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On This Date in Sports August 3, 1921: Eight Men Out

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

 Less than a week after they were acquitted in a Cook County Courtroom, the eight players accused of throwing the 1919 Chicago White Sox receive final judgment from Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis. All eight players Chick Gandil, Eddie Cicotte, Happy Felsch, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver, and Lefty Williams would be banned from baseball for the rest of the lives. Without the core of their team, the White Sox plunged to seventh place with a record 62-92.  

 The Chicago White Sox were one of the best teams of the era, having won the World Series in 1917. Managed by Kid Gleason, Chicago won the American League Pennant, with a record of 88-52. The Sox had it all strong pitching and superior hitting. Eddie Cicotte was their top hurler, winning 27 games while posting an ERA of 1.82. However, late in the season, Cicotte was held out of a few starts to prevent him from getting the bonus he was due to receive if he won 30 games. He was just one of several players on the team that was angry when Owner Charles Comiskey backed out of giving players bonuses that they had expected to receive.

 

In the days leading up to the start of the World Series in Cincinnati, member of the White Sox was in contact. Late in the season, after the White Sox had clinched the pennant, players began meeting with gamblers who were offering money to throw the World Series. Bill Burns, a former player with the White Sox acted as a go-between for the gamblers to communicate with the players. Burns was able to make contact with Chick Gandil, the team’s first baseman, who began recruiting teammates to join him in the conspiracy. Several players met with Burns, in Gandil’s hotel room, including Eddie Cicotte who was angered over not being allowed to earn his 30th win.

 

The White Sox starting rotation was already compromised as Red Farber was recovering from influenza, which in 1919 was potentially deadly. Cicotte would help recruit fellow starting pitcher Lefty Williams. Also agreeing to throw games was Swede Risberg, the Chicago shortstop acted as the muscle for Gandil in getting players to cooperate with the conspiracy. They also were able to get centerfielder Happy Felsch and backup Fred McMullin. Third baseman Buck Weaver had been on the meeting and agreed to throw games, but planned to double-cross the gamblers by playing his best, a plan he also convinced Shoe Joe Jackson to participate.

 

After the Cincinnati Reds won the best-of-nine series 5-3, an investigation was held. It would not take long for evidence to be uncovered as the gamblers and players did a poor job of covering their tracks. The stain of the Black Sox scandal hung over the game in 1920, as White Sox battled the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees for the American League pennant. In the final week of the season, the results of the investigation were released as five players for the White Sox were suspended by Owner Charles Comiskey. The Sox would fall two games short of a return to the World Series. 

As the scandal broke the owners sought to bring in a strong figure to rule over the game and created the Commissioner’s Office. The Commissioner was to have broad power to do what was in the best interest of baseball. The man they chose to sit in the office as Kennesaw Mountain Landis a federal judge that ruled in the MLB owners favor in the antitrust lawsuit filed by the Federal League. 

 

The White Sox remained sidelined in 1921 as they faced a criminal trial for throwing the 1919 World Series. The trial lasts nearly a month and took on a circus atmosphere. The gamblers and Charles Comiskey testified as witness statements disappeared. In the end, the players were found not guilty in a verdict that seemed laughable to most observers. Landis who was appointed to police the game of baseball had the final say imposing the lifetime ban. As he laid out his punishment, Landis said Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball again.