Black Sox Scandal

Members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team, heavily favored to win the World Series, accepted bribes to lose the championship, shocking their fans and tarnishing the reputation of professional sports at the beginning of the era of national sports spectatorship.

Summary of Event

The expectancy that grips the American nation with the beginning of baseball’s World Series each year was even more apparent on October 1, 1919, when the great Chicago White Sox, winners of the American League pennant, were to meet the National League winners, the Cincinnati Reds, in the first World Series since World War I had ended. It was to be baseball’s longest and darkest moment. So heavily favored were the Chicago White Sox that if Chicago fans wanted a friendly wager it seemed as if they would be unable to find anyone willing to bet against them. Baseball;Black Sox scandal
Black Sox scandal
Chicago White Sox;World Series scandal
White Sox, World Series scandal
World Series (baseball);Black Sox scandal
[kw]Black Sox Scandal (Oct. 1-9, 1919)
[kw]Scandal, Black Sox (Oct. 1-9, 1919)
Baseball;Black Sox scandal
Black Sox scandal
Chicago White Sox;World Series scandal
White Sox, World Series scandal
World Series (baseball);Black Sox scandal
[g]United States;Oct. 1-9, 1919: Black Sox Scandal[04840]
[c]Sports;Oct. 1-9, 1919: Black Sox Scandal[04840]
[c]Crime and scandal;Oct. 1-9, 1919: Black Sox Scandal[04840]
Comiskey, Charles A.
Rothstein, Arnold
Cicotte, Eddie
Felsch, Happy
Gandil, Chick
Jackson, Shoeless Joe
McMullin, Fred
Risberg, Swede
Weaver, Buck
Williams, Lefty
Landis, Kenesaw Mountain
Ruth, Babe

Dramatically and suddenly just before the first game, much of what The New York Times called “smart money” began to be bet on the Cincinnati team. Even more surprising was the manner in which Cincinnati’s Reds outclassed the White Sox in the first game, winning 9 to 1 and setting off innumerable rumors. When Cincinnati won the second game 4 to 2, the murmurs of incredulity became louder. On October 9, Cincinnati won the eighth game 10 to 5, thereby winning the World Series by five games to three. The rumors lingered well into 1920 and 1921, when a Chicago grand jury indicted eight members of the White Sox for conspiring to “throw” the World Series.

The trial was a farce. Evidence disappeared, witnesses failed to appear, three players recanted signed confessions, and the monthlong trial ended as inconclusively as the World Series itself. All eight players were acquitted, although it was clear that Arnold Rothstein and his gambling syndicate were deeply involved in the outcome of the series. First baseman Chick Gandil was depicted as the initiator of the “fix,” whereas third baseman Buck Weaver—who did not participate in the conspiracy—was blamed because he had advance information about the conspiracy that he failed to reveal. Shortstop Swede Risberg, infielder Fred McMullin, and outfielder Happy Felsch were alleged to be willing participants, and pitcher Eddie Cicotte, left fielder Shoeless Joe Jackson, and pitcher Lefty Williams provided signed confessions, although the evidence disappeared.

Jackson later recanted, maintaining his innocence until his death in 1951, but his confession, which reappeared during the hearing to reinstate his baseball status, was ambiguous. He admitted to receiving five thousand of the twenty thousand dollars promised him for helping to throw the games, but also stated that he had played to win each game. Jackson’s confession implicated Gandil and Williams. Chicago owner Comiskey was criticized for paying almost the lowest player salaries despite the brilliant performance of his team and having the highest gate receipts in the league.

The new commissioner of baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banished the eight White Sox players from the game, insisting that baseball had the right and duty to protect itself and its reputation. In spite of several attempts by the players to be reinstated, Landis upheld his ban, thereby renewing to some extent public confidence in professional baseball—possible in an era when there was less sensitivity to the rights of players. Jackson, whose .356 career batting average places him in fourth place in baseball history, would have been chosen for baseball’s hall of fame long ago were it not for his alleged participation in this scandal. Baseball, and American sports generally, then entered their golden age.

The often-disputed introduction of a livelier ball in 1920 may have radically changed the nature of baseball. That year, the Boston Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees; Ruth was a pitcher-outfielder who was to revolutionize baseball and transform the nature of spectator sports in the United States during the course of the following three years. With Ruth came the phenomenon of the spectacular home run. As a result of the huge crowds he drew, Yankee Stadium, seating more than seventy thousand spectators, was built in 1923 and called “the house that Ruth built.” In 1919, the Yankees had drawn a mere 619,614 fans, but with the Babe in the outfield in 1920, the figure doubled to 1,289,422. He became an American folk hero, and crowds followed him wherever he went; with the instincts of a great showman, he rarely failed to give a spectacular performance. In 1921, he hit fifty-four home runs, and the memory of the Black Sox scandal faded amid the glamour and drama of a new era for baseball.

