Monday, May 16, 2016

The Black Sox, Part IV: Follow the Money



Unless you are an expert in baseball history, you probably owe all of your knowledge about the Black Sox scandal to a book called, "Eight Men Out," or perhaps to the homonymous movie featuring John Cusack (as Buck Weaver), Charlie Sheen (Happy Felsch), David Strathairn (Eddie Cicotte), Michael Rooker (Chick Gandil), Christopher Lloyd (Sleepy Bill Burns), Michael Lerner (Arnold Rothstein), Kevin Tighe (Sport Sullivan) and other less familiar names.

If so, that is regrettable, because almost everything you think you know is wrong.

"Eight Men Out" (hereinafter called 8MO) has often been described as journalism, and has usually been considered a work of non-fiction. It is neither. It would be correctly defined as an historical novel, because it has the following characteristics in common with that genre:

  • 8MO interweaves genuine historical figures with fictional characters. Author Eliot Asinof has admitted that he fabricated a character called Harry F., a hit man who was hired to threaten pitcher Lefty Williams when the Sox seemed on the verge of tying the series at four games apiece. Asinof claimed that he created this character to see which authors were stealing his account without attribution. "Harry" is not only fictional, but is not based on any historical character, and his actions are not based on based on any historical circumstances. In fact, Lefty Williams testified that he told Joe Jackson on the way to the ballpark that day, "I am going to pitch to win this game if I can possibly win it."

    Asinof never revealed the identity of a second fictional character, but there is a minor character named Alfred Bauer, allegedly the head usher at Comiskey Park, who does not seem to have any basis in reality. Unlike the character Harry F., whose identity and exploits have been repeated by many later authors who assumed Asinof's account to be factual, the Bauer character does not seem to have been considered significant enough to enter the Black Sox canon.

  • 8MO uses imagined interior monologues and combines historically established lines with fabricated dialogue.

  • 8MO's central value is a good story with clear themes, not a meticulous recounting of facts. There are no reference notes, foot-, end- or other.

  • 8MO does not consider possible alternatives to its basic narrative, as any good historian or journalist would do. It establishes a consistent point of view and allows for only a single interpretation of the conflicting and complicated evidence in the Black Sox case.

As a historical novel, 8MO is brilliant. It tells a cohesive, tidy story with a beginning, middle and end, filled with clearly defined characters and motivations. The tale skillfully weaves humor, drama and poignancy. The reader is led into an underlying sympathy for the underdogs (Jackson and Weaver, and to some extent Cicotte, Felsch and Williams) whose lives and livelihoods were trampled under the jackboots of larger-than-life Bond villains in Comiskey, Rothstein and Gandil.

But it's important to establish and understand that it is only a historical novel. Among the important figures in the scandal, Asinof was able to talk only to one gambler, Abe Attell, and one ballplayer, Happy Felsch. (Those links lead to Asinof's summaries of the interviews in another book, "Bleeding Between the Lines.")

Among the ballplayers, Gandil, Risberg and Cicotte refused to talk to Asinof, and the other Black Sox had passed away before Asinof could reach them. Handsome, broad-shouldered Happy Felsch (left) seemed completely ingenuous, a co-operative and truthful contributor, but he had been just an overgrown kid who went along for the ride, not a conniving insider, so he knew almost nothing about how the scheme first developed. Asinof had to recreate the genesis of the plot using only court testimony as his source material, and he was unable to find the appropriate transcripts, so he had to rely on newspaper accounts which were not completely reliable, especially in summarizing secret grand jury testimony.

As for Attell (right), he had been a great prizefighter, but was not a man of dependable character. He told so many different stories through the years that all of his accounts must be called into question. More important still, Attell only knew of his portion of the scheme, which was basically based on a bluff, and which contributed only $10,000 to the players' pay-offs.

Most of the money which changed hands in the scandal went from the gambler Sport Sullivan to the first baseman Chick Gandil for redistribution. Gandil refused to talk to Asinof. Sullivan had been dead more than a decade when Asinof's research began. The other important gamblers, Rothstein, Burns and Evans, were also long dead by 1960, so Asinof had to fill in dozens of details from newspaper accounts and his own imagination.

There may have been many possible reasons for Asinof's factual errors, and it is not worthwhile to speculate about them, at least not in this context. It is more constructive simply to point them out and, to the limited extent possible, to correct them.

According to 8MO, the players were supposed to get $180,000: one hundred thousand from Attell and another eighty thousand from Sport Sullivan; but they ultimately received only eighty thousand from both sources (ten thousand from Attell, seventy thousand from Sullivan). The final individual tally, per Asinof: Gandil $35,000, Risberg $15,000, Cicotte $10,000, McMullin, Felsch, Williams and Jackson $5,000 each. The details of Asinof's accounting are detailed below, followed by comments in italics:
  • 8MO: The first ten thousand came from Sport Sullivan and ultimately went to Eddie Cicotte before the Series began, because he had insisted on that amount in advance.

    This payment has never been disputed, although nobody has established who handled the money before it appeared in Cicotte's room. It is assumed that the play should be scored Sullivan-to-Gandil-to-Cicotte, since Sullivan had to be the source of the money, and Gandil was not only the banker for the corrupted players, but also Sullivan's long-time pal.


  • 8MO: The next ten thousand came from Abe Attell after game two. The two go-betweens, Burns and Maharg, called on a suite occupied by Attell and several gamblers. There they saw an unimaginable amount of money throughout the room. Attell was supposed to hand over $40,000 to Burns at this time, but could only be persuaded to part with ten thousand, which was handed by Burns to Chick Gandil, who is presumed to have kept the money.

    According to the testimony of Bill Burns in the players' back-pay suits, Burns did dutifully pass the money on to the Black Sox players, but not just to Gandil. Seven of the alleged conspirators were in the room at the time, all except Joe Jackson. Risberg and McMullin counted it, then Gandil recounted it. It is not known how the money was distributed, but the presence of so many conspirators in the room makes it unlikely (but not impossible) that Gandil was able to retain all of it.


  • 8MO: The next twenty thousand came from Sullivan to Gandil during the Chicago homestand, either after game four or game five. It was split into four equal parts for Jackson, Williams, Felsch and Risberg. Williams was handed ten thousand, and gave half to Jackson, his roommate.

