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Black Sox Scandal

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The Black Sox scandal is the name given to the conspiracy to fix the 1919 World Series played between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. A number of players on the Chicago franchise conspired with gamblers to throw (intentionally lose) games in what is the biggest scandal in major league history.

This betting conspiracy between a group of players and gamblers led to the permanent banning of eight players from the White Sox from baseball, to the introduction of the post of commissioner, and to strict rules prohibiting gambling that live on to this day.

The Scandal[edit]

The Backstory of the Great Conspiracy[edit]

While the origins of the conspiracy are unknown, it appears that there were two (or more) separate plans to "fix" the World Series. One involved Boston gambler Joseph "Sport" Sullivan, while another included retired pitcher "Sleepy" Bill Burns and his partner, Billy Maharg, a former professional boxer. These two gambling cliques were approached sometime between July-September 1919 by White Sox first baseman Arnold "Chick" Gandil and/or pitcher Eddie Cicotte. Cicotte claimed that the other seven players spent weeks trying to convince him, but the gamblers claimed that he first introduced the idea. During the regular season, the Chicago White Sox had shown themselves to be the best team in the major leagues and, having clinched the American League pennant, were installed as the bookmakers' favorites to defeat the Cincinnati Reds in the Series. At the time, gambling on baseball was rife and there were many stories about fixed games during the regular season, even a few earlier World Series, which were typically ignored by team owners and administrators.

1919 White Sox team photo

Gandil, Cicotte and six other teammates - pitcher Claude "Lefty" Williams, outfielders "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and Oscar "Happy" Felsch, and infielders Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver and Fred McMullin - were involved in the fix, although their levels of involvement varied by player. Weaver would later claim that he took himself out of the fix before the Series began, although testimony from others involved seems to refute this. According to the testimonies of Burns and Maharg at the 1921 trial, Jackson did not attend any of the pre-Series meetings where the fix was discussed, although he did receive $5,000 at some point during the Series. Before the Series, both groups approached the wealthy New York gambler and underworld figure Arnold Rothstein to provide the money for the players, who were promised a total of $100,000. A shady character named Rachie Brown served as the go-between between Rothstein and the conspirators. Even before the Series started on October 1st there were rumors amongst the gambling community that things were not square, and the influx of money saw the odds on Cincinnati fall rapidly. The rumors also reached the press box where a number of correspondents, including Hugh Fullerton of the Chicago Herald and Examiner and the ex-player and manager Christy Mathewson, who resolved to compare notes on any plays and players that they felt were questionable. Fullerton wrote later that he approached White Sox owner Charles Comiskey and Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss in a Cincinnati hotel before Game 1, demanding that they do something to stop the "crooked" Series.

Unusual happenings during the games[edit]

For a more detailed account of the games, see the 1919 World Series article.

The first game began at 3 p.m. on October 1st in Cincinnati's Crosley Field with Cicotte on the mound for Chicago. In the bottom of that inning Cicotte hit the lead-off hitter, Morrie Rath, in the back with just his second pitch, a prearranged signal to Rothstein that the game was going to be thrown. In the 4th inning, Cicotte gave up a sequence of hits, including a two-out triple to the opposing pitcher, as the Reds scored five times to break a 1-1 tie. Cicotte was replaced by a relief pitcher but the damage was done, and the Reds finally triumphed, 9-1.

By the evening of that day, there were already signs that things were going wrong. Only Cicotte, who had wisely demanded his $10,000 in advance, had been paid. Burns and Maharg met with Abe Attell, a former world boxing champion who claimed that he acted as an intermediary for Rothstein, but he did not provide the next installment ($20,000), wanting to place it out on bets for the next game. The next morning Gandil met Attell and again demanded their money. Again, the players went unpaid. In the meantime, other gamblers who did not know about the fix were getting wise, and one told Reds' centerfielder Edd Roush that things were not on the level.

Although they had not received their money, the players were still willing to go through with the fix in Game 2. "Lefty" Williams, the starting pitcher, was not going to be as obvious as Cicotte. After a shaky start he pitched well until the 4th inning, when he walked three and gave up as many runs. After that, Williams went back to looking unhittable, giving up only one more run; but a lack of clutch hitting, with Gandil a particular villain, meant that the White Sox lost, 4-2. Attell was still in no mood to pay up. Burns managed to get $10,000 and gave it to Gandil, who distributed it among the conspirators. The teams headed to Chicago, Illinois for the third game.

