Category Archives: baseball scandals

1919 Black Sox: In Joe Jackson’s Defense

In 1919, the Chicago White Sox were accused of accepting bribes from gamblers to lose the World Series.  Though something was definitely up and money did exchange hands, it’s unsure how many of the players were actually involved.  But the commissioner at the time, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, operated with a sword rather than a scalpel and banished all of the players from the sport, possibly conspiring with owners to do so.  The event was known as the 1919 Black Sox scandal. This is Part II

Thanks to the gift of hindsight, we know a lot more about the situation than Jackson did at the time.

The long and the short of it is that a lot of people who claimed to be working in Jackson’s favor ended up working against him.  Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, White Sox Owner Charlie Comiskey and even Comiskey’s attorney hired for the players, Alfred Austrian.  And, eventually, Jackson himself.

Comiskey was a legendary cheap jerk.  But all other owners at the time were too, that wasn’t unusual, and the legends of Comiskey’s penny-pinching–docking pay from the players to pay for cleaning clothes–may not have been true.

It should also be known that players had been gambling and losing games intentionally long before 1919:

1877 – After a great run early in the season, the Louisville Grays mysteriously lost seven games in a row. An investigation revealed that gamblers had bought off George Hall, Bill Craver, Al Nichols and Jim Devlin, and National League founder William A. Hulbert banned all four from baseball. The players claimed they threw the games because their owner had failed to meet payroll obligations and begged for forgiveness, but Hulbert would hear none of it and the players were never reinstated.

Up to that point, though, gambling was sometimes swept under the rug because the press about it was embarrassing. There may have even been gambling scandals in 1917 and 1918. So when the 1919 World Series was fixed and the rumors didn’t stop spreading into the 1920 season, it was all that much worse for the National Commission, the governing body for handing out fines and enforcing rules off the field.

After the rumors of the 1919 fix became too loud to ignore, the National Commission was disbanded and a new one created, featuring the NL and AL presidents and a new position, Commissioner, as overseer.  Federal judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis was appointed as the new Chairman by the AL and NL presidents and he came in with a bang.

With at least two players having undisputed roles in orchestrating a huge scandal to throw the World Series and the possibility of his entire team–the same team that had just reached the World Series two of the last three years and was competing for the 1920 AL pennant–being kicked out of the sport, he had a lot to lose.  But even worse, he could have lost the sport itself, if there was anything mentioned about why they took the money.

So he hired a lawyer for his players in the grand jury.  Alfred Austrian.  Who was instructed to protect the organization above all else.

If you read that transcript, you can see something’s up.

From the transcript:

Q       Did you make any intentional errors yourself that day?

A       No, sir, not during the whole series.

Q       Did you bay [sic] to win?

A       Yes.

Q       And run the bases to win?

A       Yes, sir.

Q       and fielded the balls at the outfield to win?

A       I did.

[Ed. note: The second question may have meant “play to win,” unless there’s some crazy 1919 lingo there]

Yep.  He claims in his 1920 grand jury testimony that he accepted a bribe before the 1919 World Series to lose and then didn’t actually play to lose. Try to make sense of that.

It gets worse.

In the 1921 trial, Jackson and the rest of the team were acquitted.  In 1924, Jackson sued Comiskey for breach of contract for firing him and won.  And then, just to make things more confusing, Jackson, in a different 1924 case, claimed to receive the $5,000 after the series was over. Also, Joe was never part of the meetings with gamblers, something his teammates later said in his defense.

Perhaps the strangest turn of all is that the landmark book about the scandal and the trial, Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book “Eight Men Out,” which is one of the reasons Jackson is looked at as one of the conspirators, wasn’t so truthful:

The primary support for Asinof’s claim that they deliberately threw games is in contemporaneous press accounts of the grand jury proceedings, which were based on second- or third-hand, and, in some cases, clearly false information.

Asinof, who writes in great detail about the gambler-fixers, may have, himself, been playing the ultimate bluff. He did not release his research during his lifetime and also suggested in “8MO” that his story was based upon exclusive, never-before-seen evidence.

In reality, the lack of any solid, direct evidence in his notes, as well as the lack of a single footnote in “8MO,” strongly suggests that his story was largely fiction.

Direct evidence, such as “Shoeless” Joe’s performance during the 1919 Series and his repeated denials of wrongdoing, suggest nothing more than Joe’s bad judgment in taking money from his teammate and roommate, Williams, and not being more aggressive and timely in reporting his suspicion of the “fix” to Comiskey, White Sox Secretary (General Manager) Harry Grabiner, or William “Kid” Gleason, the White Sox manager in 1919.

Additionally, Asinof made up a character, Harry F., and cited him as a source.  Yeesh, even the accounts of the scandal are scandalous.

Gene Carney, author of “Burying the Black Sox,” which came out two years ago, comes up with two interesting new items.  One, that Jackson, at one point, attempted to bring the money to Comiskey and was turned away–something the jury in the 1924 civil case agreed with.

Jackson never did anything wrong in the game. (Or if he did, he was much more subversive about it than his teammates, who admitted to the wrong-doing and made clear mistakes at the plate and in the field.)  He hit .375 in the eight games, best of either team, and had the only home run in the seriesHe fielded 30 balls and made no errors.

And in 1949, Jackson told his full story:

Baseball failed to keep faith with me. When I got notice of my suspension three days before the 1920 season ended — it came on a rained-out day — it read that if found innocent of any wrongdoing, I would be reinstated. If found guilty, I would be banned for life. I was found innocent, and I was still banned for life. [Ed. note: He wasn’t found innocent, he was acquitted]

It was never explained to me officially, but I was told that Judge Landis had said I was banned because of the company I kept. I roomed with Claude [Lefty] Williams, the pitcher, one of the ringleaders, they told me, and one of the eight White Sox players banned. But I had to take whoever they assigned to room with me on the road. I had no power over that.

