Sports Illustrated, Sept. 17, 1956
THIS IS MY STORY OF THE BLACK SOX SERIES
The ringleader of the infamous plot, the first baseman of the team which exploded baseball’s dirty business with the game’s worst scandal, breaks his silence to speak for the first time.
By ARNOLD (CHICK) GANDIL as told to MELVIN DURSLAG
The story of the Black Sox scandal and the fixed World Series of 1919 has been told many times in many versions. None ever bore the mark of ultimate truth, for the players involved, after their acquittal for lack of evidence, were free to tell their side of it as they saw fit. Some denied all guilt, some admitted it only partially. One of them never spoke at all: Chick Gandil, the first baseman who has been named as the original corrupter of his fellow players. Gandil left major league baseball after the suspect Series and quit the game for good after the trial in 1921, disappearing into obscurity. The story he tells now can be testified to only by himself. It presents to history a picture of a baseball team, one of the greatest ever known, divided against itself; a group of players of supreme skill but with neither honor nor scruples, trusting not even each other. The Chicago White Sox of 1919 were the climatic product of an era which baseball has, happily, left behind for good and all; an era which – after three and a half decades without a breath of scandal – is so remote that much of what Gandil says may now seem fantastic. Nonetheless, the story he has to tell belongs on the baseball record, and here it is.
About this time each year when people start getting excited about the World Series, I find myself wanting to crawl into a cave. I think you’d feel the same if you had the memories I do.
I have played in two World Series, the last time 37 years ago when I was first baseman for the Chicago White Sox. The Sox haven’t been in a Series since. We played the Cincinnati Reds and had a hell of a ball club, the best I’ve ever seen. But people didn’t remember us afterward for our playing. They remembered us only as the “Black Sox.”
A lot of you young readers have probably heard of the Black Sox scandal from your dads or granddads. It was some mess. Eight of us Sox were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series to Cincy. We were taken into court in Chicago, tried and acquitted. But organized baseball banned us for life.
Arnold (Chick) Gandil, 1917 (left), at the trial in 1920 (right)
To this day I feel that we got what we had coming. But there are certain things about the Series that have never been told and which I would like to clear up right now.
I’m an old man by any standards. I’m going to be 69 in January. I have worked the past 35 years as a plumber, mostly in Oakland, California. Now I’m about to retire. The wife and I plan to take a small place in the country, out in Napa Valley. We’ve been married 48 years.
A lot of stuff has been written by newspaper and magazine people about the Black Sox scandal, but most of it has been rumor and guesswork because none of us involved ever told our story. Four of the Black Sox were supposed to have made secret confessions with immunity before the Cook County grand jury in 1920, but they all denied the statements later and refused to talk. When we went on trial in 1921, all of us stood on our rights and dummied up.
Why should I wait until now to tell the real story of the Black Sox? One by one the Black Sox players have been taking the secret to their graves. Joe Jackson is gone, so are Fred McMullin and Buck Weaver. I’m sure I could go the rest of my life easily without talking. But after thinking it over – and against the better judgment of my wife – I asked myself, why not? It should be on the record. So here goes.
To start with, I think I should recall to you the main characters involved.
First, there was Charles Comiskey, the White Sox owner. He was a sarcastic, belittling man who was the tightest owner in baseball. If a player objected to his miserly terms, Comiskey told him: “You can take it or leave it.” Under baseball’s slave laws, what could a fellow do but take it? I recall only one act of generosity on Comiskey’s part. After we won the World Series in 1917, he splurged with a case of champagne.
Comiskey’s manager was William (Kid) Gleason, who had been our coach in 1918 and became manager in 1919 when Clarence (Pants) Rowland resigned. He was a tough little guy, and he had a hard time trying to keep peace among the malcontents on our club. But most of the players liked him and gave him their best.
The players involved were most of the top guys on the club. There was Joe Jackson, the left fielder; Buck Weaver, third base; Oscar Felsch, the center fielder; Swede Risberg, our shortstop; Eddie Cicotte, our leading pitcher; Fred McMullin, a utility infielder; Claude Williams, who was basically perhaps even a better pitcher than Cicotte; and, finally, myself, the first baseman.
