After Judge Hugo Friend denies a motion to quash the indictments against the major league baseball players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series, a trial begins with jury selection. The Chicago White Sox players, including stars Shoeless Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver and Eddie Cicotte, subsequently became known as the “Black Sox” after the scandal was revealed.
The White Sox, who were heavily favored at the start of the World Series, had been seriously underpaid and mistreated by owner Charles Comiskey. The conspiracy to fix the games was most likely initiated by first baseman Chick Gindil and small-time gambler Joseph Sullivan. Later, New York gambler Arnold Rothstein reluctantly endorsed it. The schemers used the team’s discontent to their advantage: Through intermediaries, Rothstein offered relatively small sums of money for the players to lose some of the games intentionally. The scandal came to light when the gamblers did not pay the players as promised, thinking that they had no recourse. But when the players openly complained, the story became public and authorities were forced to prosecute them.
The trial against the players was actually just for show. After a tacit agreement whereby the players assented not to denigrate major league baseball or Comiskey in return for an acquittal, the signed confessions from some of the players mysteriously disappeared from police custody.
The jury acquitted all of the accused players and then celebrated with them at a nearby restaurant. But the height of the hypocrisy surrounding the entire matter came when Shoeless Joe was forced to sue Comiskey for unpaid salary. During this trial, Comiskey’s lawyers suddenly produced the confessions that had disappeared during the criminal trial, with no explanation as to how they had been obtained.
Arnold Rothstein never even faced trial, and Comiskey hoped to go back to business as usual. However, all did not end well for everyone. Other baseball owners, hoping to remove any hint that the games were illegitimate, hired Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to be the new commissioner of baseball. Landis was a hard-liner (and also a racist—he prevented blacks from playing in the major leagues during his reign into the 1940s) who then permanently barred the implicated Black Sox players from baseball.
Landis’ decision has come under considerable criticism for its unfairness to a few of the players. Buck Weaver, by all accounts, had refused to take any money offered by the gamblers. He was purportedly banned from baseball for refusing to turn his teammates in. And although Shoeless Joe Jackson probably accepted some money, his statistics show that he never truly participated in throwing the games—he had the best batting average of either team in the series.