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Eight Men Out
The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series
By Eliot Asinof
Henry Holt and Company Copyright © 1987 Stephen Jay Gould
All rights reserved.
"Arnold Rothstein is a man who waits in doorways ... a mouse, waiting in the doorway for his cheese."
— William J. Fallon
On the morning of October 1, 1919, the sun rose in a clear blue sky over the city of Cincinnati. The temperature would climb to a sultry 83° by midafternoon. It was almost too good to be true, for the forecast had been ominous. From early morning, the sidewalks were jammed. A brightly clad band marched through the streets playing "There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight." Stores were open but business came to a standstill. There was only one thing on everybody's lips: The World Series.
Cincinnati had never been host to a World Series before. Nor did its citizens dream, at the start of the season, that the Reds would do much better than last year's weak third in the National League. Somehow the Reds had worked a miracle, which is exactly what the fans called their triumph. For winning the pennant, Manager Pat Moran was known as the "Miracle Man."
"Cincinnati is nuts with baseball!" wrote syndicated columnist Bugs Baer. "They ought to call this town Cincinnutty!"
The first two games of the Series were to be played here and every seat had long since been sold. Ticket scalpers were getting the phenomenal price of $50 a pair. Every hotel room was taken; visitors found themselves jammed three and four to a room, thankful to have a bed. In private homes, families crowded into one room and hung hastily made signs ROOMS FOR RENT on their front doors. City officials, recognizing the extraordinary conditions, announced that the public parks would be available to those who could not secure accommodations. Visitors slept on wooden benches, officially assured that added police patrols would protect them from thieves.
The center of all this activity was the Sinton, Cincinnati's leading hotel, which appeared to be bursting at the seams. The huge lobby was barely large enough for the throngs who used it as a meeting place. Through it went such notables as Senator Warren G. Harding, entertainer and songwriter George M. Cohan, former star pitcher Christy Mathewson, brilliant young writer Ring Lardner. The restaurant and coffee shop were constantly overcrowded. The management had the foresight to triple its food purchases, reaching a staggering sum of $5,000 a day. The bakery boasted a daily production of seven thousand rolls.
To the hard-nosed New York newspaperman, Damon Runyon, the big day started like this:
"The crowds coagulate at hotel entrances. Soft hats predominate. It's a mid-Western, semi-Southern town. Hard-boiled derbys mark the Easterners. The streets of old Cincy have been packed for hours. People get up before breakfast in these parts. The thoroughfares leading to Redland Field have been echoing to the tramp of feet, the honk of auto horns since daylight. It is said that some people kept watch and ward at the ballpark all night long. Might as well stay there as any place in this town. They would have had the same amount of excitement. Flocks of jitneys go squeaking through the streets. This is the heart of the jitney belt. A jitney is the easiest thing obtainable in Cincy. A drink is next.... Cincy is a dry town — as dry as the Atlantic Ocean."
The excitement of the Series was prevalent throughout the country. The games would be telegraphed to every major city in America. Halls were hired to which Western Union would relay the action, play by play. Fans would experience the curious sensation of cheering a third strike or a base hit in a smoke-filled room a thousand miles from the scene. Over 100,000 miles of wire were to be used for this purpose, servicing 10,000 scoreboards in 250 cities, from Winnipeg, Canada, to Havana, Cuba.
This was the climax of baseball, 1919, the first sporting classic to be played since the end of the World War in Europe.
On this Wednesday morning, 30,511 people paid their way into Redland Park. To the Cincinnati fans, there was a throbbing nervous excitement and a secret foreboding. For all their enthusiasm, few could realistically anticipate a World's Championship. Deep down inside, they foresaw the adversary walking all over them. Not even Miracle Men could be expected to stop the all-powerful colossus from the West.
For they were the Chicago White Sox, a mighty ball club with a history of triumphs. It was said that Chicago fans did not come to see them win: they came to see how. They would watch the great Eddie Cicotte, a pitcher with a season's record of 29 victories against only 7 defeats, who would tease the Reds with his knuckle ball that came dancing unpredictably toward the hitter. They would see Ray Schalk behind the plate, a small bundle of TNT, smart, always hollering. They would see the finest defensive infield in baseball, "Buck" Weaver, like a cat at third base, inching ever closer to the batter, defying him to hit one by him, always laughing. And "Swede" Risberg on shortstop, a big, rangy man who could move to his left almost with the pitch when he sensed a hit through the middle of the diamond. On second, Eddie Collins, the smooth one, the greatest infielder of his time; he made plays that left White Sox fans gasping. And "Chick" Gandil on first, the giant with hands like iron. They would wait for "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, the left fielder, to knock down fences with the power of his big black bat. They would laugh at "Happy" Felsch in center, since anything that was hit out there was a sure out. And "Shano" Collins in right; he could run, hit, and throw with any ball club in the league. There was a growing mythology about this great team; the public had placed a stamp of invincibility on it. To Cincinnati fans who had never seen the White Sox play the image seemed frightening. These were the big-city boys coming down to show the small-towners how the game should be played. There was no other way for any real fan to see it.
