Joseph "Shoeless Joe" Jackson
Black Sox Scandal
In 1915 the Indians traded Jackson to the Chicago White Sox for three players and $15,000. He was instrumental in the team's capture of the 1917 pennant, but there was unrest on the bench. White Sox owner Charles A. Comiskey was so cheap that he wouldn't even pay for the cleaning of the team's uniforms, thus leading the players to call themselves the Black Sox and wear their increasingly dirty uniforms for several weeks in protest in 1918. When Jackson avoided wartime service by taking a job in a shipbuilding factory, Comiskey criticized him for being unpatriotic.
During the first season following the war, the Sox again won the pennant. Jackson picked up where he had left off, and fans soon forgave his military exemption. However, Comiskey failed to pay the players the bonuses they were due, and Jackson, his star hitter, received a measly salary of $6,000 for the 1919 season. Most of the other team members were also underpaid, leaving many desperate to earn extra income.
First baseman Chick Gandil approached gambler Joseph "Sport" Sullivan and told him that he and his teammates were willing to throw the 1919 World Series for $100,000. He then brought the idea to pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude "Lefty" Williams, and both men agreed to go along with the scheme. The three met with outfielder Happy Felsch, infielders Swede Risberg and Buck Weaver, utility infielder Fred McMullin, and Jackson. Jackson later claimed that when Gandil offered him $10,000 to help throw the series, he initially turned it down, as well as a higher offer of $20,000. Gandil told Jackson he could take it or leave it, that the fix was going forward with or without him if the money could be raised. Jackson ultimately agreed.
In Baseball: An Illustrated History, the companion book to the PBS documentary film produced by Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward, a writer noted that "someone did [raise the money], although the evidence is murky and contradictory as to just who it was. Several gamblers—including Sport Sullivan; Bill Maharg, a mysterious figure, whose real name may have been Graham ('Maharg' spelled backward); Abe Attell, the former
featherweight boxing champion; and one-time White Sox pitcher 'Sleepy Bill' Burns—served as go-betweens. However, the cash seems to have been provided mostly by New York's most celebrated gambler, Arnold Rothstein, known as 'Mr. Bankroll' at the track, who was said to have been willing to bet on anything except the weather because there was no way he could fix that."
As the series began, there were rumours that something was wrong, and sportswriter Hugh Fullerton advised his readers not to bet on the games. The White Sox lost the first game, as planned, but the money that was supposed to be paid for this loss was out on bets, the players were told. They agreed to throw the second game, and did, but when it was over, Attell gave Gandil just $10,000 of the $40,000 owed the players at that point. The Sox won the third game when Dickie Kerr, a rookie who wasn't in on the fix, pitched a three-hit shutout to win 3-0. Attell lost a fortune on that game but finally agreed to pay $20,000 before the fourth game and an equal amount if the Sox lost. According to the Baseball historians, Jackson was upset that he was receiving only one fourth of his promised payoff; Weaver and McMullin never received a penny.
The Sox lost the fifth game, but the conspirators decided that since there was no more money forthcoming, they might as well play to win, considering that they all wanted their contracts to be renewed. They won games six and seven, due in part to Jackson's strong showing, and the series stood at 4-3 in favor of Cincinnati. Manager Kid Gleason, who couldn't understand what had happened to his men during the early games, finally had hope.
Williams was the opening pitcher for the eighth game, but he had been visited by a thug who worked for Rothstein, who threatened the lives of Williams and his wife if he didn't throw it. Rothstein hadn't bet on the individual games, and his money was on Cincinnati to win the series. Fearful, Williams gave up three runs on four hits before he was pulled, but it was too late. Even with Jackson's and Gandil's hitting power, the Sox lost the series. Fullerton called attention to the scandal in baseball, but others defended the game and refused to believe the allegations.
According to Baseball, Comiskey "just wanted the whole business to go away. While he had himself feared the worst after the game, he had a big investment in protecting the reputation of the team he'd built. When Joe Jackson, apparently conscious stricken, had tried to see him right after the series, to ask what he should do with the $5,000 he'd been given, Comiskey refused to let him in his office. Jackson then sent Comiskey a letter—dictated by his wife, of course—suggesting that some series games had been rigged, but Comiskey did not answer it. Instead, he stoutly defended his men."
The matter became old news, but when the 1920 season opened, players from several teams realized the advantage of working with the gamblers, and when a grand jury investigated a three-game losing streak by the Cubs to the Phillies, the old suspicions were revisited, and the White Sox players were called to testify. Jackson was one of the players to confess, and he admitted to receiving $5,000 of the promised $20,000 that was to have been his share.
Rothstein, who was eventually gunned down by another gambler over a poker game, denied any part in the scheme. There was no Illinois law forbidding throwing or fixing a game, and so Attell, several other gamblers, and the eight ballplayers were indicted for conspiring to defraud the public and harm the business of Comiskey and the American League, but they were acquitted for lack of evidence when the transcripts of Jackson's and Cicotte's testimonies disappeared from court files.
The team owners had to do something to regain the peoples' trust, and so they replaced the three-man National Commission led by Ban Johnson with a new post and a new commissioner of baseball, a federal judge known for his self-promotion named Kenesaw Mountain Landis. On the day the eight players were found not guilty, Landis banned them from baseball for life. Even Buck Weaver, who had not taken any money and had played his best, was banned for not revealing the plot as it unfolded. Those team members who had received money would have made at least as much by winning the World Series. The only winners in the entire fiasco were the gamblers.
"New commissioner Kenesaw Landis wanted scapegoats," observed Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service writer Frank Fitzpatrick, "and Jackson was an easy one." Jackson biographer Harvey Frommer wrote that "Landis fancied himself an intellectual, and Jackson was easily a fall guy. He was from the South, and he was illiterate." There was reason to believe that Jackson—who accomplished the highest batting average of the series, an amazing .375, and had a perfect fielding average—ultimately made the decision to play his best in spite of his agreement to throw the series.
"The only man to ever say that Joe Jackson was present at any meetings between the gamblers and the players was Abe Attell," wrote Mike Nola, who maintains a web site on Jackson. "Abe told this story to Eliot Asinof when Asinof was doing research for his book Eight Men Out. The meeting between Attell and Asinof took place in Jack Dempsey's restaurant in New York City. Dempsey was present that day in the restaurant and came over after Attell left and asked Asinof what he was doing talking to that scum. Dempsey said something to the effect that he would rather go twelve rounds with Joe Louis than be caught talking to that scum."
- Joseph "Shoeless Joe" Jackson - Chronology
- Joseph "Shoeless Joe" Jackson - A Major League Player
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