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The Royal Scam

Ed Botti

Since the Yankees are in the middle of a 3 game series with the Chicago White Sox, and since we did not have a game last night to discuss, analyze and critique, and since the Yankees and White Sox wore uniforms Thursday night in the cornfield that resembled the nostalgic uniforms of the early 1900’s, I thought it would be interesting to look back at one of the more notorious and controversial incidents in Baseball history.

The 1919 Chicago White Sox scandal, better known as the “Black Sox” or even “The Big Fix”.

Photo AP

Photo AP

Many books and movies have been written and filmed through the years about this scandal. “Eight Men Out” is a very good movie that tells one perspective of the story.

So let’s take a look into this controversial story that cost 8 men their careers and reputations.

Following a 100 win season and a World Series championship over the New York Giants in 1917 season, the 1918 Chicago White Sox, under Manager Pants Rowland were depleted of many of their star players due to World War I, and finished off with a disappointing 57-67 record.

Disagreements with Charles Comiskey, owner of the White Sox, got Pants Rowland fired after the conclusion of the 1918 season. On December 31, 1918 Comiskey would hire William “Kid” Gleason to lead his 1919 White Sox.

The mandate: Get back to the fall classic.

The White Sox, now back to a full roster following the end of the War picked up where they left off and won the 1919 American League Pennant by 3 ½ games over the renamed Cleveland Indians, who changed their name after the 1914 season from the Cleveland Naps to the Cleveland Indians.

In the National League the Cincinnati Reds replaced Manager Christy Mathewson, who left the team in 1918 to enlist in the Army to serve during World War I. Mathewson was inadvertently gassed during chemical training drills and subsequently developed tuberculosis. Following his discharge from the Army, he was too sick to manage the Reds. The Reds replaced Mathewson with Pat Moran, who managed the Phillies from 1915-1918.

Moran led the 1919 upstart Reds to a 96-44 record and won the National League Pennant by 9 games over the New York Giants.

As the Spanish Flu continued its path across the globe, the ground work was in place for a great World Series that could have been remembered on its own merits as a celebratory event following the end of World War I.

But fate would step in and change history.

There have been different versions told throughout the years, but from what I have read, it seems to have all started when White Sox first baseman “Chick” Gandil and a Boston based known gambler named Joseph “Sport” Sullivan met and hatched the whole devious plan.

The proposition: Fix and manipulate the 1919 World Series.

Up until that point in time, there were said to be instances when discontented Major League baseball players took payoffs from book makers in exchange for inside information on injuries and other information that should have been kept within club house walls. But the idea of fixing the World Series was taking the business relationship to an entirely different level of deception and fraud.

Nonetheless, a plan was laid out and Gandil went to work trying to covertly recruit co-conspirators.

The bait: $100,000

Within a short period of time he was successful and recruited shortstop Charles “Swede” Risberg, pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams, and outfielder Oscar “Happy” Felsch into the scheme.

Buck Weaver, the third baseman agreed early on to take part in the plot, but later claimed that he balked on the whole scheme. As is normal with a group of people that spend so much time together, the scheme leaked out and utility infielder Fred McMullin wanted in, and they made a deal. It was also reported that he approached a star outfielder coming off of a season that saw him hit .351 and finish fourth in the league to Ty Cobb who hit .384.

Photo: Colorization of Joe Jackson by Don Stokes

Photo: Colorization of Joe Jackson by Don Stokes

That outfielder was known as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.

As Gandil did his part in the scam, so did Sullivan, whose job was to actually raise the payoff money. It is speculated that Sullivan worked deals with known wise guys, crooks and mobsters at that time including “Sleepy” Bill Burns, Bill Maharg and Abe Attell (ex World Featherweight Champion from 1906-1912) who all went to work raising the cash to pay off the White Sox players.

Infamous New York gangster and mob leader Arnold Rothstein is said to have been a main “investor” but his connection has never been proven.

It is also insinuated the Gandil and his co-conspirators became even greedier and may have developed multiple arrangements with many other syndicates and gambling organizations.

Years later Abe Attell would proclaim “They not only sold the series, but they sold it wherever they could get a buck.”

Initially, local bookmakers had the Sox winning the World Series over the underdog Cincinnati Reds by as much as three-to-one odds.

