During one stretch of American baseball history, one team was a dominant force in the league. The 1917-1919 reign of the Chicago White Sox staked their claim as one of the most formidable teams in baseball, even in history (GetNet). But the greatest team on the field was one of the poorest in term of salaries (GetNet). Pay was so low that the players protested their pay to owner Charles Comiskey (GetNet). Comiskey originally called the team the Chicago White Stockings, but had to settle for the White Sox for the name to fit into the headlines of newspapers (Peterson).
Comiskey received much of the flak for the 1919 scandal (Peterson). Being a tightwad, many baseball historians put this issue at the forefront of why his players thought that they deserved more than they got from Comiskey (Peterson). One time, Comiskey promised the players a bonus if they won the 1917 championship. But, true to being a miser, Comiskey only forked over an inexpensive crate of champagne (Peterson).
Also, Comiskey paid his players lower than a winning team’s salaries (GetNet).
Even in their laundry bills, instead of the team footing the bill for the uniforms of the players, Comiskey billed his own players for the laundry of their uniforms (GetNet). In protest of the team’s laundry policy, the players eventually turned to not washing their thick wool uniforms, thus earning them the title “Black Sox” (GetNet). Even in the meal allowance Comiskey paid the players $3 compared to the other teams’ allowance (Linder).
There are many more policies that the players can complain about in the way that their team was run.
But it cannot be left unsaid that the bitter rancor that Comiskey earned from the players were enough for eight of his players to conspire to an event that will change the game of baseball, agreeing to deliberately lose the World Series (Linder). This act would be long etched into the annals of professional sports history as the biggest scandal ever in professional sports (Linder). The Big Fix The idea of agreeing to undertake one of sports’ history’s biggest blemishes did not come to one player only; instead it was a conspiracy involving several players in the club (Everstine).
But two individuals stand out in this whole fiasco, William “Sleepy Bill” Burns and William Maharg (Everstine). Burns provided the link to the players, while Maharg was the bridge to the local gambling groups (Everstine). With the opportunity for making bigger money, the two then went ahed with their scheme and approached two of the ball clubs, members, namely Ed Cicotte and Arnold Gandil (Everstine). Cicotte had an obvious axe to grind against Comiskey. Comiskey promised Cicotte $10,000 as a bonus if the pitcher could muster a 30-game win season (Peterson).
After closing in on the 30 win mark, Comiskey decided to bench Cicotte rather than pay Cicotte the bonus (Peterson). Gandil approached Cicotte about the prospect of throwing the World Series (GetNet). He first was hesitant at first about accepting the offer, but since he as did many of the players ahd monetary difficulties, Cicotte agreed to the proposition for $10,000, the same amount Comiskey offered, but later bilked on, to Cicotte (GetNet). Even if Cicotte resented the action of Comiskey, he can do little in terms of getting at the owner.
Baseball’s infamous reserve clause gives the right to the owner to bench any player that dose not agree to the contract he signed (GetNet). Creating the “Team”: The bets are in Gandil knew he had to get more of the players to agree to the deal to make it work. After pursuing and getting Cicotte, he spoke to a few of the Sox to get them to agree to the scheme (Everstine). The ploy was successful, as the “team” grew with six new recruits- Claude “Lefty” Williams, Oscar “Happy” Flesch, Buck Weaver, Fred McMullin, Swede Risberg and one of the best players in the business, Joe “Shoeless” Jackson (UMKC).
Along with Gandil and Cicotte, these eight men were the ones that would connive to pull of the fix. The eight men met in the hotel room of Gandil at the Astoria Hotel in New York, where the team was playing againt the New York Yankees (GetNet). This meeting would eventually prove to be the destruction of the careers of the principals in the case (Linder). Burns and Maharg, knowing that they needed a lot of money for the caper, they contacted Arnold “ The Big Bankroll” Rothstein for the extra cash (Everstine).
By the time the Series was fast approaching, the gamblers had amassed $500,000 to bet on the opponents of the Sox, the Cincinatti Reds (Everstine). The players would then be paid $ 100,000 to be carved up among themselves (Everstine). At the pay they were making for a year (Cicotte, Jackson and Weaver made $6,000 a year; Gandil and Flesch made $4,000, McMullin, Risberg and Williams $3,000 a year) (UMKC), each stood to take home years’ worth of their salaries (Everstine).
Burns was the designated bagman for the players and the gamblers, with instructions to bring the money to the players hotel rooms after each game (GetNet). The first to suspect of the fix was Sox team manager Kid Gleason (ChiTownAds). Gleason, in a meeting with team owner Comiskey, was suspiciuos that something was up, that the team might be deliberatetly trying to lose, but couldn’t put his finger on it (ChiTownAds). Gandil was asked by Burns on the players plans (ChiTownAds). Gandil told a lie, claiming that the players were sticking to the plan, but actually had no decision at the time (ChiTownAds).
Since the players hadn’t been paid their “cuts”, they wanted to get back. The Sox won Game 3, sending the message clear to Burns (ChiTownAds). In the end, Rothstein was the one who decided the outcome (ChiTownAds). He contacted a certain “Harry F. ”, a Chicago thug, to talk to Lefty Williams, who would pitch the following game (ChiTownAds). Eventually, due to the constant shaking of the signals his catcher gave Williams, pitching nothing more but fastballs (GetNet), the Reds won the penultimate game, 10-5, clinching the Series (GetNet).
