The “Black Sox Scandal,” as it is now known, occurred during the 1919 World Series, when the Chicago White Sox were pitted against the Cincinnati Reds. It included eight players who were banned from MLB for the rest of their lives for knowingly losing games during the World Series in exchange for enormous sums of money. Arnold “Chick” Gandil organised the games, and it was he who persuaded his teammates to accept the money as well. This controversy is the subject of the wonderful film Eight Men Out, and it is still a hot topic when it comes to the Hall of Fame eligibility of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (a player for the White Sox at the time whose involvement has been extensively questioned).
In the months following the championship loss, rumours of a fix persisted. Hugh Fullerton, a columnist who examined the 1919 series and later authored the famous storey “Is Big League Baseball Being Run for Gamblers, With Players in the Deal?” for the New York Evening World, spearheaded the case. “I feel my boys fought the battles of the previous World Series on the level,” Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey said, dismissing any allegations of misconduct. Despite his denials, evidence ultimately revealed that Comiskey was tipped off about a suspected fix early in the series and attempted to suppress the storey to preserve his financial interests.
Baseball’s top brass seemed content to leave the 1919 World Series alone, and it did so until August 31, 1920, when proof emerged that gamblers had fixed a regular-season game between the Cubs and the Phillies. A grand jury was formed to look into the matter, and talk quickly shifted to the World Series from the previous year.
Bill Maharg, a gambler, went forward with an account of his personal involvement in the fix around the same time. Eddie Cicotte opted to testify in front of the grand jury as the accusations escalated. The pitcher revealed his role in the controversy during a dramatic mea culpa, stating, “I don’t know why I did it… I required the funds. I was responsible for my wife and children.”
Gandil, Cicotte, Williams, Risberg, Felsch, McMullin, Weaver, and Jackson—dubbed the “Black Sox”—were charged with nine charges of conspiracy in October 1920. The players breezed through their June 1921 trial after all the paper documents relating to their grand jury admissions vanished under strange circumstances, despite being chastised in the public for “selling up baseball.”
Many people now believe Comiskey and gambling mogul Arnold Rothstein orchestrated the theft of the papers as part of a cover-up. Whatever the reason, the prosecution’s case and the confessions vanished, the ballplayers’ triumph would be short-lived. Only a day after the acquittal, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was recently appointed as baseball’s first commissioner, issued a permanent ban on all eight players from the sport.