Great Events from History: Modern Scandals
White Sox Baseball Players Conspire
Chicago White Sox players conspired with a professional gambler to lose the 1919 World Series for a cash payout, triggering the biggest scandal in major league baseball history. Eight players were promised at least one hundred thousand dollars from gamblers to lose the World Series intentionally. A grand jury acquitted the conspirators, but the baseball commissioner banned them from organized baseball for life.
Also Known As: Black Sox scandal
Locale: Chicago, Illinois
Categories: Corruption; organized crime and racketeering; sports
Charles Gandil (1887-1970), Chicago White Sox first baseman
Edward Cicotte (1884-1969), Chicago White Sox pitcher
Charles Comiskey (1859-1931), owner of the Chicago White Sox
Joseph Sullivan, Boston gambler
Arnold Rothstein (1882-1928), New York City gambler
Claude Williams (1893-1959), Chicago White Sox pitcher
Joseph Jackson (1889-1951), Chicago White Sox outfielder
Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1866-1944), commissioner of baseball
Summary of Event
The Chicago White Sox had won the 1919 American League pennant and were heavily favored to defeat the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series, played at the time in a best 5 of 9 games format. Chicago featured several outstanding players, some of whom despised owner club Charles Comiskey. He had forced the players to take salary cuts for the year because of declining attendance at games. Players were paid between three thousand and sixty-five hundred dollars, considerably less than players on other professional teams in the league.
White Sox first baseman Charles Gandil approached Boston gambler Joseph Sullivan at the Buckminster Hotel in August, 1919, offering to throw, or intentionally lose, the 1919 World Series for cash. Sullivan suggested that Gandil recruit several teammates for the deal. Those players were pitchers Charles Cicotte, Claude Williams, Dickie Kerr, and Red Faber; outfielders Joseph Jackson and Happy Felsch; infielders Buck Weaver and Eddie Collins; and catcher Ray Schalk. Cicotte agreed to participate if he received ten thousand dollars before the start of the World Series. Gandil also enlisted Williams, Jackson, Felsch, and shortstop Swede Risberg in the scheme. Reserve infielder Fred McMullin insisted on being included as well, and Weaver knew of the plot. The eight players met at Gandil's hotel room in New York City on September 21 and agreed to throw the series if the gamblers advanced them eighty thousand dollars a piece. Gandil relayed that message to Sullivan.
Another gambler, Bill Burns, meanwhile, approached Cicotte and promised to best Sullivan's offer. With Gandil, Burns and Cicotte agreed to work a fix for one hundred thousand dollars in advance. Burns and associate Billy Maharg sought financial backing from prominent sports gambler Arnold Rothstein on September 23 in New York. Rothstein dispatched his assistant, Abe Attell, to meet with them. Attell told Burns that Rothstein had consented to provide the one hundred thousand dollars to fund the fix.
Sullivan, whom Rothstein respected more than he did Burns and Maharg, outlined his plans to Rothstein for the fix. Rothstein instructed his partner, Nat Evans, and Sullivan to meet with the eight players in Chicago. The players demanded an eighty thousand dollar cash advance. Rothstein gave Sullivan forty thousand dollars to distribute to the players and placed the other forty thousand dollars in a Chicago safe. He bet more than one-quarter million dollars on the Reds to win the World Series. Gandil convinced the other conspirators to accept that arrangement.
Sullivan, however, initially gave only ten thousand dollars to Gandil, who distributed it to game one pitcher Cicotte. The other conspirators were angered at not receiving the entire eighty thousand dollars from Sullivan, so they met with Attell in Cincinnati the day before game one. Attell refused to advance the players any cash, promising instead twenty thousand dollars for each lost game.
A sudden shift in betting odds in Cincinnati's favor sparked rumors about a possible fix. Chicago's inept performance in the first two games aroused further suspicions, as conspirators helped throw both games. Cicotte pitched abysmally in game one, uncharacteristically surrendering five runs in the fourth inning and losing 9-1. In the fourth inning of game two, Williams ignored Schalk's signals, walked three batters, and allowed three runs in the 4-2 setback.
Rothstein ordered the conspirators to play game three straight because nonconspirator Kerr was pitching. Gandil singled in two runs, giving the White Sox a 3-0 win. In the fifth inning of game four, Cicotte uncharacteristically made two crucial errors to hand Cincinnati a 2-0 victory. After the fourth game, Gandil received a twenty thousand dollar installment from the gamblers and then handed five thousand each to Williams, Jackson, Felsch, and Risberg.
Chicago lost game five, 4-0, as Felsch misplayed two key fly balls and Jackson misjudged one. The gamblers, however, failed to deliver the next twenty thousand dollar installment after that game. The conspirators, after realizing the gamblers had double-crossed them, were now determined to win the World Series. The White Sox won game six, 5-4, behind Kerr in ten innings. Cicotte pitched superbly in game seven, and the team triumphed 4-1. Jackson's single produced the deciding run.
