|1919 World Series Black Sox Scandal|
The game of baseball is a clean, straight game.
--William Howard Taft
Ooh. Not so quick, Mr. Taft, for even the national pastime has its blemish: the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. It appeared, at first, to be like any other World Series: two highly competitive teams playing their hardest to see who would be crowned champions of baseball, and who would simply go home. In this expanded series, the Reds seemed to barely survive to win 5 games to 3. But they had some help. Yes, the 1919 World Series was the one fixed by the infamous Black Sox scandal.
"What??" You may ask. "FIX the World Series?? How is that possible?"
Here's the story.
Baseball wasn't so much invented as it was developed. Brought over from England in the form of such games as "stoolball" or criquet, individuals like Abner Doubleday soon developed the rules and concept of the game "baseball" in the mid 1800s. The first professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was fielded in 1869, and other semi-pro teams soon followed in their footsteps. Traveling around the country and playing in public parks spread knowledge and popularity of the game until teams could actually start charging people to attend. Baseball's popularity kept increasing, and, by the turn of the century, it was a legitimate business with two major leagues and numerous minor and semi-pro leagues with teams all over the nation.
The first World Series was staged in 1903, and the annual contest between the two top teams quickly became one of the most anticipated events in America -- comparable to the Super Bowl today. Attendance kept rising, and, following World War I, there was another boom in popularity. 1919 saw attendance records being set in many ballparks. The World Series that year was expected to be profitable -- and it was, generating 50% more revenue than any other World Series to date. It was such a big event, with so much money flowing around, that if someone could actually know the outcome beforehand, they could make a pretty tidy profit . . .
Enter the gamblers. There was no one single mastermind behind the idea of the fix; it was more a collaboration of ideas. Two, however, stand out above the rest: William Thomas "Sleepy Bill" Burns and Billy Maharg. Burns was an ex-major league pitcher and was the connection to the players. Maharg was the gambler with the connections underground. With big money and even bigger dreams, those two men approached two of the White Sox players, Pitcher Ed Cicotte and First Baseman Arnold "Chick" Gandil, about fixing the Series.
The players realized it would take more than just two of them to ensure a proper fix, and, after speaking to a few of their teammates, added six more to their rank: Pitcher Lefty Williams, Centerfielder Happy Felsch, Shortstop Swede Risberg, Thirdbaseman Buck Weaver, Utilityman Fred McMullin, and one of the best and most popular stars ever, Leftfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. In order to pay off eight men, however, Burns and Maharg would need to come up with some more cash, and fast. They hit up "The Big Bankroll" Arnold Rothstein for a much needed loan, along with about half a dozen others. In the end, the gamblers bet nearly half a million dollars on the Reds, while agreeing to pay the players $100,000 to split.
Baseball players salaries were modest in those days -- even for the times -- so, split up, each player was going to take home years' worth of pay. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pad their wallets. Money talks; they listened and were convinced. And so what if it was illegal? No one would ever find out.
Unfortunately, that is where they were wrong. A lot of people were needed to raise enough money to make the fix profitable as well as pay off the players, and that meant more people knowing about the scandal. All those people, of course, bet on the Reds, and they also told their friends to do the same. Word got around. Heavy betting, a sudden change in the odds, and loose lips all combined to raise suspicion. According to some accounts, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson told the owner of the White Sox, Charles Comiskey, of the fix and was ignored.
The Series was played, and, despite gallant efforts by the other 17 men on the team, the fix was a success, and the fans couldn't even tell the Series had been thrown. Word continued to spread, and rumors swirled around throughout the next season. Finally, late in 1920, the eight players dubbed the "Black Sox" were indicted.
The Black Sox Scandal -- Aftermath and Effects
The Scandal couldn't have come at a worse time. A post-war depression was starting to sink in, there was public disillusionment, and racial tensions were reaching a boiling point. The need of America for its good old national pastime was at a peak, and this fiasco ruined even that for the public. The Offical Encyclopedia of Baseball says, "baseball suffered a near-fatal blow upon the revelation that the infamous Chicago 'Black Sox' had thrown the 1919 Series . . ." For those die-hard fans, this was a blow from which they might never recover. Still, in present day, nearly 80 years after the fact, baseball fans talk about the Black Sox scandal with a lowered voice and an embarrassed look in their eyes. It's a stain on the revered game that even time is having a problem washing away. The scandal even left its own legacy that is still inciting arguments among fans today: the fate of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.
The first commissioner of baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, suspended each of the players, and initially promised them reinstatement if they were found not guilty. He still banned them all for life in spite of the fact that all were cleared of criminal charges.
"Regardless of the verdict of the juries," he said, "no player that throws a ball game . . . will ever again play professional baseball." What followed was controversy.
While seven of the eight "Black Sox" went so far as confessing, one player seemed to be relatively innocent -- "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. Joseph Jefferson Jackson was one of the best hitters to play the game, finishing with a .356 career average (third all time), and, in the last years before Babe Ruth took over the sport, was arguably the most popular. A sure-fire Hall-of-Famer.
In the Series he hit a robust .375 while setting a major league World Series record with 12 hits, one of which was the only home run hit during the entire Series. Does that sound like the type of performance one trying to lose would have?
While reportedly "Acknowledging that he had let up in key situations," Joe Jackson has received tremendous support over the years for his ban to be lifted and for his induction into the Hall of Fame. Posthumously, unfortunately. The evidence? Apparently not only had he told Comiskey of the fix, but asked to be benched during the series so there was no way anyone could say he had a part in it. Comiskey refused, and actually tried to cover up the fix afterwards to save face. The definitive web site on Joe Jackson, The "'Shoeless' Joe Jackson Virtual Hall of Fame" (which is accessible through the 1919 World Series Stats Link, to the right) had this conclusion to draw from Jackson's actions and innocence as found by the court of law, "Over the years they have called Joe Jackson many things, some good, some bad. It is now time they called him a Hall of Famer." The Splendid Splinter himself, Ted Williams, said (according to Dennis McCroskey), "Joe was banned for life by Judge Landis, and his life is over, so give the man his due place in baseball history." He went on to say that many Hall of Fame players also support Joe's induction into the Hall.
The Black Sox scandal of 1919 started out as a few gamblers trying to get rich, and turned into one of the biggest, and easily the darkest, event in baseball history. It was another jolt to a nation already in turmoil and made the American people lose faith in the game they loved. The players and conspirators are long dead, but the controvery rages on. How much did everyone know? How big a part did people play? Who did what? And lastly, should "Shoeless" Joe be admitted to the Hall of Fame, an honor he otherwise earned? Thankfully, Joe was not bitter, even in the end. A holy man was he, and I leave you with his words:
I am going to meet the greatest umpire of all -- and He knows I'm innocent. --"Shoeless" Joe Jackson
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