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The Black Sox Scandal was a scam involving eight Chicago White Sox players which saw the team throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati reds. The players allegedly accepted money from gamblers in order to intentionally lose the game. Eight White Sox players including the great ‘Shoeless’ Joe were found culpable by the league and suspended for life. The Black Sox is one of the most famous sports scandals in history.
Background to the Black Sox Scandal
The White Sox were one of the powerhouses of the league during the years leading up to the scandal. They had won the 1917 World Series and had barely missed out the following year. The undercurrents of the scandal are largely attributed to the miserly tendencies of Sox owner Charles Comiskey. Comiskey had a notorious reputation of underpaying his players and circumventing promised bonuses, which made him a much hated figure by the players. Outfielder, Shoeless Joe and third baseman Buck Weaver, two of the Sox’ biggest stars were only paid $6,000 a year.
At the time player contracts were very exploitative in the sense that any player who refused a contract was prohibited from joining any other professional team. Players who wanted to change teams had to get approval from the owner of their team. For a long time gamblers had been influencing disgruntled players to either compromise games or get inside tips on teams. The Sox were understandably an easy target heading into the World Series. There was a fractious rift among the White Sox players which meant that players in either faction did not see eye to eye and only their mutual resentment for Comiskey held them together. According to many accounts each team at the time had at least one player who was willing to help tip a game for some extra money and gamblers had a tight stranglehold on baseball and sport in general.
The original ‘Black Sox’ reference was again tied to the penny-pinching tendencies of Comiskey. The owner had made a decision to cut costs by reducing the number of times that the team’s uniforms were washed. The entire progression of events is not exactly clear but Chick Gandil is believed to have been enforcer in chief. The scheme was conceived a few weeks before the World Series when Gandil met a gambler called Joseph Sullivan in a Boston hotel. Gandil demanded $80,000 for himself and other players who would help him pull it off.
Talk of a possible fix had begun much earlier than that however with third baseman Buck Weaver, outfielder Oscar Felsch and Eddie Cocotte. Cicotte in particular was having money trouble and this was well known to Gandil and he sought to exploit this. The Sox were heavily favored to beat the underdog Cincinnati Reds prior to the series, but as the game approached, scores of people started betting on the Reds. As such rumors of a possible game fixing scandal were rife long before the series started.
How did the Black Sox Scandal Unfold?
The best of nine game series began on October 1. In game 1 Eddie Cicotte hit a batter with one of his pitches and then went on to commit a series of uncharacteristic blunders, perhaps a clear sign that the fix was on. The Sox lost the game 9-1. In game two pitcher Lefty Williams walked three batters in a row, gifting the Reds a 4-2 win. By October 6, the series stood 4-1 in favor of the Red.
After disagreements with the gamblers who were bankrolling the fix, the crooked Sox players who were part of the scheme called off the fix and won the next two games 5-4 and 4-1. Many players in the group however received death threats and the Sox went on to throw game 8 with the Reds winning 10-5. The Reds had just won their first World Series.
The Aftermath of the Black Sox Scandal
Concrete evidence of the scandal did not emerge until late into the 1920 season with the Sox neck –and-neck with the Indians for the NL pennant. At that point eight Sox players were implicated and suspended for the remaining three games. Gandil, Williams, Cicotte, Risberg, McMullin, Weaver, Jackson and Felsch, now known as the Black Sox were indicted along five gamblers but they were all acquitted after evidence mysteriously disappeared from court records. However the league still handed out lifetime bans to the players and none of them ever played professional baseball again.