  • That account does reconcile with the grand jury testimony given by Jackson and Williams, as well as the newspaper interview given by Felsch. Those admissions account for $15,000. As for the remaining five thousand, it is pure speculation that it existed at all, or that it went to Risberg, although neither is an illogical assumption, especially given Risberg's insider status.


  • 8MO: The final $40,000 was presented by Sullivan and Evans to Gandil, McMullin and Risberg at the conclusion of the Series. Risberg got $10,000, McMullin $5,000, Gandil $25,000.

    This payment seems to be a fictional embellishment by Asinof. There is no evidence to support it.

Here is Asinof's delineation of that final $40,000 payment (8MO, p. 125):
"He (Sport Sullivan) met with Brown (Nat Evans) in the lobby of the Congress Hotel. Together they removed the $40,000 Evans had placed in the safe before the Series. Sullivan, as planned, would deliver the sum to Gandil at the Warner Hotel.

When Sullivan arrived at Gandil's room, Risberg and McMullin were waiting for him. Gandil had been right to suspect that the Swede was not going to settle for that earlier payment of $5,000. It could be said that Risberg had good reason: he had made a major contribution to the White Sox defeat. He had barely hit his weight (170) and was no great shakes in the field. He smiled as he saw the forty fresh $1,000 bills that Sullivan withdrew from his coat pocket. The Swede walked away with $15,000: $10,000 for himself and $5,000 for his friend, utility infielder Fred McMullin, who had not yet received a dime.

Gandil watched them all go and sat alone with the balance of the cash. He had collected $70,000 from Sullivan and $10,000 from Attell. Of this he had distributed $45,000, leaving a tidy $35,000 for himself."

There are multiple problems with that account:

First, there are only five men who could have testified to what happened that day. None of them ever talked to Asinof, and none of them ever told such a story elsewhere. Asinof started researching the book in 1960. Nat Evans died in 1935, and never discussed his role in the scandal with any journalists or authorities. Sport Sullivan lived until 1949, but kept mum about his role in the 1919 World Series fix, although he outlived all the pertinent statutes of limitations. Fred McMullin and Swede Risberg never discussed their roles in the fix with anyone. Chick Gandil refused to talk to Asinof, but did tell his side of the story in 1956. Unfortunately his self-serving version of events was riddled with holes, including a claim that he received no money at all, let alone the massive payday described above.

Second, the account is internally inconsistent. McMullin was present in the room when the meeting began, but Risberg ended up walking out with some money for himself and some for McMullin. If McMullin was there, why didn't he take his own money?

Third, the account is inconsistent with the rest of the book. In earlier chapters, Asinof accounts for $60,000 (actually $59,000) of the original $80,000 carried by Sullivan and Evans from New York. Therefore, there should have been only $20,000 left in the hotel safe, not $40,000. If the transaction occurred, the correct amount was $20,000, but it may not have occurred at all.

Fourth, Risberg did not "barely hit his weight" unless he was actually a 4th grader. He batted .080 in the Series. Asinof seems to have seen no need to look up the statistics of a World Series he was researching.

Fifth, it strains credulity to posit that Gandil made $35,000 on the Series. That represented a vast amount of purchasing power in 1919. Since Gandil also got the loser's share of the Series money, some $3,254, he would have walked away from the club with $38,254 that autumn, by Asinof's reckoning. According to the inflation calculator, that would be the equivalent of $530,000 in 2015. In an era when the average worker made $25 per week, Gandil would have been a rich man if Asinof's account were credible, but there was no evidence then, or at any later period in his life, that he actually possessed that kind of money. Club owner Charles Comiskey had Gandil investigated by detectives. The only unusual purchases he made after the Series were a house worth approximately $6,500 and a new car that cost about $2,000. In 8MO, Asinof incorrectly reported that the detectives discovered that Gandil had purchased “a sizeable quantity of diamonds.” The detectives actually made no such report, nor anything like it. Since Gandil received $3,254 from his World Series share and took out a mortgage of $3,300 on the house, only about two thousand dollars remain unaccounted for and were presumably acquired from his share the World Series pay-offs. For the remainder of his life, Gandil lived modestly and within his means as a blue collar laborer. In fact, as early as 1922 Gandil was said to be "broke and working as a house painter, writing pitiful appeals for aid to his old friends in Chicago."


We will probably never know precisely how the money was actually distributed, but the evidence points to the following:

  • In his grand jury testimony, Cicotte admitted to having received $10,000 before the first game of the Series.

  • In their grand jury testimony, Jackson and Williams admitted to having taken $5,000. Felsch admitted to a newspaper reporter that he received $5,000. All three of these payments were received during the Chicago homestand, after game four or five.

  • According to Comiskey's detectives, the family of Risberg's mistress believed that he had received $10,000. This belief does not seem to have come from a direct admission by Risberg, so it can't be considered authoritative, but there is nothing to contradict it.

  • Joe Jackson testified to the grand jury that he had heard McMullin got $5,000. This is another number which can't be considered reliable, but is the only known mention of McMullin's share.

  • Buck Weaver has never been accused of taking any money.

Nobody knows exactly how much was paid by the gamblers to the players, but the following outlines the likely possibilities:

  • Before game one: $10,000 from Sport Sullivan.

  • After game two: $10,000 from Attell through Bill Burns.

  • During the Chicago homestand: $20,000 from Sport Sullivan.

  • After the series: either nothing, or $20,000 from Sport Sullivan.

We can therefore make some guesses at the payday Gandil might have earned as the instigator of the plot, direct contact to the gamblers, and re-distributor of the players' shares.

Scenario one, assuming the final $20,000 was paid to the players:

If the total amount paid to the players was $60,000 and the total amount paid to the other Black Sox was $40,000, as outlined above, then Gandil would have kept $20,000 for himself. While that amount seems more likely than the $35,000 posited in 8MO, it still means that Gandil left the White Sox with $23,254 including his World Series share. That is equivalent to $322,000 in today's dollars (based on 2015). If Gandil really had that much money, he kept it well hidden through the years.

In this scenario, Risberg and McMullin also did a brilliant job of concealing their ill-gotten booty. Counting their World Series shares, Risberg would have had $13,254 (about $184,000 in 2015 dollars) and McMullin $8,254 (some $114,000 in 2015 dollars) at the end of 1919, yet both continued to live simply, with no conspicuous consumption in evidence during their lives. If they truly received that much money, they never really got much enjoyment from it.


