The White Sox Get Soiled

The infamous banned players

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a very long time ago. A time before I was even thought of, a time before my parents were even thought of, a time before my grandparents were even thought of. 1919, what a time to be alive; the Bentley Motors Limited had just been founded in England, the 18th amendment authorizing ‘Prohibition’ is put into place, Felix the Cat makes his debut in “Feline Follies”, and the Chicago White Sox purposely lost the World Series in what became known as “The Black Sox Scandal”. 

The Chicago White Sox started out with a name that luckily didn’t stick around. They were founded as the Sioux City Cornhuskers in 1894, in the Western League (a minor league parameter of the National League). Once they were bought by Charles Comiskey they were moved to St. Paul, Minesota and changed their name to the St. Paul Saints. In 1900, with the approval of the Western League president, Ban Johnson, Charles Comiskey moved the Saints to his hometown of Armour City, Chicago. They changed their name to the Chicago White Stockings, the former name of Chicago’s National League team, The Orphans (the modern-day Chicago Cubs). Dude these old baseball team names are kick ass, the Chicago Orphans….what a hoot! 

In 1901 the Western League broke the national agreement and become the National League. So, the Western League and the National League became one. My husband’s great-great uncle Nicholas Ephriam Young was actually the secretary and treasurer of the National League shortly after it first formed in 1876, he would become president of the NL from 1885-1902 (he did a ton of other cool stuff too in his lifetime) so I hear about these kinds of things all the time, and that was my name drop for this blog post. The Chicago White Stockings first American League season ended in a championship win, and that was the end of the season because the World Series didn’t become a thing until 1903.  

The franchise now known as the Chicago White Sox made their first World Series appearance in 1906, beating the Crosstown Cubs in six games. The team won their second World Series title in 1917 New York Giants in (you guessed it) six games with help from stars Eddie Cicotte and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. So, I thought Joe Jackson (not to be confused with baseball/football great, Bo Jackson) got his nickname because he didn’t wear shoes or something but turns out he was wearing a new pair of cleats during a game and he got horrible blisters so he took off his shoes before going up to bat. As he was running the bases the fans noticed his stocking (socks but stocking sounded better in the sentence) clad feet and yelled; “You shoeless sun of a gun, you!”. Ladies, I know you guys felt his pain, nothing feels as good as taking off your heels and walking barefoot when your feet start to hurt like hell. How times have changed, now fans would have yelled something along the lines of “You mother f****** shoeless son of a bitch, you!”. 

The White Sox were heavily favored to win the 1919 World Series but fell to the Cincinnati Reds in eight games. Bringing us to the (drum roll please) the “Black Sox Scandal”! Remember White Sox owner, Charles Comiskey? Well the dude wasn’t liked so much by the team. He had a reputation for underpaying his players even when they were the top team in league and had two WS wins under their belts. Despite the team having the highest pay roll in 1919 he still didn’t toss his players a couple extra bucks, so a few of them decided to get their hands on some extra cash their own way, with a little help from a gamblers syndicate lead by Arnold Rothstein ( a mob leader from New York City). At the time baseballs “reserve clause” made it so that any player who refused a contract that was offered to him would not be allowed to play under any other professional team under the auspices (like my SAT word?) of “organized baseball”. Players were also not allowed to change teams without being granted permission from their current one. This clause was abolished in 1974, giving players more freedom regarding their contracts and careers. 

The White Sox club house ended up being divided into two fractions. Those of the straitlaced players, later dubbed “The Clean Sox” and those who were willing to play fast and loose with their reputations.  According to rumors the two fractions barely spoke to one another on or off the field. The only things the two groups had in common was their mutual hate for Comiskey.

A meeting was held on September 21, 1919, this meeting included players who were ready to take action against the despised team owner and those who were just there to listen and take notes. The meeting took place in first baseman and scandal mastermind, Charles “Chick” Gandil’s, hotel room at the Ansonia Hotel in New York City. The only player who attended the meeting but received no money from the payout was Shortstop and occasional third baseman, Buck Weaver. If I’m risking my career by sitting in on your little meetings, I want my mother f****** money! Weaver would go on to be one of the eight players banned from the MLB, since he knew about the WS fix but never reported it to officials. 

 Infielder Fred McMullin hardly saw any play time during the series but got word of the fix and threatened to report it unless he got in on the payoff. You greedy bitch! The scandal got an unexpected boost when straitlaced pitcher Urban “Red” Faber was unable to pitch in the series after coming down with a nasty case of the influenza (I usually just call it the ‘flu’ but I’m trying to be fancy for you guys), he is lucky he survived, that shit could kill you back in 1919. Shit, back then getting a bad case of the runs could kill ya. Years later a player mentioned that is Faber was well enough to pitch the fix probably never would have happened. A pitcher plays a BIG role when it comes to throwing games. MAYBE THEY POISIONED HIM SO HE COULDN’T PITCH. IT’S A CONSPIRACY! 

