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The Great Baseball Scandal - how the Mob won the 1919 World Series, by Nelson Algren
Wednesday 29 April 2020, by
Born and bred in Chicago, a life-long fan of baseball in general and of his home team, the Chicago White Sox  in particular, Nelson Algren (1909-1981), one of the finest American authors of his time , was particularly qualified to analyse the inner workings of the most sensational scandal in the history of professional sports, the corruption of of the most important event in the American sporting calendar, the World Series of baseball, in 1919.
To quote from his vivid account:
"There was no way the Cincinnati Reds could beat the Chicago White Sox five games out of nine. No way. The Sox had the hitters, the pitchers, the fielders and the runners. All the Reds would be able to do would be to put on their uniforms and take turns at bat. They would have to play over their heads just to keep from being shut out."
But there was a way...
An e-book version of this remarkable story is available for downloading below.
BALLET FOR OPENING DAY
The Swede Was a Hard Guy
He had grown up believing it was talent made a man big. If you were good enough, and dedicated yourself, you could get to the top. Wasn’t that enough of a reward? But when he got there he’d found out otherwise. They all fed off him, the men who ran the show and pulled the strings that kept it working. They used him and used him, and when they’d used him up they would dump him. In the years he’d been up they’d always made him feel like a hero to the people of America. But all the time they paid him peanuts. The Newspaper men who came to watch him pitch and wrote stories about him made more money than he did. Comiskey made half a million dollars a year off his right arm.
Eliot Asinof on Eddie Cicotte in Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series.
Charles A. Comiskey liked being called "The Grand Old Man of Baseball." He liked it so much that he hired a little man to see that messages unbefitting his grandeur never reached him.
This required vigilance on the little man’s part. There were people around town—some of them working on newspapers—who wanted to tell the old man that he wasn’t even grand enough to be The Grand Old Man of Horseshoe-Pitching. They thought he was too cheap to be grand.
Eastern fans, indeed, began jeering Mr. Comiskey’s players as "Black Sox" before that appellation signified anything more scandalous than neglecting to launder their uniforms. The old man was so begrudging about laundry bills that his players looked as if they’d put on their uniforms opening day in the coalyard behind Mr. Comiskey’s park; and hadn’t changed them since.
Three dollars per man per diem was the White Sox dining-room budget on the road. This inspired merriment among players who could crop a sirloin without paying for a potato out of their own pockets.
Yet the old man didn’t stint sports-writers. He loaded press-tables with liquor and food. And he had affection for children, too. So much that he would often present an autographed baseball, without charge, to the son of a public official: providing that a photographer were on hand. There is no record of the old man ever taking a baseball back from the son of any affluent official.
His little man was also handy at getting Joe Jackson to sign on the dotted line. Hap Felsch proved no problem either. Since Jackson was illiterate, and Felsch didn’t give a damn, the little man wasn’t demonstrating a highly specialized skill.
Where he ran into trouble was with Eddie Collins. Collins was a college graduate and couid read fine print. He’d had sufficient foresight, when signing with Connie Mack at Philadelphia, to have his contract stipulate that, in event of his being traded, his $14,500 salary would be sustained.
Comiskey’s other stars were drawing between $2,500 and $5.000. The little man sweated to break Collins’ contract; yet it held.
Had the old man’s parsimoniousness not been dangerous it would have been comical. For no other factor contributed to the corruption of Comiskey’s players so directly as the old man’s venality. He now had a shortstop making the same plays, for $3.000, for which his second baseman was earning $14,500. There wasn’t a club in either league that wouldn’t have doubled Swede Risberg’s salary.
Nor that of any of the other White Sox regulars. Gandil was playing first base for $4,500; while Cincinnati was paying double that to an infielder whom Gandil outclassed in every department. Cincinnati’s heaviest hitter was making $11,000: Jackson, outhitting him by fifty points, was getting $5,000.
Eddie Cicotte had brought Comiskey a pennant, in 1917, by winning 29 games; yet Comiskey had refused him a raise. Instead, he’d offered the pitcher a ten-thousand dollar bonus if he won 30 games in 1919 (1918 having been a foreshortened season). When Cicotte had won 28 the old man benched him, upon the pious pretension that he was saving his star’s arm for the World Series.
Baseball had always been a betting game. The great American sports explosion, that followed the end of World War I, heightened stakes.
When players’ salaries failed to follow the massive profits being made by the owners, gamblers began paying off certain players. The players wanted in, too.
Whenever one of these scandals broke—and they broke in both major leagues—the owners conducted investigations to sustain the public image of baseball as an honest game; yet were careful not to touch the thousand-dollar bettors sitting behind home plate. Their detectives collared the boys betting nickels in the bleachers instead.
Like the Pullman Company, baseball recognized no labor organization, fixed its own wage rates and working conditions. Any player attempting to negotiate a contract, other than with the one that had purchased him, was automatically expelled from organized baseball. He couldn’t even play minor league ball under his own name. If an owner’s terms left a player dissatisfied, he had one alternative: he could throw in his glove.
Chick Gandil had been batting around .300 for nine seasons. He had the strongest hands of any first baseman in either league. "The only first baseman who doesn’t need a glove," one writer said of him.
When, in the face of fast-rising attendance, Comiskey cut players’ salaries, Gandil was ready to throw in that glove.
Riding the Western rails since boyhood
Between copper camp and lumber camp
Fighting weight one hundred and ninety-seven pounds
Copper-mine boilermaker, border boxer,
A big-handed boy taking his ease in Western bars
Who’d once fought with a broken jaw
In a hundred-and-fifty-dollar winner-take-all bordertown brawl
Yet had fought on and taken the hundred-fifty:
He could still feel the welded break
Like a copper thread running his jaw.
"He has the best first-baseman’s hands in the business’’
Ring Lardner wrote of him.
He didn’t mention the blackleg gambler’s fingers.
Nor the Westerner’s pure gall:
Everyone knew that Chick Gandil
Had the nerve of a government mule.
Yet strangely lost that nerve among the tinhorn sporty-O’s
Of the Eastern hotel lobbies.
J.J. Sport Sullivan looked like the biggest man in Boston to Chick.
J.J. paid for the whiskey and the women
J.J. paid for the good cigars
J.J. said "Chick, I want you to meet George M. Cohan:
"Mr. Cohan, meet Mr. Gandil. Mr. Gandil, meet Mr. Cohan."
J.J. said, "Chick. I want you to meet Harry Sinclair’’
"Mr. Sinclair, meet Mr. Gandil. Mr. Gandil, Meet Mr. Sinclair."
And when all J.J. required
To get Mr. Sinclair down for a ten thousand-dollar wager,
Was Mr. Sinclair’s word
Gandil rubbed the welded break in his jaw
Recalling the chintzy forty-five dollars per man
"Token of appreciation"
The White Sox had assessed themselves—
For four Detroit pitchers who’d whipped Boston
Three successive end-of-the-season games.
Thus bringing the 1917 pennant to Mr. Comiskey’s park.
It came to Chick Gandil then
That the word of some men was good.
Like Mr. Sinclair’s.
And the word of other men was no good at all.
Like Mr. Comiskey’s.
The old man had promised the team individual bonuses
If they brought him a pennant that year.
Yet he hadn’t himself shown up at the clubhouse celebration
When they’d won it for him.
Instead he’d sent the little man—whose name was Grabiner—
With a case of champagne.
"Here’s your bonus," the little man had explained.
Cheating was wrong only if you didn’t own a baseball park.
That much was plain.
And it hadn’t even been good champagne.