Dickie Kerr, who was to start Game 3 for the Sox at Comiskey Park, was not in on the fix. The original plan was for the conspirators, who disliked Kerr, to lose this game; but by now dissent among the players meant that the plan was in disarray. Burns still believed, however, and gathered the last of his resources to bet on Cincinnati. It was a decision that would leave him broke, as Chicago scored early - Gandil himself driving in two runs - and Kerr was masterful, holding the Reds to 3 hits in throwing a complete game shutout and a 3-0 victory.

Cicotte was again Chicago's starter for the fourth game, and he was determined not to look as bad as he had in the first. For the first four innings he and Reds pitcher Jimmy Ring matched zeroes. With one out in the 5th, Cicotte fielded a slow roller, but threw wildly to first for a two-base error. The next man up singled to center and Cicotte first cut off the throw home and then fumbled the ball, allowing the run to score. When he gave up a double to the next batter the score was 2-0 - enough of a lead for Ring, who threw a three-hit shutout of his own. The Reds led the Series 3 games to 1.

After the game, "Sport" Sullivan came through with $20,000 for the players, which Gandil split equally between Risberg, Felsch, Jackson, and Williams - who was due to start Game 5 the next day.

The next game was delayed by rain for a day, and when it got under way both Williams and Reds pitcher Hod Eller were excellent. By the 6th inning, neither had allowed a runner past first base, before Eller hit a dying quail that fell between Felsch and Jackson. Felsch's throw was off line, and the opposing pitcher was safe at third. Leadoff hitter Morrie Rath hit a single over the drawn-in infield and Eller scored. Heinie Groh walked before Edd Roush hit a double - the beneficiary of some more doubtful defense from Felsch - to score two more runs, and Roush himself scored shortly later. Eller pitched well enough for the four runs to stand up and the Reds were only one game from winning the Series.

Note: Due to increased enthusiasm in baseball after World War I, Major League Baseball decided on a best-of-nine format for the 1919 World Series. This is why Cincinnati's 4-1 lead in the Series at that point was not enough to give it the World Championship.

Game 6 was held back in Cincinnati. Dickie Kerr, starting for the White Sox, was not as dominant as in Game 3. The Reds jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Chicago fought back, tying the game at 4-4 in the 6th, which remained the score into extra innings. In the top of the 10th, Gandil drove in Weaver to make it 5-4, and Kerr closed it out to record his - and Chicago's - second win.

Despite the rumors that were already circulating over Cicotte's prior performances, Chicago manager Kid Gleason showed faith in his ace for Game 7. This time, the knuckleballer did not let him down. Chicago scored early and, for once, it was Cincinnati that made errors in the field. The Reds threatened only briefly in the 6th before losing, 4-1, and suddenly the Series was close again.

Now the White Sox were just two wins away from claiming the Series, which was a little too close for comfort in the gamblers' minds. Rothstein had been too smart to bet on individual games but had a considerable sum riding on Cincinnati to win the Series. In the meantime, it seems that another group of gamblers was trying to recoup some of their losses by arranging a counterfix. Both Edd Roush and Hod Eller of the Reds - and perhaps others - were approached with substantial offers of cash to throw the next game, but refused.

The night before the eighth game, Williams, who was due to pitch, was supposedly visited by an anonymous hitman - given the alias "Harry F." by Eight Men Out author Eliot Asinof - who threatened to kill his wife if the outcome of the game was in doubt after the 1st inning. This story has since been exposed as a fabrication by Asinof, however, but there may have been other means by which pressure was exerted on Williams. This is reflected by the fact that Fullerton later wrote that a gambler approached him before Game 8 and told him, "It'll be the biggest first inning you ever saw!"

Whatever Williams had been told made its impression. In the 1st, throwing nothing but mediocre fastballs, he gave up four straight one-out hits to yield three runs before Gleason replaced him with relief pitcher Bill James, who allowed one of Williams' baserunners to score. James continued to be ineffective and, although the Sox rallied in the 8th, the Reds ran out 10-5 victors - clinching the Series 5 games to 3.