Game one of the series was played on October 1, 1919, by that time rumors of the fix had been circulating between gamblers and bookies everywhere. This caused in a sudden influx of bets on the Cincinnati Reds taking it all. The rumors also reached the press box where 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 of the public took the series at face value. After pitcher Eddie Cicotte’s his first pitch of the series resulted in a strike, his second pitch struck Cincinnati leadoff hitter Morrie Rath in the back. This was used as a signal to the other players involved that he was willing to follow through with the fix. Well, now you are in too deep, can’t back out now boys…I mean you could since it was only game one but let’s all be dramatic for the sake of journalism.  In the fourth inning of the game Cicotte made a bad throw to second baseman Swede Risberg. Sports reporters already found the botched double play to be suspicious.

Pitcher Claude “Lefty” Williams threw three games in the series, while rookie pitcher Richard “Dickey” Kerr (who was not in on the fix) won both of his starts. By now people involved in the gambling syndicate began to pull out and not offer up the payments that agreed to exchange hands each time the White Sox lost a game. Claiming that all their money was let out on bets and in the hands of bookmakers. After not receiving any money by the end of game five, the players involved in the fix attempted to double cross the flaky group of gamblers. They did this by winning games six and seven of the best of nine series. By game eight threats of violence on behalf of the gamblers were made towards White Sox players and their families.

Lefty Williams started game right and gave up four one out hits before being pulled by White Sox manager William “Kid” Gleason. The Chicago White Sox lost game eight and the series on October 9, 1919. The Cincinnati Reds were officially the new Word Series champions. Besides Buck Weaver, the players involved in the scandal received $5,000 each or more (equivalent to $74,000 in 2019). I was about to say you guys did all that for $5,000!? Shitttttt. Chick Gandil, the leader of the fix received $35,000 (equivalent to $516,000 in 2019). Rumors of the fix continued to float around during the 1920 season, clouding the White Sox as they battled the Cleveland Indians to take the American League title. Stories of corruption with other clubs began to surface as well and in September 1920 a grand jury was convened to investigate these claims.

On September 28, 1920 pitcher Eddie Cicotte broke down and confessed to the grand jury about his involvement in the scandal. This resulted in Charles Comiskey suspended seven (Gandil had not returned to the team for the 1920 and was playing semi-pro baseball) of his players on the eve of their final season series despite trailing the St. Louis Browns (modern day Baltimore Orioles). On October 22, 1920 eight players and five gamblers were implicated on nine counts of conspiracy to comit fraud. The remaining ten players not implicated in the gambling scandal, as well as manager Kid Gleason, were each given bonus checks in the amount of $1,500 (equivalent to $19,100 in 2019) by Comiskey in the fall of 1920. Hey so they got their hands on some money too, they just weren’t sneaky about it. 

The trial began on June 27, 1921 but was postponed by presiding judge Hugo Friend because two of the defendants, Ben Franklin (shouldn’t he have been dead by now?) and Carl Zork, claimed to have fallen ill. Before the trial even started, key evidence went missing from the Cook County courthouse, including the signed confessions of Eddie Cicotte and Joe Jackson, who later recanted their confessions. Numerous years later the missing confessions turned up in the hands of Charles Comiskey’s lawyer. On July 1st former White Sox player “Sleepy” Bill Burns had turned state’s evidence and would testify on behalf of the prosecution. During jury selection on July 11, several members of the current White Sox team, including manager Kid Gleason, visited the courthouse, chatting and shaking hands with the indicted ex-players; at one point even tickling Buck Weaver, who was known to be quite ticklish. Weird flex and kind of creepy but okay.   

On July 18, 1921 trial testimony finally began when prosecutor Charles Gorman, outlined his case against the defendants. Charles Comiskey was then called to the stand, and it is said he became so agitated with questions being posed by the defense that he rose from the witness chair and shook his fist at the defendants’ counsel, Ben Short. The most explosive testimony came the next say when Sleepy Bill Burns took the stand and stated flat out that members of the White Sox fixed the 1919 World Series. Now that he was in the clear he just flipped on all of his buddies; although I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same. Burns testified that Cicotte once told him he would intentionally pitch the ball out of the park if that is what was needed to lose the game. He also spoke about Arnold Rothstein’s’ involvement in the gambling ring.   

After additional testimony and evidence was presented from both sides closing statements were given and the case went into the hands of the jury on July 28, 1921. The jury deliberated for just three hours before returning to the court room. They found each player involved in the scandal not guilty on all charges. Now, you have to remember when a jury finds someone guilty or not guilty it doesn’t necessarily mean they personally feel that way, it just means that either the prosecution or the defense did not present their case with enough reasonable doubt. For example, jurors from the OJ Simpson trial said they personally felt that he was guilty but the prosecution did not present evidence to cause reasonable, so not guilty is the verdict that was given. Another factor is most likely based on the fact that back in 1920 juries were made up of all male jurors and no female ones. Bet all these guys were baseball fans and loved the White Sox, that might have swayed their decision as well.  

Even though the players had all been acquitted they were not out of the wood yet. All of them still remined on the ineligible list with the MLB, and on August 3, 1921 commissioner Kenesaw Landis would hand down his own verdict to the eight players involved the following men were banned from the sport of baseball and will never be allowed to be inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame: 

*Arnold “Chick” Gandil, first baseman. The leader of the players who were in on the fix. 

