Above, a Chicago Daily News cartoon from the 1920s.
by William “Doc” Halliday
I believe in our judicial system. Despite some flaws, I believe we have the best judicial system in the world. When a verdict is rendered in a trial, I believe we should accept that verdict no matter how inappropriate it may seem to us.
It is my opinion that our youth look up to, admire, and attempt to emulate those individuals that are held out as sports stars. Because of this, I would hold our athletes to a more stringent standard. This leaves me in a quandary with today’s history selection. Ninety-five years ago today, on August 3, 1921, Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis confirmed the lifetime ban of eight members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team. This was one day after those same eight players were acquitted by a Chicago court.
The players met with gamblers and agreed to lose games in return for being paid.
When I was a child and watched western movies, I always knew who the bad guy was, and who the good guy was. The bad guys always wore black hats, and the heroes always wore white hats. Since humans first evolved, the night was dark (black) and represented the unknown and was associated with evil. During the Roman Empire black became the color of mourning and was associated with death. White on the other hand represents purity. A white object or clothing is easy to stain. Brides typically wear white at their wedding to represent their innocence and purity.
It is not surprising then that when members of the Chicago White Sox baseball club became involved in a scandal, they would be referred to as the Chicago Black Sox. The scandal revolved around accusations that eight members of that baseball team conspired to deliberately lose games during the 1919 World Series in return for being paid cash.
The rumors continued to spread, affecting not just these players, but other teams as well.
There is no question that the fix occurred. Some of the eight men including Edward Victor Cicotte, a right-handed pitcher nicknamed “Knuckles” admitted to the crime later. The players met with gamblers and agreed to lose games in return for being paid by the gamblers. Word of the fix spread on the street, and combined with the amount of money that was bet on Cincinnati (Chicago’s underdog opponent) caused the odds to drop. Charles Arnold “Chick” Gandil was the ringleader of the fix and later claimed they attempted to win the World Series but the numerous errors were made because they (the players) felt that they were being closely watched. Fred Drury McMullin was a utility infielder for the team and only made two plate appearances during the eight game series. He overheard conversations and threatened to report the fix to management if he wasn’t included.
The rumors continued to spread, affecting not just these players, but other teams as well. Finally, in September of 1920, a grand jury was convened. A month later, that grand jury handed down indictments against the eight baseball players and five gamblers. The trial began in June of 1921. On August 2, after just three hours of deliberation, the jury found all eight of the baseball players “not guilty.” Some of the evidence was not available at the time of the trial. The next day, August 3, the Baseball Commissioner issued a ban against all eight of the players. This included George Daniel “Buck” Weaver a shortstop and third baseman who knew about but did not actively participate in the fix. That ban effectively prohibited each of the eight baseball players from ever playing baseball again.
And therein lays my conundrum. I believe a lifetime ban is appropriate for this crime. However, the jury found each of them “not guilty”, and I believe in our judicial system. Therefore, I believe the Baseball Commissioner was wrong in making the decision to ban these eight players.
One of the eight “Black Sox” was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Jackson was a star outfielder, and one of the best hitters in the sport. He confessed in sworn grand jury testimony to having accepted $5,000 cash, but later recanted his confession and protested his innocence. He was one of the ball players conjured up by Kevin Costner’s character in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams.
William “Doc” Halliday, historian and writer, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org