In summation, the case of the White Sox scandal can be summarized in a single sentence. Eight White Sox players-in connection with several gamblers-connived to throw away the 1919 World Series (ISU). The notion that the favorite past time of many Americans, even the most sacred event of the sport, the World Series, could be manipulated and even thrown away for monetary considerations could make the Chicago Black Sox trial the “trial of the century”. But it cannot be so. In the 20’s, baseball had not achieved the stature of the national past time it is today (ISU).
Even then, the game of baseball had already been scarred by the effects of gambling (ISU). Both leagues, theAmerican and National leagues, were selling “themselves” to fans by holding games on Sundays (ISU). It was also an accepted practice among gamblers to bet on games (ISU). So to say that the expose that the trial focused on, that gambling had its hand in the outcome of the World Series, seems to have lost its bite if it were the only reason to assign the Black Sox trial as the “trial of the century”. The trial itself was fast approaching the borders of sheer farce (ISU).
Even though the eight ball players had been already indicted by a Federal grand jury on their involvement in the scam, with two of the suspects admitting to the crime (Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver), they all ended up being acquitted, all of them (ISU). This was largely to the sudden disappearance of the confession made by the two during the investigation of the trial (ISU). In the contect of the Black Sox trial, the confrontation that ensued was no more than a show. The grand jury’s findings established that a fix had indeed been made by the conspirators (ISU).
Yet in the end, the court, victim to the maneuverings of influential people, handed down an acquittal on the principals involved (ISU). Conflicts within the context of the scandal seemed obvious to be ignored. Judge Kenesaw Landis, whom the club owners appointed to clean up the mess left by the scandal (Infoplease), and eventually tasked to clean up the game of baseball, ignored outright the responsibility or the contribution that Sox owner might have in the scandal (ISU). As mentioned earlier, Cominsky had much to do with the state of the players that were involved in the mess (ISU).
Yes, the punishment he handed down on the players did in a way significantly restore some of the public’s faith in the game, but it is also shown that he conveniently looked the other way in the final judgement of the case (ISU). His (Comisky) penchant for paying his players extremely low salaries made his players easy targets for gambling syndicates (ISU). Exploiting the “reserve” clause to the hilt, he basically caused his players to the point that he might have unwittingly created the situation that the players got into.
Even though he was made aware of the fix by “Shoeless” Jackson, he just ignored him (ISU). Even when he tried to look clean in the days before the game, Comisky offered $20,000 to anyone who could give hime any information about the fix (Peterson). Jackson’s wife gave him a letter about the scam, but did not give the reward money as promised (Peterson). The trial showed that sometimes, justice might be perverted in the cause of commercialism. Landis, to his credit, did mete out a very stern sentence on the erring players. (ISU). He even suspended the players even before the trial proceeded (ESPN).
But in an odd, and mysterious way, virtually exonerated Comisky (ISU). Landis had strategically removed the focus of the trial from the involvement of baseball as a sport in game-fixing and drilling it on the players involved in the scam, sealing a strategic move for the business of baseball (ISU). Landis’ actions may have to protect the gates of the clubs hit by Prohibition (ISU). As the United States entered The First World War, the times of American society, and along with it the game of baseball, were in a state of rapid change (ISU).
Before the War, club owners had used the sale of beer in the ball parks to boost the attendance of the working class in the Sunday games (ISU). The Temperance movement, founded originally to limit and regulate alcohol consumption, gained influence (ISU). The movement evolved into a political movement that trained its guns on closing the drinking establishments of immigrants (ISU). They wanted to contain the threat that the immigrants might pose to the nation, and World War 1 gave them that opening (ISU).
With the coming of Prohibition, the Temperance movement became a force to reckon with in the American society (ISU). Riding the tide of this development, ball park owners could no longer attract spectators with beer during the game. This may have prompted club owners to turn to more family-oriented set-ups for the games (ISU). Landis, in his decision to perpetually ban the eight players, might have driven more to help access the new market rather than helping keep the game’s integrity (ISU). Landis may have also wanted to gain another point in his dismissal of the eight players.
The state of baseball, as it is, was riddled with self-seeking club owners, a press on the payroll of the clubs, gambling heads sinking their collective teeth into the players and the clubs as well (Asinof). All these have seemed to bring the national past time to the brink of outright submission (Asinof). Landis wanted to purge the sport of baseball and clean up its tarnished image (Asinof). The move may have given off this image of a judge-turned-commissioner at least in the public arena (ISU). He also wanted to remove any move from the players to initiate a challenge, any challenge, to their lot as employees of the clubs (ISU).
This may have provided the impetus for the concept of free-agency (ISU). Under this concept, can negotiate with clubs interested in their services. In those days, the “reserve” clause was the main weapon of the clubs, effectively holding the players by the necks when it came to their playing status (ISU). This Scandal was for all considerations, a debate on whether the eight players were guilty or not (ISU). What was evident in the whole scandal was the fence that all the characters tried to build around the scene, a cover up, if you will (Asinof).
From the wining and dining of the press by Comisky to hide the compalints of the players (Petersen) to the decision itself, the whole scene was rife with attempts to hide the truth. David Fleitz, in his book “Shoeless: the life of Joe Jackson” (2001), avers that Landis showed a shallow sense of justice in the handing down of the decision (Fleitz). Fleitz (2001) even asserts that when the expose hit the 1920 season, another fix was going on, involving then superstars Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker (Fleitz).
But he just let things slide: Cobb and Speaker are in the Hall of Fame, Jackson, banned for life from the game, was not even considered in the list (Fleitz). This just shows the disparity of the justice that Landis had afforded Jackson and the others.
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