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The Black Sox
On July 5, 1921, Judge Hugo Friend denies a motion to quash the indictments against eight members of the Chicago White Sox, who were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series, and their trial begins with jury selection. The players, including stars Shoeless Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, and Eddie Cicotte, subsequently became known as the "Black Sox" after the scandal was revealed.
The White Sox, who were heavily favored at the start of the 1919 World Series, had been seriously underpaid and mistreated by owner Charles Comiskey. The conspiracy to fix the games was most likely initiated by first baseman Chick Gandil and small-time gambler Joseph Sullivan, and later endorsed by Arnold Rothstein. The schemers used the team's discontent to their advantage: Through intermediaries, Rothstein offered relatively small sums of money for the players to lose some of the games intentionally. The scandal came to light when the gamblers did not pay the players as promised, thinking that they had no recourse, but when the players openly complained, the story became public and authorities were forced to prosecute them.
After a tacit agreement whereby the players assented not to denigrate major league baseball or Comiskey in return for an acquittal, their signed confessions mysteriously disappeared from police custody. The jury acquitted all of the accused players and then celebrated with them at a nearby restaurant, but the height of the hypocrisy surrounding the entire matter came when Shoeless Joe was forced to sue Comiskey for unpaid salary. During this civil trial, Comiskey's lawyers suddenly produced the confessions that had disappeared during the criminal trial, with no explanation as to how they had been obtained. Comiskey hoped to go back to business as usual, however, all did not end well. The other baseball owners, hoping to remove any hint that games were illegitimate, immediately appointed Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the first commissioner of baseball. Landis was a hard-liner who then permanently banned all eight of the implicated Black Sox players from every playing baseball again. Landis' decision has come under considerable criticism for its unfairness to a few of the players. Buck Weaver, by all accounts, had refused to take any money offered by the gamblers. He was purportedly banned for refusing to turn in his teammates, and although Shoeless Joe Jackson probably accepted some money, his statistics show that he never truly participated in throwing the games and he had the best batting average of either team in the series.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: