The Chicago Black Sox


March 2, 2004


PHS 336 Baseball Theory




The 1919 World Series resulted in the most famous scandal in baseball history. Eight players from the Chicago White Sox (later nicknamed the Black Sox) were accused of throwing the series against the Cincinnati Reds. Details of the scandal and the extent to which each man was involved have always been unclear. It was, however, front-page news across the country and, despite being acquitted of criminal charges, the players were banned from professional baseball for life. The eight men included the great "Shoeless" Joe Jackson; pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude "Lefty" Williams; infielders Buck Weaver, Arnold "Chick" Gandil, Fred McMullin, and Charles "Swede" Risberg; and outfielder Oscar "Happy" Felsch.


The White Sox team was formed in 1900 as a franchise of the American league, under the ownership of Charles Comiskey. The Sox were originally called The White Stockings. They shortened the name to White Sox in 1902. In its first year, the team won the league championship. By 1903, the American and National Leagues had agreed to meet in an end-of-the-year playoff, or a "World Series." In 1906, the White Sox won this national championship by defeating the Chicago Cubs four games to two. The next eight years brought a dry spell for the Sox. In many of those years they lost more often than they won.


In 1910, Comiskey built a new ballpark on Chicago\'s South Side and dedicated himself to building a strong ball club. In 1915, he purchased three star players: outfielder Joe Jackson, second baseman Eddie Collins, and center fielder Happy Felsch. Comiskey, a former first baseman, is also credited with being the first person to train his players to adjust their field positions according to a batter\'s hitting habits. In 1917, the Sox won the World Series and, managed by William "Kid" Gleason, the 1919 Chicago White Sox had the best record in the American League. Comiskey had succeeded in building one of the most powerful teams in baseball.


Despite their many wins on the field, the White Sox were an unhappy team. No club played better in 1919, but few were paid so poorly. Many knowledgeable observers believe that it was Comiskey\'s stinginess that is largely to blame for the Black Sox scandal: if Comiskey had not grossly underpaid his players and treated them so unfairly, they would never have agreed to throw the Series. Comiskey was able to get away with paying low salaries because of the "reserve clause" in players\' contracts. This clause prevented players from changing teams without the permission of the owners. Without a union, the players had no bargaining power.


Comiskey frequently made promises to his players that he had no intention of keeping. He once promised his team a big bonus if they won the pennant. When they did win, the bonus turned out to be a case of cheap champagne. Comiskey even charged his players for laundering their uniforms. In protest, for several weeks the players wore the same increasingly dirty uniforms. Comiskey removed the uniforms from their lockers and fined the players.


To make matters worse, the White Sox players did not get along with each other. Their constant infighting was marked by jealousy and verbal abuse. The team was divided into two cliques, one led by second baseman Eddie Collins and the other by first baseman Chick Gandil. Collins\'s faction was educated, sophisticated, and able to negotiate salaries as high as $15,000. Gandil\'s less polished group, who only earned an average of $6,000, bitterly resented the difference.


In 1918, with the country disrupted by World War I, interest in baseball dropped to an all-time low. The 1919 World Series was the first national championship after the war, and baseball and the nation as a whole were back to business as usual. Postwar enthusiasm for baseball took everyone by surprise, and fans eagerly followed the games. National interest in the Series was so high, baseball officials decided to make it a best of nine series, instead of the traditional best of seven.


Gamblers were often visibly present at ballparks and the fixing of games had been suspected since the mid-1850s. Rumors circulated that players supplemented their incomes by throwing single games. Several ballplayers had the reputation of working closely with