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Greatest Sports Scandal of Century: The 1919 Black Sox (Part I)

The 1919 Chicago White Sox were one of the greatest teams of their era. They won the American League pennant and faced off against the Cincinnati Reds, favored 3-1, to win the World Series.

But as the series was about to get underway - the betting odds started to shift to even money. The word on the street was that New York gambler Arnold Rothstein was behind the swing and that the series was fixed.

Hearing the rumor, White Sox outfielder "Shoeless Joe" Jackson asked Chicago manager Kid Gleason and owner Charles Comiskey to bench him. But they insisted he play. They would have been crazy to put down their best player.

During the series Jackson hit the only home run, had the highest batting average, committed no errors and established a new World Series record with 12 hits. Nevertheless, the Reds won.

Edd Rousch, who played for the Reds, dismissed the charges that the series was fixed. "We were just the better team," he said. And umpire Billy Evans who worked the series said: "Maybe I'm a dope but everything seemed okay to me."

But the rumor of a fix persisted. The 1920 season got underway and the White Sox were driving hard to their second straight pennant when a petty gambler in Philadelphia broke the news that a Cubs-Phillies game had been fixed in 1919.

That led to a gambling investigation, with its focus being the 1919 World Series. With only a couple of days left in the 1920 season, a Grand Jury was called to determine whether eight White Sox players should stand trial for allegedly throwing the 1919 World Series. Jackson was one of them.

He was asked under oath: "Did you do anything to throw those games?"

"No sir," was his response.

"Any game in the series?"

"Not a one," Jackson answered. "I didn't have an error or make no misplay."

It took the jury a single ballot to acquit all eight accused players. But the very next day, baseball's first commissioner - Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who came to power in the fall of 1920 with a lifetime contract and a mandate to clean up the game using whatever methods he saw fit - banned all eight players from baseball for life.

That was basically the end of the story of the greatest sports scandal of the century. But it is a story that will not go away.

Questions remain:

Was there a plan to throw the World Series?

Was it carried out?

If so, which games were thrown?

What was the role of each banned player?

Why was there a blanket banning of the players? Buck Weaver was banned not for dumping but for allegedly having guilty knowledge that there was a plot. Fred McMullen was banned though he came to bat twice and got one hit. Jackson was banned although his performance exceeded his own records.

If the eight players were found not guilty in a court of law, how could they have been found guilty by a baseball commissioner?

Public pressure keeps increasing year-by-year to undo what many believe was a terrible wrong. But the ban still remains. Every baseball commissioner since Landis has refused to act on "Shoeless Joe's behalf."

Commissioner Faye Vincent said: "I can't uncipher or decipher what took place back then. I have no intention of taking formal action."

Commissioner Bart Giammatti said: "I do not wish to play God with history. The Jackson case is best left to historical debate and analysis. I am not for re-instatement."  

There have been other sports scandals in the 20th century - boxing matches that were fixed or allegedly fixed, the great college basketball scandal of the 1950s in New York City, rumors of other malfeasance in sports - but nothing holds a candle to the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

And it just will not go away.

Harvey Frommer is the author of "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball" (Taylor Publishers)

(November 24,1999)

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch. 
*Autographed copies of Frommer books are available .

Other Frommer sports related articles can be found at:   

Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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