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1919 Chicago White Sox team photo

The Black Sox Scandal refers to an incident that took place around and during the play of the 1919 World Series. The name "Black Sox" also refers to the Chicago White Sox team from that era. Eight members of the major league franchise were banned for life from baseball for throwing (intentionally losing) games, and essentially giving the series to the Cincinnati Reds. The conspiracy was the brainchild of White Sox first baseman Arnold "Chick" Gandil, who had longstanding ties to petty underworld figures. He persuaded Joseph "Sport" Sullivan, a friend and professional gambler, that the fix could be pulled off. New York gangster Arnold Rothstein supplied the money through his lieutenant Abe Attell, a former featherweight boxing champion.

Gandil enlisted several of his teammates, motivated by a dislike of tightwad club owner Charles Comiskey, to implement the fix. All of them were members of a faction on the team that resented the better-educated players on the squad, such as second baseman Eddie Collins, catcher Ray Schalk, and pitcher Red Faber. By most contemporary accounts, the two factions almost never spoke to each other on or off the field, and the only thing they had in common was a resentment of Comiskey.

Starting pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude "Lefty" Williams, outfielder Oscar "Happy" Felsch, and shortstop Charles "Swede" Risberg were all principally involved with Gandil. Third baseman Buck Weaver was also asked to participate, but refused. Weaver was later banned with the others for knowing of the fix but not reporting it. Although he hardly played in the series, utility infielder Fred McMullin got word of the fix and threatened to report the others unless he was in on the payoff. Star outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson was also mentioned as a participant, though his involvement is disputed.

Stories of the Black Sox scandal have usually included Comiskey as a villain, focusing in particular on his intentions regarding a clause in Cicotte's contract that would have paid Cicotte an additional $10,000 bonus for winning 30 games. According to Eliot Asinof's account of the events, Eight Men Out, Cicotte was "rested" for the season's final two weeks after reaching his 29th win, presumably to deny him the bonus. However, the record is perhaps more complex. Cicotte won his 29th game on September 19, had an ineffective start on September 24, and was pulled after a few innings in a tuneup on the season's final day, September 28 (the World Series beginning 3 days later). However, this story is probably true in reference to the 1917 season, when Cicotte won 28 games before being benched.

The Series

Even before the Series started on October 1, there were rumors among gamblers that the series was fixed, and a sudden influx of money being bet on Cincinnati caused the odds against them to fall rapidly. These rumors also reached the press box where a number of 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. Despite the rampant rumors, gamblers continued to wager heavily against the White Sox. On the second pitch of the Series, Eddie Cicotte struck Cincinnati leadoff hitter Morrie Rath in the back, signaling the players' willingness to go through with the fix.

Shoeless Joe Jackson

The extent of Joe Jackson's participation in the conspiracy remains controversial. Jackson maintained that he was innocent. He had a Series-leading .375 batting average, claimed to have thrown out five baserunners, and handled 30 chances in the outfield with no errors. However, he batted far worse in the five games that the White Sox lost, with a batting average of .286 in those games (which, it should be noted, is not an altogether bad batting average). Three of his six RBI came in the losses, including a home run and a double in Game 8 when the Reds had a large lead and the series was all but over. Still, in that game a long foul ball was caught at the fence with runners on second and third, depriving Jackson of a chance to drive in the runners. Statistics also show that in the other games that the White Sox lost, only five of Jackson's at-bats came with a man in scoring position, and he advanced the runners twice.

Jackson, generally considered a strong defensive player, was unable to prevent a critical two-run triple to left during the series.

One play in particular has been subjected to much scrutiny. In the fifth inning of Game 4, with a Cincinnati player on second, Jackson fielded a single hit to left field and threw home. The run scored and the White Sox lost the game 2-0. Chick Gandil, another leader of the fix, later admitted to yelling at Cicotte to intercept the throw. Cicotte, whose guilt is undisputed, made three errors in that fifth inning alone.

Another argument, presented in the book Eight Men Out, is that because Jackson was illiterate, he had little awareness of the seriousness of the plot, and thus he consented to it only when Swede Risberg threatened him and his family.

Years later, all of the implicated players said that Jackson was never present at any of the meetings they had with the gamblers. Lefty Williams, Jackson's roommate, later said that they only brought up Jackson in hopes of giving them more credibility with the gamblers.