There was, however, one incredible circumstance that would have a bearing on the outcome: eight members of the Chicago White Sox had agreed to throw the World Series.
Of all the big league cities one
Is easy to get lost in.
I hardly need to tell you that
The one I mean is Boston.
Exactly three weeks before the World Series was to begin, a tall, beefy, red-faced man in a white suit and bright bow tie stepped out of a taxi and walked into Boston's Hotel Buckminster. His name was Joseph "Sport" Sullivan. His occupation: bookmaker and gambler.
He moved through the musty lobby to the front desk, picked up the house phone, and asked to be connected with Mr. Arnold "Chick" Gandil. As he waited, he surveyed the subdued, conservative, old-lady atmosphere. Although he had lived in Boston all the forty-four years of his life, he could not remember when he had been here last. In his profession, he seldom did business with subdued, conservative old ladies. There was something ludicrous about the Chicago White Sox Baseball Club staying here instead of at the Somerset or the Buckingham, more commercially centered and alive. Sullivan knew the reason for the change. He made it his business to know everything about the club.
During an earlier visit to Boston, there had been some trouble. These White Sox boys were an especially volatile, spirited bunch, a club loaded with bitterness and tension. There had been an excessive amount of drinking one night, and before the party was over, they had made wrecks of the furniture. Chairs, lamps, tables, even beds had been dumped out of the windows into the courtyard below. The hotel management thereupon had advised the Chicago organization that its patronage was no longer solicited. Harry Grabiner, Secretary of the Club, decided that a more subdued atmosphere might influence the boys. The Hotel Buckminster was the result....
Sullivan's ear was suddenly jarred by Gandil's loud greeting. Having identified himself to the ballplayer, Sullivan was immediately asked to come up. He had sensed that something special was in the air when they had spoken earlier in the day. Now the tension in Gandil's voice confirmed his hunch. Sullivan liked to rely on his ear. It was said of him that he could tell what a man was about to say by the first few seconds of his speech. That Gandil had called him was in itself certainly not surprising. He had known the first baseman for eight or nine years and, as a result, knew all about him:
Chick Gandil was as tough as they come. He was thirty-one years old. He stood six feet, two inches tall; a broad, powerful 197 pounds. This was his fourteenth year in baseball. He had started at the age of seventeen after running away from home in St. Paul, Minnesota. He had hopped a freight bound for Amarillo, Texas, where he'd heard he could get a job playing semipro ball. Later, he caught on with an outlaw team in Cananea, Mexico, just across the Arizona border. Cananea was a wide-open mining town, congenial to his wild, rough temperament. Gandil not only played ball; he became a heavyweight fighter, taking in $150 a fight, far more money than he had ever seen before. In the off season, he worked as a boilermaker in the local copper mines. Back in Texas, at nineteen, he met the girl who became his wife. If the marriage had gratified him, it was because he was permitted to remain a roughhouse character.
He played minor-league ball until 1910 when he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox. He was sold to the Washington Senators, then to Cleveland in 1916, then back to Chicago. He was a reliable .280 hitter and an exceptionally strong first baseman, whose extraordinary hands were his greatest asset. It was said that he was the only first baseman around who didn't need a glove.
It was while Gandil was with Washington that Sullivan met him at a Boston pool hall. In typically gracious manner, he made friends with the big ballplayer immediately, buying him drinks, handing him good cigars. And also, before long, he found a way to profit by the friendship. Gandil would give him tips on ball games. "How is the great Walter Johnson feeling today? ... Is there any reason why he might not be effective this afternoon?" This sort of innocent-sounding information gradually led to a more advanced procedure. When the Washington Senators were not in Boston, a timely long-distance phone call might elicit a piece of news that would alter the balance of the odds ... like an unexpected change in pitching plans. If Sullivan alone had such a tip, he could use it to great advantage. His office would immediately get busy on the several long-distance hookups to various gambling centers and place bets accordingly. His resulting success baffled others, gaining him a reputation as something of an expert on baseball. A number of prominent sporting people began to commission him to bet for them, granting him a profit of 20 per cent on the winnings.