Let me tell you a little more about myself. I was 6 feet 2 inches tall, weighed 195 pounds and had been playing baseball for 14 years. I had run away from my home in St. Paul, Minnesota at the age of 17 and hopped a freight bound for Amarillo, Texas to play semipro. Then I caught on with an outlaw team in Cananea, Mexico, just across the Arizona border.
Cananea was a wide-open mining town in those days, which suited me fine. I was a wild, rough kid. I did a little heavyweight fighting at $150 a fight. I also worked part-time as a boilermaker in the copper mines.
I slowed down some after my marriage in 1908, but I guess I still remained a pretty roughhouse character. I played minor league ball for a couple of years, then was sold to the White Sox in 1910. I then bounced around to Washington and Cleveland but landed again with the White Sox in 1917. I have often been described as one of the ringleaders of the Black Sox scandal. There’s no doubt about it. I was.
For all their skill, the White Sox in 1919 weren’t a harmonious club. Baseball players in my day had a lot more cut-throat toughness anyway, and we had our share of personal feuds, but there was a common bond among most of us – our dislike for Comiskey. I would like to blame the trouble we got into on Comiskey’s cheapness, but my conscience won’t let me. We had no one to blame except ourselves. But, so help me, this fellow was tight. Many times we played in filthy uniforms because he was trying to keep down the cleaning tab.
Most of the griping on the club centered around salaries, which were much lower than any other club in the league. Cicotte, for example, had won 28 games in 1917 and still was making only $6,000 a year. Jackson, a great hitter, was earning just a little more. I had been making $4,500 a year for the past three seasons. Only one man on the club was drawing what I’d call a decent salary, Eddie Collins, who had finagled a sharp contract in coming to the Sox from the Philadelphia Athletics. He was making about $14,000 a year. Naturally, Collins was happier with Comiskey than we were.
So when the opportunity came in 1919 to pick up some easy change on the World Series, Collins, though a key man, wasn’t included in our plans. Neither was Ray Schalk or Outfielder Nemo Leibold.
Where a baseball player would run a mile these days to avoid a gambler, we mixed freely. Players often bet. After the games, they would sit in lobbies and bars with gamblers, gabbing away. Most of the gamblers we knew were honorable Joes who would never think of fixing a game. They were happy just to be booking and betting.
I had always considered “Sport” Sullivan as one of those gamblers until he approached me in Boston in 1919, about a week before the World Series. Sullivan was a tall, strapping Irishman who looked like a cop more than he did a bookmaker. We had first met while I was playing with Washington in 1912. Our team had a couple of top pitchers, Walter Johnson and Bob Groom. Managers didn’t publicly announce their starting pitchers in advance then as they do today. Sullivan, who was betting the games, had a hot idea. He wanted me to tip him off by wire when we were on the road, informing him when Johnson and Groom would start. He suggested a code – “No. 1 goes tomorrow,” when Johnson was to pitch; and “No. 2 goes tomorrow,” when it was Groom.
It was a tempting proposition, but I was going pretty good at that time and I was afraid to get into a jam. Besides, there had been an incident the year before which made me gun shy. While I was playing for Montreal, some gambler had offered two other players and me $25 apiece to throw a game to Rochester. We reported the bribe to our club owner who, in turn, reported it to the league president. It created a big commotion.
But aside from these two experiences, I had only social contacts with gamblers until that September day in 1919 when Sullivan walked up to Eddie Cicotte and me as we left our hotel in Boston. As I recall, we were four games in front the final week of the season, and it looked pretty certain that the pennant was ours.
I was kind of surprised when Sullivan suggested that we get a “syndicate” together of seven or eight players to throw the Series to Cincinnati. As I say, I never figured the guy as a fixer but just one who played for the percentages.
