Baseball’s 1919 World Series: The Black Sox Scandal
Was it the nervousness of standing before more than 30,000 spectators? Was it the pressure of arriving at the pinnacle of America’s favorite pastime, awash in expectations? Chicago White Sox pitcher Ed Cicotte began the 1919 World Series by hitting the first batter he faced, the Cincinnati Reds’ Morrie Rath. Rath took his base and eventually scored the first run in what became a 9-1 slaughter. Cicotte’s errant throw was the first of many unfortunate and somewhat strange errors the White Sox committed in the Series. It was not until a year after the Series ended that Cicotte’s “mistake” pitch was revealed for what it truly was—a signal that “the fix was on.”
Article continues after this newspaper image from the Sept. 23, 1920, issue of the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon)
The 1919 Chicago White Sox were a powerhouse of a team, comprised mostly of the same players who won the World Series two years earlier. In contrast, the Cincinnati Reds were a young team. They had performed unspectacularly as a franchise since the turn of the century. The White Sox were the more experienced and talented team, and were favored by 5-1 odds to win the World Series. All was not well in the White Sox camp, however.
Infighting between teammates and mutual distrust and distaste for the team’s miserly owner, Charles Comiskey, brought tensions to the breaking point. White Sox first baseman Arnold “Chick” Gandil enlisted several of his teammates to accept money from gamblers to intentionally lose the World Series. In return for their sabotage work, the players would split $100,000, a sizeable sum at that time. In addition, it would be a loss for Charles Comiskey, who was resented by many players for his penny-pinching ways. Some historians say the White Sox were initially dubbed the “Black Sox” before the 1919 Series, because the players’ uniforms were filthy due to Comiskey’s refusal to pay for laundering. It was a moniker that would take on a more ominous tone when the scandal was exposed.
The scam to throw the World Series fell apart right from the get-go. The conspiring players did not receive the money they were promised. The gamblers had double-crossed them. Even so, the players followed through with the plan in hopes of receiving their compensation. After the Series ended rumors continued to circulate about the gambling fix, and a grand jury investigation began after the 1920 season. Confessions were made and recanted. Evidence appeared and disappeared. Eight White Sox players were arrested, tried, and ultimately acquitted for a host of fraud and conspiracy charges. Despite the acquittals, America’s national sport had been tarnished, and the players who had participated in the plot were banned from the game for life. The Black Sox scandal was a stain on baseball that has resonated with notoriety through the ages.
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