On this date (Sept. 28) in 1920, eight players on the Chicago White Sox baseball team were indicted by a Cook County, Illinois, grand jury for conspiracy to commit an unlawful act. The eight were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series (five games to three) to the Cincinnati Reds in what became known as the Black Sox scandal.
Following the indictments, prosecutors tried to locate former featherweight prizefighter Abe Attel, believed to be the link between the players and a gambling syndicate that made payoffs to players and benefited financially from bets on the longshot Reds. At the time, the New York-based Atell, reputedly an associate of Arnold Rothstein and "Legs" Diamond, threatened to release a damaging story with regard to the fixing of the World Series but denied he had a role in it. A Rothstein representative told the press that Rothstein was approached about entering into a conspiracy but refused to take part.
|Chicago Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920|
Two of the indicted players confessed to the conspiracy. Pitcher Eddie Cicotte
admitted he received $10,000 from the agent of a gambling syndicate for his role in throwing the series. Outfielder "Shoeless Joe" Jackson
confessed to investigators that he received $5,000. Jackson said he asked for $20,000 but was paid the lesser amount through pitcher "Lefty" Williams.
The others indicted were:
- Oscar "Happy" Felsch, centerfielder;
- Arnold "Chick" Gandil, first baseman;
- Fred McMullin, utility;
- Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop;
- Claude "Lefty" Williams, pitcher;
- George "Buck" Weaver, third baseman.
|New York Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920.|
Cicotte met with White Sox owner Charles "Commy" Comiskey in the morning before he testified to the grand jury, and confessed to him. "I don't know what you'll think of me, but I got to tell you how I double-crossed you," Cicotte told the team owner. "I did double-cross you. I'm a crook. I got $10,000 for being a crook."
The pitcher reportedly told grand jurors that Risberg, Gandil and McMullin pressured him for a week before the World Series started: "They wanted me to go crooked... I needed the money. I had the wife and the kids. The wife and kids don't know this. I don't know what they'll think. I bought a farm. There was a $4,000 mortgage on it. There isn't any mortgage on it now. I paid it off with the crooked money."
|The Sun and NY Herald, Sept. 29, 1920|
Late in 1920, baseball team owners decided that a new central authority was needed for the sport. They voted to install federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner of baseball. Negotiations over the authority of the office continued into early 1921. Ultimately, Landis was given complete power over all the participants in the sport's major and minor leagues.
Before the 1921 baseball season began, Landis put the eight accused White Sox players on a list that made them ineligible to participate in professional baseball at any level.
In the summer of 1921, the eight defendants were brought to trial. Signed confessions of Cicotte and Jackson could not be located and the two players recanted. All of the accused players were found not guilty. There was widespread belief that jury acquittal would be followed by reinstatement in baseball.
One day after the August verdict, Landis announced that his decision on the players' ineligibility was final:
Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ball game; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball... Regardless of the verdict of juries, baseball is entirely competent to protect itself against crooks, both inside and outside the game.
(When Cicotte attempted to arrange a semi-professional exhibition game in Saginaw, Michigan, a month later, Landis threatened to permanently throw out of baseball any player who participated in the event.)
Eddie Cicotte won 29 games for the White Sox during the 1919 regular season. Though it was thought that his career was over in 1915, he returned stronger than ever in 1916 and was a major factor in the White Sox World Series win over the New York Giants in 1917. Cicotte was known for an unusual delivery that some said made his "shine ball" unhittable.
Joe Jackson, considered one of the finest outfielders ever to play the game, joined the Sox six years earlier after playing six years for Cleveland. He batted .351 in the 1919 season and was a lifetime .356 hitter. Over the course of his big league career, he totaled 1,772 hits and 202 stolen bases.
Buck Weaver entered baseball as a shortstop with the White Sox in 1912. He moved to third in 1917 (when Risberg joined the team) and established a reputation as one of the league's best at the "hot corner." Though Weaver admitted he was aware of the conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series and did not report it, he insisted he had no part in it. After batting .296 in the regular season, he turned in a .324 average in the Series against the Reds. Following the decision of Landis, Weaver fought unsuccessfully to win reinstatement to baseball.
- "Two Sox confess," Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 1.
- "Eight White Sox are indicted; Cicotte and Jackson confess gamblers paid them $15,000," New York Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 1.
- "Eight White Sox indicted for throwing 1919 series; Cicotte confesses plot," The Sun and the New York Herald, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 1.
- "The man who rescued baseball," New York Times, Nov. 12, 1920.
- "Players plan fight," New York Times, Dec. 19, 1920, p. 19.
- "Majors and minors reach agreement," New York Times, Jan. 13, 1921, p. 1.
- "White Sox players banned by Landis," New York Times, March 13, 1921, p. 16.
- "Baseball leaders won't let White Sox return to the game," New York Times, Aug. 4, 1921, p. 1.
- "Landis warns players," New York Times, Sept. 22, 1921, p. 24.
- Pomrenke, Jacob, "Closing the door on Black Sox reinstatement," The National Pastime Museum, thenationalpastimemuseum.com, Jan. 4, 2016. (Link)
- "SportsCenter Flashback: The Chicago Black Sox banned from baseball," ESPN Classic, espn.com, Nov. 19, 2003. (Link)
- "Buck Weaver," Baseball Reference, baseball-reference.com. (Link)
- "Eddie Cicotte," Baseball Reference, baseball-reference.com. (Link)
- "Shoeless Joe Jackson," Baseball Reference, baseball-reference.com. (Link)