seventh games. Before Williams started in the eighth game, gamblers approached him and warned him his wife would be harmed if he made it through the first inning.Williams was knocked out of the box after allowing three runs in the first inning. The Cincinnati Reds won the Series with a commanding 10-5 win.

After the Series, Gandil, who had pocketed $35,000 of the $80,000, retired to California. Fullerton wrote columns during the following year, insisting that gamblers had reached the White Sox; he was roundly criticized by the baseball establishment and branded a malcontent.

The fixing of the 1919 Series became public in September 1920, when Billy Maharg announced that several of the World Series games had been thrown. Eddie Cicotte broke down and confessed his involvement in the fixing; he claimed he took part in taking money "for the wife and kiddies." Joe Jackson, who during the Series batted a robust.375, signed a confession acknowledging wrongdoing. Upon leaving the courthouse, legend has it that a tearful boy looked up to him and pleaded, "Say it ain't so, Joe." "I'm afraid it is," Jackson allegedly replied.

On September 28, 1920 a Chicago grand jury indicted the eight players. They were arraigned in early 1921. That summer they were tried on charges of defrauding the public. The accused were represented by a team of expensive lawyers paid for by Comiskey. At the trial it was revealed that the signed confessions of Jackson, Cicotte, and Williams had been stolen. The defense lawyers maintained that there were no laws on the books against fixing sporting events.

Following a brief deliberation, the eight were found not guilty on August 2, 1921. The impact of the allegation, however, was undeniable. Kennesaw Mountain Landis, a former Federal judge elected as organized baseball's first commissioner in November 1920, declared, "No player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a ball game are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball."

The eight Black Sox players spent the rest of their lives in exile. Jackson played semi-pro baseball under assumed names. Several appealed to be reinstated, but Landis and his successors invariably rejected them. Perhaps the saddest story of all was Buck Weaver's. While he had attended meetings to fix the Series, he had never accepted money from the gamblers and had never been accused of fixing games by the prosecution (in fact, Weaver batted.324 during the Series). But for not having told Comiskey or baseball officials about the fix, he was tried with his seven teammates and thrown out of baseball with them. The last surviving member of the Black Sox, Swede Risberg, died in October 1975.

Most historians credit baseball's subsequent survival to two figures. From on high, Landis ruled major league baseball with an iron fist until his death in 1944 and gambling scandals decreased substantially throughout organized baseball. On the field of play, Babe Ruth's mythic personality and home run hitting ability brought back fans disillusioned by the 1919 scandal, while winning the game millions of new fans.

—Andrew Milner

Further Reading:

Asinof, Eliot. Eight Men Out. New York, Holt, 1963.

Light, Jonathan Frase. The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland, 1997.

Wallop, Douglass. Baseball: An Informal History. New York, W.W.Norton, 1969.

Black Sox Scandal

views updated May 21 2018


BLACK SOX SCANDAL. The Black Sox scandal began with the World Series of October 1919, when eight members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team allegedly conspired to lose to the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds won five games to three at a time when the series could go to nine games. The scandal did not become public until almost a year later, however. In August 1921, a jury found the accused conspirators innocent. Nonetheless, the day after their acquittal the newly appointed commissioner of major league baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned them from professional baseball for the rest of their lives.

Gambling had been a presence in baseball long before the Black Sox scandal, and the major league team owners had done little to limit its influence. Rumors of a fix circulated before, during, and after the 1919 series, but the White Sox owner, Charles Comiskey, chose not to investigate them. Prompted by concerns of several journalists and baseball executives, a grand jury investigated allegations over a fixed 1920 season game, which eventually led to investigation of the 1919 series and the indictment of the eight players. None of the gamblers, such as the notorious Arnold Rothstein, who organized the fix, were charged with a crime, however, partly because documents were stolen and bribes paid.

Five of the players—infielders Arnold "Chick" Gandil and Charles "Swede" Risberg, outfielder Oscar "Happy" Felsch, and pitchers Ed Cicotte and Claude "Lefty" Williams—were guilty of throwing the five games. Fred McMullin only batted twice in the series, and infielder Buck Weaver's only crime was remaining silent about the fix. The part played by the great hitter "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, who was illiterate, has been debated ever since.

Baseball survived the Black Sox scandal mostly because gambling's influence declined and Babe Ruth, beginning his Yankee career in 1920, transformed the game.


Asinof, Eliot. Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1963.

Seymour, Harold. Baseball: The Golden Age. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.

White, G. Edward. Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself, 1903–1953. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.


See alsoBaseball ; Gambling ; andpicture (facing page).