The idea of taking seven or eight people in on the plot scared me. I said to Sullivan it wouldn’t work. He answered, “Don’t be silly. It’s been pulled before and it can be again.”
He had a persuasive manner which he backed up with a lot of cash. He said he was willing to pay $10,000 each to all the players we brought in on the deal. Considering our skimpy salaries, $10,000 was quite a chunk, and he knew it.
Cicotte and I told Sullivan we would think it over. The money looked awfully good. I was 31 then and couldn’t last much longer in baseball. Cicotte and I tried to figure out first which players might be interested. And of those who might be, which ones would we care to cut in on this gravy. We finally decided on Jackson, Weaver, Risberg, Felsch, McMullin and Williams – not that we loved them, because there never was much love among the White Sox. Let’s just say that we disliked them the least.
We played our game that afternoon and won. That night Cicotte and I called the other six together for a meeting and told them of Sullivan’s offer. They were all interested and thought we should reconnoiter to see if the dough would really be put on the line. Weaver suggested we get paid in advance; then if things got too hot, we could double-cross the gambler, keep the cash and also take the big end of the Series cut by beating the Reds. We agreed this was a hell of a brainy plan.
I met Sullivan the next morning and told him I could close the deal only if the players got their money in advance. He explained it would take a little time to raise all that cash so quickly but said that when he got it he would contact me in Chicago. As we parted, he told me that no player was to yap about the fix to other gamblers.
When the White Sox returned to Chicago for their final games of the season, Cicotte brought a friend of his to see me, a former big league pitcher named Bill Burns. Somehow Burns had got wind of our negotiations with Sullivan; one of our players must have talked. Burns asked that we definitely not accept Sullivan’s deal until he could contact a rich gambling friend in Montreal. He said he could top any offer.
Cicotte and I called a meeting of the players that night and told them about Burns. Weaver piped up, “We might as well take his money, too, and go to hell with all of them.”
I personally disliked and distrusted Burns and said that we should stick with Sullivan. But I was overruled by the others who voted at least to listen to Burn’s proposition when he returned from Montreal.
Later in Chicago I got word from Sullivan that he was bringing a friend from New York to sew up the deal. A meeting was arranged at the old Warner Hotel on the South Side, where many of the players lived. Sullivan introduced his friend as “Mr. Ryan,” but, having met this man two years before in New York, I recognized him as Arnold Rothstein, the big shot gambler. His plan was this:
We were to try our best to win the first game behind Cicotte, who was the league’s leading pitcher. The White Sox were rated as 3-to-1 favorites in the Series. A win in the first game would boost the price higher. We were then to lose the Series at our convenience. At that time, a World Series was decided by five out of nine games instead of the four-out-of-seven system used today.
Rothstein said nothing until we asked for our $80,000 in advance. He asked calmly, “What’s to assure us you guys will keep the agreement?” We offered him our word. He answered, “It’s a weak collateral.”
The deal was about to fall apart when Rothstein came up with a compromise. He would give us $10,000 in advance and pay the remaining $70,000 in installments over the first four games, each payment amounting to $17,500.
We asked Sullivan and Rothstein to come back in an hour. I got the gang together and we decided to accept the deal. Rothstein returned and gave us ten $1,000 bills. When the gamblers left we entrusted the money with Cicotte until it could be changed inconspicuously. He put the bills under his pillow. At Rothstein’s insistence, we had given our solemn word that no other gambler would be tipped off, but as soon as he left, we agreed to take any money we could get from Burns, too.
Sport Sullivan and Bill Burns
WORRY AND ARGUMENTS
The next day I got a telephone call from Jake Lingle, the Chicago reporter who was later to be murdered by gangsters. Lingle said he heard the Series was fixed. “Where did you hear that crazy story,” I said and hung up. I now began to worry. That night Sullivan paid me a visit. He was mad. He said that someone had yapped to Chicago gamblers about the fix. The price on the Sox had suddenly begun to drop. We had a hot argument that came close to turning into a fist fight. We both apologized, and an agreement was made for Sullivan to make the cash payments after each game to a friend on mine.
