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The Black Sox Scandal: Baseball’s Saddest Day

Sports History | April 19, 2019

Chicago White Sox Pitcher Eddie Cicotte, is a member of the 'Black Sox' scandal in 1919. Source: (gettyimages.com)

Baseball, America’s favorite pastime, has endured some scandals in its long history, from player’s strikes to steroid use. But the most shocking and disheartening baseball scandal of all time was undoubtedly the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, in which gamblers and organized crime mobsters recruited White Sox players to throw the World Series of 1919. Although many details remain murky, let’s see how the “Big Fix” went down…and how the plot was uncovered. 

Source: (historyrat.wordpress.com)

Gamblers’ Influence

Long before the 1919 World Series scandal, devoted sports gamblers had been paying off unhappy and disgruntled players to purposely lose a game here and there. This palm greasing was a somewhat-overlooked fact of the game. Maybe they thought that one paid-off player couldn’t have influenced the outcome of the game that much. But how about a group of players?

Arnold "Chick" Gandil. Source: (chicagology.com)

A Late-Season Meeting

By all accounts, the scheme to rig the 1919 World Series started a few weeks before the Series, near the end of regular season play when it was apparent that the Chicago White Sox would meet the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. A gambler named Joseph “Sport” Sullivan scheduled a meeting with White Sox first baseman, C. Arnold “Chick” Gandil. Although he later said he was hesitant that the scheme would work, Gandil agreed to recruit some of his fellow White Sox to help him throw the Series. For their part in the plan, the players would get $100,000. 

"Shoeless" Joe Jackson. Source: (sportingnews.com)

Adding More Recruits

Chick Gandil recruited a few key White Sox players to help him with his plan and offered them all a cut of the payout. He enlisted the help of outfielder Oscar “Happy” Flesch, shortstop Charles “Swede” Risberg, and two of the White Sox pitchers, Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams. Initially, third baseman Buck Weaver was involved but he pulled out of the scheme. Then infielder Fred McMullin overheard the players talking about the plot and wanted in. The White Sox star, power hitter “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, was also contacted. 

Arnold Rothstein. Source: (biography.com)

Meanwhile, Sullivan Scrambled For Money

Sullivan only had a few weeks to raise the $100,000 bribe money. He contacted other mob members, include Abe Attell, Bill Maharg, and “Sleepy” Bill Burns. They sold whatever they could to get money. They even contacted New York mob leader, Arnold Rothstein, for help, but evidence of his involvement is scarce. There is, however, some evidence that Gandil may have tried to get additional bribe money from other organized crime groups. 

The 1919 Cincinnati Reds. Source: (baseballhistorycomesalove.com)

Raising Suspicion

By the time the World Series teams were set, the White Sox was the heavy favorite to win. But bookies began to get suspicious when so many big-time gamblers started placing bets that the Reds would win. This continued until the start of the Series when rumors circulated that some of the Chicago players were on the payroll of big-time gamblers. 

Pitcher Lefty WIlliams. Source: (sabr.org)

Game 1 of the World Series

The first game of the 1919 World Series began on October 1. At the start of the game, pitcher, Eddie Cicotte struck a batter with a pitch…a signal that the fix was starting. From that point on, Cicotte made a series of surprising mistakes. The White Sox lost the game 9-1, to the shock of sportswriters and fans. Cicotte didn’t pitch for the second game of the series. Lefty Williams did. He, too underperformed, walking three batters in a row. The Reds won Game two with a score of 4-2. 

1919 World Series. Source: (mlb.com)

Late Payments

As per the agreement with Sullivan, the White Sox players were supposed to receive a payment of $20,000 after each of the games, but with two games down, the players still hadn’t seen any money. Naturally, they were concerned. By the time Game Five rolled around, they were furious. They announced that there were calling off the fix. Of course, the White Sox showed their dominance and won the next two games, meaning they were still in contention to win the 9-game series. The gamblers were furious, and some White Sox players even received threats from the mobsters. In the end, Cincinnati won the 1919 World Series. 

Source: (chicagology.com)

The Investigation Starts

Sportswriter Hugh Fullerton wrote an article titled, “Is Big League Baseball Being Run for Gamblers, With Players in the Deal?” By the next summer, gambler Bill Maharg was being investigated for other fixed games and began to give information about the World Series fix. Amid accusations, the White Sox players came forward to provide testimony to the Grand Jury, starting with Cicotte, Jackson, Williams, and others. The players earned the dubious nickname, the Black Sox. 

Players on trial. Source: (history.com)

A Bogus Trial and a Ban

The players were put on trial, but all were found not guilty. A big reason for this is that all of the records relating to their confessions and their dealings with the mobsters mysteriously vanished. Many historians now believe that White Sox owner, Charles Comiskey, worked with gambler Arnold Rothstein to have the documents stolen to exonerate the players. Despite their acquittal, all eight players involved in the Black Sox scandal were permanently banned from baseball by the baseball commissioner. 

Tags: baseball | sports

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.