Scenario two, assuming the final $20,000 was not paid to the players:

If the final $20,000 was never paid, then there was only $40,000 to go around. Since Cicotte got his $10,000 upfront and Weaver got nothing, the other six most likely got $5,000 each, as Abe Attell told sportswriter Joe Williams in 1934:




I prefer scenario two, but not because Abe Attell supported it. Over the course of more than 40 years, he retold the story many times, and the tale was different every time he related it, depending on whether he was telling the truth, drunkenly pretending to be a big shot, or disingenuously posing as a victim. There is no easy way to tell honest Abe from crooked Abe or to separate his confessions from his posturing. Attell aside, there are a couple of reasons why that notion makes more sense than the other:

  1. Sport Sullivan had no reason to give the players their final pay-off when they had already lost the series. They had no recourse if he stiffed them. They couldn't go to the police, thus getting banned from baseball, confined to a jail cell, or both. They couldn't challenge Arnold Rothstein, which might have resulted in their confinement to a much smaller area than a jail cell, one about six feet below ground level.
  2. This scenario seems to reconcile more easily with how the players lived their lives from that point forward


Those scenarios are merely conjectural. Nearly a full century has passed since the Black Sox threw that Series and the whispers have silenced. The money trail is overgrown, and we know of no more evidence that can clear it. All we know for sure, perhaps all we will ever know, is that four players admitted to having received a total of $25,000 (Cicotte $10,000, Jackson $5,000, Felsch $5,000, Williams $5,000), that there was at least $10,000 more to spread around, and that poor ol' Buck Weaver has never been accused of taking a red cent. What the other three players received will probably remain an eternal mystery, since they have long since finished strutting and fretting their hour on the stage. Gandil, Risberg and McMullin were the guiltiest of the guilty, the coldest of the cold, the hard guys who never broke, but they can neither stonewall nor betray us any longer, for they have moved on - to a place beyond guilt, where a soft, warm breeze is always blowing out toward center, carrying their secrets with it.



Next, in Part V: Charles Comiskey, team owner, the Old Roman.



Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Black Sox, Part V: Commy



"Whatever his stature in professional baseball, however many his notable contributions to its turbulent history, to his employees he was a cheap stingy tyrant."
(Eliot Asinof writing about Charles Comiskey in Eight Men Out)


In addition to the inevitable constraints imposed by his lack of access to primary sources, as discussed in part four of this series, Eliot Asinof was also given a bum steer about how to approach his work thematically. In assembling 8MO, Asinof was greatly influenced by the work of two great Chicago-based writers who had been boys when the 1919 series was thrown. Nelson Algren and James T. Farrell were highly talented authors who had each penned short pieces about the Black Sox.

Algren was ten during the 1919 series and his favorite ballplayer had been Swede Risberg, one of the banned Black Sox. His bittersweet prose-poem of remembrance, "The Swede Was a Hard Guy," was published in The Southern Review in 1942, and was quoted extensively by Asinof in 8MO. Algren, in return, later wrote an expanded version of "The Swede Was a Hard Guy" called "Ballet for Opening Day" in which he quoted Asinof and relied on Asinof's version of the scandal.

Farrell was fifteen when the Sox took their dive, and his idol had been Bucky Weaver, another banned player whom Farrell would later interview. Asinof had started 8MO when he heard that Farrell already had a Black Sox novel in the pipeline. Asinof was going to drop his project, but when the two men met, it was Farrell who first offered to step aside. As Asinof described their meeting in his book "Bleeding Between the Lines," Farrell said "My book ... it doesn't seem to work. There's no reason for you not to go ahead, Eliot. In fact, you're the one to do it." He then proceeded to share everything he knew about the Black Sox, starting immediately and continuing throughout Asinof's researches, until 8MO was published in 1963 with a rave review from Farrell. James T. Farrell continued to write extensively about the game of baseball in general, and created several versions of his Black Sox novel, but never published it. After his death, scholars used three of his drafts to create a novel "Dreaming Baseball", which is the closest we will ever have to the Black Sox fiction Farrell had been planning. Eliot Asinof wrote the foreword to that novel about a fictional rookie who found himself on the White Sox bench in 1919.

Asinof's admiration for and collaboration with these two literary giants brought great positives to 8MO, but at the same time, led him down a misleading thematic path which was buttressed by inaccurate information, and from which he could never escape. Both Farrell and Algren had been staunch leftists, and they tended to see the Black Sox scandal in terms of the injustice in the worker/management relationship, thus portraying the Sox as the exploited chattel of the miserly team owner, Charles Comiskey, whose slave wages and broken promises drove his players to turn against him. Asinof was himself a proud member of the old left who had once fronted for blacklisted authors, then had been blacklisted himself. The Algren/Farrell point of view was so consistent with his own weltanschauung that he incorporated it into his own thinking about the scandal, and allowed it to permeate every aspect of his narrative, even when it led him astray.

In Asinof's view Comiskey was a parsimonious oligarch who ruled like a tyrant and became an arrogant plutocrat at the expense of his players. The Black Sox criminal trial is probably the source of that perception, because that had certainly not been the common view until it was generated by the defense strategy in that trial. There was really no way for the defense team to claim that the defendants had not taken money to throw the Series. Four of the players had confessed at one time or another, and the others were implicated by two eyewitnesses. But a defense had to be made, so the plan centered on three things: first: the technical legal strategy that their clients never actually did anything illegal even if all the accusations were true (throwing ball games was not a crime per se, nor was accepting money to do so); second, the obfuscation strategy of saying that the players and penny-ante gamblers were being prosecuted while the masterminds went free; third, the sympathy strategy of turning the tables, thus placing Comiskey on trial and positioning the ballplayers to the jury as desperate victims held under the thumb of a tightwad roughly on a par with Jacob Marley. Most of the anti-Comiskey arguments crumble under scrutiny, but once such a perception is erected, it is difficult to dismantle.

What was Comiskey like?


One of eight children in a working class family in Chicago, Charles Comiskey left school at 16 to become a plumber's apprentice, but set aside as much time as possible to play amateur and semi-professional baseball. He began his professional career as a pitcher in the independent minors with a team in Elgin, Illinois (left, picturing Comiskey at age 18). After a very brief minor-league stint, and a conversion to first base, his talent landed him on the St. Louis Brown Stockings of the American Association, which was then considered a major league. Within a year, the leadership skill of the 23-year-old Comiskey led to his nomination as manager of the team, an almost unheard of honor in light of his youth and inexperience. He continued in the role of player/manager throughout his career, with that team and others.

