Say It Ain’t So, Joe!


Early in the new year, 1920, Comiskey sent out season contracts to his players, including—in spite of his doubts—the eight suspects. In the bargaining that ensued, Gandil’s demands were too high for Comiskey, and the first baseman retired from big-league baseball; but after some maneuvering, the others signed.

The White Sox of 1920 were virtually the same team that had won the pennant the year before; and as the season drew to a close in September, they were in a hot race for the flag with the Cleveland Indians. Quite suddenly the scandal was exposed—in a curiously indirect manner.

All that summer, there had been disquieting speculation about the integrity of baseball; early in September, it centered on a game played on August 31 between the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies of the National League. Before the game there had been rumors that it would be thrown by the Cubs, and in a countermove, the Cub management decided not to start the pitcher previously announced. Instead, the great Grover Cleveland Alexander was named to pitch, and he was offered a bonus of $500 if he won. Nevertheless, the Cubs lost.

The fix rumors eventually came to the attention of Charles A. McDonald, Chief Justice of the Criminal Court of Cook County. McDonald wondered what action, if any, should be taken, and conferred with Ban Johnson. Johnson advised that a grand jury look into the matter, and McDonald followed his suggestion.

The jury opened its hearings on September 7; for two weeks a parade of witnesses marched through its chambers. These included ballplayers, owners, managers, officials of both leagues, and sports writers. Speculation about their testimony grew intense, especially when it became known that the 1919 Series had replaced the Cub-Phillies game as the focal point of the inquiry.

On September 22, Assistant State’s Attorney Hartley Replogle asserted bluntly that the 1919 World Series had been fixed and that the grand jury had heard the testimony implicating eight of the White Sox. The eight, whom he named, were those on Comiskey’s list.

Comiskey acknowledged that he had been suspicious of the Series, that he had spent $20,000 in investigating it, and had been unable to prove a thing. For that matter, he declared, he was still without proof. But if he received any, he swore to “ruin the evil-doers.”

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Billy Maharg, the friend of Sleepy Bill Burns, had decided to talk. He told his story to Jimmy Isaminger, a sports writer for the Philadelphia North American , and what Isaminger wrote became a national sensation.

Maharg declared that in September, 1919, he had received a wire from Burns, inviting him to go hunting at the latter’s New Mexico ranch. To make further arrangements, Maharg met Burns at the Hotel Ansonia in New York. There it developed that Burns had gambling, not hunting, on his mind. He introduced Maharg to Eddie Cicotte and Chick Gandil, who were in town with the White Sox to play the Yankees. The two players indicated that they could “deliver” the Series—for a price. The price was f 100,ooo, to be paid in installments of $20,000 before each game and split among the eight players involved.

After this meeting, Burns asked Maharg if he knew of any gamblers who would underwrite the proposition. Maharg said he would go to Philadelphia and try to interest some men he knew there. His Philadelphia contacts refused the proposal, but suggested that Rothstein was the man to see. Back in New York, Maharg and Burns met with Rothstein, who declined the deal. According to Maharg, “Rothstein said he did not think such a frame-up could be possible.”

Maharg returned to Philadelphia, just before the World Series was scheduled to start, and there he received a wire from Burns that “Arnold R. has gone through with everything. Got eight [players] in, leaving for Cinn.” The next day, Maharg went to Cincinnati, where he met Burns, who told him he had run into Abe Attell in New York and that Attell had persuaded Rothstein to finance the deal.

On the morning of the first Series game, Maharg and Burns visited Attell at the Hotel Sinton, and asked him for the $100,000 to parcel out among the eight players. Attell told them he needed all the cash he could muster for betting; he proposed instead that the players be given $20,000 after each losing game. Burns talked to the players, who agreed to it.