The White Sox were defeated on October 9th and throughout the country rumors were rife that the games had been thrown. Fullerton, disgusted by the display of ineptitude with which the White Sox had "thrown" the series, immediately wrote that the Series should never be played again.



The National Commission was much embarrassed about all these rumors of a fixed series, and tried its best to quench them, pretending that nothing untoward could possibly have happened. However, the rumors continued to dog the White Sox throughout the 1920 season, as the team battled the Cleveland Indians for the AL pennant that year, and stories of corruption touched players on other clubs as well. At last, in September 1920, a grand jury was convened to investigate.

During the investigation, three players — Cicotte, Jackson, and Williams — confessed to the grand jury, and the eight players were tried for their role in the fix. A few of the underworld figures were also called to testify, including Arnold Rothstein himself, but their accounts only served to muddy the waters. Prior to the trial, some of the grand jury transcripts, including the players' confessions, were stolen from the prosecutors' office. But when the theft was revealed, the players' testimony was quickly re-created using notes from the court recorder and re-read into the record. This incident had little effect on the trial or its outcome, although some later chroniclers - and Jackson himself - would try to use it to discredit the damning sworn testimony given to the grand jury. The players were acquitted following a jury deliberation of nearly three hours on August 2, 1921.

The Leagues were not so forgiving, however. After Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed to investigate the fix, all eight players were banned from organized baseball for life, and Landis was appointed the inaugural Commissioner of Baseball. Another player, Joe Gedeon of the St. Louis Browns, was also banned for having played a role in one of the attempts to double cross the original fixers. Landis went on a crusade against gambling as Commissioner, banning or suspending several players, and establishing rules against association with gambling that stand to this day. It was very harsh, but it succeeded in restoring the public's confidence.

Some of the banned players later applied to Landis for reinstatement, but the Commissioner never budged. He also threatened any other player caught participating in a game with any of the banned players with being banned in turn, although he rarely (if ever) followed through on that threat and several players who took the field with the banned Black Sox in independent semipro or "outlaw" games later played in the major leagues, including Ernie Wingard, Syd Cohen and Emmett Nelson, among others.

Beginning in the fall of 1921, four of the banned players, Buck Weaver, Joe Jackson, Happy Felsch and Swede Risberg, sued the Chicago White Sox for back wages that weren't paid when the players were suspended by Charles Comiskey. Initially, the players asked for an additional $100,000 in damages because their reputations and means of earning a living had been annihilated, but these charges were dropped as they would have been too hard to prove in a court of law. Felsch, Risberg, and Weaver eventually settled out of court, but Jackson's case went to trial in 1924 in Milwaukee, WI, where the White Sox were incorporated. The jury found in his favor, but the presiding judge set aside the verdict as some of his testimony contradicted what he had told the grand jury in 1920, thereby constituting a prima facie case of perjury. In effect he claimed that he had never said some of the damning admissions contained verbatim in the transcript of his grand jury testimony, something that was too much for the judge to swallow. He was charged with criminal perjury and a warrant was issued for his arrest, but since he never returned to Wisconsin after that episode, the warrant was never executed.

The Black Sox[edit]

Although many believe the Black Sox name to be related to the dark and corrupt nature of the conspiracy, the term Black Sox may have already existed before the fix was investigated. There is a (probably apocryphal) story that the name "Black Sox" was given because parsimonious owner Charles Comiskey refused to pay for the players' uniforms to be laundered, instead insisting that the players themselves pay for the cleaning. The players refused, and the subsequent series of games saw the White Sox play in progressively dirtier uniforms, as dust, sweat, and grime collected on the white, woolen uniforms until they took on a much darker shade.

On the other hand, Eliot Asinof in his book Eight Men Out makes no such connection, referring early on to filthy uniforms but only referring to the term "Black Sox" in connection with the scandal.

What is certain is that the scandal left a black mark on the Chicago franchise. The great team which Comiskey had assembled was in ruins, and it would take years before the White Sox were competitive again. As for a return to the World Series, they had to wait until 1959, when they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team would not be World Champions again until 2005, a gap between titles long enough for many fans to think that the team had been cursed for tampering with one of the basic tenets of the game.