His playing career spanned thirteen seasons, mostly playing first base, where he is said to have innovated the practice of playing off the bag. His best season at the plate was 1887, when he batted .335 with more than 100 RBI. As a manager he accumulated a lifetime total of 840 wins with a .608 winning percentage. That is the second-highest winning percentage among managers with 700 or more wins. At one point he achieved four consecutive pennants as a player/manager, as well as an 1886 World Series triumph over the vaunted White Stockings in their prime, a team which had played .726 ball during the regular season! The four-time champs are pictured below, Comiskey in the center. (Click to study a very large version.)



He set aside enough money during his playing career to purchase a minor league franchise in 1894, the Western League team in Sioux City, which he soon moved to St. Paul and renamed the Saints. The Western League prospered so well that they were able to challenge the established National League. In 1900 Comiskey moved his team to the south side of Chicago as the White Stockings of the renamed American League, and in 1901 the league declared itself "major," justifying that claim by acquiring some of the NL's best players, including Cy Young and Nap Lajoie. Comiskey is pictured below with the very first major league White Sox team. Next to him (to your right) is another future team owner, his manager and star pitcher, Clark Griffith.



Back in 1886, as a player/manager, Comiskey had led the team to a World Series victory over the greatest team of that era, the mighty White Stockings. He managed a parallel feat as an owner when his 1906 squad (below) defeated the winningest team of the twentieth century, the formidable 1906 Chicago Cubs of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance fame. The Cubs had finished the regular season at 116-36. They fielded the best player in the National League at six of the eight non-pitching positions, and a Hall of Famer (Joe Tinker) at one of the other two spots. Their pitching staff had a team ERA of 1.76. They played .800 ball on the road. Many of their records still stand. They were considered all but invincible, yet they suffered the ignominy of a loss to Comiskey's Hitless Wonders, another team in the very same city. Most incredibly, the White Sox won all three games in the Cubs' home park.



"Commy" was as good in the owner role as he had been on the field. He built one of the first great ballparks; he fielded strong teams; he held ticket prices below those of the comparable franchises with modern parks (a bleacher seat cost 25 cents at Comiskey Field in the WW1 era, compared to 50 cents at the Polo Grounds).

Comiskey's biographer, Tim Hornbaker, wrote in 2014:
"A century ago, in his heyday as an owner, Comiskey was one of the most beloved men in baseball. He possessed an uncanny ability to connect to people and had turned his White Sox ballpark into a warm and welcoming venue that was the envy of his peers. Brimming with a genuine affection for his clientele, he always wore a smile and constantly mingled amidst the people before and after games."
And the press loved him as much as the fans did.

In short, Comiskey defied the Peter Principle. He had worked all the way up the baseball ladder without ever reaching a level of incompetence. He had once been just another blue-collar kid starting his rookie season with no special advantages, and eventually became a successful, beloved owner in his hometown, and he had done so without connections or family money, but on the strength of his own intelligence, preparation, thrift, ambition, and charm.

That monster!



Did Comiskey underpay his players?

In a word, no, with one possible exception.

8MO is filled with factual inaccuracies about the salaries of the 1919 White Sox. It is possible to offer some defense of Asinof's poor reporting by acknowledging that the Major League Transaction Cards, which are now available in the Cooperstown library for every team since 1912, were not available to Asinof in the early 60s. It is impossible, however, to defend the fact that he presented wildly inaccurate guesses as if they were facts, and used those errant numbers to support his central thesis about Comiskey being a skinflint who drove his players to mutiny. Here's a blatant example: Asinof reported that Cincinnati's ace pitcher, Dutch Reuther, was making twice as much as the White Sox' Eddie Cicotte. In reality, Cicotte made more than three times as much as Reuther that year ($8,000 vs $2,340)! 8MO also claims that Comiskey's ballplayers "were the best and were paid as poorly as the worst." This is wildly inaccurate. Although the team had finished sixth in the league the previous year, the White Sox payroll on opening day in 1919, excluding performance bonuses, was about $88 thousand in 1919, third highest in the American League, and only slightly below the Red Sox ($93K) and Yankees ($91K). They had five of the sixteen highest salaries in the league in 1919, and seven of the top seventeen in 1920. The team's 1919 payroll was far higher than that of their World Series opponents, the Cincinnati Reds ($76K), whose cumulative payroll amounted to only $800 per win in 1919, compared to $1005 for the White Sox.

The position-by-position salary chart (from the SABR Black Sox Research Committee Newsletter, December, 2015, pp. 13-15) shows that very few of the Sox had a cause to gripe:



Pitchers: Lefty Williams (#2 above), a banned player, may have been a bit undercompensated relative to his performance that year. His salary ranked only 23rd among the league's pitchers despite the fact that he won 23 games. His salary, however, was determined at the beginning of the year. It is reasonable to argue that his compensation was commensurate with the results from the previous year, when he won only six games. After his fine 1919 season, the team basically doubled his salary. Eddie Cicotte (#1 above), one of the ringleaders of the fix, had no cause to complain. His total compensation was the second highest among the league's pitchers, behind only Hall of Famer Walter Johnson.

First base: Chick Gandil (#4 above), another of the ringleaders, earned only the fifth highest salary among the American Leaguers at his position, but the four men above him were clearly better players, as were two of the other men - George Burns (lifetime .307 over 16 years) and Harry Heilmann (spectacular lifetime .342 and in the Hall of Fame). Gandil was the worst regular first baseman in the league, although he outperformed Cleveland's entry because they didn't have a regular at that position. Even at that, the Cleveland player with the most time at that position, journeyman Doc Johnston, still had a higher OPS+ than Gandil. Gandil was the only first baseman in the league with an adjusted OPS+ below 100, and had the lowest WAR among the starters except for Johnston, who had only 331 at bats.

Name, Club Salary OPS+ WAR
George Sisler, Browns 7200 156 6.1
Stuffy McInnis, Red Sox 5000 101 1.9
Wally Pipp, Yankees 5000 104 2.6
Joe Judge, Senators 3675 124 3.4
Chick Gandil, White Sox 3500 97 1.5
Harry Heilmann, Tigers 3500 137 3.8
George Burns, As 2625 119 2.0
Doc Johnston, Indians 2500 103 1.0


Based on the 1919 statistics shown above, Gandil could not reasonably contend that he was underpaid, but then again he was a malcontent not widely known for his inclination to engage in reasonable dialogue.

