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Black Sox scandal

The 1919 Chicago White Sox
The "Black Sox" baseball betting scandal is the name given to the conspiracy between a group of players and gamblers which led to the Chicago White Sox deliberately losing the 1919 World Series. It led to the banning of eight players, the introduction of a new commissioner and strict rules prohibiting gambling.

The conspiracy was the brainchild of White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil and Joseph "Sport" Sullivan, a professional gambler of his acquaintance. During the 1919 baseball season the Chicago White Sox had shown themselves to be the best team in the leagues and, having clinched the American League pennant, were installed as the bookmaker's favourites to defeat the Cincinnati Reds in the Series. At the time, gambling on baseball was rife and there were many stories about fixed games during the regular season, which were typically ignored by team owners and administrators.

Gandil enlisted seven of his teammates, motivated by a mixture of greed and a dislike of penurious club owner Charles Comiskey[?], to implement the fix. The seven were the starting pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude "Lefty" Williams, outfielders Shoeless Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch, and infielders Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver and Fred McMullin. Sullivan and his two associates, Bill Burns and Bill Maharg, somewhat out of their depth, approached the wealthy New York gambler Arnold Rothstein[?] to provide the money for the players, who were promised a total of $100,000. Even before the Series started on October 1 there were were murmurs amongst the gambling community that things were not square, and the influx of money saw the odds on Cincinnati fall rapidly. The rumours also reached the press box where a number of correspondents, including Hugh Fullerton of the Chicago "Herald and Examiner" and the ex-player and manager Christy Mathewson, resolved to compare notes on any plays and players that they felt were questionable.

Table of contents
1 The Fallout

Game One

The first game began at 3pm that day in Cincinatti, with Cicotte on the mound for Chicago, who failed score in the top of the first. In the bottom of that inning Cicotte hit the lead-off hitter in the back with just his second pitch, a prearranged signal to Rothstein that the game was going to be thrown. Despite this, the game remained close for a while, due in part to some excellent defense from the conspirators who did not wish to bring suspicion on themselves. In the fourth, however, Cicotte gave up a sequence of hits, including a two-out triple to the opposing pitcher, as the Reds scored five times to break a 1-1 tie. Cicotte was replaced by a relief pitcher but the damage was done, and the Reds finally triumphed 9-1.

By the evening of that day, there were already signs that things were going wrong. Only Cicotte, who had wisely demanded his $10,000 in advance, had been paid. Burns and Maharg met with Abe Attell, a former world boxing champion who acted as intermediary for Rothstein, but he did not provide the next installment ($20,000), wanting to place it out on bets for the next game. The next morning Gandil met Attell and again demanded their money. Again, the players went unpaid.

Game Two

Although they had not received their money, the players were still willing to go through with the fix. Claude "Lefty" Williams, the starting pitcher in Game Two, was not going to be as obvious as Cicotte. After a shaky start he pitched well until the fourth inning, when he walked three and gave up equally many runs. After that, Williams went back to looking unhittable, giving up only one more run, but a lack of clutch hitting, with Gandil a particular villain, meant that the White Sox lost 4-2. Attell was still in no mood to pay up. Burns managed to get $10,000, which he gave to Gandil, who distributed it among the conspirators. The teams headed to Chicago for the third game.

Game Three

Dickie Kerr, who was to start Game Three for the Sox, was not in on the fix. The original plan was for the conspirators, who disliked Kerr, to lose this game, but by now dissent among the players meant that the plan was in disarray. Burns still believed, however, and gathered the last of his resources to bet on Cincinnati. It was a decision that would leave him broke, as Chicago scored early -- Gandil himself driving in two runs -- and Kerr was masterful, holding the Reds to 3 hits in throwing a complete game shutout and a 3-0 victory.

Game Four

Eddie Cicotte was the Chicago's starter for the fourth game, and he was determined not to look as bad as he had in the first. For the first four innings he and Reds pitcher Jimmy Ring matched zeroes. With one out in the fifth, Cicotte fielded a slow roller, but threw wildly to first, for a two-base error. The next man up singled to center and Cicotte first cut off the throw home and then fumbled the ball, allowing the run to score. When he gave up a double to the next batter the score was 2-0, which was enough of a lead for Ring, who threw a three hit shutout of his own. The Reds led the series 3-1.

After the game, "Sport" Sullivan came through with $20,000 for the players, which Gandil split equally between Risberg, Felsch, Jackson, and Williams, who was due to start Game Five the next day.

