If you have not read Part One and Part Two of this series, I would strongly suggest you do so. Part One introduces all of the characters you'll need to know to get the most from this summary of the scandal, and Part Two deals with the fix itself.
The Trial and Aftermath.
Within hours of Ciccote’s confession (made to Comisky’s attorney), Cicotte was being questioned by a grand jury. Within hours thereafter, both Joe Jackson and Lefty Williams also came forward. Comisky’s attorney, instead of defending them, got all three men (who had little education, or as in the case of Joe Jackson were illiterate) to sign waivers of immunity, the content of which they did not understand.
When the day had ended, all eight of the Chicago players - NY Giant Hall Chase, gamblers Sports Sullivan, Abe Attell, Dave Zelser, Benjamin Levi, Carl Zork and Rachael Brown - were all indicted. Furthermore the players had been suspended by Charles Comisky via telegram. The telegram called the suspension indefinite and promised reinstatement if the players were cleared of wrongdoing.
However, another change was taking place in baseball, a change perhaps greatly accelerated by the scandal. Baseball’s past was checkered with fixed games and gambling, which effected play. There were even incentive payments (or “bribes”) given in the form of cash, suits, or gifts by a team in a pennant race to players of non-contending teams who managed to trip up the competition. This was not frowned upon, and had become a custom.
A number of ballplayers in the past had been caught having sold games to gamblers, and between 1900 and the Black Sox scandal; it is believed that it was a regular occurrence. Owners had failed to crack down, mostly fearful of losing the gate, though it is thought that at least one or two benefited and took part in gambling (as portrayed in fiction in the Natural).
The Black Sox scandal brought this to a head, and nearly undermined the public’s faith in the game. It was obvious that something had to be done. That something was the creation of the office of the Commissioner of Baseball. It was a job Ban Johnson lusted for, realizing that this job would minimize the offices of the Presidents of the American and National leagues.
He made a strong case that baseball should clean up itself, but Johnson had alienated some owners and stepped on too many feet. The job was given to an outsider - Keenesaw Mountain Landis, a very public figure. Landis had been a Federal judge with a very strict and unforgiving reputation. He took the job with the clear understanding that his word was law, and that his job was to clean up the game.
Had his appointment not happened, there might not have been a 1920 World Series, or a 1921 season. Things were so bad that executives almost called off not just the game, but all of organized baseball as too rotten to save. If the fans had vanished, it may have happened.
On Valentine’s Day of 1921, the players were arraigned in court. Only the players had shown up, the gamblers had all vanished. It was then that the prosecution announced that the grand jury records and all the confessions had vanished. Considering the corruption in the government in Chicago, it is likely that the papers were purchased by someone who would not have benefited from a guilty verdict (some have surmised it was Comisky himself). A request to reconvene the Grand Jury was made.
The teeth had been pulled though, and the legal case against the players was nonexistent for a while. It was here that Commissioner Landis stepped in. With time before the season opened, and people beginning to think the players might be coming back, Landis made a statement on March 12, 1921 that closed that door. He put all of the players on the “ineligible list” and noted that even if found not guilty they might not be reinstated.
This must not have pleased Charles Comisky who, while suspending his players, retained them all on his reserve list waiting for the scandal to be dismissed and forgotten. Now his hand was forced and he had to send them notices of termination of their contracts and released them from the White Sox organization.
Baseball was not forgiving either, blocking any attempt by the players to earn money on a ball field, either as barnstormers or playing in any other league. Landis forced the issue with independent leagues and minor league teams, making it clear that if they disregarded the ban set by him, they had more to lose than gain.
On June 27, 1921 the case finally came to trial with little evidence, and thus, not a lot that could be proved. The case was so weak in fact that only seven of the players and two of the gamblers were brought to trial. The player dismissed was Buck Weaver who never received money and swore he had not taken part in the conspiracy to fix the series and that he had played his best (he had been present when it was discussed though).
The trial lasted almost five weeks, and a parade of witnesses testified for the players including many of the untainted White Sox and their manager Kid Gleason, who obviously felt they needed these players back on the field. The defense was made by a team of attorneys who none of the Black Sox could have afforded, but Charles Comisky could, a point that was not lost on some observers.
On August 2, after two hours and 47 minutes of deliberation, the jury came back with “not guilty” verdicts. Judge Hugo Friend concurred, declaring it a just verdict and in legalese admitting that the case of “intent to defraud the public” was near impossible to prove.
The players were mobbed and the gallery cheered and was astounded. Headlines trumpeted the player’s acquittal on charges, and sports fans and writers all over the country roared in disbelief and anger at the verdict. The outcry was vehement and, outside of Chicago, almost entirely negative. Perhaps this played a role in the Commissioner’s decision, but based on his reputation, I believe his statement given the next day (August 3):
"Regardless of the verdicts of juries, no player who entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player who sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed and does not promptly tell the club about it will ever play professional baseball. Of course, I don't know that any of these men will apply for reinstatement, but if they do, the above are at least a few of the rules that will be enforced."
With that, the career of all eight of the Black Sox players came to a halt. Not just in the Majors, but everywhere they went to play the stigma of the scandal and the wrath of Judge Landis followed. Some of them tried to play in small towns, in independent leagues, and even under assumed names, but they were always discovered and shoved out. Nowhere in organized baseball could these men find work.
Landis was vehement; there would be no reinstatement. "They can’t come back. The doors are closed to them for good. The most scandalous chapter in the game’s history is closed for good on the Black Sox participants.”
Eighty odd years later there are many who still feel that justice was not truly done. Many feel that Weaver and Jackson, who played perfectly and tried to avoid the conspiracy, were given a raw deal. So much so that in the South Carolina House of Representatives has sponsored several resolutions urging the Commissioners of baseball to reconsider the ban and reinstate Jackson.
Even among fans from other places, there is a feeling that these players were men taken advantage of and made dupes and patsies by more powerful, better educated men who escaped unscathed. Charles Comisky is among those men, and many fans feel that his induction to Cooperstown was an affront to justice.
The Black Sox, while banned from induction to Cooperstown are represented, by photos, and a pair of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s’ actual game shoes.
*** Notes for this piece came from a variety of sources including newspapers, web sites, and books including Harvey Frommer’s Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball , as well as Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out (soon to be reviewed here At Home Plate). For more information I would strongly suggest some reading on the subject.