Second base: Future Hall of Famer Eddie Collins (Clean Sox) was paid more than the next two second basemen added together, and deserved it.

Third base: Buck Weaver (banned player; #3 above) had the second highest salary among American League third sackers. The only man making more was superstar Home Run Baker, a future Hall of Famer.

Shortstop: Swede Risberg (banned player; #5 above) had the sixth highest salary out of the eight starting shortstops. That was not out of line. He had the lowest range factor in that group by a wide margin, was also a weak hitter, had a below average fielding percentage, and was only 24 years old.

Catcher: Future Hall of Famer Ray Schalk (Clean Sox) was the highest-paid catcher in the league, and deserved it.

Left field: Joe Jackson (banned player; #6 above) had the second highest salary among the left fielders, which was exactly where he belonged, especially since he was coming off two bad seasons. You might be wondering who could possibly be worth more than Shoeless Joe? It was a young man named George Herman Ruth who, I've heard, was not a bad player in his own right.

Right field: Nemo Leibold (Clean Sox) had an excellent season in 1919. He was a dependable player and a solid singles hitter with a .404 OBP, which was second on the team, behind only the redoubtable Shoeless Joe. Nemo ranked only sixth in the league in salary among right fielders. In fact, he was paid only $25 per year more than his understudy, Shano Collins, a part-timer who played in only 63 games. Leibold's low salary was based upon his previous career, which had been nowhere near the level he attained in 1919. In six prior seasons he had never previously achieved an OPS at the league average. In response to his fine 1919 season, the club doubled his salary the following year.

Center field: Happy Felsch (#7 above) is probably the only one of the banned players who had a legitimate claim to be undercompensated. He received the fifth highest salary at his position, but was probably the third best player, behind only Hall of Famers Cobb and Speaker, and he had already posted two excellent seasons to support that claim. Relative to his own teammates, he was approximately as good a player as Schalk or Weaver but was getting paid about half as much. Felsch signed his 1919 contract in January of that year for $3,751.12 - for a whopping raise of $1.12 over his previous salary. Felsch was a simple, easy-going man with a 5th grade education and no skills in negotiation, so it may be reasonable to argue that the team took advantage of him.

Eliot Asinof and his two socialist muses, Farrell and Algren, were correct in believing that all professional ballplayers in those days were exploited by management, thanks to the "reserve clause," which bound a player in perpetuity to any team he signed with, even after his contract had expired, unless the team decided to sell or trade him to another team. This arrangement was completely one-sided in favor of the club owners, and was obviously in restraint of a player's fundamental right to sell his services for what they were worth in a competitive market. The baseball reserve system was not many steps removed from slavery. When a team made a final salary offer, the player could take it or find another line of work for that year. He could not sell his services to another team in organized baseball, whether major league or minor. As a result, virtually all ballplayers before free agency were underpaid relative to their value in an open market.

The 1919 White Sox were underpaid in that sense, but only in that sense. They were paid better than most of the other professional teams, so their salaries cannot be used to justify their unique level of corruption or to characterize team owner Charles Comiskey as a miserable tightwad. He was paying them at or near the top of the market, albeit a market both closed and rigged.

As unfair as the system was, it is worth noting that the ballplayers made far more money than common laborers, which most of them would have been without their baseball skills. The average annual salary in the United States in 1919 was $1,331 for almost 2,400 hours of work, averaging 56 cents per hour. Even bench-warmer Fred McMullin (banned player #8 in the illustration) made $2,750 in 1919 for working seven months in the year. On a monthly basis, that is almost four times as much as he would have earned in a blue collar job. It is certainly true that the ballplayers of that day were not compensated like the ones in the era of free agency, but they still led better lives than they would have lived outside of baseball.

If Asinof was wrong about the White Sox players being among the worst-compensated in baseball, was he at least correct about them being the best team? Well, they did win the pennant, and they seemed to be the best in the league in 1919. The golden haze of nostalgia has surrounded them with a special aura that seems to establish them as one of the greatest teams ever assembled, but they didn't impress people that way before the season began. The Syracuse Herald reported the 1919 pre-season odds in the April 18th edition, and the consensus of bookmakers was that the Red Sox would win the pennant. The White Sox were picked to finish fourth. Six days later, The Sporting News published the sportswriters' predictions, and their consensus ranked the teams in the same order as the bookmakers. The White Sox salaries at the beginning of the year were completely consistent with the general contemporaneous evaluation of the club.




Did Comiskey cheat Eddie Cicotte out of a deserved bonus?




"29 is not 30, Eddie."

There is a tightly scripted sequence of movie scenes that drives the plot of "Eight Men Out" in a perfectly logical way. Gandil asks Cicotte to participate in the fix, but Cicotte declines. Cicotte goes into Comiskey's office to ask for the $10,000 bonus Comiskey promised him. Comiskey weasels out of it. The wheels seem to turn in Cicotte's angry brain. He wants that ten grand. Cicotte storms back to Gandil and says he'll throw the Series if he gets ten grand in advance.

Great filmmaking.

In a fictional film based on a novel.

None of that, or anything similar, ever happened. In fact, it was about as far from the truth as anything could be.

The public legend of the Cicotte bonus seems to have originated in a gambling newspaper called Collyer's Eye in the December 13, 1919 edition. The story was alleged to have originated from Cicotte himself, as told to a sportswriter named Harry Bradford. It was obvious at the time that the article could not have been accurate, and probably was written by someone with no grasp of baseball, because the author claimed that Cicotte became truculent after winning his 30th game and getting the brush-off on the bonus he was promised for achieving that milestone. The major flaw of that contention is that Cicotte never won his 30th game at all, as anyone who followed baseball would have known two months after the season ended.

Asinof was never one to let some factual inconsistencies get in the way of a useful myth, so he cobbled the story to fit the facts. Surely Cicotte would have won 30 if Comiskey had not ordered him benched to avoid paying the bonus.