While there was nothing actually illegal about such manipulations, their effectiveness was limited. This was the problem that Sullivan, like all gamblers, had to contend with. Baseball was a complicated game. It was extremely difficult to dope out the probabilities on any one afternoon. There were simply too many variables. While this might well present a challenge to the shrewder among them, its unpredictability often left them frustrated. Constantly seeking to minimize the margin of doubt, they kept their ears open and waited for an opportunity. Sullivan, however, did more than wait. Having found Gandil, he went to work on him. He quickly saw that the big, tough, unschooled rube, literally from the Wild West, glowed in the company of successful men in big cities. Gandil liked the slick, prominent urban types. To be welcomed among them was, he felt, a mark of his own rising status in the world. Sullivan the Bookmaker could boast of an intimate acquaintance with V.I.P.'s like millionaire Harry Sinclair and George M. Cohan, and he made sure that Gandil met them. Gandil was thrilled. They were all pleasant, friendly guys.
Today Gandil was in his hotel room alone. Sullivan greeted him with his usual friendliness. In less than three minutes of small talk the dour ballplayer got down to business, remarking to the gambler that he had a proposition for him.
Sullivan kept his normally big mouth shut. When Gandil started to talk about the coming World Series, Sullivan sensed what was in the air.
Gandil was saying, "I think we can put it in the bag!"
His proposition was simple enough. He would guarantee to involve a sufficient number of ballplayers to insure the defeat of the highly favored White Sox. He wanted $80,000 cash as payment for their implication. He had come to Sullivan because he knew no one else who could raise that kind of money.
Sullivan listening, maintaining a cool façade. He acknowledged that such a scheme had possibilities, and told Gandil he would think it over. But when he left that hotel room, he knew only one thing: the biggest gambling bonanza in the history of baseball was being dropped magnificently into his lap like manna from heaven. Here was the big pay-off for all his efforts, the return for all those beers, the pool games, the fifty-cent cigars. He was the persistent salesman who'd finally made a big sale, bigger by far than he'd ever dreamed.
The fact that this was a shatteringly dishonest venture did not escape him. Curiously enough, he found the immorality of the scheme momentarily more troublesome than any fear of its consequences. It barely occurred to him that he was in any way vulnerable to the law, even assuming that something should happen to expose the fix. He could take this position not out of ignorance, but out of precedent. He knew of no case in which a gambler had gotten into serious difficulty for this kind of manipulation. Sullivan had always laughed at the workings of law and politics, for he had all the connections he needed to stay out of trouble.
Yet he had to admit that fixing a World Series was something else again. It was a very special American event. To tamper with it seemed treacherous, almost like sacrilege. On the other hand, this very circumstance could also make the deal fantastically rewarding — which, of course, was the determining factor.
But Sullivan was worried. For all his blustering, he never really considered himself either powerful or adept enough to assume control over a project as mighty as this one. It was not the kind of thing he would initiate. However, it had been brought to him; the problem was to whom he, himself, could take it.
In the last analysis, Sullivan would make peace with the fix readily enough. He would go with it wherever it led him and play it strictly by ear. He would keep the escape channels open in case he found himself in over his head.
There was always the chance that he could pull it off.
Baseball and betting were allied from the beginning. In the pre-Civil War years, the game was played in private clubs as an upper-class recreation, a polite competition in the tradition of British cricket. The gentlemen who played, as well as those who watched, saw in baseball a fine vehicle for a wager. And wagering was always an unofficial national pastime indulged in by all classes of American society. The very terms used in the first ball games were those of the gambler: runs were called "aces," and turns at bat were "hands."
To the bettors of the 1860's, a ball game had definite advantages. It was more intriguing than a horse race, more civilized than a boxing bout or a cockfight. It afforded a pleasant, even exciting afternoon in the sunlight, an event to which a gentleman could take his lady — and bet.
As long as the game remained amateur, wagering seemed only a pleasant diversion. But as the quantity of the bets increased, so did the desire to win. After the Civil War, the game really began to change for the better — or, if you will, for the bettor. The quality of the play improved. It was to win bets that inspired more and more clubs to hire ballplayers. (A star would be hired as a company clerk for $40 a week, a job that normally paid $6.) With the formation of the National Association of Baseball Players in 1871, followed by the National League in 1876, baseball became fully organized: admissions were charged, ballplayers were paid.
And with that, the professional gamblers moved in.
Baseball lost its gentlemanliness. It was quickly learned that a boy from the coal mines or the lumber mills could hit, run, and throw as well, if not better, than the son of the rich merchant. Pay him, and he would play harder, certainly be more tolerant of broken fingers (there were no gloves in those days) and vicious spike wounds (there was no end to them).
Though rising in popularity, baseball became corrupted with almostincredible rapidity. There was hardly a game in which some wild, disruptive incident did not occur to alter the outcome. An outfielder, settling under a crucial fly ball, would find himself stoned by a nearby spectator, who might win a few hundred dollars if the ball was dropped. On one occasion, a gambler actually ran out on the field and tackled a ballplayer. On another, a marksman prevented a fielder from chasing a long hit by peppering the ground around his feet with bullets. The victims had no chance to appeal: there was nothing in the rules to cover such behavior.
Excerpted from Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof. Copyright © 1987 Stephen Jay Gould. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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