Those odds would soon shift dramatically after the insiders in the scam began betting boat loads of cash on the Reds. Raising suspicion throughout.

As the series started to unfold, the streets were full of rumors that many White Sox players were throwing the series and were being paid off by big time gamblers and mobsters. In Chicago in 1919, this was not too farfetched at all.

Perceptions that the series was fixed began to heighten after game 1 of the 9 game series on October 1, 1919.

Yes, the World Series was a best of 9, although a game 9 was never played during a 9 game series.

After hitting a batter with one of his first pitches, a signal that the scam was on, pitcher Eddie Cicotte would then make a succession of unusual and uncharacteristic slip-ups and mistakes on the mound, as the crowd of 30,511 Reds fans watched.

The White Sox lost the game 9-1 as the Reds banged out 14 hits, putting up 5 runs in the fourth inning alone. Chicago managed a measly 6 hits and scored their lone run in the second inning on an RBI single by none other than Chick Gandil. The New York Times ran a piece that stated “Never before in the history of America’s biggest baseball spectacle has a pennant-winning club received such a disastrous drubbing in an opening game”.

In game 2, the White Sox banged out 10 hits included a 3-4 performance by Shoeless Joe, but ended up on the wrong side of a 4-2 game going 0-7 with RISP. Cincinnati did all they could to help by committing 3 errors. White Sox pitcher Lefty Williams helped the Reds by walking three batters in a row.

Game 3 would move to Comiskey Park and 29,126 saw the White Sox shut out the Reds 3-0 behind a complete game 3 hitter from lefty Dickey Kerr. Shoeless Joe would go 2-3 and was now hitting .455 in the first 3 games. Chick Gandil went 1-3 with 2 RBI and raised his average to .364.

Game 4 at Comiskey in front of 29,126 watched the Reds shut out the White Sox 2-0. Eddie Cicotte took the loss by giving up 5 hits, with 0 walks in 9 innings.

Game 5 played on Monday, October 6, 1919 was another shut out for the Reds. This time the Reds won 5-0 and took a commanding 4-1 lead in the series.

The whole thing was proceeding as planned. However according to later reports, many of the “on the take” White Sox players had suddenly started to grow agitated.

They had allegedly arranged to receive their cash payoffs in five $20,000 installments. One payment after each thrown game. Apparently the sleazy bookmakers and gamblers failed to produce the full amount.

To put this in perspective, the entire 1919 payroll of the White Sox was $88,461. An average of $3,538.44 per player (not including mid-season minor league call ups).

Following the game 5 loss the now enraged ballplayers purportedly called off the scam once and for all, and committed to play to win for the rest of the series.

In Game 6 the White Sox beat the Reds 5-4 on a 10 inning effort by pitcher Dickey Kerr, winning his second game of the series. Shoeless Joe would get another 2 hits of the total 10 banged out by the White Sox. Buck Weaver went 3-5.

Series: 4-2 Reds.

In Game 7 the White Sox would get 10 more hits in a convincing 4-1 win, with the help of 4 more Cincinnati errors. Shoeless Joe would go 2-4 bringing his series average to .370. Eddie Cicotte threw a complete game 7 hitter.

Series: 4-3 Reds

Going into a deal with a mobster is never a good idea. Pulling out of a deal with mobsters is even worse, as many of the White Sox players later spoke of having received death threats against their families.

Whether it was due to intimidation and threats or purely just a great performance by a surprisingly strong opponent, the White Sox would go on to lose game 8 to the Reds 10-5, giving Cincinnati their first ever World Series championship.

Shoeless Joe would go 2-5 and drive in 3 more runs. Finishing the series with a .375 average.

Rumors and speculation of a fixed series would continue in the aftermath of the championship defeat. Sportswriter Hugh Fullerton investigated the 1919 series and later penned a famous piece for the New York Evening World named “Is Big League Baseball Being Run for Gamblers, With Players in the Deal?”

Charles Comiskey owner of the Chicago White Sox didn’t buy into the story and was quoted saying “I believe my boys fought the battles of the recent World Series on the level.” Evidence would later demonstrate that Comiskey was tipped off about a potential fix early on in the series, and that he was trying to conceal the story to protect his business interests.

The scam actually seemed to be dying down in the public eye and even in the League offices and it might never have been seriously brought to light until it was alleged on August 31, 1920 that gamblers fixed a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies.

