Black Sox Scandal

The eight "Chicago Black Sox"

The Black Sox Scandal was a Major League Baseball match fixing incident in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of intentionally losing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for money from a gambling syndicate led by Arnold Rothstein. The fallout from the scandal resulted in the appointment of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the first Commissioner of Baseball, granting him absolute control over the sport in order to restore its integrity.

Despite acquittals in a public trial in 1921, Judge Landis permanently banned all eight men from professional baseball. The punishment was eventually defined to also include banishment from post-career honors such as consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Despite requests for reinstatement in the decades that followed (particularly in the case of Shoeless Joe Jackson), the ban remains in force as of 2018. [1]


Tension in the clubhouse and Charles Comiskey

1919 Chicago White Sox team photo

White Sox club owner Charles Comiskey was widely disliked by the players and was resented for his miserliness. Comiskey long had a reputation for underpaying his players, even though they were one of the top teams in the league and had already won the 1917 World Series.

Because of baseball's reserve clause, any player who refused to accept a contract was prohibited from playing baseball on any other professional team. Players could not change teams without permission from their current team, and without a union the players had no bargaining power. Comiskey was probably no worse than most owners—in fact, Chicago had the largest team payroll in 1919. In the era of the reserve clause, gamblers could find players on many teams looking for extra cash—and they did. [2] [3]

In addition, the clubhouse was divided into two factions. One group resented the more straitlaced players (later called the "Clean Sox"), a group that included players like second baseman Eddie Collins, a graduate of Columbia College of Columbia University, catcher Ray Schalk, and pitcher Red Faber. By contemporary accounts, the two factions almost never spoke to each other on or off the field, and the only thing they had in common was a resentment of Comiskey. [4]

Planning the conspiracy of the Black Sox Scandal

A meeting of White Sox ballplayers—including those committed to going ahead and those just ready to listen—took place on September 21, in Chick Gandil's room at the Ansonia Hotel in New York. George Daniel "Buck" Weaver was the only player to attend the meetings who did not receive money. Nevertheless, he was later banned with the others for knowing about the fix but not reporting it.

Although he hardly played in the series, utility infielder Fred McMullin got word of the fix and threatened to report the others unless he was in on the payoff. As a small coincidence, McMullin was a former teammate of "Sleepy" Bill Burns, who had a minor role in the fix. Both played for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. [5] Star outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson was mentioned as a participant, though his involvement is disputed.

The scheme got an unexpected boost when the straitlaced Faber could not pitch due to a bout with the flu. Years later, Schalk said that if Faber had been available, the fix would have likely never happened, since Faber would have almost certainly gotten starts that went to Cicotte and/or Williams. [6]

On October 2, the day of Game One, there were rumors amongst gamblers that the series was fixed, and a sudden influx of money being bet on Cincinnati caused the odds against them to fall rapidly. These rumors also reached the press box where a number of correspondents, including Hugh Fullerton of the Chicago Herald and Examiner and ex-player and manager Christy Mathewson, resolved to compare notes on any plays and players that they felt were questionable.

However, most fans and observers were taking the series at face value. On October 2, the Philadelphia Bulletin published a poem which would quickly prove to be ironic:

Still, it really doesn't matter,
After all, who wins the flag.
Good clean sport is what we're after,
And we aim to make our brag
To each near or distant nation
Whereon shines the sporting sun
That of all our games gymnastic
Base ball is the cleanest one!

After throwing a strike with his first pitch of the Series, Eddie Cicotte's second pitch struck Cincinnati leadoff hitter Morrie Rath in the back, delivering a pre-arranged signal confirming the players' willingness to go through with the fix. [6]

Claude Williams, one of the "Eight Men Out", lost three games, a Series record. Dickie Kerr, who was not part of the fix, won both of his starts. But the gamblers were now reneging on their promised progress payments (to be paid after each game lost). The gamblers claimed that all the money was let out on bets, and was in the hands of the bookmakers. After Game 5, the players who were in on the fix went back to their normal way of playing and won Games 6 and 7 of the best-of-nine Series. Before Game 8, threats of violence were made on the gamblers' behalf. [7] Williams started Game 8, but gave up four straight one-out hits for three runs before manager Kid Gleason relieved him. The White Sox lost Game 8 (and the series) on October 9, 1919. [8]