Black Sox Scandal

Black Sox Scandal took place during the play of the 1919 World Series. The Chicago White Sox lost the series to the Cincinnati Reds, and eight Black Sox players were later accused of intentionally losing games in exchange for money from gamblers.

Comiskey had long had a reputation for underpaying his players, even though they were one of the top teams in the league and had already won the 1917 World Series.

Under the MLB reserve clause, players were prevented from changing teams without permission from the owner of the current team they were on, without a union the players had no bargaining power.

In 1963, Eliot Asinof published Eight Men Out, a book about the Black Sox scandal which later became a popular movie and has, more than any other work, shaped modern understanding of the most famous scandal in the history of sports.

In Asinof’s telling of history, the bitterness Sox players felt about their owner led members of the team to enter into a conspiracy that would forever change the game of baseball.  Asinof suggested that Comisky’s skinflint maneuvers made key players ready to jump at the chance to make some quick money.

For example, Asinof wrote that Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte was intensely irritated when, in September of 1917, as Cicotte approached a 30-win season that would win him a promised $10,000 bonus, Comiskey had his star pitcher benched rather than be forced to come up with the extra cash.

October 1, 1919, Opening Day, was sunny and warm.  The game was a sell-out, with scalpers getting the unheard of price of $50 a ticket.  At the Ansonia Hotel in New York, Arnold Rothstein strode into the lobby just before the scheduled opening pitch.

For Rothstein and the several hundred other persons gathered in the lobby, a reporter would read telegraphed play-by-play accounts of the game as baseball figures would be moved around a large diamond-shaped chart on the wall.

The gamblers had sent word that Eddie Cicotte was to either walk or hit the first Reds batter, as a sign that the fix was on.  The first pitch to lead-off batter Maurice Rath was a called strike.  Cicotte’s wild second pitch hit Rath in the back.  Arnold Rothstein walked out of the Ansonia into a New York rain.

In a 1956 Sports Illustrated interview, Gandil frankly admitted, “I was a ringleader.”  Asinof placed the beginning of the fix in Boston, about three weeks before the end of the 1919 season.

Gandil asked an acquaintance and professional gambler named “Sport” Sullivan to stop by his hotel room.  After a few minutes of small talk, Gandil told Sullivan, “I think we can put it [the Series] in the bag.”  He demanded $80,000 in cash for himself and whatever other players he might recruit.

If Landis’ blanket ban helped cleanse baseball’s damaged image, it also served to sweep the Black Sox scandal under the rug.

Chick Gandil and others would later produce contradictory accounts of what happened, leading to still unanswered questions about who were really involved in the 1919 World Series fix and to what degree the games were thrown.

Arnold Rothstein, one of the most likely suspects for organizing or financing the fix, was never even charged with a crime.