Scandals are commonplace in any sport. Sometimes, scandals are minor and do not significantly impact the game. In contrast, others have significant and long-term effects on the sport, like the 1919 Chicago White Sox or, as they are better known, the Black Sox after they infamously threw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.
Entering the World Series, Chicago was the heavy favorite entering the series. Led by outfielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, the White Sox finished the season with 88 wins. While the Reds had the better record with 96 wins, the team was led by outfielder Edd Roush. Entering the series, the White Sox were the 5-1 favorites, but rumors of a fix started swirling as the series began.
When looking at why the White Sox would throw the World Series, the easy argument is pay. Owner Charles Kominsky was supposedly cheap. On average, White Sox players were making $3,000 to $6,000 or about $50,000 to $100,000 today, accounting for inflation. However, when looking at the average salaries at the time, they were one of the highest-paid teams.
On Sept. 18, 1919, first baseman Chick Gandil, the mastermind behind the scheme, met with gambler Joe “Sport” Sullivan, who agreed to throw the World Series for $80,000, along with Gandil, pitcher Eddie Cicotte, center fielder Happy Felsch, utility player Fred McMullin, shortstop Swede Risberg, third baseman Buck Weaver, pitcher Lefty Williams and Jackson. Jackson’s role in the scandal has been widely disputed as it has been stated he could not read or write, and after the series, Jackson attempted to turn the money back.
With the second pitch of the series, Cicotte drilled Reds player Morrie Rath, signaling that the fix was in. In the fourth, he made an intentional bad throw to Risberg. Williams would lose three games in the series, a record with a 6.63 era. However, after game five, the gamblers reneged on the deal of payments, causing the athletes to play to win games six and seven, both wins for Chicago, though they lost game eight after the gamblers threatened the players’ families. After the series, each player involved received $5,000, and Gandil took $35,000.
Rumors swirled the following season about the White Sox throwing the World Series and fighting for the AL pennant with the Cleveland Indians. Later, in 1920, Cicotte, Williams, Jackson and Felsch would admit to throwing the World Series, resulting in Cominsky suspending the seven players still on the roster, minus Gandil, who was no longer with the team. In 1921, they would be acquitted mysteriously due to crucial evidence, including the original confessions of the players, disappearing from the grand jury files.
While they may have been acquitted, this would not be the end for the players involved. On Nov. 12, 1920, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis became baseball’s first commissioner, and just one day after the verdict, Landis would issue his own:
“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.”
All eight players who took part in the scandal were placed on MLB’s ineligible list, which means they are not allowed to play or coach baseball professionally or be allowed into the Hall of Fame. This rule would come up again in 1989 when baseball legend Pete Rose was banned for betting on games as a manager.
To this day, none of the eight players are in the Hall of Fame and likely never will be, even though there has been much support for Jackson getting in. Even then, there may never be a scandal in baseball that will ever be as infamous as this scandal for the impact it still has today.