Perhaps the release of so many people from the rigors of war—combined with a new prosperity, shorter working hours, and the shift of the United States from a predominantly agricultural to an industrialized, urban nation—explains the sudden and spectacular increase in sports attendance in the 1920’s. Although it was feared that radio broadcasts of baseball games would diminish gate receipts, they actually increased them. In addition to baseball, the forward pass in football had the effect of opening up that game. Crowds flocked to new stadiums throughout the country. Both Yale and the University of California built new sports bowls seating eighty thousand fans, and the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, and Ohio State University built stadiums each seating seventy thousand people. Every Saturday during the fall season these stadiums were filled to capacity, and the “bowl games” at the end of the year were second only to the annual World Series in national interest.

Boxing Boxing also enjoyed popularity for a time as promoter Tex Rickard staged five consecutive million-dollar fights in the 1920’s. The million-dollar “gate” in 1926 at the Philadelphia sesquicentennial celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence saw Gene Tunney Tunney, Gene beat the “invincible” Jack Dempsey Dempsey, Jack for the heavyweight championship. Even this achievement was exceeded at the rematch before 145,000 spectators in Chicago’s Soldiers Field on September 22, 1927. Enthusiastic fans paid a total of $2,650,000 in admission fees. The first ten rows contained more than two hundred millionaires, and twenty-four special trains brought passengers to the event. Tunney repeated his victory and retained his title; when he retired the following year, he had made more than two million dollars in two years.

Tennis emerged from its elite status, and stars like Bill Tilden and Suzanne Lenglen became public heroes after 1919-1920. Although fan interest in golf was started by Francis Ouimet’s triumph over the English competitors in 1913, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones maintained the public’s infatuation with this game in the 1920’s. In horse racing, the exploits of a thoroughbred named Man O’War excited record crowds. In all major sports, heroes assumed gigantic proportions and performed legendary deeds. Red Grange, a football hero at the University of Illinois in 1925, became the first major college player to continue in professional football when he signed a contract with the Chicago Bears. Professional football, which did not come into its own for two more decades, started at that time.


All sports suffered during the Great Depression and World War II, but the foundations laid during the spectacular 1920’s were strong enough to ensure the survival of sports in the public mind. As a result, the Black Sox scandal came to mark the end of an era in American sports history and to signal the beginning of the modern epoch of spectator sports on a grand scale. The scandal helped to create stringent ethical rules governing athletes. The insistence on absolute professionalism and the creation of extremely high standards for athletes—although those standards were often not met in practice—paved the way for the transformation of professional sports into a major American industry. Baseball;Black Sox scandal
Black Sox scandal
Chicago White Sox;World Series scandal
White Sox, World Series scandal
World Series (baseball);Black Sox scandal

Further Reading

  • Asinof, Eliot. Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series. 1963. Special reprint ed. Introduction by Alan M. Dershowitz. Delanco, N.J.: Notable Trials Library, 2003. The most complete account of the scandal despite the paucity of evidence, much of it lost during the trial. The book became the basis for John Sayles’s motion picture of the same title produced by Orion Pictures in 1988.
  • James, Bill. The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York: Villard Books, 1988. This remarkable work contains a wealth of statistical and other unusual information not found elsewhere.
  • Nathan, Daniel A. Saying It’s So: A Cultural History of the Black Sox Scandal. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003. A study of the stories told about the Black Sox scandal over the eighty years following the trial. Addresses the meanings those stories acquired and circulated and the cultural work they performed. Bibliographic references and index.
  • Rader, Benjamin G. American Sports: From the Age of Folk Games to the Age of Televised Sports. 2d ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1990. This standard work features discussion of the expansion of spectator appeal in the 1920’s.
  • Reiss, Steven A. Touching Base: Professional Baseball and American Culture in the Progessive Era. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. A serious examination of the social effects of baseball on American society in the first part of the twentieth century.
  • Seymour, Harold. Baseball: The Early Years. New York: Oxford University Press, 1960. A scholarly and comprehensive account of the development of baseball from its amateur start to modern baseball, including economic aspects and the relation of the sport to American life.
  • Voigt, David Quentin. Baseball: An Illustrated History. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994. Contains a review of the 1919 scandal and the revival of baseball in the 1920’s and 1930’s, by a recognized scholar of the game.

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