By the time we arrived in Cincinnati to open the Series the rumors were really flying. Even a clerk in a stationery store, not recognizing me as a ballplayer, told me confidentially, “I have it firsthand that the Series is in the bag.” Waitresses and bellhops were talking the same way. Reporters were buzzing about, asking questions.
We were now convinced that every move on the field would be watched like a hawk and we were beginning to sweat. Burns and a friend, the prize-fighter Abe Attell, came to see Cicotte and me at the hotel. They asked that we arrange a meeting with the gang – which we did grudgingly. Attell took the floor and produced a telegram which read, “Will take you in on any deal you make. Will guarantee all expenses.” It was signed, “A.R.”
Attell identified A.R. as Arnold Rothstein. The players exchanged looks. Obviously the telegram was faked, and Attell and Burns knew nothing of Rothstein’s private deal with us. We walked out of the room.
This was the last of our group meetings with any gamblers. But now our troubles were just beginning. That night, the eve of the Series, several players got threatening phone calls. I must have had five during the early part of the evening. Many of them – maybe all of them – came from cranks, but they still left me creepy. Cicotte was so upset that he left the hotel about midnight and took a long walk. I don’t think he slept an hour all night.
I had just fallen asleep when Sullivan knocked at my door and awakened me. He said excitedly that a couple of the players had told him the deal was off. I said to him, “Well, maybe it is.” He replied, “I wouldn’t call it the best policy to double-cross Rothstein.”
Deep down, I knew he was right. In my nervous state I got mad at Sullivan and told him to get out. I sat on the edge of the bed, trying to think. I truthfully wanted to go to our manager, Kid Gleason, and tell him the whole story, but I knew it wouldn’t be that simple. I realized that things were too involved by now to try to explain.
I guess some of the others must have felt the same way, because the next morning I was called to a meeting of the eight players. Everyone was upset and there was a lot of disagreement. But it was finally decided that there was too much suspicion now to throw the games without getting caught. We weighed the risk of public disgrace and going to jail against taking our chances with the gamblers by crossing them up and keeping the $10,000. We were never remorseful enough to want to return the ten grand to Rothstein. We gambled that he wouldn’t dare do anything to us since he was in no position himself to make a fuss over the cash. Our only course was to try to win, and we were certain that we could.
But when we trotted out on the field that day for the opener, we were still a tense bunch of ballplayers. And, as if things weren’t bad enough, some joker in the stands yelled to Cicotte, “Be careful, Eddie. There’s a guy looking for you with a rifle.”
Cicotte wasn’t worth a wooden nickel in that opening game. He was knocked out of the box in the fourth inning when Cincy scored five runs. The Reds were unstoppable that day. Even their pitcher, Dutch Ruether, got two triples and a single, driving in three runs. When Cicotte was lifted in the fourth with the Reds leading 5-1, Gleason sent in Roy Wilkinson. The Cincy batters slugged him, too, just as they did our next pitcher, Grover Lowdermilk. Cincinnati got 14 hits that day and beat us 9-1.
RUMORS AND PHONE CALLS
Rumors of a fix began to circulate right away, and, though I didn’t see Comiskey, I heard he was running around like a wild man, trying to track down information. What the wiseacres didn’t know was that our original agreement with Rothstein was to try to win the first game.
That night I got more threatening phone calls. I’ll never know whether they came from screwballs or from gamblers. I half expected a visit from Sullivan or one of his men, but I imagine things were hot for them, too. By this time I’m sure they knew the deal was off, especially since our collection man didn’t show up after the game to try to get the first installment of the $70,000.
The White Sox made 10 hits in the second game against four for Cincinnati, yet we were beaten 4-2 when we should have won easily. In the fourth inning, with no score, we had runners on second and third with one down, but I grounded into an out at the plate and Risberg popped up to kill our chances.
In the last of the fourth our pitcher, Williams, hit a wild streak, gave up three walks and a triple to give the Reds a 3-0 lead. They stretched it to 4-0 in the sixth, but we made two in the seventh when Risberg and Schalk scored on a wild throw by Greasy Neale, the Cincinnati right fielder who later became a pro football coach.
