“A joyous boy, all heart and hard-trying. A territorial animal…who guarded the spiked sand around third like his life…”
— Nelson Algren, “The Swede was a Hard Guy” in “The Last Carousel”
George Daniel “Buck” Weaver is one of the Dead Ball era’s most renowned ballplayers. Known for his entanglement in the infamous 1919 World Series Black Sox scandal, his legacy mimics an immortal Shakespearian tragic figure.
Starting third baseman for the Chicago White Sox, George Weaver was one of eight men accused of throwing the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Though acquitted by a jury during the 1921 Cook County “Black Sox” trial, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner, banned all eight players from baseball for life. This dictatorial decision led to Weaver’s lifelong obsession with reinstatement.
At 5 feet 10 inches and a lean 168 pounds, Weaver was known for his ever-smiling, jug-eared face that mimicked a Halloween Jack. According to Weaver’s niece and surrogate daughter Patricia Anderson who was raised by her uncle for 16 years, Weaver was an inspiration to everyone around him – family, friends, teammates and fans. Because regardless of the frustration and sadness that enveloped Weaver over his banishment, he remained optimistic and dedicated to restoring his name.
Born on August 8, 1890 in Pottstown, Pennsylvania to parents Daniel and Susan Weaver, George was a happy soul. His energy and natural athletic talent was noticed at an early age by fellow players, coaches and scouts. Veteran minor leaguer Curt McGann was so fascinated by Weaver’s passionate style of play and his upbeat, positive attitude, he nicknamed him “Buck,” a name in Chicago that would soon be synonymous for sympathy.
Buck began his semipro career in Northampton, Massachusetts with the Connecticut State League before Charley Dooin, manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, signed Buck to play for the White Roses in York, Pennsylvania for $175 a month. In the fall of 1910, super-scout Ted Sullivan of the Chicago White Sox bought Buck’s contract for $750 and assigned him to the San Francisco Seals for $200 a month in 1911.
Buck’s career in Major League Baseball was book-ended by tragedy and heartbreak. He broke into professional baseball on the heels of his mother’s death and was ripped from his livelihood for a scandal he vowed he did not take part.
Buck ended the 1911 season with the San Francisco Seals with a .280 batting average. In the spring of 1912 he was called to Chicago White Sox training camp in Waco, Texas, and at the same time, found out his mother Susan had passed away. It was then that Buck faced a tough personal choice: attend his mother’s funeral or attend the Chicago White Sox training camp. A telegraph from his father persuaded Buck to go onto training camp instead of returning to Stowe, PA for the funeral.
A “Chicago Tribune” article written in March 1912 by Sam Weller, “Sox Recruit of 20, Shows Real Grit, Hiding Sorrow to Fight for Berth,” captured Weaver’s character and forecasted his baseball legacy:
“A boy of 20 years who has more grit than any other player…arrived (in camp) without mentioning the death of his mother to Manager Callahan, he got into his baseball suit and started after the job as shortstop for Comiskey’s team. Not a man on the squad displayed as much enthusiasm in his work…”
After just more than a month on the White Sox squad, Weaver earned another nickname from “Chicago Tribune” writer Irv Sanborn:
“Weaver plugged the hole at shortstop by going into the game with a left hand done in bandages. In spite of that handicap the ‘ginger kid’ played a splendid game…”
Buck ended the 1912 season with a paltry .224 batting average and .915 fielding percentage. Knowing his position on the Chicago White Sox roster was not secure, he spent the entire off-season learning to become a switch hitter. Heading into the 1913 season with new ammunition, Buck was able to raise his batting average from .247 to .272 in the last month of the season. Not only did he lead the team in hitting that month, but he ended the season with 151 games, more than any of his teammates.
Buck ended his life asserting his proudest accomplishment came during the 1913 – 1914 season when he attended Charles Comiskey’s and John J. McGraw’s World Tour. Buck was the only regular White Sox player to sign up and commit to the trip. Sixty-seven people sailed from American shores to showcase baseball to the nations of the eastern hemisphere and after seventeen weeks, eleven countries and 38,000 miles, Comiskey’s crew returned home to Chicago on March 9, 1914.