And every man in the clubhouse knew, while drinking it
That the "token of appreciation"
Hadn’t been for the Tiger pitchers beating Boston.
It had been payment for four games they’d thrown to Chicago.
Collins—simon-pure Eddie—hadn’t liked it.
He hadn’t liked it at all.
But when Gandil told Risberg to collect forty-five dollars per man
And to collect from Collins first
Collins had paid up: so the others had followed.
Until Risberg confronted Weaver.
’’Count me out," Weaver told Risberg.
Gandil had to count Weaver out:
The only man who didn’t go along with the 1917 fix.
The Swede was a hard guy:
He wasn’t that hard to Buck Weaver.
The sportswriters had named him "Error-A-Day-Weaver"
When he’d first come west from softcoal country
And his hitting had been even softer.
Kid Gleason developed him into a .300 hitter
By switching him at the plate
And into the finest fielding third-baseman in either league.
His habit of grinning, while inching up on a batter
So unnerved Ty Cobb that he refused to bunt against Weaver:
The only third-baseman whose throw Cobb couldn’t out-run.
Buck could wear a pitcher down, foul after foul after foul
Till the man blew sky-high.
A joyous boy, all heart and hard-trying
A territorial animal
Who guarded the spiked sand around third like his life.
And wound up coaching a girl’s softball team
With no heart left in him at all.
He was a rangy San Franciscan who took to fighting as easily as to baseball; and occasionally confused these crafts. At Oakland he’d protested a third strike simply by stepping up to an umpire and knocking him cold with a short chop to the jaw. "Call that a third strike," he’d commented while other umpires were trying to bring the umpire around. And walked back to his dugout.
He had prescience. He’d begin moving to his left with the pitch, knock down a drive through the middle and cut the runner down with a peg only hands of iron could handle.
Gandil had the iron hands.
Swede Risberg would have looked dazzling anywhere: except playing beside Eddie Collins. Everything Risberg did, Collins did with more flash. When Risberg singled, Collins doubled. When Risberg doubled, Collins doubled and stole third.
Himself a grammar-school dropout and strictly a boy for the girls and the booze, it hurt to be outplayed by a college graduate who didn’t drink, smoke or chew. What hurt even more was getting less than $3,000 for making the same plays the graduate was being paid $14,500 to make.
The team was divided. The wild boys weren’t talking to the stay-in-shape boys: the stay-in-shapers weren’t speaking to them. The wild boys were Risberg, Gandil. Felsch and McMullin. The stay-in-shapers were Collins, Faber, Schalk and Kerr. Cicotte, Williams and Weaver drank with the wild boys yet stayed in shape, and still talked to the Collins faction. Joe Jackson talked to anybody who’d talk to him
Yet there wasn’t a hole in that infield. That infield came together as if it had been seamed. On the diamond they were brothers.
Oscar Felsch must have known, in the womb, that being alive was going to be fun. For he came forth looking for it. And it was even more fun than he’d been expecting: everything was fun!
At school he made the teachers happy the day he dropped out. It made Hap happy to leave school. And it made the girls and fellows at the factory happy to have Hap. Factories, Hap saw right off, were fun.
What was most fun of all was baseball. Getting paid to play it made it even more fun than that. When a White Sox scout spotted him shagging flies on a Milwaukee sandlot, and asked Felsch if he’d like to come to Chicago, Hap decided that that might be fun, too.
There was no use, Kid Gleason found, trying to teach Hap anything. What he was taught he’d forget the next day. On the other hand, there was nothing he had to learn. He was a natural hitter, a natural fielder, a natural runner and could throw with any man in the league. The only thing that kept him from being among such classically great outfielders as Cobb, Speaker and Hooper was that they played for the season. Hap played for the day.
The fans came out early just to watch Happy Felsch shag pregame flies. He got so much fun out of playing so hard that Comiskey deducted the fun from his salary.
After the scandal he shagged flies on Milwaukee sandlots, opened a bar and raised six kids.
Shagging flies was fun. Having kids was fun. Running a bar was fun. When barflies heckled him about the series, he understood the boys were just having a little fun
Yet, if they kept at him too long, he’d stop them.
"I was jobbed," he’d tell them at last. They’d shut up then.
For they knew then that, for Hap Felsch, all the fun was finally done.
Eddie Cicotte, the French-Canadian family-man, was a worrier.
He worried about the debt still owed on his Michigan farm. He worried about sending his daughters to a reputable college. But mostly he worried because he’d been pitching winning baseball for fourteen years and yet had nothing to fall back on should his knuckle-ball fail him for a single season. He worried because one bad season would drop him back into the bushes, pitching for whoever would have him. He was thirty-five years old and all he could do was throw a knuckle-ball better than anyone else in the world.
Claude Williams was a Missourian who kept his grievance to himself. He also kept a book in his head on every batter in the league. He could figure a batter’s weakness, or his strength, by pitching to him only once: after that he went to the book in his head whenever the man came up again.
He never hurried a pitch. Off the diamond he was quiet and introspective. On the mound he became unaware of anybody else in the world but the batter, the catcher behind him, and himself. He worked so deliberately, and so methodically, that it was not unusual for him to pitch a full nine innings without giving a single walk.
What Williams had was a curve that might break as slowly and hesitatingly as a child’s balloon—or might come in like a streak of light with a vicious twist to its tail. If you tried waiting him out you’d be called out on strikes.
He’d won 23 games in 1917 and was now getting $3.000.
Yet, as a man who kept his grievance to himself, he kept his fears to himself as well.
Joseph Jefferson Jackson was an illiterate son of an illiterate sharecropper, earning thirty-five dollars a month in a South Carolina cotton mill. When its management discovered, when Joe was thirteen, that nobody could get him out on a baseball diamond, he was raised to seventy-five dollars, and didn’t have to do anything but play baseball.
A small girl handed him a hairpin "for good luck" before a game and he had a good day. Since then he’d never gone out on a diamond without a hairpin in his hip pocket. If he saw a hairpin and failed to pick it up he’d go hitless: Jackson believed that.
He’d light a candle in a dark room and stare at the flame, one eye shut, until the eye went blind. Then he’d stare with the other eye. This improved his batting eye: Jackson believed that, too.
Why he felt he had to sharpen his vision nobody knew. They still couldn’t get him out. He’d hit .408 in his first full season, in 1911, and had been hitting near that ever since.
When Connie Mack paid $350.00 for his contract, to see what he looked like in Philadelphia, he slipped off the train at Richmond and went back to Greenville. He was afraid of leaving his family.
Mack instructed a coach to go down there and bring back the whole tribe. This time Jackson got all the way to the ball park and got to bat twice. He got two hits. Then it began to rain.
It rained for two days. When it stopped raining Joe was gone again: family and all. His teammates had been heckling him because he could neither read nor write. Jackson had no defenses.
Mack farmed him out to Savannah, where he met his wife. She got him back to Philadelphia.
One day, in Detroit, he lined out a terrific drive and came into third standing up.
’’Hey! Jackson!" a fan challenged him loudly. "Can you spell ’cat?"
"Hey! Mister!" Jackson shouted back just as loudly, "Can you spell "shit"?" Joe Jackson was getting sophisticated
Yet never so sophisticated that he could play baseball badly for a price. When he fielded a ball he couldn’t shortleg it. When he went to bat he had to hit. His peg came in with express-train speed dead-center across the plate. He was death on runners who thought they could score from second on a grass-cutting single.
His flaw was fear. He saw himself as an ignorant rube among erudite, city-wise Northerners. If he wasn’t a dummy, how was it that he was the only one on the team who couldn’t read or write?
He got along with Lefty Williams because Williams, too, was a Southerner.
