Say It Ain’t So, Joe!


The following morning, Maharg and Burns again called on Attell in his room; they were impressed by the great stacks of currency in evidence. Once again Attell demurred at paying off the players. Maharg and Burns were now suspicious, and pointedly questioned Attell as to whether Rothstein was actually backing him. As proof, Attell flashed a telegram which read: “Abe Attell, Sinton Hotel, Cinn. Have wired you twenty grand and waived identification. A. R.” Later, said Maharg, he became convinced the wire was spurious, and that Rothstein had not been involved. At the moment, however, Burns was angry because there was no money for the players. He told Maharg that he would turn over to them $110,000 worth of oil leases. Maharg dissuaded Burns “and thereby saved him that money.”


After the second game—and the second Sox loss- Maharg and Burns saw Attell and demanded the players’ payoff. Attell stalled, but finally handed over $10,000. Burns gave this to one of the players (whom Maharg did not name), and afterward told Maharg that the eight White Sox were restless and might not go through with their agreement. On the other hand, Burns did not believe they would try to win for Dickie Kerr, the third-game pitcher, who was not in on the plot, and who had been referred to by those who were as a “busher.” Consequently, Maharg and Burns bet their roll, including their winnings from the first two games, on the third—and lost everything; when Kerr shut out the Reds.

For all its sensationalism and aura of authenticity, Maharg’s story must be regarded as the account of one who was only a peripheral participant in what The New York Times characterized as “one of the most amazing and tangled tales of graft and bribery and interlocking ‘double-crossing.’ ” Bill Burns and certain of the eight players were to affirm that Maharg’s story was, in general, accurate; but others in the plot offered emendations and additions which suggested that his knowledge was limited.

A somewhat different story, for instance, was told by Chick Gandil in the magazine Sports Illustrated almost forty years later. Although it conflicts with Maharg’s account, Gandil’s version is probably just as accurate—and just as limited in its perspective.

According to Gandil, the 1919 White Sox were ripe for trouble. The players quarreled among themselves, and the one common bond among them seemed to be their dislike for Comiskey, who paid his pennant-winning team the lowest salaries in the league. “I would like to blame the trouble we got into on Comiskey’s cheapness,” Gandil commented, “but my conscience won’t let me.”

Gandil claimed that the plot originated in Boston, in September, 1919, when he and Cicotte were approached by a gambler named “Sport” Sullivan, who suggested that they get together seven or eight players to throw the Series. The pair consulted with the others, and the group decided to accept the offer—cash in advance. Sullivan, however, explained that it was difficult to raise so much money quickly, and made arrangements to meet the players again in Chicago.

Not long after, Cicotte introduced Gandil to Sleepy Bill Burns. Burns had heard of Sullivan’s offer, and asked for a chance to interest a gambler in Montreal, who might make a better one. At a meeting, the players decided to consider Burns’s terms.

A few days later, Sullivan and a friend from New York joined the players at the Hotel Warner in Chicago. The friend was introduced as “Mr. Ryan,” but, said Gandil, “having met this man two years before in New York, I recognized him as Arnold Rothstein.”

Rothstein’s plan was to win the first game, in order to raise the odds on the White Sox; then the players could lose the Series as they wished. When it came to paying the players the promised $80,000, Rothstein demurred; he finally handed over ten bills, with a promise to pay the rest in installments. “When the gamblers left,” Gandil recalled, “we entrusted the money to Cicotte until it could be changed inconspicuously. He put the bills under his pillow.” Gandil claimed that he never received a cent of the money.

By the time of the first game, talk of a fix was so prevalent that the players were reluctant to go through with it. According to Gandil their intention was to double-cross Rothstein by keeping his money and playing to win; in effect, this is what they did. But it was a demoralized White Sox team which took the field against their National League opponents—and the Reds played much better than anyone expected.

After the third game, which the White Sox won, Gandil received a visit from Burns, who was panicky. “He and some other gamblers, going on the assumption that the Series was fixed, had bet heavily on the Reds. Now they had their doubts.” Burns offered Gandil $20,000 personally if he could guarantee that the Sox would lose the Series; but Gandil turned him down.