Through a tumultuous baseball career, the only mementoes Buck held late in life were his World Tour souvenirs. His favorite baseball picture of himself was a group shot take in 1914 of the touring stars seated in front of the Sphinx in Egypt. Buck was adorned with a fez cap, his baseball uniform and a smile that illustrated one of the happiest times of his life.
By the 1914 season, Buck had become the leader of the Chicago White Sox team and was appointed team captain after Harry Lord jumped to the Federal League. And he was about to marry the woman of his dreams.
Buck and Helen Cook met in San Francisco in 1911. She was part of a touring four-sister vaudeville group called the American Girl Quartet. Helen was stunning. At 5 feet 6 inches, blue eyes, dark brown hair and an oval face, Helen was sought after by Will Rogers and William Fairbanks to star in their silent movies.
Buck tried to convince Helen to accompany him on the 1913 – 1914 World Tour but Helen’s father adamantly forbade it because the two were not married. When Buck came into some money in the post-season Cubs/White Sox annual City Series, Buck and Helen married on October 17, 1914 in a private ceremony.
A medical problem rendered Helen incapable of bearing children. As fate would have it, in 1931 Helen’s nieces Bette Scanlon and Patricia Scanlon (Anderson) moved in with Buck and Helen after their own father passed away. Buck and Helen raised the two girls until they finished high school and started careers at the “Chicago Sun Times.”
For 16 years, Patricia admired her Uncle Buck. Occasionally, she walked with her uncle to work, noticing the praise and adoration bestowed on her Uncle Buck by passersby. It wasn’t until later in life that she fully grasped what her uncle had done in his young adult life. According to Patricia, her Uncle Buck never talked about his days playing baseball. Perhaps he was unwilling to show his pain to young Patricia. For her memory of Uncle Buck always comes with that signature grin.
With experience, Buck’s hitting and fielding steadily improved. In 1917, after switching from shortstop to third base, he was named to Baseball Magazine’s American League All-Star team. The “Sporting News” saluted Buck’s shift to third:
“In stopping men coming around the bases, going after a fly ball, and digging in for hard chances Buck has few equals in the major leagues.”
Professionally, the 1917 season was Buck’s finest. He led the club in hitting and fielding in the regular season, hitting .284 and fielding .949. In the 1917 World Series, he had the second highest batting average on his team with an impressive .333. Buck was at the top of his game and was thrilled to be playing baseball. Jim Crusinberry’s article in the “Chicago Tribune,” recapping the winning game of the World Series, portrays Buck’s elation:
“He (Buck) danced around in a manner which indicated he had completely lost himself. He tossed his cap into the air and followed with his sweater and a dozen bats and three or four hats that belonged to the spectators, and if there had been anything within reach it, too, would have gone into the air.”
World War I was tightening its noose on the baseball season. By mid 1918 Congress passed an amendment that required eligible men to join the war as soldiers or workers in essential industry. The season was shortened and Buck went to Beloit, Wisconsin to work as a mechanic in the Fairbanks-Morse manufacturing plant and play for their semipro baseball team.
As the 1919 season approached, Buck aggravated that he made more money as a mechanic and ballplayer in Beloit, demanded a raise from the Chicago White Sox. Negotiations garnered him a 3-year deal for $7,250 and the removal of the 10-day out clause. These shrewd negotiations would later provide Buck additional income when he sued Comiskey in 1924 for his unpaid 1921 season salary after he was suspended in September 1920 for his alleged role in the 1919 World Series.
Buck Weaver was stellar in the 1919 World Series and his statistics appear to belie accusations of involvement in the World Series fix. His box score was 11-34 at the plate for a .324 batting average, and a 1.000 fielding percentage. He was also the only player accused to not receive money for participating in the fixing of the 1919 World Series.
Buck attended two meetings regarding the fated 1919 World Series, one at the Ansonia Hotel in New York City on September 14th, and the other at the Sinton Hotel in Cincinnati on September 30th. He told his teammates and the gamblers present, “it (throwing the World Series) couldn’t be done.”
He approached the World Series unsure of his teammates’ intentions. Despite rumors that the fix was on, Buck wanted no part of the fix.