Banned players[edit]

  • "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. The star outfielder, one of the best hitters in the game, confessed to accepting money from the gamblers, both to the grand jury, and later to reporters assembled on the courthouse steps. He later tried to recant this confession and present himself as a man unjustly wronged, but his admissions, the text of which survive, are pretty damning. However, the story told by Hugh Fullerton of a tearful young boy standing on the courthouse steps, calling out "Say it ain't so, Joe!" is almost certainly apocryphal.
  • Eddie Cicotte. The pitcher also confessed to the grand jury to accepting money from the gamblers. His second pitch of Game 1 of the 1919 World Series hit Reds leadoff batter Morrie Rath in the back, which was the pre-arranged signal to the gamblers that the players had accepted the fix.
  • Oscar "Happy" Felsch, center fielder; later became Eliot Asinof's primary source for his 1963 book, Eight Men Out.
  • Claude "Lefty" Williams, pitcher. 0-3 with a 6.63 ERA for the series. His usually excellent control deserted him at key moments of the Series.
  • Arnold "Chick" Gandil, first baseman. The leader of the players who were in on the fix, he did not come back for the 1920 season.
  • Fred McMullin, utility infielder. McMullin was only in on the fix because he overheard a pre-Series conversation between Gandil and Risberg and demanded to be let in. He made two pinch-hit appearances and had one hit in the Series. However, when Gandil retired after the Series, McMullin became the chief liaison between the players and gamblers in 1920, when other games were suspected to be thrown.
  • Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop. Risberg was Gandil's friend and main accomplice during the Series.
  • George "Buck" Weaver, third baseman. Weaver attended the initial meetings, and while he claimed that he didn't go in on the fix, he knew about it, while teammates all mentioned him as being part of the ring. Landis banished him as a part of the scheme, but also added, addressing his defense that he only knew about the fix but was not a participant: "Men associating with crooks and gamblers could expect no leniency". Weaver, to little effect, continued to protest his innocence to successive baseball commissioners until his death in 1956.

The Scandal in Popular Culture[edit]

The Black Sox Scandal had a large impact on Americans' imaginations. Baseball had become enormously popular across the country in the first two decades of the 20th Century. It had become a much more reputable endeavor during that time, with prominent personages such as Connie Mack, owner-manager of the Philadelphia Athletics and New York Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson giving the sport respectability. Beginning with William Howard Taft, Presidents would regularly attend ball games, and all of the country's newspapers covered the World Series in great detail. Magnificent concrete and steel ballparks had risen up in all the Major League cities to replace the makeshift ball yards of the previous century, increasing attendance by leaps and bounds. Thus, the scandal was played out before an enormous audience and ingrained itself profoundly on the nation's consciousness. The following are a number of works of literature, film and music, inspired by the events of the 1919 World Series and the ensuing scandal:

  • In Francis Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925), one of Jay Gatsby's acquaintances in the New York City underworld, Meyer Wolfsheim, is introduced as "the man who fixed the 1919 World Series", a clear allusion to Arnold Rothstein.
  • Writer Nelson Algren, himself a White Sox fan growing up in Chicago at the time of the scandal, wrote a number of works about the scandal, which tended to mythologize the guilty players as outsiders who had been taken advantage of by greedy owners and gamblers. The most famous of these is the 1942 poem "The Swede was a Hard Guy" (the Swede being Swede Risberg, his favorite player as a kid).
  • Eliot Asinof's classic study of the scandal, Eight Men Out (1963), which took a lot of inspiration from Algren, was turned into a film of the same name in 1988.
  • In The Godfather II (1974), two gangsters are speaking; says Hyman Roth, interpreted by Lee Strasberg: "I loved baseball ever since Arnold Rothstein fixed the World Series in 1919".
  • British songwriter Murray Head scored a cult hit with "Say It Ain't So, Joe" (1976), based on the legend of the little kid asking that question of Joe Jackson as he was coming out of the Chicago courthouse, a legend made famous by Algren.
  • William Patrick (W.P.) Kinsella's 1982 novel Shoeless Joe has Joe Jackson as its central character, brought back to life to play in an Iowa cornfield. The book was turned into the very successful film Field of Dreams (1989), starring Kevin Costner. Both the novel and the movie paint a picture of Jackson as a wronged man, who only wanted to play baseball and was incapable of playing at less than his formidable level of natural ability.
  • In 2019, to mark the 100th anniversary of the scandal, composer Joel Puckett wrote the two-act opera "The Fix", based around the events of the scandal, which had its premiere at the Minnesota Opera in St. Paul, MN on March 16th.