In the book version of 8MO, Asinof claims that Comiskey's treachery happened in 1917. That turned out to be not only a false claim, but a ludicrous one, given that Cicotte had never won more than 18 games in any previous season, so an incentive clause for winning 30 would have seemed laughable, about like promising Gus Triandos a bonus for stealing 50 bases. The part about Comiskey ordering Cicotte to be benched made the story even more surreal, since it was just about the opposite of what really happened. On August 22nd of that year, the White Sox clung to a narrow two-game lead over the Red Sox, whereupon they turned to Cicotte, their ace, to take the mound every time he could pitch without pain. He had only 18 wins at that point, but pitched in 11 of the team's final 33 games and got the decision in every one of those games, winning ten of them to finish the season with 28 victories. There were some periods when he got no rest at all. He pitched a complete game victory on September 2nd, then came right back the next day and pitched six more innings for another win. Five other times he took the mound after only one or two days of rest. Altogether he pitched 84 innings in little more than a month. It is just about inconceivable that he could have pitched any more, and he most certainly was never benched, with or without Comiskey's orders.

Asinof must have realized that he had made an error with this yarn, because the movie version of the story moved the incident to 1919. The situation was at least plausible in that season because Cicotte's 28-win season in 1917, and especially his ten wins in 33 scheduled games, had established that he was absolutely capable of winning 30. Such a bonus theoretically could have existed, but it did not. Although there was no ten thousand dollar bonus, Cicotte did have a smaller bonus built into his 1919 salary structure. What's more, he earned it, and it was paid! Yet again the truth was nearly the opposite of Asinof's claim, as baseball researcher and salary specialist Bob Hoie wrote in his foreward to "Turning the Black Sox White":
"After winning 28 in 1917, Cicotte was given a contract with a base salary of $5,000, a $2,000 signing bonus and an additional agreement that he would receive a $3,000 bonus if he had another season similar to 1917. In 1919 ... the $3,000 bonus was carried over so by the start of the eastern road trip he had 28 wins, thus assuring that he would get the bonus."
He finished the 1919 season with a 29-7 record and an ERA again below two, whereupon the White Sox paid his bonus, presumably with a grateful smile. As for the Comiskey-ordered benching, yet again it was the opposite of what really happened. Cicotte won his 28th game on September 5th, assuring that he would make his bonus, then took sick and missed about two weeks. Since Cicotte had earned his bonus and the team had a comfortable lead at the time, it was not considered a significant matter. He returned on September 19th to win his 29th game, and the pennant was all but assured, so it was Cicotte himself who then asked for some time off to spend with his family, obviously indicating that the 30th win did not seem critical to him. That request was granted. He also got two more starts after he returned, so it's clear that nobody on the club was trying to keep him from reaching 30.

So I think the famous line should have been:

"29 is more than 28, Eddie, so here's your check. Nice job!"

That shows you why I will never be asked to write a movie.



Did Comiskey pay his players a lower per diem meal allowance than other owners?

Yes, he did for a while.

To contend so is not an outright error, but is highly misleading. The standard per diem meal allowance had been three dollars per day in 1918, and this rate was applied just about universally throughout the majors. When World War One ended, the fans were expected to return, and some teams raised the rate to four dollars in anticipation of post-war prosperity. They did so on their own, not in concert or as the result of an agreement. The White Sox began the 1919 season at the old rate. On May 18th they acquired journeyman pitcher Grover Lowdermilk from St. Louis to shore up an ailing pitching staff, and he reported that the lowly Browns had raised the per diem to four dollars. This precipitated a controversy in the invariably contentious White Sox clubhouse, which led to a change. By the end of the season, the White Sox meal allowance had been raised to four dollars per day to match the new de facto standard.



Was Comiskey getting ever richer off his starving players?

No.

Contrary to the defense team's contentions in the Black Sox trial, many of which linger in today's conventional wisdom, Comiskey was not accumulating vast wealth by riding the backs of his players. Court records from 1915 to 1917 show that the White Sox made an average annual profit of  $141,000 and Comiskey himself earned a salary of $10,000 per year, substantially less than his second baseman, Eddie Collins ($15,000). The team's annual profit was modest in comparison to the New York Giants, who cleared $250,000 per year from 1912-1917, despite lower attendance than the White Sox during that decade, according to the biography "John McGraw" by Charles Alexander.

Of course Comiskey was frugal. That's how he managed to save enough to buy a team on a ballplayer's salary. Given that aspect of his nature, he took some actions which made him seem penurious to his players. Some of their criticisms of him were misinterpretations, deliberate or otherwise, but Comiskey made mistakes as well, for he was human. It is true that later in his life, especially after the Black Sox scandal, his personality did start to evince some of the negative characteristics that color our current attitudes toward him. But to take all of that out of context in order to limn the Old Roman as a cantankerous, avaricious miser whose penny-pinching ways drove his players to dishonesty in 1919 is to do a great disservice to a man who, while not without flaws, on balance was a good man as well as a great one.




Next, in Part VI: Wrapping it Up



Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Black Sox, part III: The Big Bankroll



"He is the Napoleon of crime.
He is the organiser of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city ..."

Sherlock Holmes, referring to Moriarty, in "The Final Problem"


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, revealed to an acquaintance, Dr. Gray C. Briggs of St. Louis, that he had based the character of Professor Moriarty on a real criminal from the late 19th century named Adam Worth, but he could have found a suitable model in New York in the person of his own contemporary Arnold Rothstein. (Rothstein died in 1928, Conan Doyle in 1930.) Although Rothstein portrayed himself as a gentleman gambler, he was reputed to have his hands in many of the criminal enterprises in the United States. Some say that he was the one man most responsible for creating the modern structure of organized crime in America. He was a notorious high-stakes loan shark, the "American Shylock." During Prohibition he was once the largest bootlegger in the country, but when the liquor field became too crowded, he became the kingpin of narcotics trafficking. Because he was connected to everyone on both sides of the law, he often mediated disputes between rival gangs, or between the gangs and the authorities, all the while taking a cut for his services. His own businesses met with little interference because he freely and generously spread the profits around. He distributed contributions to many politicians, witnesses, lawyers, judges, jurors and policemen, thus always ensuring that he could pull strings and leverage favors. He may sometimes have overpaid for what he wanted, but that didn't really concern him much because he loved being a big shot, and to that end was always playing the long game, waiting.

His own lawyer, William Fallon (aka "The Great Mouthpiece") said of him, "Rothstein is a man who dwells in doorways. A mouse standing in a doorway, waiting for his cheese." In Damon Runyon's Broadway stories, he is "The Brain." They also called him "A.R."; "The Fixer"; "The Man Uptown"; "Mr. Big" ...

