Wearing Black Sox with Scandals
By: Nick Evans
In 1919, thanks to progressive era policies, Americans are enjoying a shortened work-week. This free time was often used for leisure activities like watching America’s pastime: baseball. The World Series that year featured the heavily-favored Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. Who doesn’t love a good underdog story?
While the underdog Cincinnati Reds did win, it was through the infamous Black Sox scandal they achieved that victory. Some of the White Sox players had been offered upwards of $100,000 to throw the 1919 World Series. The conspiracy rocked America’s pastime so hard that the lawsuit over the scandal ended with eight players being banned from baseball and the instatement of professional baseball’s first commissioner.
Gambling and its relationship to baseball was nothing new. Athletes were not paid anywhere near the money that current professional athletes earn, even adjusted for inflation. For example, the $100,000 offered to throw the World Series translates roughly to $1.5 million today. That $100,000 was then split between 6-8 players. Today’s average MLB salary is $4.36 million. This means the price tag on the 1919 World Series was under a third of that. At the time, the White Sox were the second-highest-paid team, and yet eight players still felt the need to supplement their income outside the league.
Chicago first basemen Chick Gandil and pitcher Eddie Cicotte were the players credited as the initiators, with Gandil mentioned most often. Gandil was the one that was approached with the initial idea to throw the series by Joseph “Sport” Sullivan. Sullivan was a successful gambler in Boston, but he had a reputation and numerous accusations of greasing palms for inside information and match-fixing. Gandil and Cicotte met with six other players: Claude “Lefty” Williams, Charles “Swede” Risberg, George “Buck” Weaver, Joe “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, Oscar “Happy” Felsch and Fred McMullin. Together, they would be forever known as the Black Sox.
While Sullivan was the contact from outside the team, there were many people that started raising money for the series. Prominent New York crime boss Arthur Rothstein was even rumored to be a part of this.
During the first two games of the series, the White Sox held up their end of the deal, dropping each game and looking for their payment. The deal was that they’d get $20,000 after each loss, and they would be paid up after dropping the best-of-nine series. Except after game one they didn’t get paid. After game two, they only received $10,000, meaning they had only been paid a fourth of what was agreed upon to that point. After this, the frustrated Black Sox players allegedly argued and considered calling off the fix.
Regardless of what is rumored to have happened, we know that the Cincinnati Reds won in eight games. The consensus among historians is the Black Sox were paid well under the $100,000 that was promised, but exactly how much money they were paid remains unknown.
After the series ended, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, heard rumblings of a potential fix. After doing a quiet investigation he decided not to punish the players, thinking that it would cause attention, and he didn’t want anyone to know about the fix. He decided to renew all of their contracts, even giving most of them an increase in salary. The organizer of the plot, Chick Gandil was treated a bit differently. Gandil was aware of the salary increases but was offered the same salary as the year before. He refused to sign and was put on the ineligible player list, meaning he was essentially suspended.
The following season, things changed dramatically. During a regular season game between the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies, two players apparently placed a casual bet on the game. After an outcry from fans, team executives and even a judicial official, claims of alleged fixes were taken much more seriously. They would be tried in court.
After the 1919 World Series, Hugh Fullerton, a sportswriter that grew up in Ohio and studied at Ohio State, wrote a story about how the World Series was being played for gamblers, and they got players in on the deal. The story was quickly dismissed. As many did, Fullerton had predicted that the White Sox would win the series and others quickly disregarded his accusations as the writings of someone who couldn’t admit that they were wrong.
After the Cubs-Phillies fix, Fullerton’s article made its way back into circulation, and it prompted a semi-private investigation. The White Sox had a hand in throwing the World Series.
It wasn’t long before legal proceedings took place. It had daily news coverage and it became increasingly clear that the entire nation was paying attention. In a surprise verdict, each of the Black Sox were acquitted, even though they had all testified to differing levels of involvement.
To combat the game-fixing and gambling issues, Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed as professional baseball’s first commissioner. Landis, a former federally appointed judge, made it his first priority to hand out punishments to the Black Sox. He decided to ban all eight players from organized baseball forever. He 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.”
Think about sports today. Fantasy Football, a game that relies on the performance of NFL football players, is played by approximately 19 million people today. With so many people playing and even betting on outcomes of their fantasy leagues, should NFL players be allowed to play Fantasy Football? Discuss in small groups.
Charles Comiskey was never punished by Landis or in court. Research Comiskey’s background and in a small group discuss if you believe that losing eight good players on his storied team was enough of a punishment.