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The 1919 World Series almost ruined the game of baseball, and left the sport with a black eye for decades. It is the story of corruption, of eight men out, and of politics creeping into sports. From a distance, the scandal seemed very black and white (excuse the pun), but there were many moving parts and motivations behind the eight players eventually accused of throwing the World Series.
Although the modern incarnations of the White Sox ballparks have been named after Charles Comiskey, who was the founding owner of the Sox, was widely disliked by players and members of the club from top to bottom. Comiskey was notorious for underpaying his players despite their success (the White Sox had won the 1917 World Series). Comiskey would even force players to launder their own uniforms.
Another example: Comiskey promised pitcher Eddie Cicotte a $10,000 bonus if he won 30 games one season. As Cicotte neared the 30-win mark, Comiskey had him benched so he couldn’t win that 30th game.
The dissension growing towards Comiskey seemed to be the first chip to fall regarding the scandal.
Aside from Comiskey’s stinginess as an owner, the clubhouse itself was divided between the more bawdy, angry players, and the straight-laced ballplayers who toed the company line. One side hardly spoke to the other, though they were all frustrated with Comiskey. The environment was ripe for a fix.
Secret meetings with gamblers and shady outliers of the sport, including noted gangster Arnold Rothstein who was the ringleader, were held, and some players agreed to do their part to throw games during the Series, which was a best of 9 in 1919 rather than a best of 7. George “Buck” Weaver was a part of those meetings, though he decided against throwing games and had a solid Series hitting.324.
All in all, there were eight members of the team who agreed in one facet or another to participate in throwing the games as the White Sox took on the Cincinnati Reds.
Rumors were already abounding in gambling circles that a fix was in before the Series started, and the bets came pouring in on the Reds side which dropped the odds considerably.
Despite the fix being in place, the White Sox and the Reds played to 8 games out of nine to try and disguise things. The rumors of the conspiracy made their way to the press box, where two reporters, Hugh Fullerton and Christy Mathewson, began taking copious notes of each of the players to see who was playing suspect ball.
It took a year for a Grand Jury to begin their investigation against the White Sox, who at the time were playing the Cleveland Indians for the American League pennant. A trial began the following summer, in July of 1921, and eventually eight members of the team were subsequently banned from baseball:
Eddie Cicotte, the pitcher who was kept from earning his $10,000 bonus by Comiskey, admitted playing a part in the fix.
Arnold “Chick” Gandil was the leader of the group of players who threw the Series. Despite his later claims that they abandoned the whole idea during the Series when they realized all eyes were on them, Gandil still expressed remorse for participating.
Fred McMullin was a utility infielder who forced his way into the payday for the fix after he discovered the plot.
George “Buck” Weaver, who attended meetings but didn’t participate, was banned from baseball for mere association.
Claude Williams was perhaps the most glaring participant in the scandal. Left Williams went 0-3 with a bloated 6.63 ERA during the Series, and is still the only starting pitcher in MLB history to lose 3 games in the World Series.
Other members of the Black Sox who were banned from baseball included Charles Risberg and, arguably the most famous member of the eight men, Shoeless Joe Jackson…
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson
Joe Jackson was a fan favorite, one of the best hitters in the game at the time, and the Sox star outfielder. While Jackson confessed to a Grand Jury that he took $5,000 from the gamblers who had plotted the fix, he later recanted his testimony and argued his innocence. It never helped. Years after the scandal, the other players involved admitted Jackson’s innocence, claiming he had never participated in meetings or taking any money.
While the involvement of Joe Jackson is still unclear, there is no denying his play during the Series. Jackson hit .375, leading all players on both teams, and hit the only home run of the entire Series. He committed no errors in the outfield, and threw out several runners during the Series. But there is the glaring note that he played a little worse in the five games the Sox lost, which could simply be coincidence.
The Black Sox scandal crippled the franchise moving forward. The Sox wound up in seventh place at the end of 1921 and would not appear in a pennant game until 1936. They would not win another World Series until 2005.