Had it not been for baseball, Joseph Jefferson Jackson would never have gotten more out of life than Brandon Mill, South Carolina, could offer a cotton-mill hand. He would never have left town.
And came to wish to God he never had.
He’d been a major-leaguer, first as a pitcher, then as a second baseman, for twenty years: a well-balanced man and a well-balanced manager, who sympathised with his players’ dissatisfaction. He had himself stayed out of organized baseball for a year because of a salary dispute with Comiskey.
Yet, when the players threatened to strike in the summer of 1919, he got them onto the field. He’d talk to Comiskey himself about getting them bonuses, he assured them. But when Comiskey had anyone by the short hairs, he held till the hairs bled. He refused even to discuss salaries with his manager.
Gleason smelled the fix—yet had no way of knowing it wasn’t a fixed fix. Boston gamblers had suckered New York bettors, in 1912, by leaking word that Tammany Hall had rigged the series for the Giants to beat the Red Sox. The ploy worked so well that the odds tilted to the Giants. New York bettors didn’t even catch on, when they were paying off, that the men they were paying were the very ones who’d spread the phoney rumors on which they’d wagered.
Burns and Maharg
Sleepy Bill Burns had two unique gifts: he could drop off to sleep at will and he could wake up finding he’d been traded. He’d dozed through four major league seasons on benches at Cincinnati, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington and Detroit. Every time he woke up he found he’d been traded again. And always congratulated his new manager at having gotten his team a bargain.
After losing 55 games while winning 27, managers didn’t want him even in exchange for players of which they wanted badly to be rid. Sleepy Bill went off to tell everyone in Texas how he’d won 27 games in the big leagues.
He made a fast killing in oil at Ranger, Texas. And returned to Cincinnati, his pockets stuffed with leases, to tell his old teammates how he’d hit oil. They let him pitch batting practice. Then he left to tell everyone in New York how good he’d looked in pitching practice.
Burns was the kind of clown who’d have trouble finding his own way out of an outhouse unless somebody opened the door. But when somebody did. Burns would be standing there with an armful of fresh roses.
The man who opened the outhouse door for him was no prize package himself. He may have been the "Peaches" Graham who’d caught major-league ball in the National League for ten years, and had been Grover Cleveland Alexander’s roommate. Or he may have been the Bill Graham whose major-league career consisted of scabbing, for a single game, during the Detroit Tigers’ strike of 1912. The Tiger management had had to put a full team on the field, to sustain its franchise. Somebody named Graham was available.
Following this distinguished service to organized baseball, Graham felt he’d gone about as far as a man could in baseball, and turned to boxing. Somebody explained to him that, if he spelled "Graham" backwards, the name would become "Maharg." It was as "Billy Maharg" that he’d fought, as a middleweight around Philadelphia. Buffs paid to watch him taking punishment.
When Bill Burns phoned him from New York, he was happy to run up there to see an old friend now in the bucks.
He found Burns with Gandil and Cicotte at the Ansonia, and gathered that the series was for sale for a hundred grand.
Burns asked Maharg if he had a Philadelphia connection big enough to swing it.
The boys in Philly advised Maharg to proposition The Big Bankroll.
McMullin? How did a utility infielder get in here? Who was going to bribe a player who wasn’t going to play?
Because he was behind a set of lockers when Cicotte and The Swede, assuming they were alone, were sounding one another out on Gandil’s notion of blowing a couple games for a payoff. McMullin materialized and said he’d like to help blow a game or two, too. How he’d manage that from the bench he didn’t have to explain: because The Swede counted him in.
McMullin was the Swede’s bar-buddy. The Swede never counted a bar-buddy out.
McMullin not only counted himself in, but became as active in the operation as though he’d conceived the fix himself.
The Big Bankroll
Abraham Rothstein was a just man. He adjudicated a garment industry dispute so justly that, at a dinner honoring him, the Governor of the state, Alfred E. Smith, described him as Abe the Just.
Abe the Just had one son who was also just. He prayed for another. Be careful of what you pray for lest it be granted. What Abe got was Arnold.
Arnold contained a dybbuk with dollar signs for eyes. American dollars. What Arnold wanted Arnold got. What Arnold wanted was cash:
All of it.
When Abe the Just emptied his pockets on shabbas, in order to stand purified in the presence of his God, twelve-year-old Arnold borrowed the cash, organized a crap game, loaned the losers his profits at usurious rates—and had the original cash back on Papa’s table before the old man got back from the temple. Arnold was something else.
By the time he was sixteen he was booking bets out of John McGraw’s poolroom. McGraw knew that nobody could beat Arnold. Not the way Arnold booked.
A Brooklyn bookie once phoned to ask Arnold if he could handle a thousand-dollar bet. Arnold didn’t turn the bet down. He didn’t take it either. He strung it. He told the bookie he’d get back to him but he didn’t get back. And made sure the bookie didn’t get back to him.
If the horse ran out he hadn’t covered it. If the horse won, he had.
The horse won: the bookie owed him a grand. The bookie argued that the bet hadn’t been confirmed. Arnold sent Monk Eastman to settle the argument.
The bookie didn’t argue with Monk. Nobody argued with Monk. Monk didn’t even exist on an arguable level. Whether he existed on any human level at all was doubtful. All Monk knew was that when Arnold sent him for money, he brought money back to Arnold.
Monk knew how to get to Brooklyn and how to get the money—but how to get back? He’d forgotten how he’d gotten there. Monk had somebody telephone Arnold and Arnold sent somebody to bring Monk back.
That’s how it is when you string bets from Brooklyn.
Arnold strung his days as he strung his bets. He never said No to a proposition: and never committed himself to any.
Operating two gambling houses, under police protection, he amassed a fortune. He converted a hundred-thousand dollar mansion, in Saratoga, into a gambling house, cabaret and restaurant, where the cuisine was of such excellence that prices were unlisted. That would have been vulgar.
He made Saratoga a place where flash wealth could promenade as high style: and vulgarity could purchase the illusion of good taste. By the hot summer of 1919 the ghetto Gatsby had enough money to sustain himself in luxury if he lived another century. Yet he could no more have stopped gambling than he could have stopped the circulation of his blood. It was a surprisingly long interval before somebody stopped it for him.
The first whispers of a series fix probably came to him through the fox who served him as a pair of ears with a nose between: Albert Knoehr.
"The newspapers made the decisions those days," the fox explained long after he’d fought professionally 365 times and had never been knocked out, "the trick was to let the yokel hold you even. I always felt bad when the papers gave me a shade. The line I liked to read was: "The champion was entitled to no more than a draw."
He’d fought eleven years and had been in real trouble only once. Against Harlem Tommy Murphy both men had been half-blinded by blood by the end of the first round. In what must have been the bloodiest fight ever held in a ring, they’d fought on for nineteen more. At the end of twenty nobody but the referee could tell them apart.
The referee picked Murphy. Well, you can’t win ’em all.
He was Abe Attell—born Albert Knoehr—dubbed "The Little Champ" by the press, and he hadn’t grown humpbacked carrying bums into newspaper decisions without making friends among sure-thing gamblers. And such fly-by-night veterans of the double double-cross as occasionally met themselves coming back from short-changing their mothers. He was Rothstein’s kind of kid.
The pair of country clowns who worked their way into A.R.’s box. after the third race at Jamaica on September 23, 1919, were not Rothstein’s kind of kid. He got out of their way before they could put a story on him. And yet, after the fourth race, he dispatched Attell to find out what the clowns had had in mind.