After the game the cynics made quite a thing of the six walks issued by Williams, and there were rumors that he wasn’t following his catcher’s signals. But nothing was said about Neale’s wild throw, or some dumb base running by Edd Roush, the Cincy center fielder, who was caught in a trap and tagged out after trying to go to second.
When the doubt is planted, it is easy to mistake plain and simple boners in a ball game for acts of crookedness.
The pressure eased when we came back to Comiskey Park for the third game and Dickie Kerr threw a shutout for a 3-0 win. I batted in our first two runs in the second inning with a long single to center. We made our third run on a triple by Risberg, who then scored on a slick bunt by Schalk.
That night I was paid an unexpected visit by Burns, who was in a panic. He and some other gamblers, going on the assumption the Series was fixed, had bet heavily on the Reds. Now they had their doubts. Burns said that if I could assure him that the players would go along with the fix, he would guarantee me $20,000. Since I personally didn’t feel that Burns could guarantee me 20 cents, and since I was troubled with enough outside pressure as it was, I told him I wasn’t interested. Meanwhile, the threatening calls got so heavy that I had to quit answering the telephone.
Cicotte went to the mound in the fourth game and allowed only five hits, but we got only three and were beaten 2-0. Both of the Cincy runs were scored in the fifth inning, partly due to two errors by Cicotte. One was probably my fault. Eddie fielded an easy roller and threw wide to first, permitting the runner to move to second. When the next batter singled to left center, and Jackson threw to the plate to try to cut off a run, I yelled to Cicotte to intercept the throw. I felt we had no chance to get the man at home but could nail the batter now trying to reach second. Cicotte juggled the ball and all hands were safe. The next man then doubled, and Cincy had both its runs.
Well, you can imagine all the gossiping that took place that night. Everyone talked of Cicotte’s two errors, but no one even mentioned that he had allowed only five hits. After listening to all the talk in the hotel lobby, Gleason called a meeting of the players. He asked if there were any truth to the rumors he had been hearing. We who were involved with gamblers got all huffy about this; the players who were not kept quiet. Gleason was happy to let the matter drop, but Comiskey was now convinced that we were out to throw the Series. He suspected the whole club.
With the Reds now leading three games to one, we came back with Williams in the fifth game against Hod Eller, who was one of those fellows who could be either real bad or real good. This day he was good. He had a mean shine ball that had us missing all over the place. He struck out the side in two straight innings – and half of those he fanned were never in on our plot.
Williams allowed Cincy only four hits that day, three coming in the sixth inning in which the Reds scored four runs. But before Eller was through with his shine ball, he struck out 9 batters and shut us out 5-0.
Felsch got the blame for that loss. He had thrown wild after fielding a Texas leaguer in the sixth inning and later chased a long fly to the fence which he couldn’t get and it went for a triple. When Collins booted one later, permitting the fifth run to score, the experts must have thought that he was in on the fix, too.
We went back to Cincinnati for the sixth game which we won 5-4 behind Kerr, after we had overcome a 4-0 Cincy lead. This was the only game to go into extra innings. In the 10th, Weaver doubled and I drove him home with a single for the winning run.
WE HIT OUR STRIDE
Though Cincy now led the Series 4-2, we honestly felt we had hit our stride and would have no trouble taking the next three games. We were even more confident the next day when Cicotte won his third start easily, 4-1. We breezed in this game, led all the way and only Collins committed an error.
Things had quieted down by the time we got back to Chicago for the eighth game. The Series now stood at 4-3 in favor of the Reds and a lot of the skeptics decided that maybe the Sox meant business after all. It was Gleason’s feeling that if Williams could finally win in the eighth game, then he would start Kerr in the ninth and have Cicotte ready for relief at the first sign of trouble.
But Williams lasted less than an inning. Cincy drove him out with four runs, and that was the game and Series. We lost 10-5 as Eller pitched his second win for Cincinnati.