Obviously Jackson is unreliable (pick a reason), but there’s some weird stuff going on here. Landis decided to ban any player with even a whiff of dirt on him–Buck Weaver, sadly, was also made a victim with too little evidence.

Let’s just admit this entire situation was completely insane and Landis may have done the smartest and dumbest thing possible.

So why would Comiskey set up his best player–his $50,000 investment–to confess the entire thing during the grand jury testimony?  Why wouldn’t Jackson just take the fifth amendment and call it at that?  Why did he admit to it?  Why of all players was Jackson on the stand?

Well, that’s the funny part.  Jackson wanted to take the stand.  He offered to.  He was coached on what to say, says Carney, and never mentioned anything about bringing the money to Comiskey or anything.

In all of the information out there, there are two things that are consistent from start to finish:

  • Jackson received the money from Lefty Williams
  • Jackson played very well in the series
  • Jackson wasn’t part of the inner circle and didn’t attend the meetings

Jackson was known for not being bright–almost to the extent that people completely underestimated his intelligence.  But the conclusion reached may be as stupid as Jackson thinking he could play as well as he did and keep the money.

Carney comes up with this:

Then we have a bunch of statements from 1925 to the end of his life.  He maintained that he played to win.  Never tried to cover up the fact that he took and kept “dirty” money.  Maintained respect for Commy and also for Landis — as if he understood that the Judge was just doing his job (he was).

Well … there you go.  Maybe its just that weird.

Leave a comment

Filed under baseball scandals, MLB history

1919 Black Sox: Joe Jackson’s testimony

I’m working on a few big posts right now, but in the meantime, I want to start something.  This is part I.

In 1919, the Chicago White Sox were accused of accepting bribes from gamblers to lose the World Series.  Though something was definitely up and money did exchange hands, it’s unsure how many of the players were actually involved.  But the commissioner at the time, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, operated with a sword rather than a scalpel and banished all of the players from the sport, possibly conspiring with owners to do so.  The event was known as the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

One of the biggest questions raised at the time was whether or not Joe Jackson, one of the greatest players of his era, was involved in the bribery or not.  In Jackson’s favor, Jackson hit .375 during the series. There’s a lot more to it (and I’ll get to that either tomorrow or the next day), but Baseball-Almanac has his entire grand jury testimony from the Sept. 28, 1920 hearing.  While there’s a very good argument in Jackson’s defense forthcoming, this is a pretty big point raised by the “Jackson is guilty” group.

Q       Who paid you the $5,000?

A       Lefty Williams brought it in my room and threw it down.

Q       Who is Lefty Williams?

A       The pitcher on the White Sox club.

Q       Where did he bring it, where is your room?

A       At the time I was staying at the Lexington Hotel, I believe it is.

Q       On 21st and Michigan?

A       22nd and Michigan, yes.

Q       Who was in the room at the time?

A       Lefty and myself, I was there, and he came in.

Q       Then you talked to Chick Gandil and Claude Williams both about this?

A       Talked to Claude Williams about it, yes, and Gandil more so, because he is the man that promised me this stuff.

Q       How much did he promise you?

A       $20,000 if I would take part.

Q       And you said you would?

A       Yes, sir.

Q       When did he promise you the $20,000?

A       It was to be paid after each game.

Q       How much?

A       Split it up some way, I don?t know just how much it amounts to, but during the series it would amount to $20,000.  Finally Williams brought me this $5,000, threw it down.

Q       When did Eddie Cicotte tell you he got $10,000.

A       The next morning after the meeting we had in his room.

Q       Did you tell him how much you got?

A       I did.

Q       What did you tell him?

A       I told him I got five thousand.

Q       What did he say?

A       He said I was a God damn fool for not getting it in my hand like he did.

A       I think that those fellers cut it up to suit themselves, what little they did have.

Q       Who is that

A       The gang

Q       What gang?

A       Charlie.

Q       Charlie Risburg?

A       Yes.

Q       Who else?

A       McMullen and Williams.

Q       Who else?

A       Cicotte, they were gambling.

Q       Weren’t you in on the inner circle?

A       No, I never was with them, no, sir.  It was mentioned to me in Boston.  As I told you before, they asked me what would I consider, $10,000?  And I said no, then they offered me twenty.

Q       Who mentioned it first to you

A       Gandil.

Q       Who was with you?

A       We were all alone.

Q       What did he say?

A       He asked me would I consider $10,000 to frame up something and I asked him frame what?  And he told me and I said no.

Q       What did he say?

A       Just walked away from me, and when I returned here to Chicago he told me that he would give me twenty and I said no again, and on the bridge where you go into the club house he told me I could either take it or let it alone, they were going through.

Q       What did you say to him and what did he say to you?

A       I met him in the lobby of the hotel, we sat there; I can’t remember the name of the hotel.

Q       Sinton Hotel?

A       Sinton Hotel, yes.

Q       That is in Cincinnati?

A       Yes. I said, ‘How is everything?’

Q       What did he say?

A       He said, ‘Everything is fine.’

Q       Then what happened?

A       He told me about this stuff and I didn’t know so much, I hadn’t been around and I didn’t know so much.  He said, ‘Where is Chick?’  I said, ‘I don’t know.’  He walked away from me.  I didn’t know enough to talk to him about what they were going to plan or what they had planned, I wouldn’t know it if I had seen him, I only knew what I had been told, that’s all I knew.

Can’t copy and paste the whole thing.

Leave a comment

Filed under baseball scandals