But mostly they called him "The Big Bankroll" because he always carried a wad of large bills, leaving him unfailingly prepared to make a deal, grease a wheel, place a bet, or post bail for himself or an associate. He liked the power of cash and its ability to get immediate results. He also liked the fact that the feds couldn't easily follow its trail, because he didn't like leaving a public footprint. He rarely met directly or communicated directly about illegal matters, except when in the company of trusted associates. His underlings met with anyone not fully vetted. Rothstein himself usually avoided publicity and was rarely photographed. (The pictures here are among the few available.) His penchant for secrecy extended to his deathbed. Lying in a hospital bed after having been fatally wounded by a gunshot, Rothstein was asked by the police to name his assailant. His answer: "I won't talk about it. I'll take care of it myself." He never did. Neither did the law. Nobody was convicted of the murder.

Despite having his fingers in so many criminal pies, Rothstein, like Professor Moriarty, was never convicted of any crime. He managed to avoid prosecution by gaining a financial hold on the era's corrupt officials and outsmarting the honest ones. To make search warrants useless, he maintained his notes and financial records in an indecipherable code, meaningless to anyone but Rothstein himself. When legally forced to decrypt his books from time to time, he would simply offer whatever explanation was convenient to maintain his current alibi. He was always many moves ahead of his criminal rivals and the authorities who pursued him. Essentially he was playing three-dimensional chess when his opponents and pursuers were still trying to master tiddlywinks. Rothstein actually enjoyed testifying in court from time to time because it gave him an opportunity to browbeat and humiliate the lawyers who cross-examined him.

One illustration will suffice. The following anecdote comes from Leo Katcher's biography of Rothstein, "The Big Bankroll," page 200:

In 1923 he was being cross-examined by a sharp lawyer named William Chadbourne in a civil case involving a fraudulent bankruptcy. A company called E.M. Fuller had declared that it had no assets to transfer to its creditors, but an investigation revealed that Mr. Fuller, before attempting to disappear, had written company checks to Arnold Rothstein in the amount of $353,000. Chadbourne, acting as attorney for the investors and other creditors, wanted to proved that money was not a legitimate business expense, but a personal gambling debt, possibly caused by a fixed World Series. The court allowed Chadbourne a lot of latitude to prove Rothstein was a gambler and a fixer, which led into a cross-examination about the 1919 World Series.

Rothstein initially protested that he would not discuss the Series, which was irrelevant to the matter at hand. Chadbourne explained to the court, "I am seeking to prove that the witness had full knowledge that the Series was fixed and that, with this knowledge, he won various wagers, including some from Mr. Fuller." Rothstein protested vigorously, repeatedly refusing to answer, offering various reasons why he should not have to go over this same ground after having been cleared many times of his involvement with that Series. Rothstein's resistance seemed to prove that the line of questioning would be productive, so Chadbourne felt he was on the right track and kept up the pressure. Little did Chadbourne realize that he was falling for the ol' Br'er Rabbit trick. In asking the judge not to let Chadbourne throw him into that briar patch, Rothstein had actually baited a brilliant trip. Chadbourne took the bait, along with the hook, the line and the sinker.

Chadbourne: "Did you bet with Fuller on the 1919 Series?"

Rothstein: "I made a lot of bets. It's a long time. I'm not sure I remember."

Chadbourne: "Check your records."

Rothstein: (Consulting his ledgers, then answering resignedly) "Yes"

Chadbourne: "How much did you bet with Fuller?"

Rothstein: "The bet was $25,000."

Chadbourne: (Triumphantly) "Then you won $25,000 from Fuller on a Series that was fixed?"

Rothstein: (Smugly) "I didn't win. I lost."


Perhaps Quentin Tarantino might have created a movie scene like that, but even Tarantino's fertile imagination might not have foreseen what transpired next. Rothstein just happened to have on him the cancelled check indicating what he had paid to Fuller to settle this wager. My, what a serendipitous coincidence! He handed it to a nonplussed Chadbourne, and the court had no choice but to tag it and admit it as evidence.

Chadbourne was a skilled attorney, but he was not Sherlock Holmes, and he was dealing with, to paraphrase Holmes, the organizer of half that was evil and of nearly all that was undetected in the teens and roaring twenties. Rothstein brought this same level of conniving brilliance and strategic forethought to all his endeavors, including his involvement in the 1919 World Series.


***



On September 18, 1919, in the lobby of New York's beaux-arts Ansonia Hotel (right), two members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team, pitcher Eddie Cicotte and first baseman Chick Gandil, had arranged to meet with a former pitcher named Sleepy Bill Burns. The White Sox had just completed a series with the New York Yankees, and had a six and a half game lead over their nearest rivals. Since there were only eight games left to play, they were virtually certain to be in the World Series. Two days earlier, in the same hotel, Cicotte had said to Burns, "The Sox will win the pennant, and I have something good for you."

Cicotte had gone into no details about the nature of that prospective boon, but Burns fancied himself a wheeler-dealer, and he knew that Cicotte was aware of that, so Sleepy Bill was drooling at what might be dangled before him when he was summoned to a second meeting. Gandil wasted no time, but came right to the point: "If I could get $100,000, I would throw the World Series." Burns said he would look into it.

Burns (left) and his friend Billy Maharg, a jovial former prizefighter, were interested, but couldn't find a source of that much cash (more than a million dollars in today's money) from their usual contacts in the gambling demi-monde. Several people pointed them to Arnold Rothstein. The two would-be fixers found Rothstein at a race track in the New York area, but could not speak to him directly. Through an intermediary, Rothstein found out what they wanted and arranged to meet them very publicly, in the grill room of New York's Hotel Astor on September 27th. By that time the White Sox had clinched the pennant and were looking forward to the World Series opener four days hence. Burns and Maharg made their pitch. Rothstein sized them up as two bohunks dumb enough to discuss fixing a World Series in front of their eating companions, including a famous private detective named Val O'Farrell. Rothstein loudly declined their offer, telling them it was both wrong and impossible, and making a noisy scene as he called Burns and Maharg "chiselers," "blackguards," and "skunks."