Rothstein ordered the conspirators to lose the decisive game eight. Sullivan contacted a Chicago mobster, who instructed pitcher Williams to blow the game in the first inning, threatening harm if he did not cooperate. Williams ignored Schalk's signs in the first inning, allowing four runs and retiring one batter only. Cincinnati won the game, 10-5, clinching the World Series. After that game, Williams gave Jackson five thousand dollars and Gandil collected thirty thousand dollars.
In the end, Williams had lost all three of his starts as a pitcher, and Cicotte lost two games. Jackson batted .375 and Weaver hit .324, but the other conspirators struggled offensively; they struggled defensively as well. Chicago Herald and Examiner sportswriter Hugh Fullerton became suspicious of seven defensive plays and feared a scandal.
It was in mid-October that the conspiracy came to light. Gambler Harry Redmond told team owner Comiskey that several conspirators had thrown the World Series. Comiskey offered a ten thousand dollar reward to anyone who could prove that the series had been fixed and delayed sending his players their losing shares for the game.
All White Sox conspirators except Gandil played the 1920 season. Gandil retired because Comiskey refused to raise his salary. Chicago narrowly trailed the first-place Cleveland Indians in September when the North-American, a Philadelphia newspaper, confirmed the 1919 World Series scandal and published details provided by Maharg. American League president Ban Johnson, who despised Comiskey, pressed for a Cook County grand jury investigation. On September 28, Cicotte and Jackson told the grand jury that they had thrown the series, naming Gandil, Felsch, Williams, Weaver, Risberg, and McMullin as coconspirators.
In late October, 1920, the grand jury indicted the eight White Sox players for conspiring with the gamblers to defraud the public. The players were arraigned in February, 1921, but Cicotte and Jackson filed affidavits repudiating their confessions. Judge William Dever ruled that the indictments were faulty.
Cook County authorities secured new indictments against the conspirators, and the trial began on June 27. The accused players did not testify, so prosecutors had to rely on the testimony of two gamblers to prove a conspiracy to commit fraud. The jury had to decide whether the players deliberately lost the games and intended to commit fraud. On August 2 they acquitted the players and gamblers, as the packed courtroom cheered.
The scandal wrecked the White Sox franchise. Chicago tumbled to seventh place in 1921 and languished in the second division for the next decade. Comiskey made numerous player transactions and managerial changes in largely futile attempts to rebuild the White Sox until his death in 1931. Chicago did not capture another American League pennant until 1959 and did not win a World Series title until 2005.
To restore confidence in its badly shaken institution, baseball needed someone to take the lead and monitor and oversee the league. In November, 1920, club owners appointed federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as baseball's first commissioner, and they gave him a hefty salary of fifty thousand dollars and absolute power. On August 3, 1921, Landis barred the eight White Sox players, even though they were acquitted in a criminal trial, from organized baseball. Landis remained baseball czar until his death in 1944.
The scandal ended the professional baseball careers of Jackson, Cicotte, Williams, Felsch, Gandil, Weaver, Risberg, and McMullin. Jackson, who compiled the third highest batting average (.356) in major league history, likely would have made the national Baseball Hall of Fame had the scandal never occurred. Cicotte and Williams both won more than 60 percent of the games in which they garnered a decision.
David L. PorterFurther Reading
Asinof, Eliot. Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series. New York: Henry Holt, 1987. Best single source for this incredibly confused and murky episode in sports history.
Carney, Gene. Burying the Black Sox. Dulles, Va.: Potomac Books, 2006. Describes how major league baseball's coverup of the 1919 World Series scandal nearly succeeded.
Cook, William A. The 1919 World Series: What Really Happened? Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. Examines the hows and whys of the White Sox gambling scandal.
Fleitz, David L. Shoeless: The Life and Times of Joe Jackson. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. A biography of conspirator Joseph Jackson.
Goler, Robert I. "Black Sox." Chicago History 17 (Fall-Winter, 1988-1989): 42-69. The most complete, focused journal article on the scandal.
Kutcher, Leo. Big Baseball: The Life and Times of Arnold Rothstein. New York: Da Capo Press, 1994. Details sports gambler Rothstein's involvement in the scandal.
December 26, 1926: Baseball Stars Cobb and Speaker Are Accused of Game Fixing; Early 1947: Baseball Manager Leo Durocher Is Suspended for Gambling Ties; January 17, 1951: College Basketball Players Shave Points for Money; November 2, 1959: Charles Van Doren Admits He Was Fed Answers on Television Quiz Show; Late 1969-Mid-1971: Japanese Baseball Players Are Implicated in Game Fixing; September 23, 1977: Horse-Swapping Fraud Rocks Belmont Park Raceway; August 24, 1989: Pete Rose Is Banned From Baseball for Betting on Games.
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