In a nutshell: A number of Chicago White Sox Players were involved in throwing the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. The players supposedly took money from gamblers to take the series. Eight members of the White Sox were banned for life from the game.
In part one we introduce to you the players and Charles Comisky, as well as other key figures involved in the drama.* In part two you will get the story.
The Players who were Banned:
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson (OF): Perhaps one of the greatest players of all time, Joe was a career .356 hitter, who hit 54 home runs (pretty good power for the “dead ball” era), drove in 785 runs, scored 873 runs, and stole 202 bases over 13 seasons. Considered by many including Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams to be the greatest natural hitter of all time. He was really immortalized in modern culture by the film Field of Dreams. His involvement in the throwing of the series is questioned by many. His own testimony acknowledges that he knew of the fix and received a payment of $5000. He may have tried to expose the fix, but was rebuffed by the office of Charles Comisky who may himself have been involved.
He hit .375 with a home run, 3 doubles, drove in 8, and scored 9 times in the 1919 Series.
Eddie Cicotte (SP): The ace of the White Sox staff won 29 games in 1919 helping the Sox reach the series. He pitched 3 games in the World Series going 1-2 giving up 7 earned runs, with a 2.91 ERA. He reported being threatened on the street by a man before the first game. The man told him someone would be watching him with a rifle during the game. He lost the first game 9-1. In his next start (game 4), he threw a ball past the first baseman into the outfield in the fifth inning - allowing a runner to go to second. That same inning he deflected a throw from the outfield, supposedly in an attempt to cut it off, when it most certainly was in time to catch the runner and prevent him from scoring. He lost the game 2-0.
Happy Felsch (CF): Happy hit .275 during the regular season with 7 home runs and 86 RBI’s in 1919. In the Series he hit .192 with 6 RBIs and 6 runs scored. Happy admitted to taking $5000 but also said that he never had a chance to throw the game and didn’t know if he would have “had the nerve” to do it, if given the chance.
Chick Gandil (1B): The ringleader and frontman for the gamblers who wanted the series fixed. He supposedly arranged that he would get his teammates to throw the series for $100,000. He made the payoffs to the players and may have skimmed much of the money for himself. He also supposedly told the gamblers that Joe Jackson was one of the conspirators.
Fred McMullin (bench player): Fred only batted twice during the 1919 World Series, getting one hit and driving in 2 runs. McMullin supposedly heard about the fix and cut himself into the deal.
Swede Risberg (SS): Went 2 for 25 in the 1919 World Series, with one RBI and 3 runs scored. He was supposedly the lieutenant for Chick Gandil in the fix and supposedly threatened to kill Joe Jackson if he talked. He was on the field for only one questionable play where he only got a single out what looked like an easy double play.
Buck Weaver (3B): Never received any payment for the fix. He was rated by Ty Cobb(in 1945) as the best third baseman who ever played. He received similar accolades from many others. He admitted to Commissioner Landis that he had been present when the meetings with the gamblers occurred, but that he had played his best ball and never took any money. He hit .324 in the series with 11 hits, 4 doubles and a triple and scored 7 times. He was a career .272 hitter.
Lefty Williams (SP): Won 23 games in 1919 with a 2.64 ERA. He went 0-3 in the series with a 6.61 ERA. He gave up 12 hits and 8 walks. He was noted for his control. He testified before a grand jury, admitting to being part of the conspiracy for which he received $5,000. He also testified that he was told that his wife would be killed if he didn’t ease up in the final game.
Players and former players who were involved
Jean Dubuc: A pitcher for the New York Giants who had knowledge of the fix. He was banned from the game for “guilty knowledge.”
Hal Chase: A first baseman for the New York Giants who was implicated in the fix. He was a former Cincinnati Red.
Joe Gedeon: A second baseman for the St. Louis Browns who was present when gamblers arranged the fix. He was banned from the game in 1921 for “guilty knowledge” of the event.
Off the Field:
Charles Comisky: The owner of the Chicago White Sox. His business dealings reveal he was not a nice man to work for. He gouged his players, kept them among the lowest paid in baseball and took advantage of them at all turns. He had a lot of power in a city where influence was easy to buy, and in fact he was one of the city’s premier power brokers. It’s more than likely that he knew about the fix, and more than one source has implied he may have made money off of that knowledge. There are many questions about his behavior and involvement in the scandal. There is little doubt that after the fact he tried hard to make sure his players were acquitted and back on the field making him money.
Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis: The first of the baseball Czars. Unlike later commissioners who were merely puppets of the owners, Landis was not intimidated by the owners or their demands. He took the job with a clear understanding that he was going to clean up the game, and that his decisions would be upheld. He was a former federal judge who was a very public and imposing figure.
Ban Johnson: President of the American League. He was the most powerful official in the game until the appointment of Commissioner Landis. He wanted to be baseball's first commissioner and be the man who cleaned up the game. Did not have a reputation for harshness. Was involved in settling some other game fixing disputes without banning players from the game. Initially believed the fix was just Comisky whining about losing the series.
Sports Sullivan: A small time gambler and friend of Chick Gandil. Sullivan had mob connections. Gandil and Sullivan originally came up with the scheme to put together the fix for $80,000. He shared the information with his buddy William Burns so they could find a way to raise the money.
William Burns: A former player for Cincinatti and the White Sox who approached gambler Bill Maharg and set up a meeting with Chick Gandil.
Bill Maharg: The go-between. He was a small time gambler who tried to help William Burns raise the money for the fix. Maharg was too small time and tried to make contact with gamblers in Philadelphia to get them to bankroll the scheme. They declined and sent him to New York to talk to Arnold Rothstein, a gambler with the reputation that he’d bet on anything so long as it was fixed. Maharg was the one who eventually spilled the beans on the fix.
Arnold Rothstein: Met with Burns and Maharg and may, or may not have bankrolled part of the deal. He may also have double-crossed both Burns and Maharg by agreeing then backing out after the first two games were lost. His role is difficult if not impossible to assess.
Abe Attell: The former flyweight boxing champion of the world. He worked for Rothstein and may have mislead Burns and Maharg into believing that Rothstein was involved and would pay the money.
Jump to Part Two.
*** 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.