Black Sox Scandal

The heavily favored Chicago White Sox were upset in the 1919 World Series by the Cincinnati Reds, five games to three. At the apex of the pennant race the following year, eight players were indicted for throwing the Series in return for payoffs from gamblers.

Although they were all cleared by a conciliatory grand jury, newly appointed Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned for life the eight so-called Black Sox — left fielder Shoeless Joe Jackson, first baseman and ringleader Chick Gandil, shortstop Swede Risberg, third baseman Buck Weaver, centerfielder Happy Felsch, pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams, and utility infielder Fred McMullin — from organized baseball. Only a handful of them actually received any payment, and Jackson hit .375 in the Series to lead both teams.

Landis’s office had been created because of the scandal, and he was chosen to fill it because he had shown a friendly attitude toward the baseball establishment when he was a judge. He justified banning all eight players on the grounds that not reporting the plot was as bad as actually taking part in the fix.

The plan was apparently hatched by local Chicago gamblers, but New York gangster Arnold Rothstein was rumored to be its major backer. The players were easily tempted. They were not paid well by tight-fisted owner Charles Comiskey. Legend has it that upon Jackson’s leaving the courthouse, a little boy cried, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

There have been movements to have Jackson, who owns the third-highest batting average in baseball history, posthumously reinstated for election to the Hall of Fame. This revisionist sympathy has risen considerably with the release of two films connected to the scandal: “Eight Men Out” in 1988, based on the definitive Eliot Asinof book, and “Field of Dreams” in 1989, based on the W.P. Kinsella novel “Shoeless Joe.” An off-Broadway play, “Out!” was also produced in New York in 1986.