The Series ended on October 9, 1919 with Cincinnati prevailing as the new World Champions. Sympathy for the White Sox was hard to find, but it came in many forms for Buck Weaver. One such form was an article published in the “Cincinnati Post” on October 10, 1919 by Ross Tenney:
“Though they are hopeless and heartless, the White Sox have a hero. He is George Weaver, who plays and fights at third base. Day after day Weaver has done his work and smiled. In spite of the certain fate that closed about the hopes of the Sox, Weaver smiled and scrapped. One by one his mates gave up. Weaver continued to grin and fought harder….Weaver’s smile never faded. His spirit never waned….The Reds have beaten the spirit out of the Sox all but Weaver. Buck’s spirit is untouched. He was ready to die fighting. Buck is Chicago’s one big hero; long may he fight and smile.”
Rumors were rampant on the streets and in the newsrooms of America. Hugh Fullerton wrote an article in the “Chicago Herald and Examiner” also on October 10th that predicted seven players would not return to the White Sox lineup in 1920. He did not list names. However, during the fall of 1919 another publication, “Collyer’s Eye,” included suspected names and Buck’s was omitted. Even in White Sox catcher Ray Schalk’s interview with “Collyer’s Eye” on December 12, 1919 he named seven players involved in the fix, not eight. (Huge Sox Expose. Schalk Declares Seven Will Be Missing).
In 1920, Buck’s ninth and final season, he hit .333 with 210 hits over 151 games. Overall, Weaver finished with a .272 career batting average. His stats over his first nine years are nearly identical to those of another fiery third baseman caught in a baseball betting scandal, Pete Rose.
On October 14, 1920, immediately following the announcement of confessions by Eddie Cicotte and Joe Jackson, an issue of “The Sporting News” headlined, “Chicago Fans Grieve Most for Weaver and Still Hope for Him. Idol of Southside Rooters…” This article captured the adoration Chicago fans felt for Weaver. It was also the first glimpse of Buck’s reinstatement efforts by devoted fans.
When Buck was served his suspension letter by White Sox representative Tip O’Neill, he instantly marched to Comiskey’s office and declared his innocence. He was the only player of the eight accused to do so, and as such, was the only one who saw Comiskey’s devastation over the exposure of the fix. Weaver had become one of his most loyal players over his nine year stint with the White Sox. In a December 14, 1920 issue of “Collyer’s Eye,” (Buck Weaver Back With the White Sox?) it reported that Comiskey promised Weaver – separate from the other seven players – that he would be reinstated to baseball if he was acquitted in the Cook County trial.
Within six weeks of the Grand Jury indictments, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed baseball’s first commissioner. On March 12, 1921, Judge Landis included Weaver among the accused White Sox players on the ‘ineligible list.’
Though Buck requested a separate trial from the other seven players, he was forced to sit with his Black Sox teammates in the conspiracy trial. Judge Hugo Friend, presiding over the 1921 Black Sox trial, all but declared Buck innocent by saying he wouldn’t allow a conviction to stand against Buck Weaver if the jury ruled that way. Three hours of deliberation on August 21, 1921 returned a verdict of innocent for all players accused. The following day, Judge Landis released the following statement:
“Regardless of the verdicts of juries, no player who entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player who sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed and does not promptly tell the club about it will ever play professional baseball.”
The last sentence, aimed specifically at Buck, did not include other members of professional baseball who were aware of the fix, specifically teammates, coaches, owners and personnel. Regardless of the oversight, Buck Weaver would never play professional baseball again.
Buck Weaver never had a formal hearing from Major League Baseball. Within one year of the 1921 verdict banning Buck from baseball for life, he submitted a petition to Commissioner Landis, signed by 14,000 fans. Landis turned Buck down for the first time in January 1922. Buck responded by telling the “Chicago Tribune:”
“I was not certain just what men, if any, had accepted propositions, whether they accepted. I could not bring myself to tell on them, and even if I was certain, I decided to keep quiet and play my best.”
He made multiple attempts at reinstatement over the years. World Series 1919 Fixer Abe “Little Champ” Attell even made an effort to tell Judge Landis that Buck had nothing to do with the fix.