Williams, one of the "Eight Men Out," lost three games, a Series record. Dickie Kerr, who was not part of the fix, won both of his starts. Cicotte bore down and won Game 7 of the best-5-of-9 Series; he was angry that the gamblers were now reneging on their promises, as they claimed that all the money was in the hands of bookies. Reportedly the eight players were told to lose Game 8 "or else," and they were trounced by the Reds to end the Series.


The rumors dogged the White Sox throughout the 1920 season, as they battled the Cleveland Indians for the American League 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.

Two players, Eddie Cicotte and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, confessed their participation in the scheme to the Chicago grand jury on September 28, 1920. On the eve of their final season series, the White Sox were in a virtual tie for first place with the Cleveland Indians. The Sox would need to win all 3 and then hope for Cleveland to stumble, as the Indians had more games in hand. Despite the season being on the line, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey suspended the seven White Sox still in the majors (Chick Gandil had conspicuously left the team and was playing semi-pro ball). He said that he had no choice but to suspend them, even though this action likely cost the White Sox any chance of winning that year's American League pennant. The White Sox lost 2 of 3 in their final series against the St. Louis Browns and finished in second place, two games behind Cleveland.

Prior to the trial, key evidence went missing from the Cook Countymarker Courthouse, including the signed confessions of Cicotte and Jackson, who subsequently recanted their confessions. The players were acquitted. (Some years later, the missing confessions reappeared in the possession of Comiskey's lawyer.)

Player John F. "Shano" Collins is named as the wronged party in the indictments of the key figures in the Black Sox scandal. The indictment claims that by throwing the world series the alleged conspirators defrauded him of $1,784 dollars.

However, baseball was not so forgiving. The damage to the sport's reputation led the owners to appoint federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the first Commissioner of Baseball. The day after the players were acquitted, Landis issued his own verdict:

Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers 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.

With this statement, all eight implicated White Sox were banned from Major League Baseball for life, as were two other players believed to be involved. With seven of their best players permanently sidelined, the White Sox crashed into seventh place in 1921 and would not be a factor in a pennant race again until 1936, five years after Comiskey's death. They would not win another American League championship until 1959 (a then-record 40-year gap) nor another World Series until 2005, prompting some to speculate about a Curse of the Black Sox.

After being banned, Risberg and several other members of the Black Sox tried to organize a three-state barnstorming tour. However, they were forced to cancel those plans after Landis let it be known that anyone who played with or against them would also be banned from baseball for life. They then announced plans to play a regular exhibition game every Sunday in Chicago, but the Chicago City Council threatened to cancel the license of any ballpark that hosted them.

The 10 players not implicated in the gambling scandal, as well as manager Kid Gleason, were each given bonus checks in the amount of $1500 by Charles A. Comiskey in the fall of 1920 — the difference between the winners' and losers' share for participation in the 1919 World Series.

The banned players

  • Eddie Cicotte, pitcher, died on May 5, 1969, had the longest life; living to the age of 84. Admitted involvement in the fix.
  • Oscar "Happy" Felsch, center fielder, died on August 17, 1964, at 72.
  • Arnold "Chick" Gandil, first baseman. The leader of the players who were in on the fix. He did not play in the majors in 1920, playing semi-pro ball instead. In 1956, he expressed remorse for the fix, but claimed that he and his colleagues abandoned it and kept the money after rumors spread that the fix was in. He died on December 13, 1970, at 82.
  • "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. The star outfielder, one of the best hitters in the game, confessed in sworn grand jury testimony to having accepted $5,000 cash from the gamblers. He later recanted his confession and protested his innocence to no effect until his death on December 5, 1951, at 63. Years later, the other players all said that Jackson had never been involved in any of the meetings with the gamblers, and other evidence has since surfaced that casts doubt on his role.
  • Fred McMullin, utility infielder. McMullin would not have been included in the fix had he not overheard the other players' conversations. He threatened to tell all if not included. His impact as team scout may have had more impact on the fix, since he saw minimal playing time in the series. He died on November 21, 1952, He was 61.
  • Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop. Risberg was Gandil's assistant. The last living player among the Black Sox, he lived on until October 13, 1975, his 81st birthday.
  • George "Buck" Weaver, third baseman. Weaver attended the initial meetings, and while he did not go in on the fix, he knew about it. Landis banished him on this basis, stating "Men associating with crooks and gamblers could expect no leniency." On January 13, 1922, Weaver unsuccessfully applied for reinstatement. Like Jackson, Weaver continued to profess his innocence to successive baseball commissioners to no effect. He died on January 31, 1956, at 65.
  • Claude "Lefty" Williams, pitcher. Went 0–3 with a 6.63 ERA for the series. Only one other pitcher in the entire history of baseball - George Frazier of the 1981 New York Yankees - has ever lost three games in one World Series. Williams died on November 4, 1959, at 66. John Sayles's film Eight Men Out claims Williams and Cicotte had become disillusioned by the fix and wanted to back away from it, with Cicotte winning a critical game but Williams fixing the final game after his wife's life was threatened if he failed to cooperate.