Attell returned to report that one was an ex-pitcher; the other an ex-fighter. Their story was that eight White Sox players were ready to throw the World Series to Cincinnati for a hundred thousand dollars.
There was no way the Cincinnati Reds could beat the Chicago White Sox five games out of nine. No way. The Sox had the hitters, the pitchers, the fielders and the runners. All the Reds would be able to do would be to put on their uniforms and take turns at bat. They would have to play over their heads just to keep from being shut out.
Cicotte would beat them three games off by himself.
Lefty Williams would beat them twice.
Unless Cicotte were fixed.
If Cicotte were fixed, Williams could be fixed.
If Williams could be fixed, so could Risberg, Felsch and Jackson.
Cicotte was the key.
For sure-thing gamblers it was the sure-thing of a lifetime. For, if the players went along only a single game, they’d be hooked, under threat of exposure, for the series.
And if they threw the series (Rothstein must surely have foreseen), they’d be hooked for the season of 1920, too. They’d throw the games they were told to throw then. And be paid what the Sure-Thingers thought they were worth. They wouldn’t get off the hook until the whole thing began stinking to the roof of the grandstand.
How long that would take was a matter of conjecture. But there’d be fat paydays as long as it lasted. By that time there’d be so many mobs involved, with so many prepaid perjurers that no investigative commission would be able to finger anybody.
Except, of course, the clowns in uniforms.
Rothstein wasn’t the kind of a man to pass up a good fix.
Rothstein to Attell: "It won’t work."
Attell to Burns and Maharg: *It won’t work."
Rothstein to Attell: "Forget it."
Attell to Burns and Maharg: "Forget it."
Rothstein to Burns and Maharg, in the lobby of the Astor: "Count me out."
Rothstein thus protected himself of a future charge of conspiracy. This left him free, should Burns and Maharg find another backer, to place his own bets. He had a faceless man, whose name was either "Evans or "Brown," to make faceless bets. All The Big Bankroll had to do now was to watch The Little Champ.
All The Little Champ had to do was to watch Evans. Or was it Brown?
Rothstein didn’t have to watch Attell long. Flat in the face of his unqualified refusal to back the conspiracy, Attell assured Burns and Maharg that Rothstein had changed his mind: A.R. would bank the deal up to a hundred thousand dollars.
Not doubting Attell for a moment, Burns wired Maharg:
ARNOLD R HAS GONE THROUGH WITH EVERYTHING. GOT EIGHT IN. LEAVING FOR CINCINNATI AT 4:30. BILL BURNS.
A man signing his own name to a telegram revealing a national conspiracy was one whom Rothstein had hardly underestimated in avoiding.
Three days later Rothstein had a note from Sport Sullivan, asking to see him. Rothstein had never met him: but knew he was a big frog in the back-country. He received him.
For ten thousand dollars each—Sullivan came right to the point—eight White Sox players were prepared to blow the series to the Reds.
"On whose word?"
‘’That’s weak collateral."
Yet he instructed ‘’Brown"—Nate Evans—to hand the visitor forty thousand dollars. The balance, payable upon delivery of the series, would be held in a safety vault in Chicago, Rothstein assured Sullivan.
Fair enough, Sullivan agreed, pocketing forty thousand.
One condition: Cicotte would have to give the sign, that the fix was on, by hitting the first batter with a pitched ball.
That Burns and Maharg were working the same street as Gandil and Sullivan didn’t trouble Rothstein. "When nine guys sleep with the same girl, it’s pretty hard to prove that the tenth is the father," was his thinking.
He sent Nate Evans to Cincinnati with a bankroll to hook suckers. He himself got on the phone to Harry F. Sinclair, with whom he shared an interest in horse-racing. He guided the conversation to the series until he’d hooked Sinclair for $90,000.
Later, in his hotel lobby, he ran into the greatest single-roll crapshooter in the Western World: Nick The Greek Dandolis. When you met the Greek he either had fifty thousand in cash in hand or he couldn’t buy a newspaper.
Rothstein, the lay-back-and-wait gambler, had broken this plunger oftener than either man could remember—the last time for a quarter of a million dollars. Now The Greek was flat again: he’d been waiting for Rothstein in hope A.R. would stake him. Rothstein peeled twenty-five thousand off the top of his roll and told The Greek to bet the bundle on Cincinnati.
If Arnold Rothstein couldn’t be content until he owned all the thousand-dollar American bills in the world, Sport Sullivan couldn’t rest till he had all the hundreds.
When he put down $29.000 on Cincinnati, at the Chicago Board of Trade, expecting 3-1 odds and finding the best he could get was even money, he was infuriated: somebody had beaten him to the broker’s with a big bundle.
That he was betting other men’s money didn’t modify his sense of betrayal. By the time he found Gandil. Sport was tight up.
So was Gandil. He’d had a phone call from a brash fellow named Jake Lingle, a newspaper reporter. "The word is out," the brash fellow had assured Gandil brashly, “the series is in the bag." Gandil hung up on Lingle. He didn’t even have Cicotte in the bag and reporters were already beginning to hold their noses.
Gandil had lost his awe of Sullivan. Being a bookmaker in Boston wasn’t big enough for a national conspiracy, Gandil was becoming aware. They’d started something that was growing bigger as it gathered speed—and that couldn’t be stopped. He had The Swede leaning on him, too.
When you had The Swede leaning on you, you couldn’t afford awe of anybody.
"Where’s the money?" he demanded of Sullivan.
"How many payoffs you trying to make, Gandil?’ Sullivan accused him immediately—How many other people you working with?"
It would have come to blows—had each not needed the other. After they’d cooled it, Sullivan handed Gandil ten grand for Cicotte. And explained that heavy money was being dropped on the Reds.
Small wonder. The Little Champ was atop a table, in a hotel lobby in Cincinnati, taking all Chicago bets. Suckers were struggling to give him their money. He hooked them one by one.
Later, looking for prey in the lobby, he spotted George M. Cohan. Not only was Attell miffed at Rothstein, for preferring to work with Sullivan instead of with himself and Burns and Maharg. but he now saw a chance to do a big shot a favor: that might one day be returned with interest. He cut into Cohan.
Cohan had just put thirty thousand, with a man named Brown, on the White Sox.
"Take a tip from The Little Champ." Attell wised Cohan up. you just bet thirty thousand dollars with Arnold Rothstein. And the series is fixed."
Cohan phoned Sam Harris, his partner in New York, to put thirty thousand on Cincinnati. He’d covered himself.
Attell tailed "Brown"—Nate Evans—until Evans got another mark into conversation. Attell caught the mark’s eye and signalled him, from behind Evans’ back—"Lay off. Lay off." When the mark walked away, Attell disappeared himself until Evans cornered another, and repeated his performance. He loved the feeling that he was cutting into The Big Bankroll’s bankroll. So much so that he wasn’t aware that he was being tailed.
Burns and Maharg had business with The Little Champ. Where was the hundred thousand, they wanted to know when they’d finally cornered him.
Attell didn’t even blink. All you had to do to get out of a lie was to compound a bigger one. Get the players together, he instructed Burns and Maharg. He would handle them himself.
The evening before the opening game, seven players showed up in Attell’s room. Weaver was counting himself out.
His instructions from Rothstein, Attell confided in the athletes, was to stagger payments at twenty thousand dollars per game. The man had to protect himself, didn’t he? They all knew that Rothstein’s word was his bond—didn’t they? And as soon as A.R. gave the word, he, Attell, would pay them off. Then he waved a telegram addressed to himself:
AM WIRING YOU TWENTY GRAND AND WAIVING IDENTIFICATION—AR
That nobody in the room, including Attell, had the foggiest notion of what "waiving identification" meant, mattered not at all. What mattered was that it was a telegram: and that it was signed with Rothstein’s initials.
