If you have not read Part One of this series, I would strongly suggest you do so. Part One introduces all of the characters you'll need to know to get the most from this summary of the scandal.
Part II - The Fix
Charles Comisky was not a very nice man; he was the kind of man who kept his players down, lied to them, cheated them, and even sabotaged them. He was rather typical of a certain breed of owners. His entire payroll for the 1919 Chicago White Sox was $85,000 (lowest in the majors according to some sources). He spoke a big game telling the public and his cronies that many of his stars made salaries of $10,000 or more per year, when the truth was that most were grossly underpaid. Joe Jackson earned $6,000, Eddie Cicotte $5500, Lefty Williams $2600, and Swede Risberg $3000. These men struggled to survive on what Comisky paid and had no faith in his “promises.”
Part of that belief stemmed from the winning of the 1917 pennant. Charles Comisky promised the team a bonus for winning the pennant that year. The players responded by winning the pennant, and they got their bonus - not money, but a case of cheap champagne delivered to the clubhouse. That was the kind of man Comisky was.
To understand the scandal, one needs to know a little of the chemistry within the clubhouse. The clubhouse was one divided into two real cliques, who didn’t understand or generally care much for each other. One group was educated, genteel, and from a better socio-economic background, while the other was uneducated, blue collar, and made it much easier for Comisky to take advantage of. He did so remorselessly, underpaying and exploiting these players, some of who could not even write their own names. This group included all of the Black Sox.
While what they did was not forgivable, you need to realize that this clique made barely enough to survive, and had no life of leisure. Comisky claimed to pay them well, but those claims were empty. His educated players made more money, and his top paid player (Eddie Collins) earned $15,000 by himself. Because of this, the Black Sox were much more susceptible to bribery and the lure of two to five times their annual salary for throwing the series. Add to that their resentment of Charles Comisky and his words and promises, and the treatment they received by the better paid and educated teammates and you begin to understand how they were swayed to betray the White Sox. They felt the White Sox had been betraying them the whole time.
The plot was hatched between 2-3 weeks before the World Series when Chick Gandil approached his friend, gambler Sport Sullivan. They conspired to get the players to sell the series for about $80,000 (presumably $10,000 per player). The amount of money was too rich for Sullivan to handle by himself so he enlisted the aid of former Major Leaguer Bill Burns who had made money in oil after his career.
Presumably during this time, Gandil began recruiting players to form his core of players to throw the series. He offered Joe Jackson $10,000 and Jackson refused. He upped the ante to $20,000 and perhaps thought it was settled, especially after threatening Jackson. In any case, the amount of money he demanded from the gamblers moved from $80,000 to $100,000. How much he ever really planned on sharing has never been established.
Burns and Sullivan approached another gambler, by the name of William Maharg, looking to use his contacts to raise the bankroll for the fix. Maharg met with Gandil and Cicotte at the Ansonia Hotel in New York City while the Sox were in town to play the Yankees and they confirmed that for $100,000 they could arrange the fix. Maharg was interested and began to raise the money. He was turned away by his contacts in Philadelphia and directed to Arnold Rothstein, a gambler and racketeer in New York.
What happened after that is not quite clear. Rothstein supposedly did not think the series could be fixed and rejected the idea, but later his bodyguard, former featherweight boxing champion Abe Attell who knew Burns, was willing to make the deal go forward. It’s generally believed that Rothstein bankrolled the project, but Bill Maharg said in the papers that he believed that Attell did the whole thing and never planned on coming up with the money.
If the money was ever totally paid is very questionable. Certainly at least $25,000 was paid out to players, all through Chick Gandil who many of the players thought pocketed most of the money. Eddie Cicotte got $10,000 before game one, and Williams and Jackson were given $5,000 each, as was Happy Felsch after game four.
Whatever happened to the money may be a question. What happened in the World Series was not. The World Series in those days was a best of nine affair. The White Sox were big favorites to win. Game one was a blowout 9-1 in favor of the Reds. Game 2 was a 4-2, again in favor of the Reds, after Lefty Williams was uncharacteristically wild. However, the players involved in the fix were getting antsy. Their money had not yet come.
Gandil promised it was coming, but in Game 3 the White Sox won on a three hit shutout by “Wee” Dickie Kerr. Now the gamblers were getting nervous. They assured Gandil that even though it was supposed to be paid after each loss, he would have it after the next game. The Sox dropped game four and some money came. Williams, Felsch and Jackson received payment.
Game 5 also went to the Reds. Now they were up 4-1. More money failed to arrive. Perhaps out of anger, the Sox rallied to win the next two before finally losing the Series.
There were rumors floating about the city and the nation that the series was fixed, even before it started. They even made the papers. Over time the rumors died out because people just did not believe that a World Series could be fixed. Charles Comisky may have believed it; he even offered a $10,000 reward for evidence that would prove his players intentionally dumped games.
Four investigations were launched, all using private investigators hired by Ban Johnson (American League President), Bill Veeck (of the Cubs), Charles Comisky, and John Haydler (President of the National League). Newspaperman Hugh Fullerton, who also had made allegations and chased his own leads, conducted a fifth investigation. The total evidence uncovered was a secondhand quote from Cicotte supposedly saying “I got mine,” and a telegram supposedly sent from Gandil to his wife saying I BET MY SHOES. He supposedly also spent money rather freely.
The investigations died there, and the 1920 baseball season rolled around. Then during the heat of the pennant race, on September 20th 1920 a newspaper story broke. It was about a gambler named Bill Marharg and it told about how the World Series was sold for $100,000. Needless to say, the story caused a huge stir and nearly destroyed baseball. Executives considered canceling the World Series and even the 1921 season in its entirety.
Shortly afterwards, pitcher Eddie Cicotte confessed to the fix and the issue became a legal matter.
In Part III, we wrap up the story of the Chicago Black Sox by discussing the trial, the publicity and the eventual banning of Chicago's eight men out.
*** Notes for this piece came from a variety of sources including newspapers, web sites, and books including Harvey Frommer’s Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball , as well as Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out (soon to be reviewed here At Home Plate). For more information I would strongly suggest some reading on the subject.