If there is any doubt about our trying to win the Series, let’s look at the record. Jackson was the leading hitter with .375. He didn’t commit an error. Weaver was our second man with .324. He didn’t boot any, either. Total hits favored Cincy only 64 to 59, and each side committed 12 errors. Though I hit only .233, it was still seven points better than our star Eddie Collins, and two of my hits knocked in winning runs.
Our losing to Cincinnati was an upset all right, but no more than Cleveland’s losing to the New York Giants by four straight in 1954. Mind you, I offer no defense for the thing we conspired to do. It was inexcusable. But I maintain that our actual losing of the Series was pure baseball fortune.
The loser’s share amounted to $3,254 apiece, which Comiskey held up while he conducted a private investigation. I never did get any part of Rothstein’s $10,000 and I don’t know who did. Since Rothstein probably won his bets anyway, he never gave us any trouble. Naturally, I would have liked to have had my share of that ten grand, but with all the excitement at the Series’ end and with Comiskey’s investigation, I was frankly frightened stiff. Besides, I had the crazy notion that my not touching any of that money would exonerate me from my guilt in the conspiracy. I give you my solemn word I don’t know to this day what happened to the cash.
During the next two months, after returning to my winter home in Los Angeles, I heard some wild reports about the killing I made on the World Series. One account said I was flashing around a bankbook with a $25,000 entry. Another said I had been paid off in diamonds. And still another had me plunking down cash for a house. The truth was, I did buy a house – with $2,500 I had borrowed from the bank for down payment. The loan was repaid when I finally got my World Series check from the White Sox.
By the time the 1920 season came around, I was kind of sour on baseball, Comiskey and everything else. I didn’t care whether I went back to the Sox or not. I asked for a $2,000 raise, which Comiskey naturally refused. I became the only one of the eight conspirators not to report that year. Instead, I played semipro ball twice a week for the Elks Club in Bakersfield, Calif. I earned $75 a game.
News about the 1919 World Series was disappearing from the newspapers – which was fine with me. And then came the explosion. It happened in September of 1920 while the Sox were fighting for the league lead. I recall the headline I ready clearly; WHITE SOX CONFESS SERIES FIX.
Cicotte, for reasons unknown, appeared to have told the story of our plot to Comiskey, who ordered him to confess (with immunity) before the Cook County grand jury. There were reports that Williams, Jackson and Felsch squealed, too. Meanwhile Comiskey banned from the team the seven players connected with the conspiracy. It was just before the end of the pennant race, and the Sox lost out to Cleveland.
No one really knows for sure what the players confessed privately to the grand jury, and we’ll never find out because the confessions later turned up missing (in my opinion, this was Rothstein’s work), and everyone repudiated the things that were supposed to have been confessed.
The grand jury brought an indictment against the eight of us in September 1920, but the case didn’t come to trial until July 1921. I was picked up by police in Los Angeles and spent a night in jail before being extradited to Chicago.
The trial dragged out for 15 days. Upon advice of our attorneys none of us testified, and without our testimony the state had no case. When the jury finally found us not guilty there was loud cheering in the court room, and the jurors even carried a few of us out on their shoulders. What a scene.
SUSPENDED FOR LIFE
But our ban from baseball stuck, and when Judge Landis took office as commissioner a short time later, one of his first acts was to extend the suspensions for life.
Inasmuch as we were legally freed, I feel Landis’ ruling was unjust, but I truthfully never resented it because, even though the Series wasn’t thrown, we were guilty of a serious offense, and we knew it.
Aside from embarrassment and personal qualms I have never suffered any hardship because of the Black Sox incident. The doors of jobs have never been closed to me. We have lived quietly away from the news, and I have attended only half a dozen ball games – all minor league – during the past 37 years.
For a good many years, I held a deep resentment against Cicotte for his initial confession. I felt I would never forgive the guy, but I think I have by now. Still, I don’t believe we would have ever been caught if he hadn’t gabbed.