Even Risberg was mollified. Cicotte had already been mollified. He had sewn ten thousand dollars into the lining of his coat.
Attell saw them waver and got in the clincher: Cicotte would blow the first game and Williams the second.
The players almost pulled themselves together then: if they didn’t win behind Cicotte and Williams they surely weren’t going to win behind The Busher, Dick Kerr, Collins’ friend.
Attell must have made a mental note right there. Kerr had won 13 games and lost 8, with great support. Without that support, Cincinnati would beat Kerr, too.
The fourth game, it was then agreed, they would win behind Cicotte.
Then Attell, who never knew when to stop when he had a good thing made, nearly wrecked his own ploy. He told Gandil he’d hand him twenty thousand dollars on the sidelines, just before the game.
The prospect of handing out thousand dollar bills along the White Sox bench must have momentarily boggled Gandil’s mind. It must have boggled all their minds: because Attell got them out of the room before they’d recovered their senses.
Maharg was the first to come to. How did they know, he asked Burns, that that telegram had been genuine? Western Union, they found, had no record of anyone sending a telegram to the Hotel Sinton signed "A.R."
If Attell had been lying about the telegram, the light began to dawn at last, he may have been lying from the beginning about Rothstein’s backing. They must have felt like men, tiptoeing through shallows, who find themselves plunging into bottomless depths.
Curiously enough, a telegram signed "A.R." had arrived at the Sinton. But Rothstein hadn’t sent it. Attell had had a friend in New York send it.
Joe Jackson returned to the bench, following pregame practice the day the series opened in Cincinnati. He sat off by himself. looking sullen. Joe was hurting. Gleason went over and looked at him.
"What’s the matter, Jackson?"
"I don’t wanna play!" Jackson blurted out.
Jackson began shouting. "I don’t wanna play! I don’t wanna play!" Then, at the top of his voice: You can tell that to the boss, too!" Gleason leaned over him and whispered hoarsely: "You’ll play, Jackson. You’ll play."
To Lefty Williams, Gleason paid no heed. The left-hander was scheduled to pitch the second game. All he had to do today was to watch Eddie Cicotte.
Now he sat, between the bat boy and the water cooler, watching Cicotte’s practice pitches to Schalk.
When the first Cincinnati batter, Max Rath, came up. Williams canted his hand across his eyes. Cicotte’s first pitch cut the heart of the plate for a called strike. The second hit Rath between the shoulder blades.
At one minute before 3 P.M. on October 1, 1919, Rothstein walked into the Green Room of the Hotel Ansonia. Most of the several hundred chairs were already occupied. The chairs faced a diamond-shaped chart representing the playing field in Cincinnati. The game would be reported, pitch by pitch, by telegraph: with red and white markers, representing the players, being moved according to the report. Rothstein stood against the wall.
When Cicotte’s second pitch hit Rath, Rothstein left. He hailed a cab and was sped to his broker. He placed another hundred thousand there on Cincinnati: on the series. Rothstein never bet individual games.
Cicotte blew the game single-handedly in the fourth. He not only crossed Schalk’s signals, but fielded so badly that the Reds scored five runs. Final score: Cincinnati 9/Chicago 1.
Eddie Cicotte was earning that farm.
Jackson’s condition was pitiful. Williams had handed him a dirty envelope containing $5.000 and he’d been afraid not to take it. His pocket was fixed and his heart was sick.
He was afraid of Gandil and even more afraid of Risberg. He was also afraid of Gleason, Comiskey. Grabiner. Collins and Schalk. He couldn’t swing at a bad pitch and he couldn’t throw badly. One fly ball dropped between himself and Felsch: that was as close as he came to making a series error: while outhitting everyone on both clubs. Yet he felt he wasn’t playing to win.
Buck Weaver was. He was not only playing flawlessly: he was playing ferociously. His thinking was to take Sullivan’s money, take Attell’s money, take Burns’ or Maharg’s or anybody’s money—then go out and whip Cincinnati four straight and take the winners’ end of the purse as well.
Buck Weaver was the only one, apparently, who was in his right mind.
When Lefty Williams walked two men in one game, he’d had a wild day. In the fourth inning of the second game he walked three men in a row, none of them dangerous.
Then, with men on second and third, he delivered a pitch so high that Schalk had to go off the ground to prevent a wild pitch. Schalk called time out. He walked out to the mound holding the ball, to talk to Williams, Williams wasn’t talking: he demanded the ball. The next batter lined out a single, scoring two men. Final score: Cincinnati 4/Chicago 2.
Yet the game wasn’t over for Schalk. He waited for Williams, on the ramp under the stands. When Williams came out of the clubhouse, Schalk hauled him to the wall and clobbered him, both hands, until other players pulled him off. Williams hadn’t even fought back.
"He crossed me three times in the fourth inning," Schalk explained to Gleason, he wouldn’t throw a curve."
Gleason went looking for Williams. He found Chick Gandil, fully dressed, sitting in the locker room.
"Did you have a good day. Gandil?" he asked.
"Did you?" Gandil inquired in turn.
Gleason got his hands around Gandil’s throat so firmly that, when Gandil stood up. Gleason was lifted off the ground and yet held on. When he finally shook Gleason off, Gandil turned and walked away. He hadn’t fought back either.
Gleason went to Comiskey. Comiskey reached Heydler, the President of the National League, on a midnight train bound for Chicago. Heydler waked Ban Johnson, the American League President at 3 A.M. in another compartment of the same train.
"That’s the yelp of a beaten cur!" Johnson decided about Comiskey: and went back to sleep. Comiskey and Johnson weren’t passionately fond of each other.
Abe Attell was stashing money. He had so much to stash that he’d called in helpers: the brothers Ben and Lou Levi and one "Bennett."
Abe, Lou, and "Bennett" were stacking it on tables, tying it into pillow-cases, folding it into wallets, hiding it under rugs, planting it in sugar bowls and stuffing it into shoes in event of a raid. They were even putting some in their pants against a rainy day.
Burns and Maharg, come to collect the players’ payoff, had to stand around awhile before they could get anyone’s attention. It was plainly to be seen that either these fellows had been wonderfully lucky or the first two games hadn’t been honest.
Burns reminded Attell that the players had forty thousand dollars coming to them.
"It’s all out on bets," Attell dismissed the question. "besides, who needs them?"
Attell’s stupidity and greed, Burns realized, was not only endangering the whole fix: it was likely to get somebody killed. Burns went after him.
"Bennett—real name Zelser—stepped between the men. Burns restrained himself; but reminded Attell that Williams, in losing a game while still managing to look good, had been masterful. He also reminded Attell that the players had kept their part of the bargain. The brothers took Attell aside for a conference. Finally Attell pulled ten thousand dollars out from under a mattress and placed it in Burns’ hand
"That’s the whole bit," he announced, "all of it."
Burns stared at the bills. What made Attell think the players, promised a hundred thousand, would settle for ten?
“You give it to them," he told Maharg helplessly.
Maharg was a bum—but he wasn’t that big a bum. He recoiled. Burns was crooked. He wasn’t that crooked. The advantage Attell held over both was his touch of pure reptile.
Burns, still bemused, went for the door with the ten grand still in his hand. Attell stopped him before he reached it.
"Tell them bums to win the third game," he instructed Burns and Maharg.
The pair left quietly.
Beyond the problem of how to tell the players they’d been double-crossed, was another: how were they going to bet the third game now? The one pitcher the players didn’t want to win behind was Kerr. But how could they go on blowing games without a payoff?
