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Black Sox Banned from Baseball August 3, 1921

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Eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, also known as The Black Sox, were banned from Major League Baseball, for life; on August 3, 1921. Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. (He was known as Judge Landis. Prior to becoming Baseball Commissioner, he served 17 years as a Federal judge.) issued this statement:

“Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ballgame, no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame, no player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.”

Landis’s ban came the day after a Chicago jury acquitted the players of all the charges that they had faced.

Until the recent uproar over performance enhancing drugs, the Black Sox affair stood as the most spectacular scandal in baseball history, if not all of sports.

The Backstory of the Great Conspiracy From

While the origins of the conspiracy are unknown, it appears that there were two (or more) separate plans to fix the World Series. One involved Boston gambler Joseph “Sport” Sullivan, while another included retired pitcher “Sleepy” Bill Burns and his partner, Billy Maharg, a former professional boxer. These two gambling cliques were approached sometime between July-September 1919 by White Sox first baseman Arnold “Chick” Gandil and/or pitcher Eddie Cicotte. During the regular season, the Chicago White Sox had shown themselves to be the best team in the major leagues and, having clinched the American League pennant, were installed as the bookmakers’ favorites to defeat the Cincinnati Reds in the Series. At the time, gambling on baseball was rife and there were many stories about fixed games during the regular season, which were typically ignored by team owners and administrators.

Among the players, the ringleaders of the conspiracy are believed to have been first baseman Arnold “Chick” Gandil and pitcher Eddie Cicotte. Even in the pre reserve clause era of 1919, when nearly all baseball players were treated like chattel, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey was considered to be among the stingiest executive s in the sport. The players’ complaints against him were not without merit, although throwing the World Series, and getting paid by gamblers to do so, might not have been the wisest or most appropriate method of getting what they thought they were entitled to.

The scandal became a big, national, front page story as it unfolded, but the players’ grievances did not get a full airing until 1963 when “Eight Men Out” was published. It was a non fiction book written by Eliot Asinof.

Mr. Asinof, writing after painstaking research into the printed records, reconstructs the events with graphic skill. One clique of bettors pretended to represent Arnold Rothstein, the gambling tycoon. Another gambler did represent Rothstein, but appropriated for his own wagering most of the money that was meant for the players. Still another pair of shysters became go-betweens and prospered for a couple of the games that went according to plan only to be wiped out when the swindled players grew angry and really played. A jury eventually acquitted the players, but they were banned from baseball. Rothstein went on successfully from deal to deal, until he was shot.
The author feels that Charles A. Comiskey, owner of the Chicago team, should be blamed for paying the players too little and that he was slack about exposing the scandal. In many ways the scandal, as the book shows, was an indictment of American mores. It seemed like a tragedy then, but perhaps it was part of the human comedy that helped the American people on the long road toward maturity. NY Times Review

A film dramatization of “Eight Men Out” was released in 1988 starring David Strathairn and John Cusack.

In 1989 the movie “Field of Dreams” was released, starring Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe. It was based on the 1982 W.P. Kinsella novel, “Shoeless Joe”.

Shoeless Joe Jackson was not only the star of White Sox, he is one of the greatest hitters of all time. His career batting average of .3558 puts him in third place among all players in Major history. (behind Ty Cobb .3664 and Rogers Hornsby .3585. In 1920, his last full season before he was banned from baseball, Jackson hit .382. Moreover, in the in 1919 World Series, his “contribution” to the conspiracy was to hit .375. (The highest average among all the players on either team, with 10 or more at-bats.)

In 1998 Ted Williams filed a 58-page appeal with Commissioner Bud Selig, calling for an end to Jackson’s banishment, a move that would enable Jackson to take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame. So far Selig has not acted on that appeal.


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