Eddie Cicotte, pitcher. Admitted involvement in the fix 

Oscar “Happy” Felsch, center fielder 

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson, the star outfielder and one of the best hitters in the game, confessed in sworn grand jury testimony to having accepted $5,000 cash from the gamblers. It was also Jackson’s sworn testimony that he never met or spoke to any of the gamblers and was only told about the fix through conversations with other White Sox players 

Fred McMullin, infielder. McMullin would not have been included in the fix had he not overheard the other players’ conversations 

Charles “Swede” Risbergshortstop. Risberg was Gandil’s assistant and the “muscle” of the playing group (turning state’s evidence couldn’t save him from this punishment)

George “Buck” Weaver, third baseman. Weaver attended the initial meetings, and while he did not go in on the fix, he knew about it. (I mentioned this earlier in the article) 

Claude “Lefty” Williams, pitcher.  

Landis also banned Joe Gedeon who played for the St. Louis Browns. He placed bets after he learned about the fixed game from Risberg, who was a close friend of his.

The indefinite suspensions imposed by Landis in relation to the scandal were the most suspensions of any duration to be simultaneously imposed until 2013, when thirteen player suspensions of between fifty and two hundred eleven games were announced following the doping-related Biogenesis scandal. You guys remember that, right? Alex Rodriguez, Jhonny Peralta, Nelson Cruz, etc…..that whole mess. 

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson maintained his innocence until his death in 1951 and there are people out there who believed his claim. He had a Series-leading .375 batting average, including the Series’ only home run, threw out five baserunners, and handled 30 chances in the outfield with no errors. That is pretty good for someone who was trying to throw a game. One play in particular caught the eye of onlookers. In the fifth inning of Game four, with a Cincinnati player on second, Jackson fielded a single hit to left field and threw home, this throw seemed to be intentionally cut off by Eddie Cicotte. Chick Gandil, a main leader of the fix, later admitted to yelling at Cicotte to intercept the throw. By this point you can leave heavily towards the fact that Jackson most likely was innocent and was not involved in scandal at all. Years later any lingering speculation would be put to rest. All of the implicated players finally came forward and said that Jackson was never present at any of the meetings they had with the gamblers. Lefty Williams, Joe Jackson’s roommate, later said that they only brought up Jackson in hopes of giving them more credibility with the gamblers. Wow, so they threw one of their own under the bus and ruined his career to make themselves more credible with gamblers. Some friends they are.  

After being banned Swede Risberg and other members of the “Black Sox” tried to move on and start a three-state barnstorming tour. However, that was cancelled after Kenesaw Landis let the whole organization know that he was playing zero games. The commissioner let all of his players know that anybody who played with or against the “Black Sox” would be banned from the sport of baseball as well. Guys, the whole damn city Chicago was not playing, I swear they had no time for any of these players. When the “Black Sox” attempted to play one exhibition game every Sunday the Chicago City Counsil threatened to cancel the license of any ballpark that host the games. I hope that slice of extra money all the players got from the scandal was worth dealing with all this. 

With seven (I guess one of them wasn’t all that great, maybe he sucked, how would you like to be known as the sucky player of the scandal) of their best players permanently sidelined, the White Sox crashed into seventh place in 1921 and would not be involved in a pennant race again until 1936, five years after Comiskey’s death. They would not win another American League championship until 1959 and their next World Series wins wouldn’t come until 2005, prompting some to comment about a Curse of the Black Sox. Man, the Curse of the Billy Goat, the Curse of the Bambino, and the Curse of the Black Sox. Man, the MLB is just putting hexes on everybody. Even though the “Black Sox” name rose to popularity after the scandal came to light some believe it may have existed before then. There is a story that the name “Black Sox” derived from Comiskey’s refusal to pay for the players’ uniforms to be laundered, instead insisting that the players themselves pay for the cleaning. According to the tale, the players refused and subsequent games saw the White Sox play in progressively filthier uniforms as dirt, sweat and grime collected on the white, woolen uniforms until they took on a much darker shade. Comiskey then had the uniforms washed and deducted the laundry bill from the players’ salaries. Wow, somebody is a super cheap penny pincher…. it’s me, I’m somebody. The other boring side of things is that the name simply came from the scandal that tarnished the teams name and forever put a smudge on their history.  

Money, money, money, money…. MONEY! Yes, that little green piece of paper that makes the world go round. Pete Rose didn’t learn from this scandal, or he did learn and just didn’t care because he would go on to bet against the sport and his own team, which happened to be none other than the Cincinnati Reds….ILLUMINATI! People have done far worse for money; people have murdered for it. We are all greedy in one way or another, it is just a part of human nature. We all want more than what we already have. The question is, how far are you willing to go to satisfy your greed? There is a reason it is one of the seven deadly sins.

Fun Fact: The World Series use to be best out of nine games. in 1922 the MLB changed it to best out of seven. Which is what we are used to watching today.

Sources:

The Black Sox Baseball Scandal – History

1919 Black Sox – Chicago Tribune

100 years since ‘Black Sox’ World Series – PBS

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