The players themselves, except for Weaver, hadn’t figured it out. Weaver had no problem because he wasn’t playing for a payoff. Indeed, he was playing as if to prove he wasn’t bought. Weaver couldn’t bear to lose.
Nor could Schalk. It was Schalk who decided the third game. For gamblers and players alike.
Unable to figure it, wanting to be sure. Burns phoned Gandil the morning of the game. How was it going to go?
"The boys have talked it over." Gandil reassured him. "They’ve decided to go along. The game will go the same way as the first two."
Although Dick Kerr had neither the power, the experience nor the control of Cicotte and Williams, Schalk had made a winning pitcher of him in his first year in the majors. Kerr never crossed Schalk on a pitch.
Schalk, sharply aware that the first two games had been thrown, never called for a pitch that would give Risberg a chance to blow the game. For all the chances Risberg got that day, he might as well have been sitting on the bench beside his bar-buddy, McMullin. Cincinnati got three scratch singles and not a man got past second. Final score: Chicago 3/Cincinnati 0. Gandil, who’d singled in two runs, was a hero.
Burns walked into Gandil’s room that evening, inwardly fuming but trying to look friendly. Cicotte, Risberg. McMullin and Williams were there. Attell had twenty thousand dollars more to pay off, he assured the little group.
The group expressed no interest.
Burns then gave his game away: he’d bet on the Reds. He’d crashed. So had Maharg. So had Attell.
Now he needed his thousand.
What thousand dollars?
His ten percent of the ten thousand he’d gotten from Attell and delivered.
Gandil studied him a moment.
"It’s all out on bets," he assured Burns.
"Gimme a grand or I’ll tell everything!"
Gandil turned away. Burns looked around. Nobody in the room was interested in him anymore.
That was the end of the 1919 World Series for Sleepy Bill Burns.
Until he got on the witness stand a year later.
In the fifth inning of the fourth game, with the score 0-0, Cicotte fielded an easy grounder, then threw it over Gandil’s head into the grandstand. The next batter lined a clean single to left. Jackson fielded the ball cleanly and threw on a dead line to the plate to catch the runner rounding third. Cicotte deflected Jackson’s throw with his glove. The runner scored. Cicotte was still trying to earn his ten thousand. Final score: Cincinnati 2/Chicago 0.
In the fifth game, still in Chicago, Williams didn’t give Cincinnati a hit for five innings. In the sixth he gave up three hits and a walk. Combined with Felsch’s wild throw, four runs scored.
The Reds needed only one more game.
In the tenth inning of the sixth game, with the score tied, the fix unfixed itself. Without talking it over, the players, as one, felt themselves free to win. Weaver doubled, Jackson singled and Gandil singled in the winning run. Final score: Chicago 5/Cincinnati 4.
It took less than a hundred minutes to win the seventh game. Jackson drove in two runs with a long double, and Cicotte dominated the batters. Final score: Chicago 4/Cincinnati 1.
Whose side were these guys on? Rothstein wondered. If Williams won the eighth game the series would be tied. And Kerr, who’d already beaten the Reds twice without support, would be hot to put them down once again.
Arnold Rothstein abhorred violence, personally. What he abhorred even more was losing half a million dollars. If somebody had to be killed somebody had to be killed. He sent for Sullivan.
Rothstein gave him the full treatment: cold yet courteous. There wasn’t going to be a ninth game.
Not only was Williams going to lose it: he was going to lose it in the first inning.
Those were Rothstein’s instructions. Then Rothstein smiled.
Back in Boston, the meaning of that smile came upon Sullivan.
He’d thought all he was investing was money. Now he knew he’d invested his life. He phoned The Man in the Bowler Hat.
The Man in the Bowler was known to be scrupulous in fulfilling his own obligations, and presumed others to be equally scrupulous.
He worked by contract. His business was simply to advise a designated party of a course of action he was to follow. He always specified the course; he did not have to specify the consequences of failing to follow it.
Are there children, he inquired of Sullivan.
Unfortunate. With children it was simpler. A wife?
Yes, there was a wife.
The price was cheap. $500.00. Sullivan wired the money immediately.
Watching Rothstein, Sullivan, Burns, Maharg and Attell and Gandil making their moves now, half a century after, is like watching a civilization of beetles in a dusty Mason jar.
The three in the center who keep circling blindly for a way out, are Bums, Maharg and Gandil. The sluggish one, trying to keep up but always one move behind, is Sullivan. The one in the middle, who doesn’t move at all yet seems most aware of the movements of the others, is Rothstein. The one moving fastest, and most evasively, around the periphery, is Attell.
Somehow, other than sustaining a solid punch in his mouth, Attell survives best of all.
When Williams and his wife returned to their hotel, following dinner the evening before the eighth game, a man in a bowler blocked the hotel entrance. He dismissed Williams’ wife.
Williams was to lose the next day, the man advised the pitcher. Williams turned away. The man got him by the wrist and held him.
They weren’t talking about money, he explained: all the money had been paid. The question, rather, was whether or not Mrs. Williams was to go on living,
Williams was going to lose the next day. Not only was he going to lose, but he was going to be knocked out. Not only was he going to be knocked out, but he was going to be knocked out in the first inning.
No other way.
Williams’ last practice-pitch, the following day, broke so sharply that Schalk almost dropped it. Going back to the mound. Williams glanced at the box, behind third base, where his wife was sitting.
The second Cincinnati batter dropped a soft liner to short center for a single. The next batter singled sharply to right. Williams, the most unhurried pitcher in baseball, began pitching hurriedly. Roush doubled to left, scoring a man in front of him.
After fifteen pitches, Williams had given four hits and three runs, and still had only one man out. Gleason took him out. Final score: Cincinnati 11/Chicago 4.
On the witness stand, a year after, he said nothing of the man in the bowler. He kept his grievance to himself.
Time has diminished Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Those laurels, gained by an aristocratic bearing and imperiousness, have long withered. The verdict we once applauded as one of Olympian sagacity was nothing more, it has become plain, than a legal mugging by an enraptured Puritan.
"Birds of a feather flock together!" he justified the expulsion of eight players from organized baseball—"association with gamblers and crooks can expect no leniency!"
The judgement did not, however, apply to birds who owned baseball parks: theirs was plumage of another feather. It meant that Buck Weaver’s failure— to inform the front office of a conspiracy—had to be punished ruthlessly. But that the silence of Comiskey, with equal knowledge of corruption, deserved only praise.
What good would it have done Weaver to inform? Gleason had ranted about Comiskey’s office, after the 1919 series, that the team had sold out: Comiskey had sat silent. Jackson, frightened and bewildered, had tried to talk to him, but had been turned out. And a year later Collins had come in to tell the old man that the team had sold the last games, in the last series of the 1920 season, the Sox had lost to Boston. The old man had refused to listen.
Could other owners have punished Comiskey’s stars without suffering loss themselves, they would have been content to put all eight behind bars. Had they been able merely to destroy Comiskey and pick up his players, they would have been delighted. Had they been able to indict Rothstein without involving Comiskey, they would have sent him up the river for as long as law would allow. But there was no way of exposing corruption on the diamond, or in the boxes behind the backstop, without destroying the overall image of baseball as an honest game and its owners as incorruptible.
When the Cleveland Indians, the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox tied into a three-way contention for the 1920 pennant, and American multitudes were thronging into the parks, the question of whether gamblers were controlling players could hardly have been more inopportune.
The baseball establishment conspired desperately to keep the scandal from blowing the roof off the grandstand. Journals like Baseball Magazine and Sporting News, that fed at the owners’ troughs, denounced every reporter who expressed suspicion.