A grand jury assembled to investigate the Cubs – Phillies game, and supposition quickly turned to the previous year’s World Series.

Just as this was unfolding, Bill Maharg decided to go public with his involvement in the scam.

The heat was now turned up on the players. Eddie Cicotte agreed to testify before the grand jury, in a tearful confession and admission of his involvement in the scandal. He stated “I don’t know why I did it…I needed the money. I had the wife and kids.” The players started to come clean. Shoeless Joe testified and admitted to having accepted $5,000 from his teammates.

Over the next week, Lefty Williams and Oscar Felsch would also acknowledge their involvement in the fix.

Gandil, Cicotte, Williams, Risberg, Felsch, McMullin, Weaver and Jackson now christened the “Black Sox” were all indicted on nine counts of conspiracy In October 1920.

They were all completely condemned in the media for “selling out baseball” but somehow the players breezed through their June 1921 trial.

Amazingly all the paper records relating to their grand jury testimony and confessions disappeared under mysterious and unexplained circumstances.

Many believed that Comiskey and mobster Arnold Rothstein arranged to have the documents stolen as part of a cover up. The prosecution’s case vanished along with the testimony and confessions.

Chicago Tribune historical photo

Chicago Tribune historical photo

On August 2, 1921 the Black Sox were acquitted on all counts and charges.

For the 8 Black Sox the celebration would not last long. One day following the acquittal, recently appointed as baseball’s first commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, announced that all eight players were forever banned from organized baseball.

Landis wrote “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ballgame, no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame, no player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.”

Landis’ decision and proclamation essentially ended the careers of the eight Black Sox. Although some of them would later attempt to win back reinstatement in the league, Commissioner Landis confirmed that none of the discredited players would ever set foot in a big league ball park again.

The judgement was particularly severe for Buck Weaver, who was thrown out of baseball even though he supposedly backed out of the scam before it even started. The reality is he knew about it, and chose not to do anything about it. To me, that’s just as bad.

Joe Jackson had admitted to receiving money from Black Sox teammates, but later maintained that he was an unwilling participant and had tried to tip off Comiskey to the scheme.

“Shoeless Joe’s” actual degree of involvement remains uncertain and unclear and has become the topic of much debate. His series leading batting average of .375, and flawless defense suggests that he took no active role in fixing the 1919 championship.

It has been reported that he refused the $5,000 bribe on two separate occasions, even though it would effectively double his salary with the White Sox, only to have teammate Lefty Williams throw the cash on the floor of his hotel room.

Chick Gandil and others would subsequently provide inconsistent portrayals of what actually happened in October of 1919 bringing forth even more uncertainty about who was really complicit in the 1919 World Series scandal.

Photo AP

Photo AP

Arnold Rothstein (above), who was one of the most probable suspects for organizing and financing the scandal, was never even charged with a single crime.

Rothstein maintained his innocence and non-involvement until he was assassinated on November 4, 1928 in Manhattan. Widespread rumors that he made a fortune betting on the series continue to this day.

Following the banning, Shoeless Joe played baseball and managed for a number of semi pro teams in Georgia and South Carolina, using different aliases on each team.

In 1933 he relocated to Greenville, South Carolina and opened a restaurant and then a liquor store appropriately named “Joe Jackson’s Liquor Store”.

One summer day in the mid 1930’s Ty Cobb and a friend entered the liquor store. Shoeless Joe made believe he did not recognize Cobb. When Cobb completed his shopping he looked at Shoeless Joe and asked “Don’t you know me, Joe?”

Jackson softly replied “Sure, I know you, Ty, but I wasn’t sure you wanted to know me. A lot of them don’t”.

Cobb-Jackson Cleveland 1913 AP

Cobb-Jackson Cleveland 1913 AP

As he aged, Jackson began to suffer from heart trouble. In 1951, at the age of 64, Jackson died of a heart attack.

Years after the scandal broke, the other seven Black Sox substantiated that Jackson was never at any of the meetings. Williams stated that they only mentioned Jackson’s name to give their scheme more plausibility.

Until his very last breath, he maintained that he had nothing to do with the scandal of the 1919 Black Sox.

As Chicago Daily News reporter Charley Owens famously wrote back in 1920 “Say it aint’ so, Joe”.


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