100 years later, historians still debate baseball’s darkest moment
By Alex Butler, United Press International, Oct 9, 2019
Wednesday marks the 100th anniversary of the end of that best-of-nine World Series, which the Cincinnati Reds won amid accusations of White Sox players taking bribes from gamblers in exchange for poor play. White Sox players Eddie Cicotte, Claude “Lefty” Williams, Arnold “Chick” Gandil, Charles “Swede” Risberg, George “Buck” Weaver, Oscar “Happy” Felsch, Fred McMullin and Joe “Shoeless Joe” Jackson were permanently banned from baseball for their roles in the fixing incident.
“It’s an American story that’s more than just baseball,” said Dr. David Fletcher, co-founder of the Chicago Baseball Museum. “It’s a story of redemption. Cheaters cheat cheaters. It’s just a part of Americana.”
The players were acquitted of charges of conspiring with gamblers, but the first commissioner of baseball Major League Baseball — appointed as a result of the scandal — banned them for life a day after the verdict in 1921. [White Sox owner Charles] Comiskey first backed his players despite reporters investigating the bribes, offering a cash reward for information about the alleged fix. The White Sox owner later admitted to knowing about the scheme before the first game of the series.
Fletcher leads a reinstatement campaign for Weaver, who has never admitted to taking money, but only meeting with his teammates to talk about the bribes. Weaver hit .324 and did not make any errors in the 1919 World Series. “It’s definitely a major piece of U.S. history that’s more than just sports,” Fletcher said. “It has so much there, as far as the romance about baseball … sort of the theme of Field of Dreams, [that maybe] there is some redemption out there. These players basically got banished to the phantom zone.”
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Clearing the Black Sox
By Patrick M. O’Connell, Chicago Tribune
One hundred years after the Sox lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the Series — a result quickly shrouded by allegations that several members of American League champion Sox had “thrown” the Series, intentionally playing poorly because they had been promised money from gamblers if they lost — [Debra] Ebert and [Sandy] Schley remain committed to clearing the name of their great-uncle, Sox third baseman Buck Weaver, who was one of the eight players permanently banned from baseball in the aftermath of the Series.
With the help of advocate David C. Fletcher, a baseball fan from downstate Illinois who is founder of the Chicago Baseball Museum, the family staged a protest at the 2003 All-Star Game at Sox Park and again penned letters to the commissioner asking that baseball consider clearing Weaver’s name.
“We’ve done what we’ve done, but MLB was not interested in acting and they refused to meet with his family,” Fletcher said. “He never had due process.”
While many of the specifics of the scandal are murky and steeped in debunked myths popularized by books and movies like “Eight Men Out” and “Field of Dreams,” it is generally believed that Weaver attended at least one meeting about fixing the Series but never took money from gamblers or intentionally played poorly in the field that autumn.
With the Sox set to play the New York Yankees next August in Dyersville, Iowa, at the farm that was used to film the famous ballfield-in-the-cornfield scenes in “Field of Dreams,” the Weaver descendants sense a new opportunity on the horizon.
“We may have to dust off the 2003 plan,” Fletcher said.
The 1919 World Series began Oct. 1 in Cincinnati, 100 years ago Tuesday. The next high-profile opportunity to revisit the reinstatement or Hall of Fame push will be next summer in Iowa.
“For the family, this was about restoring his honor,” Fletcher said. Weaver lost more than his reputation in the fallout from the Black Sox scandal, he said, suffering “tremendous financial loss” from lost wages. Ebert said he spent the rest of his life bouncing from job to job, working as a painter, at a drugstore and at a horse track.
Forget What You Know About the Black Sox Scandal
~~ Bythe historian for Major League Baseball,
A century ago this week, eight players from the Chicago White Sox conspired with professional gamblers to rig the outcome of the World Series, enabling the underdog Cincinnati Reds — and bettors in the know — to win. The scandal, which was uncovered almost a year later, has come to be seen as baseball’s “loss of innocence,” the cause of fans’ diminished feelings for the game they once adored and a mortal blow to the nation’s confidence as it entered the 1920s, a decade of disrespect for elders, contempt for institutions and worship of the fast life and the fast buck.
The “eight men out” included the stars Joe Jackson, whose lifetime batting average of .356 was second at that time only to that of Detroit’s legendary Ty Cobb, and pitcher Eddie Cicotte, who had won 29 games in 1919 and 28 two years before. Both men confessed their role in the plot to Comiskey, and then to grand jurors, who indicted them for conspiracy to defraud.
Four other Chicago players were indicted: Gandil, shortstop Swede Risberg, reserve infielder Fred McMullin and third baseman Buck Weaver, who claimed to his dying day that while he had sat in on the deliberations, he took no money and played to win. Baseball fans were stunned and heartsick, and scribes predicted a swift end to the nation’s long love affair with the game.
Only in recent years, thanks largely to investigative efforts by members of the Society for American Baseball Research, has the truth about the Fix begun to come out. It is indeed a twisty tale, in some measure beyond perfect reconstruction, but neatly encapsulated by SABR’s Black Sox research group as “Eight Myths Out.”
Perhaps the single most important outcome of the Black Sox scandal was the way Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis went about cleaning house. Following the acquittal at trial of the eight Black Sox on Aug. 2, 1921, largely through jury nullification, Landis declared, to the enduring benefit of the game:
Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game, no player that entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed, and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever again play professional baseball.
This last description of unforgivable behavior was surely directed at Buck Weaver. Still, he applied six times for reinstatement to baseball, beginning in 1922. His final petition came in 1953, when he requested reinstatement from one of Landis’s successors as commissioner, Ford Frick.
“A murderer even serves his sentence and is let out,” Weaver observed at that time. “I got life.”
The petition for redress was rejected; because Major League Baseball removes players from the ineligible list when they die, and because the Baseball Hall of Fame aligns its balloting procedures with Major League policy, theoretically there is no barrier to Jackson’s induction, or Weaver’s.
Jackson died in 1951, Weaver in 1956, each offering a cautionary tale for the major leaguers who followed. A wager by a fan is one thing, maybe as mild as having a beer at the game; a gambling involvement by one who may affect the game’s outcome is another matter entirely. Fans of Weaver and Jackson continue to seek exoneration. It seems, now, beside the point; we forgave the Black Sox long ago.
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