Yet, when the scandal blew the roof at last, there was the righteous and churchly pontiff of Comiskey Park in bed with the coldest confidence man on the Eastern seaboard. There was The Grand Old Man and The Big Bankroll, under the maypole hand in hand, the one trying to save his franchise and his name: the other ready to pay off all down the line to keep from being subpoenaed.
Comiskey retained Alfred Austrian. a corporation lawyer. Rothstein retained William J. Fallon—The Great Mouthpiece. The first thing on which Austrian and Fallon agreed was that evidence already in had to disappear itself.
The evidence was the three signed confessions, obtained by an overly eager state’s attorney, in Chicago. Rothstein paid eighty thousand dollars for them, through Fallon. How Austrian got them remains unknown. Curiously, Rothstein never destroyed them. Years later, when the scandal had subsided and the documents were no longer explosive, they reappeared in a Chicago courtroom.
What could Rothstein do, to save his own skin, other than cooperate with Comiskey to keep the rumors hushed? What, indeed, could the old man do? A serious investigation would force him to fire his stars—and what then? A precedent for snatching suspended athletes had already been set, by the New York Giants, in giving a contract to Hal Chase after Cincinnati had given the first-baseman the heave-ho for accepting bribes.
The prospect, facing Comiskey, of having his pitchers facing Jackson and Felsch, was no less nightmarish than the possibility of his hitters having to face Cicotte and Williams. Moreover, if charges failed to hold how about eight libel suits; each the size of his park?
The old man’s strategy was to hide behind press releases and offers of rewards, that he never intended to pay, for evidence against any of his players.
More ominous, to other owners, than the threat to Comiskey’s franchise, was a District of Columbia Decision of April, 1919, defining the baseball establishment to be in restraint of trade and violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
The Baltimore Club, of the disbanded Federal League, had been dissolved in accordance with this decision. Exposure of corruption, the owners perceived, would not only mean severance of relations between major and minor leagues, but—worse—would make the Reserve Clause illegal.
Imposed by the owners in every contract, this clause enabled owners to hire and hold players as chattels. It left physical risk to be entirely the player’s affair. A revision of the Reserve Clause would force owners to share responsibility for injuries sustained by the player that might terminate his career.
The National and American League owners met to confront this frightening prospect squarely. They doubled the price of bleacher seats and went home congratulating one another on being members of such an honest group
But while the owners, Baseball Magazine and Sporting News, Alfred Austrian and William J. Fallon were blowing clouds of smoke across the diamonds, individual reporters were catching out the clowns.
Ring Lardner had caught on early. And, to show the stars that he was on, devised a parody for singing in the cocktail lounges of trains bearing the players to New York:
I’m forever blowing ball games
Pretty ball games in the air.…
Fortune’s coming my way
That’s why I don’t care—
I’m forever blowing ball games
And the gamblers treat us fair.
Lardner wasn’t merely commenting on the series of the previous fall. He was aware that, though in contention for the 1920 pennant, the boys were still blowing crucial games.
In New York he received a night-call from Kid Gleason: "Come up to Dinty Moore’s. I’m at the bar with Attell. He’s talking and I want you to hear it."
Lardner leaned on a corner of Dinty Moore’s bar.
Rothstein had fixed the series, Attell was claiming. He himself had made bets, on the strength of rumors floating around: but everything he’d won on the first two games he’d lost by betting against Kerr in the third.
"There’s your man, Kid," Attell assured Gleason—Rothstein."
It seemed to Lardner that The Little Champ was panicking.
Harry Reutlinger of the Chicago American wasn’t a baseball buff. But he became bored by newspaper accounts of the scandal that were no more than hearsay. "Who’s the dumbest one of the bunch?" he inquired of several colleagues. *Felsch." each assured him
Reutlinger came in on Felsch bearing a bottle of scotch.
Hap, nursing a broken toe, was in a bathrobe. Hap wasn’t mad at anybody.
"I didn’t like to be a squealer," he confessed to Reutlinger after a couple of drinks, and I knew that if I stayed out of the deal they’d go ahead without me and I’d be that much money out without accomplishing anything. Had I stood my ground I might have stopped the whole deal. Don’t make it appear I’m putting up an alibi. I got my five thousand. We all share the blame equally."
Attell was roused out of bed early, in a morning shortly after, by a message from Maclay Hoyne, a Chicago D.A., inviting him to drop over to the Waldorf for a bit of a chat.
Frightened, Attell fled to Lindy’s in hope of finding The Great Mouthpiece. As he was entering the restaurant a large-sized friend approached and Attell extended his hand. The large-sized friend smashed Attell full in the mouth with a large-sized fist: Attell hadn’t been hit that hard since he’d fought Harlem Tommy Murphy.
Although his mouth was still bleeding when reporters gathered around him, that didn’t stop the mouth from talking. When he found Fallon, Attell demanded that Fallon afford him protection from District Attorneys, The Press, Old Friends who busted him in the mouth and Arnold Rothstein.
Fallon was protective. He assured Attell that Rothstein was leaving for Europe and that he—Attell—would be wise to wait out the storm in Montreal. And provided Attell with funds to keep him there. He then advised Sport Sullivan that, since Attell was fleeing to Canada and Rothstein to Europe, Sullivan’s best move would be to Mexico.
When the White Sox came to Boston, at the end of August, 1920, they had a half-game lead over Cleveland and New York. After both Cicotte and Williams had blown games they should have won, they returned to Chicago in third place. It was then that Collins reported to Comiskey that the games in Boston had been sold.
The Grand Old Man had a telegram on his desk:
I ACCEPT YOUR OFFER TO TELL WHAT I KNOW OF THE CROOKED WORLD SERIES OF 1919 AND WILL GO TO CHICAGO TO TESTIFY PROVIDED YOU HAVE A CERTIFIED CHECK FOR $10,000 WITH HARVEY WOODRUFF, SPORTS EDITOR OF THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE, TO BE TURNED OVER TO ME AFTER 1 TESTIFY. (Signed)
The old man didn’t need to pay anyone $10.000 for evidence that his team was controlled by gamblers. Collins was offering it gratis. The old man gave Collins no answer. He simply turned away. Then he tore up the telegram.
The reporter who perceived that the players were still being controlled by the same gamblers who’d enriched themselves on the 1919 series and who put it all together, was Hugh Fullerton of the Chicago Tribune.
His own paper, roaring daily, like the Great Bull of Bashen, about corruption in public life, fled like a hare for cover when confronted by the need for an act of simple honesty. (A rabbitlike reaction which the paper still attempts to dignify as "The Tribune Tradition.") Fullerton had to look elsewhere for support.
The New York Evening World published the story and the cat was out of the bag. Its challenge was that, inasmuch as the owners had been in possession of knowledge of corruption, but had concealed it from the public, they too were conspiring with gamblers. A Grand Jury was convened in Chicago and subpoenas issued.
Having deployed those dangerous loudmouths, Sullivan and Attell, out of range of subpoenas, Fallon hurried Rothstein to Chicago to establish his client’s innocence.
Rothstein was manhandled by the press; as Fallon had hoped he would be. By the time Rothstein rose to testify, his status was that of a visiting dignitary who’d been maltreated.
Having become aware of certain rumors, the visiting dignitary explained to the court—rumors as false as they had been persistent—he had decided that he owed American jurisprudence a clean and unequivocal statement of the facts behind the rumors.
