The Black Sox Scandal: How To Ruin A World Series "Fix"

Posted 11/17/19

In the afternoon of October 1st, 1919, Chicago White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte took the mound at the opening game of the World Series...

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

The Black Sox Scandal: How To Ruin A World Series "Fix"

Posted

In the afternoon of October 1st, 1919, Chicago White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte took the mound at the opening game of the World Series. The Sox had recently clinched the American League championship and they were now favored to win the Fall Classic against the Cincinnati Reds. In his second pitch at the bottom of the first inning, Cicotte proceeded to bean the lead-off hitter in the back. The errant throw was a deliberate signal to mob bosses that the fix was on.

At the close of that best-of-9 World Series, the Cincinnati Reds walked away with a 5-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox. The episode became known as the Black Sox Scandal, a notorious blow to the supposedly clean and wholesome sport that was America’s favorite pastime. After months of follow-up investigations and grand jury testimonies, eight members of the White Sox team and five gamblers were implicated in a scheme to throw the 1919 World Series. Though all players were eventually acquitted at the trial, they were subsequently banned from the sport.

Among the disgraced names were star players such as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who still holds the third highest career batting average in MLB, Chick Gandil and Buck Weaver, both accomplished infielders who were World Series champions in 1917, and Eddie Cicotte, the knuckleball specialist who was one of the premier hurlers of his day. Under normal circumstances, these talented athletes would have likely been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but their names would forever be associated with corruption around the game.

In the era of the ‘reserve clause’, long before the players’ union existed, ballplayers who were unhappily tied to their contracts became vulnerable targets for shady gamblers. Betting on games was not uncommon and fixing games was not unheard of. During the 1919 regular season, rumors circulated that the 1918 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs was fixed and that certain players were paid $10,000 to dump the games.

The two leading stars on the White Sox roster, Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver, made only $6,000 a year. The White Sox were also a fractured, disenchanted bunch and the little camaraderie that players shared was their collective hatred of owner Charles Comiskey, whom they regarded as a miserly tyrant that wouldn’t even pay for the cleaning expenses of their uniforms. Though, Comiskey was no worst than the other baseball executives who kept their focus on gate receipts and exploited their players to deliver the best games to the paying public.

Towards the end of the 1919 regular season, White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil started having discussions with a gambling contact about fixing the 1919 World Series. He then tried to recruit willing members into the conspiracy. Eddie Cicotte fell into the lure, needing the money to support his family and a new farm he had recently bought. Along with others who were intrigued by the idea, they all met that Fall at the Ansonia Hotel in New York City during one of the team’s trips. The group decided on a conditional upfront lumpsum payment of $80,000, and if the situation got complicated they would still be able to take the series in the back end.

The precise details of the infamous Black Sox affair remain opaque, but events got more tangled than anticipated. Word got out about the fix and multiple betting syndicates with dozens of intermediaries were now jumping into the fray, lining their own bets and bidding up offers from $80,000 to $100,000. Arnold Rothstein, the underworld king of sports gambling, would allegedly have $270,000 riding on the series itself. Too many hustlers were now on the scheme, which fell into disarray as gamblers and ballplayers were no longer in sync and the camps began to “double-cross each other”.

By the end of the series, only a fraction of the original amount promised to the players would be delivered. The only player who actually did see an upfront payment was Cicotte, the starting pitcher. Cicotte received $10,000 the night before the first game, but the others were now told they would be paid $20,000 after each game they lose (5 games for $100,000). As the series opened, G1 ended with the Sox losing 9-1 but no money was delivered. G2 saw Chicago lose again 4-2 with only half of the promised cash produced. Angry and frustrated at the moneymen, the Sox conspirators then misled their interlocutors to believe they would lose G3, but they scripted their own designs and defeated the Reds 3-0. The gamblers were now notified that the series fix would be off unless the original financial arrangement was kept. $20,000 was then hastily delivered before G4, which the Sox then rigged with a 2-0 loss. They then dropped G5, but once again found themselves stiffed by their financial connections.