Game Five

The next game was delayed by rain for a day and when it got under way, both Williams and Reds pitcher Hod Eller were excellent. By the sixth inning, neither had allowed a runner past first base, before Eller hit a dying quail that fell between Felsch and Jackson. Felsch's throw was off line, and the opposing pitcher was safe at third. Leadoff hitter Morrie Rath hit a single over the drawn-in infield and Eller scored. Heinie Groh[?] walked before Edd Roush hit a double -- the beneficiary of some more doubtful defense from Felsch -- scoring two more runs, and scored himself shortly later. Eller pitched well enough for the four runs to stand up and the Reds were only one game from winning the series.

Game Six

Game Six was held back in Cincinnati. Dickie Kerr, staring for the White Sox, was not as dominant as in Game Three. Aided by three errors, the Reds jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Chicago fought back, tying the game at 4-4 in the sixth, which remained the score into extra innings. In the top of the tenth Gandil drove in Weaver to make it 5-4, and Kerr closed it out to record his, and Chicago's, second win.

Game Seven

Despite the rumours that were already circulating over Cicotte's prior performances, Chicago coach Kid Gleason showed faith in his ace for Game Seven. This time, the knuckleballer did not let him down. Chicago scored early and, for once, it was Cincinnati that made errors in the field. The Reds threatened only briefly in the sixth, losing 4-1, and suddenly the series was close again.

This did not go unnoticed by Sullivan and Rothstein, who were suddenly worried. Prior to the start of the Sox had been strong favourites and few doubted that they could win two games in a row, assuming they were trying to win. Rothstein had been too smart to bet on individual games but had a considerable sum riding on Cincinnati to win the series. The night before the eighth game, Williams, who was due to pitch, was visited by an associate of Sullivan's who left him in no doubt that if he failed to blow the game in the first inning, he and his wife would be in serious danger.

Game Eight

Whatever Williams had been told had made its impression. In the first, throwing nothing but mediocre fastballs, he gave up four straight one-out hits, yielding 3 runs before Gleason replaced him with relief pitcher Bill James, who allowed one of Williams' baserunnners to score. James continued to be ineffective and, although the Sox rallied in the eighth, the Reds ran out 10-5 victors, clinching the series by 5 games to 3.

The White Sox were defeated and throughout the country rumours were rife that the games had been thrown.

The Fallout

The rumours dogged the club throughout the 1920 season, as the White Sox battled the Cleveland Indians for the AL pennant that year, and stories of corruption touched players on other clubs as well. At last, in September 1920, a Grand Jury was convened to investigate.

During the investigation two players, Cicotte and Shoeless Joe Jackson, confessed and the eight players were tried for their role in the fix. Prior to the trial, key evidence went missing from Cook County Courthouse, including the signed confessions of Cicotte and Jackson, who subsequently recanted their confessions. The players were acquitted. Some years later, the missing confessions reappeared in the possession of Comiskey's lawyer.

The Leagues were not so forgiving. Appointing an Illinois Judge, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, to investigate the fix all eight players were banned from organised baseball for life, and Landis was appointed the inaugural Commissioner of Baseball.

The banned players were:

Joe Jackson. The star outfielder, one of the best hitters in the game, confessed to accepting money from the gamblers. (The story told by Hugh Fullerton of a tearful young boy standing on the courthouse steps, calling out "Say it ain't so, Joe!" is almost certainly apocryphal.)

Eddie Cicotte. The pitcher also confessed to accepting money from the gamblers. His first pitch of Game One of the 1919 World Series hit Reds leadoff batter Morrie Rath in the back, which was the pre-arranged signal to the gamblers that the players had accepted the fix.

Oscar "Happy" Felsch, left field.

Claude "Lefty" Williams, pitcher.

Arnold "Chick" Gandil, first base. The leader of the players who were in on the fix.

Fred McMullin, utility infielder. McMullin would not have been included in the fix had he not overheard player conversations. He threatened to tell all if not included.

Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop.

George "Buck" Weaver, third base. Weaver attended the initial meetings, and while he didn't go in on the fix, knew about it. Landis banished him on this basis, stating "Men associating with crooks and gamblers could expect no leniency." Weaver continued to protest his innocence, to little effect, to successive Baseball Commissioners until his death in 1956.


Asinof, Eliot. Eight Men Out

See also: Baseball/History

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