Also banned was Joe Gedeon, second baseman for the St. Louis Browns. Gedeon placed bets since he learned of the fix from Risberg, a friend of his. He informed Comiskey of the fix after the Series in an effort to gain a reward. He was banned for life by Landis along with the eight White Sox.

Origin of "Black Sox"

Although many believe the Black Sox name to be related to the dark and corrupt nature of the conspiracy, the term "Black Sox" may already have existed before the fix. There is a story that the name "Black Sox" derived from parsimonious owner Charles Comiskey's refusal to pay for the players' uniforms to be laundered, instead insisting that the players themselves pay for the cleaning. As the story goes, the players refused and subsequent games saw the White Sox play in progressively filthier uniforms as dust, 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.

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

In popular culture

Eliot Asinof's book Eight Men Out is the best-known history of the scandal. Director John Sayles' 1988 film based on Asinof's book is a dramatization of the scandal, focusing largely on Buck Weaver as the one banned player who did not take any money. It stars John Cusack as Weaver, David Strathairn as Eddie Cicotte, D.B. Sweeney as Joe Jackson, Charlie Sheen as Oscar Felsch, and Sayles himself as then-sportswriter Ring Lardner — to whom Sayles bears a resemblance.

The 1952 novel, The Natural, and its 1984 filmed dramatization The Natural, were inspired significantly by the events of the scandal. Author Bernard Malamud said that he based doomed protagonist Roy Hobbs on Joe Jackson.

W.P. Kinsella's novel Shoeless Joe is the story of an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball field in his cornfield after hearing a mysterious voice. Later, Shoeless Joe Jackson and other members of the Black Sox come to play on his field. The novel was adapted into the hit film Field of Dreams.

Also, in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby, a minor character named Meyer Wolfsheim was said to have helped in the Black Sox scandal, though this is purely fictional. In explanatory notes accompanying the novel's 75th anniversary edition, editor Matthew Bruccoli describes the character as being directly based on Arnold Rothstein.

In Dan Gutman's novel Shoeless Joe & Me, the protagonist, Joe, goes back in time to try to prevent Shoeless Joe from being banned for life.

Also, in the film The Godfather Part II, the fictional gangster Hyman Roth alludes to the scandal when he says, "I've loved baseball ever since Arnold Rothstein fixed the World Series in 1919."

Jonathan Coulton wrote a song titled Kenesaw Mountain Landis where Landis is a vigilante who "was seventeen feet tall, he had a hundred and fifty wives" who shoots off Shoeless Joe's middle finger during the World Series game. The real Landis was the first Major League Baseball commissioner.

See also


  1. Arnold "Chick" Gandil (as told to Melvin Durslag), "This is My Story of the Black Sox Series," Sports Illustrated, September 17, 1956
  2. A contemporary press account indicates that Chicotte told that grand jury that he was "asked to groove balls over the plate so they could be hit and make wild throws if necessary, disobey [catchers'] signals, and boot batted balls if I had to in order to let Cincinnati win." Jackson is said to have admitted the grand jury to "muff" catches and underthrow to the infield, which "netted the Cincinnati team several runs that they never would have had if we had been playing on the square." "Chicotte Tells What His Orders Were in Series," Minnesota Daily Star, September 29, 1920, pg. 5. However, the actual stenographic record of Jackson's grand jury appearance does not confirm this purported testimony. The stenogram of Jackson's testimony is available as a downloadable pdf at
  3. Eight Men Out, pg. 289-291.
  4. "Honest White Sox Get $1,500 Apiece for 1919 Loses," Minnesota Daily Star, October 5, 1920, pg. 5.


  • Chicago Historical Society: Black Sox
  • Famous American Trials: The Black Sox Trial
  • Asinof, Eliot. Eight Men Out. New York: Henry Holt. 1963. ISBN 0-8050-6537-7.
  • Ginsburg, Daniel E. The Fix Is In: A History of Baseball Gambling and Game Fixing Scandals. McFarland and Co., 1995. 317 pages. ISBN 0-7864-1920-2.
  • Pietrusza, David Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, New York: Carroll & Graf, 2003. ISBN 0-7867-1250-3

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