The rogue athletes then changed their tactics and went on to take G6 and G7. At this point, some players and their families were threatened with danger if they failed to comply with their handlers’ expectations. One theory why the pre-arranged money bags weren’t being honored is that cash was being skimmed by intermediaries. Abe Attell, a former boxing champ and part-time associate of Arnold Rothstein, was tasked with delivering the payments but he ended up betting much of it himself. Attell was one of the gamblers who was later charged with planning to fix the World Series. Rothstein, as an alleged bankroller behind the scenes, was not actively involved in the conspiracy and he managed to avoid the indictments.

Even before the series began there was already a noticeable buzz around betting irregularities as the odds against Cincinnati were seen dropping. But after the Reds walked away with the championship title, public suspicions began to appear in the press. Towards the end of 1919, The New York World  ran a scathing story about the state of baseball in America and recommended that federal judge Kenesaw Landis head a special investigation into the matter. Unexpectedly, reports of another fix involving an insignificant 1920 summer header between the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies unleashed an all-out subpoena call to baseball personalities around the country.

Cicotte was first to confess to the grand jury about the 1919 World Series fix, which had become a revelation following other unconnected investigations. With heartfelt regret, most of the White Sox players involved in the scam ended up admitting to receiving money but denied rigging the series with the intent to “defraud the public or bring the game into ill-repute”. Nevertheless, the following day, after their trial acquittal on August 22, 1921, they were permanently banned from wearing the baseball uniform again.

It was Kennesaw Landis, the newly-appointed Commissioner of Baseball, who sent them into exile. For the next 25 years, he would exercise broad powers to restore the public’s trust in the game’s integrity. One of his hard-lined, controversial decisions was to deny repeated reinstatement requests from players like Buck Weaver who allegedly knew about the scheme but failed to report it. For the past 100 years, Major League Baseball remained relatively free of game-fixing scandals.

Other Articles Enjoyed: The Extraordinary Life of a Wheelchair Basketball Hero, College Hoops & A New York Legacy, Battle of the Sexes & The Mob

SPORTS HISTORY MAGAZINE in DIGITAL

Fall 2020

Summer 2020

Spring 2020

Winter 2020

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Shop For Our Books & DVD's

CURRENT ISSUE

WEEKLY SPORTS PUZZLE

View larger Puzzle archive


THIS WEEK

10 years ago

FOOTBALL November 26, 2010  Auburn beats Alabama 28-27 at the 75th Iron Bowl. In the largest comeback of the series’ history, the Auburn Tigers erase a 24-0 deficit in the 2nd quarter to overtake the Crimson Tide by a single point. Quarterback Cam Newton throws for 3 touchdown passes and rushes for a fourth TD to win the game. Over 100,000 spectators pack Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium that day to watch the famous rivalry, which was first played in 1893.

20 years ago

BOXING November 11, 2000  Lennox Lewis defeats David Tua in a unanimous decision to retain the WBC, IBF and IBO heavyweight titles. It was the 40th bout for the British-born fighter who entered the professional ring after winning the super-heavyweight belt at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Lewis retired in 2003 with a record of 41-2-1, having out-boxed the likes of Vitali Klitschko and Mike Tyson. His only career losses were to Hasim Rahman and Oliver McCall.

30 years ago

MOTOR RACING November 4, 1990  Ayrton Senna wins the Formula One Driver’s Championship despite falling short with gear box problems in the final race of the season at the Australian Grand Prix. It was the 2nd career victory for the Brazilian driver and the 3rd consecutive win for the constructor, McLaren-Honda. Senna would go on to claim the 1991 F1 driver’s podium as well, taking 7 of the 16 calendar races. Senna died in a crash in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix.

40 years ago

BASEBALL November 3, 1980  Walter Haas becomes CEO of the Oakland Athletics baseball team after buying the franchise from Charles Finley for $13 million. Haas, the Chairman of Levis Strauss & Company, wanted to prevent the A’s from leaving the Bay area for another city. Finley had won the World Series three years in a row with the A’s- 1972, 1973, 1974- though, in 1980 he was ready to sell the club to investors who considered moving the A’s to another market.