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Say It Ain’t So, Joe!
Foul was fair, and fair foul, when eight players of the championship White Sox conspired with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series
June 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 4
The Sox were shut out in that fourth game, two to nothing. The Cincinnati runs were largely made possible by two glaring fielding errors committed by Cicotte in the fifth inning. Regarded in the best light, these errors were singular examples of maladroitness by an experienced pitcher; at worst, they were highly suspicions. In any case, the Reds were now ahead in the Series, three games to one.
The fifth game, scheduled for Sunday, October 5, was postponed until the next day because of rain; when it was over the Reds had won again and the world championship seemed virtually clinched. The Sox had been shut out again, in a contest marked by the ragged fielding of Felsch and Risberg, and a disastrous four-run sixth inning. Lefty Williams, Chicago’s starting pitcher, had lost again.
Back in Cincinnati for the next two games, the White Sox electrified the sports world by taking both. In the first, Wee Dickie Kerr pitched skillfully for ten innings for a five to four victory; in the second, Cicotte was at his best, while Felsch and Joe Jackson led a batting attack which placed the Sox on the long end of a four to one score.
The Series now stood at four games to three, and the teams returned to Chicago for what the White Sox adherents hoped would be the final twu games. The American League team needed both to win the Series. But in the eighth game, played on October 9, the Reds jumped on Lefty Williams for four runs in the first inning, and went on to a ten to five victory —and the world championship.
Although Charles Comiskey was deeply suspicious of his team’s integrity, he could not make any invidious public admission without proof. Pressed for comment on the still-persisting fix rumors, lie was ([noted as being “sure of the fidelity of the players. 1 believe my boys fought the battle of the recent World Series on the level as they have always done, and I would be the first to want information to the contrary.” In the same breath, he offered $20,000 lor evidence of any thrown games, and soon after, he visited Maclay Hoyne, state’s attorney for Cook County. He told Hoyne he believed he had been “jobbed” in the Series, asked for help, and expressed willingness to foot the investigative bill.
Two months later, on December 10, Coniiskey admitted to reporters that an inquiry was in progress. No evidence had been found, but he vowed that “if we land the goods on any of my players, I will see that there is no place in organized baseball for them.”
By this time, Comiskey had heard a great deal more than he admitted publicly. Yet what lie knew was still based largely on tip and rumor. He believed the Series had been thrown, and thought he knew the players involved. There were eight suspects: Cicotte, Williams, Gandil, Risberg, Felsch, Jackson, Weaver, and Fred McMullin, a utility infielder. Detectives had reported to Comiskey a remark Cicotte allegedly had made to a relative who commiserated with him after the Series. “Don’t worry,” Cicotte had said, “I got mine.” And, too, there was the wire Gandil reportedly sent to his wife before the Series began. “I have bet my shoes,” it read. After the Series was over, Gandil seemed to be spending freely, and it was argued that if he had bet his shoes on his own team, he would have been in no position to throw his money around. Sketchy as this evidence appeared, Comiskey felt justified in holding up the World Series checks of the suspected players, each of whom had more than $3,000 coming to him. But on the advice of his lawyers, and after much pressure from the players, he finally released the payments.
The identity of the gamblers involved was even more uncertain; and in a sense it still is. No one able to speak with complete authority has ever publicly named all the persons, aside from the players, who manipulated the fix, or has explained the complexities of their interrelationships. Perhaps this authoritative voice does not exist, and never did, for there is reason to believe that some of the dozen or so gamblers whose names hover over the scandal were not even aware of the involvement of others. The higher echelons of the fraternity kept quiet; what we do know of the elaborate maneuvers and brisk footwork that went on (and the information, so far as it goes, is probably accurate enough) has come from the lesser ranks of those concerned.
In the early stages of Comiskey’s investigation, specific emphasis fell on certain personalities. The most notorious was Arnold Rothstein, the gambler and manipulator whose name is synonymous with the shady aspects of the twenties. Equally as suspect was Abe Attell, the onetime featherweight boxing champion of the world. Then there was a former big-league pitcher, William “Sleepy” Burns, who had played for the White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds before going on to more lucrative endeavors in the Texas oil fields. Allied with Burns was one William Maharg, a Philadelphian who, like Attell, was an ex-prizefighter. Supposedly, these were the principal gamblers in the World Series fix; but others—in Boston, Des Moines, St. Louis, and elsewhere—were mentioned as accomplices.