Buck’s most notable reinstatement attempt was his testimony in 1927 during the Tris Speaker/Ty Cobb betting scandal. On the stand he demanded to be reinstated and proclaimed he did not owe baseball a thing.
After being rejected again by Judge Landis in 1927, Weaver came back to his Chicago apartment sullen and downtrodden. It was then that he decided to play semipro ball again.
Later in life, Buck continued his desperate attempts at reinstatement. He contacted a New York City attorney who vowed to get Buck reinstated. Buck sent his legal papers and correspondence to New York, never to be returned. To this day, Buck’s legal files remain lost to baseball historians.
Finally in 1953, just three years before his death, Buck wrote a letter to Commissioner Ford Frick requesting reinstatement. The letter is prominently displayed in Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Life After Professional Baseball
Buck was the only ‘Black Sox’ player to remain in Chicago after his banishment. He bounced around doing odd jobs, longing to get back on the baseball field. Buck began barnstorming with other Black Sox players as the ex-Major League All-Stars in 1922. In 1926 Buck played alongside infamous game fixer Hal Chase in Douglas, Arizona in the Frontier League. In 1927, he joined Hammond, Indiana’s semipro team and continued to play in the sandlots of Chicago until 1931. In 1944, Buck forfeited a player’s uniform for a different role, managing the Bidwell Bluebirds women’s team.
Responsible for supporting his large extended family, Buck took a job with the City of Chicago as a day painter. In one ironic incident, he found himself painting the Cook County courtroom where he was tried and acquitted for the 1919 World Series ‘Black Sox’ trial.
Buck also tried to make it in the drugstore business. With his pharmacist brother-in-law William Scanlon, he operated six drugstores on Chicago’s south side. Noticing Buck’s business sense, Charles Walgreen, whose drugstore empire was about to skyrocket, asked William Scanlan and Buck Weaver to join him as junior partners. They declined the invitation. After rejecting Walgreen’s offer, the depression hit and their six drug stores were closed.
In 1954, right before his death, Buck was interviewed by author James T. Farrell (of Studs Lonigan fame) about his banishment. “A murderer even serves his sentence and is let out, I got life,” Buck perceptively explained.
On January 31, 1956, Buck Weaver died in Chicago, Illinois. His death was marked by obituaries in “Time,” “Newsweek,” “The New York Times,” and every local Chicago newspaper. He is buried on Chicago’s south side in Mt. Hope Cemetery next to his wife Helen and her sister Marie.
Buck’s nieces, Marjorie Follett and Patricia (Scanlon) Anderson with the help of this author, launched ClearBuck.com at the 2003 All-Star Game in Chicago. The campaign, aimed at reviving Buck Weaver’s reinstatement efforts to modern era baseball, took place at 35th and Shields, only a few feet from the site of the original Comiskey Park.
Though still banned from baseball 85 years after the Black Sox scandal, Buck Weaver remains a hero of Chicago White Sox fans through stage, screen, film, and books. George D. Weaver is the fictional voice narrative of the 1983 novel “Hoopla” by Harry Stein. Eliot Asinof remembered Buck as an innocent bystander in his 1963 “Eight Men Out,” which was later turned into a movie in 1988 by writer/director John Sayles. In his portrayal, John Cusack captured Buck’s fiery nature and intense desire to win.
In October 2004, the Chicago Historical Society hosted a Black Sox symposium titled, “The Black Sox: 85 Years Later.” Panelists included, Charles Comiskey’s great-granddaughter Patti Bellock; Buck Weaver’s niece Patricia Anderson; this author; grandson of Joe Jackson’s 1924 trial attorney Tom Cannon; and moderator Dan McGrath, associate sports editor for the “Chicago Tribune.” Anderson shared her distress with the attendees of the symposium:
“My Uncle Buck was heartbroken. The people who knew him said he came alive when he took to the field, always with that big grin on his face. All he wanted to do was play ball. All he wanted to do was suit up for one more season, for one more game, for one more bat.”
Buck Weaver was 31 when he was banned from baseball more than 85 years ago. His family, along with Weaver’s fans, hope posthumous justice is near.
“…and what a path of spiked sand around third looks like fifty year after. Only a turning wind may remember…”
— Nelson Algren, “The Swede was a Hard Guy” in “The Last Carousel”