"I’ve come here to vindicate myself," he assured the court. "the whole thing started when Attell and some other cheap gamblers decided to frame the series and I turned it down flat. Attell used my name to put it over. But I wasn’t in on it, and didn’t bet a cent on the series after I found out what was under way. I’m here to clear myself and I expect to get out of here with a clean bill of health."
And he did. Rothstein left the stand adjudged, by both the public and the court, to be guiltless. Hardly had he gotten back to New York when Attell materialized, bursting with threats.
He was going to Chicago to attest that Rothstein had dispatched Nate Brown to Chicago as his broker. That he (Rothstein) had hooked George M. Cohan and Harry F. Sinclair: among others. And that he (Rothstein) had perjured himself before the Chicago Grand Jury. Rothstein bought him off for fifty grand.
Nobody bought off Sleepy Bill Burns. And his testimony was sufficiently deft to switch the guilt to the players. The fix, he lied as he testified, had been conceived and planned by the players; that it had been the players who’d sought out the gamblers, not the gamblers the players. By the time he was through he’d not only cleared himself, Rothstein, Attell, and Sullivan, but an entire bestiary of bush vipers, buzzards. jackals, and nocturnal predators from the jungles of St. Louis.
The gamblers had made the money. The players were left holding an empty bag.
A bag that looked emptier than ever by the time Cicotte, Jackson and Williams got through coming in on themselves.
Jackson finally phoned one Judge MacDonald. "I’m an honest man." he told the judge.
"I know you are not," MacDonald assured him, and hung up.
"I’ll be right over." Jackson phoned back, and explained himself in chambers:
“Faber and Collins and Kerr and Schalk weren’t in. I got to be careful now."
"You’ve been fairly careless to date," the judge pointed out—why the sudden caution?
It took Jackson a minute of thought to answer that:
"The Swede is a hard guy."
So he’d said it at last and was already wishing that he hadn’t.
"We did our best to kick the third game," he testified, "but Kerr won it off by himself just on pitching. Only the gamblers thought we’d double-crossed them so they double-crossed us. They promised us twenty thousand but all I got was five in a dirty envelope.
“Now Risberg is threatening to bump me off if I talk. That’s why I had a bailiff with me when I left the Grand Jury room. The Swede is a hard guy."
He kept saying that. As if he thought nobody was believing him: "The Swede is a hard guy. Some guys are hard but they know when to stop. The Swede don’t know when to stop. If I was a bear in the Swede got a grudge against me, I’d be careful not to walk around nights without a couple other bears with me."
Risberg didn’t try to save himself. All he wanted to do was take the halo off the college graduate’s head. Detroit had thrown three games, he testified, to give the White Sox the 1917 pennant. Gandil had gotten up a thousand dollars from the White Sox players to pay off four Detroit pitchers. Bill James, of Detroit, had accepted the bribe. Yes, Collins had contributed forty-five dollars along with the others. The others, that is, except Weaver. Weaver hadn’t put up a nickel.
But the Grand Jury wasn’t interested in the 1917 fix. It was the 1919 fix it was trying to solve.
An assistant bailiff, who’d lost a twenty-seven-year-old moustache on the series, called out to Cicotte, when they were smuggling the pitcher from the Grand Jury Room to the sixth floor—"Did you get a bath, Eddie?"
Meaning an immunity bath.
But he’d already signed a waiver of immunity without knowing what he was signing. He cried on the stand and couldn’t say whether it had been Attell or Gandil who’d gotten the remaining seventy-five grand.
"I’ve lived a thousand years in the last twelve months," was all he had to say when asked who he thought had put ten thousand dollars under his pillow. Then he climbed off the stand and nobody saw him for six weeks.
He showed up at his home at last; and perhaps he was still a kind of hero to the wife and kids. He went to work for Ford’s Bennett and never talked baseball again.
Five years behind bars and two thousand dollars, each, in fines was what the eight faced if found guilty. And by the time that Cicotte, Jackson and Williams got through testifying against themselves—having been duped into waiving immunity by the States Attorney—Comiskey’s man Austrian had to conspire with Rothstein’s man Fallon to keep the eight from doing time behind bars. That was when the confessions—of Cicotte, Jackson and Williams—disappeared themselves.
That cost Rothstein a pretty penny. As paying the defendants’ legal expenses, without the defendants knowing about it, cost The Grand Old Man an equally pretty penny.
Court and press, prosecution and defense, cooperated. The Grand Jury acquitted all eight men of the charge of conspiracy.
"If any of my players are not honest I’ll shut the gates of the park I’ve spent a lifetime to build," the old man boasted for the public’s benefit. When he posted a twenty-thousand dollar reward for evidence against any one of his players, his sincerity could hardly be doubted. When he reduced the reward, a month after, to ten thousand dollars, nobody wondered. When the reward disappeared altogether nobody remarked that the offer had been nothing more than a PR gimmick.
"Write to Commy, write to Commy," the press pleaded, tell him you know he’s okay."
Lardner was one Hoosier who wasn’t cheering. "Why were all the bonuses except Jackson’s held up in the spring that followed the series?" he kept asking.
The old man never answered. He was too busy playing hero for newspapermen and saving his purse.
The players assumed that acquittal meant reinstatement.
They went out to celebrate in the same Italian restaurant in which the jurors were celebrating. Before the evening was over they’d pushed the tables together and everybody loved everybody. The celebrants had hardly gotten to bed before the new High Commissioner of baseball issued the final word on their careers:
Regardless of the verdict of the juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a game, no player who sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a ball game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will never play professional baseball again. Weaver was present during the testimony of a witness, [Landis went on to justify his inclusion of Weaver in the ban by recalling the testimony of Bill Burns] who most specifically stated that Weaver was present at the conference, and yet the case went to the jury without any denial from Weaver on the witness stand…
The fact that Weaver had been denied his right to take the stand was a fact the judge found inconvenient; so he dismissed it. That Weaver had been denied his right to a separate trial was equally unworthy, the judge decided, of his consideration.
A petition, reminding the judge that not only had Weaver accepted no money, but had played errorless ball and hit .327 in the series, was signed by 14,000 fans in a single day. The judge remained unimpressed.
Weaver fought for years to get back into baseball. When his playing days were done, he fought on just to clear his name.
He died indicted.
Say they made a great ball club
Say it was the greatest
Say The Swede was a hard guy
Say he was the hardest
Say it all again fifty seasons after—
Then let it go at that.
Let it go at that:
Say the gamblers double-crossed them
Say Jackson was too ignorant and Felsch too dumb
Weaver too careful and Risberg too careless
Gandil too slick and Williams too silent
Say the press needed a villain so it could have a hero
Say because he’d been the best the longest
It had to be Cicotte.
Say it must have been because he didn’t understand
How a man could be a hero in America one day
And a bad guy the next
That he cried on the stand.
Then let it go at that.
Yet a left-hander’s wind keeps blowing this way then that
Around an abandoned ball park
Always blowing away from home.
And if a single typewriter keeps clacking derisively
High in the press-box
It’s only the ghost of a high-collared Hoosier:
There’s nobody in the press-box tonight.
The man in deep left field in the uniform muddied at the knees
With the shadows of fifty seasons behind him
Isn’t who you think it is.
For Shoeless Joe is gone long gone
With a long yellow grass blade between his teeth
And a lucky hairpin in his hip pocket.
And what a patch of spiked sand around third looks like
Fifty years after
Only a turning wind may remember.
Only a wind that keeps turning, turning
Around an abandoned ball park.
That blows and blows, forever blowing
Away: always away from home.
 nicknamed by the press for many long years after the 1919 scandal The Chicago Black Sox.
 a selection of stories by Nelson Algren is available elsewhere on this site.