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Black Sox scandal: Chicago throws 1919 World Series

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 22, 1999


The 1919 Chicago White Sox had Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams, superb pitchers. And slick-fielding Chick Gandil at first base and workhorse Buck Weaver at third. And outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson.

The White Sox were, to put it simply, the best team money could buy.

And it got bought.

Led by Gandil, who rounded up Cicotte, Williams, Weaver, Jackson, shortstop Swede Risberg, outfielder Oscar Happy Felsch and utility player Fred McMullin, Chicago threw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

There was good reason the Sox were susceptible to the lure of quick money. They were among the American League's best players but Charles Comiskey paid most of them no more than the worst. The promised bonus for winning the 1917 pennant was a case of cheap champagne. Before the 1919 season, Comiskey promised Cicotte an extra $10,000 if he won 30 games. When Cicotte reached 29, Comiskey benched him. Player resentment was rampant.

On Sept. 18, the World Series fix was hatched in Gandil's room in Boston's Hotel Buckminster when he summoned bookmaker-gambler Joseph "Sport" Sullivan and told him: "I think we can put it in the bag." Gandil asked for $80,000 (later raised to $100,000). He approached the bitter Cicotte, who said he'd go along for $10,000 up front. Gandil also sold the idea to Williams and Risberg; McMullin overheard Gandil and asked in. Weaver apparently sat in on some meetings but refused to participate.

Jackson insisted that when Gandil offered him $10,000, and even when he doubled it, he refused to go along. Gandil supposedly told Jackson to take it or leave it because the fix was in anyway. Gandil may have lied and said Shoeless Joe was part of the scheme, essential since Jackson was the star of the team.

Gandil was told he'd be paid before the first game. But Sullivan didn't have that kind of money. He brought in other gamblers and, through them, Arnold Rothstein. It was said he would bet on anything he could fix. Rothstein provided most of the money.

The night before Game 1 in the best-of-9 Series (an experiment ended after three seasons), Cicotte found $10,000 under a pillow in his hotel room. None of the others was paid up front. The next day, Cicotte's second pitch hit Reds leadoff batter Morrie Rath, the signal that the fix was in.

Cicotte was hammered 9-1 by the Reds. Despite not getting the money promised for losing Game 1 -- they were told it was out on bets, the players agreed to throw Game 2. Williams lost 4-2. That night, Gandil demanded the $40,000 he and his teammates were owed. He was given $10,000. The players felt betrayed and began to think about playing to win.

They won the third game 3-0 when rookie Dickie Kerr pitched a three-hitter. Before Game 4, Sullivan came up with $20,000 and promised $20,000 more if Chicago lost. Gandil split the $20,000 evenly among Risberg, Felsch, Williams and Jackson. ( McMullin and Weaver would never see a dime.) Cicotte lost 2-0; Williams lost 5-0.

Once again the promised $20,000 never appeared. The conspirators decided they'd been lied to enough and played to win, beating the Reds 5-4 and 4-1 in Games 6 and 7.

Rothstein took matters into his own hands. A thug was dispatched to tell Williams, the Game 8 starter, that something would happen to him -- and maybe to his wife -- if he lasted the first inning. The terrified Williams gave up four hits in one-third of an inning; the Reds won 10-5 to take the World Series.

There were newspaper stories suggesting the games had been fixed. The owners privately feared it was true but publicly denied it. Jackson, conscience stricken, tried to see Comiskey to ask what to do with his $5,000. Comiskey refused to see him. Then Jackson sent him a letter saying games might have been fixed. Comiskey never replied.

In September 1920, a Cook County grand jury in Chicago was looking into reports that the Cubs had thrown a three-game series to the Phillies that year. The investigation spread to the 1919 White Sox.

At the same time, with a disillusioned public questioning the game's integrity, the owners dissolved their three-man National Commission that had run the game, hired Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the game's first commissioner and gave him virtually unlimited power.

Cicotte and Jackson admitted their roles to the grand jury. Gandil, the ringleader, admitted nothing. All eight players and several gamblers (but not Rothstein) were indicted for conspiracy to defraud the public. All were acquitted for want of evidence after transcripts of Cicotte's and Jackson's confessions disappeared from the court files.

The next day, though, Landis barred all eight from organized baseball for life. "Regardless of the verdict of juries," he said, "no player who throws a ball game, no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball."

As for a teary-eyed boy looking up at Jackson and pleading, "Say it ain't so, Joe," well, it ain't so.

"Charley Owens of the Chicago Daily News was responsible for that, but there wasn't a bit of truth in it," Jackson said years later. "It was supposed to have happened the day I was arrested in September of 1920, when I came out of the courtroom. There weren't any words passed between anybody except me and a deputy sheriff. ... Nobody else said anything to me. It just didn't happen, that's all."

Information from Times researcher Kitty Bennett, Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof (Henry Holt & Co.), and Baseball: An illustrated history, by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns (Alfred A. Knopf), was used in this report.

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