Further Reading[edit]

  • Bruce Allardice: "Rachie Brown", SABR Baseball Biography Project,, 2014. [1]
  • Eliot Asinof: Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series, Henry Holt and Company, New York, NY, 1963. ISBN 0805065377
  • Gene Carney: Burying the Black Sox: How Baseball's Cover-up of the 1919 World Series Fix Almost Succeeded, Potomac Books, Dulles, VA, 2005.
  • Gene Carney: "New Light on an Old Scandal", in The Baseball Research Journal, Society for American Baseball Research, Cleveland, OH, # 35 (2007), pp. 74-81.
  • Gene Carney: "Comiskey's Detectives", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 38, Number 2 (Fall 2009), pp. 108-116.
  • William A. Cook: The 1919 World Series: What Really Happened?, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2001. ISBN 978-0-7864-1069-9
  • Susan Dellinger: Red Legs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series, Emmis Books, Cincinnati, OH, 2006.
  • Rob Edelman: "Black Sox on Film", in Stuart Shea, ed.: North Side, South Side, All Around Town, The National Pastime, SABR, 2015. ISBN 978-1-93359987-8
  • James T. Farrell: Dreaming Baseball, Kent State University Press, Kent, OH, 2007. ISBN 978-0-87338-897-9
  • Charles Fountain: The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2015. ISBN 978-0199795130
  • Tim Hornbaker: Turning the Black Sox White: The Misunderstood Legacy of Charles A. Comiskey, Sports Publishing LLC, New York, NY, 2014. ISBN 978-1613216385
  • William F. Lamb: Black Sox in the Courtroom: The Grand Jury, Criminal Trial and Civil Litigation, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2013. ISBN 978-0-7864-7268-0
  • William F. Lamb: "The Black Sox Scandal", in Jacob Pomrenke, ed.: Scandal on the South Side: The 1919 Chicago White Sox, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2015, pp. 298-309. ISBN 978-1-933599-95-3
  • William Lamb: "Jury Nullification and the Not Guilty Verdicts in the Black Sox Case", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 44, Number 2 (Fall 2015), pp. 47-56.
  • Bill Lamb: "An Ever-Changing Story: Exposition and Analysis of Shoeless Joe Jackson's Public Statements on the Black Sox Scandal", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 48, Nr. 1, Spring 2019, pp. 37-48.
  • Josh Peter: "Could players throw World Series today as Black Sox did 100 years ago?", USA Today, October 22, 2019. [2]
  • David Pietrusza: Rothstein: The Life, Times & Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, Basic Books, Perseus Books Group, New York, NY, 2011 (originally published in 2003). ISBN 978-0465029389
  • Jacob Pomrenke: "Bringing Home the Bacon: How the Black Sox Got Back into Baseball", in The National Pastime - A Review of Baseball History, Society for American Baseball Research, Cleveland, OH, number 26 (May, 2006), pp. 45-53.
  • Joseph L. Reichler: "The Black Sox Scandal", in The World Series: A 75th Anniversary, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 1978, pp. 142-147.
  • Bill Savage and S.P. Donohue: "The Endurance of Black Sox Mythology: Narrative Conventions and Poetic Forms", The National Pastime, SABR, 51, 2023, pp. 53-57.
  • Rick Swaine: "The Ninth Man Out", in The National Pastime, SABR, Number 20 (2000), pp. 87-89.
  • John Thorn: "Forget What You Know About the Black Sox Scandal: The 1919 plan to fix the World Series is shrouded in myth.", The New York Times, October 9, 2019. [3]
  • Bill Veeck with Ed Linn: The Hustler's Handbook, Ivan R. Dee Publishers, Chicago, IL, 2009 (originally published in 1965). ISBN 1566638275
  • Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns: "An Awful Thing To Do", in Baseball: An Illustrated History, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, 1994, pp. 133-145.
  • Don Zminda: Double Plays and Double Crosses: The Black Sox and Baseball in 1920, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, MD, 2021. ISBN 978-1-5381-4232-5

External Links[edit]