That sort of loud outburst was totally out of character for the measured, soft-spoken Rothstein, but he was starting his chess game with a feint. In front of a famous ex-cop and all the diners at the Astor, he had publicly established an alibi for something he had already decided to do: assure that the Series was fixed. He seems to have decided this long before all the pieces were in place, perhaps even before the players had consented to participate, perhaps even before the White Sox were established as the champs. Way back in August of 1919, a famous gambler named Mont Tennes had told Charles Weeghman, former owner and president of the Chicago Cubs, that Rothstein would fix the Series. The inside talk was that Rothstein was waiting for either the White Sox or the National League's New York Giants to win a pennant because both teams were said to be filled with corruptible players. To Rothstein, it didn't matter which. He didn't even really follow baseball that closely. He was willing to stand in the doorway, waiting for his cheese.

At the same time that Rothstein was establishing his own alibi at the Hotel Astor meeting, he was also setting up the patsies who conveniently fell in his lap - two men whose intentions had been publicly established at that meeting, and therefore could take the blame if the fix ever became public.

A third would soon appear.




The naive twosome split up, having abandoned their scheme for lack of wherewithal. Maharg returned to his home in Philadelphia, but Burns hung around New York for a while and ran into Abe Attell (above), a former world champion prizefighter who had become Arnold Rothstein's occasional companion and bodyguard. Burns brought Attell up to speed on his meeting with Rothstein. Attell, seeing an opportunity and acting on his own, said he wanted to follow up on the matter. He re-entered the plot claiming that Rothstein had changed his mind and would finance the scheme through Attell himself. Although Rothstein had actually said nothing of the kind to Attell, Burns had no way to know that, so he bought into the claim and wired Maharg to meet him in Cincinnati for the first game of the Fall Classic. Completely convinced by Attell's story, Burns went back to the players with the promise of $100,000 in payoffs from Rothstein.

Unbeknownst to Burns and Maharg, Chick Gandil had already arranged another, similar deal with his long-time friend Sport Sullivan (left), a noted Boston bookmaker, who was partnered up with a certain Nat Evans. That particular deal was the one actually backed by Rothstein, who saw in Sullivan and Evans two men he could trust (unlike Burns and Maharg). Sullivan had a good reputation as a man who stayed in the shadows and kept both his word and his counsel. Rothstein also saw in Sullivan a kindred spirit, a genius with calculations. Without even so much as a pencil, Sullivan could instantly compute combinations of odds and wager amounts that would assure him of a profit irrespective of the outcome of the events inspiring the bets. He had been a long-time fixture at Boston ballgames (1906, 1908), actually running his bookmaking operation from the stands until he was banned from the American League park in 1911. Evans was a long-trusted junior partner in several of Rothstein's operations, and they stayed in contact throughout the series. Sullivan and Evans were assigned to take $80,000 out west to pay for the fix, theoretically representing payoffs for the players at ten thousand per conspirator, but really to be used to accomplish whatever was necessary to make things happen, all the while keeping the deal quiet so the odds would not turn dramatically away from the favored Sox, who were 13-20 favorites at the end of the regular season on September 29th, just two days before the Series opener.

(More details on Sullivan and Evans can be found in the SABR Black Sox Committee newsletter, June, 2014, pages 9-17.)

They had not counted on Attell, however. When Sullivan and Evans started arranging their own action in Cincinnati, Attell, Burns and Maharg had already spilled too many of the beans, and the odds had dropped to even money. Attell later admitted that he had even gone so far as to tell some infamous heavy gamblers to avoid betting on the Sox. Rothstein, seeing the odds tumble in New York, must have been furious at Attell's bumbling interference, but a sure thing is sure at any odds, so A.R. got down some mammoth wagers on Cincinnati. Based on some hearsay and the admissions of the losing bettors, the general consensus was that Rothstein made at least $300,000 profit (article to the left) on the Series in the final accounting, but he was so crafty that he had sprinkled in some impressively large bets on the White Sox. He knew those bets were losing propositions, but he had them well covered by Cincinnati bets, and once again he was playing chess. Those losses were simply The Rothstein Gambit: he would lose large semi-public wagers on the Sox to disguise much larger private bets on the Reds which would guarantee him vast profits on a sure thing.

By the time Rothstein traveled to Chicago to testify before the Black Sox grand jury, he had credible witnesses whose testimony could prove that that Burns and Maharg originated the fix, then pitched it to Rothstein, only to have him vehemently, almost violently, reject their overtures in public. He had also created proof he could not possibly have believed the Sox were going to lose, because he had bet large sums on them. He publicly stated "Attell did the fixing," through "cheap gamblers" Burns and Maharg, and he accused Attell of using the Rothstein name to give the scheme some credibility. Rothstein then repeated that same assertion to the grand jury. Just in case all of that was not enough to clear him, he had somehow become so friendly with two of the grand jurors in an unfamiliar city that they would later enjoy his hospitality on numerous visits to New York.

Checkmate.



Disclaimer.

When I recounted the gamblers' side of the Black Sox story above, I left the realm of pure fact and tried to construct a single narrative from among many possible scenarios. Most of the gamblers involved in the World Series fix never testified, and never talked publicly of their involvement. Sleepy Bill Burns testified in court under oath, as did Billy Maharg, and Maharg also told his story to the papers, but they were small-timers and go-betweens who were used as pawns. Abe Attell never testified in court, but allegedly confessed in a tell-all piece for Cavalier Magazine, then backed down from the Cavalier story when confronted with his lies by Eliot Asinof, author of "Eight Men Out," as detailed in a later Asinof book, "Bleeding Between the Lines."

The other principals remained behind the scenes. Whenever Rothstein was forced to address the issue, he simply repeated the same lies he had told the grand jury. A.R. was wise to trust Nat Evans, who never told his side of the story at all, not in court nor to the press. Rothstein's trust in Sport Sullivan also seems to have been well placed, because Sullivan lived until 1949, long after the statutes of limitations would have expired on his involvement, yet he never uttered a word about his role either during or after the trial. All we know about the actions of Sullivan and Evans is what Abe Attell has related, and he can be considered unreliable for two reasons: (1) Rothstein allegedly sent Sullivan and Evans to make the deal and cut Attell out of the action, then told the press and the grand jury that Attell fixed the series, so Attell was (understandably) bitter; (2) Attell didn't really have much contact with Sullivan and Evans, so his version of their role is based in the best case on hearsay and conjecture; in the worst case, on outright lies. Attell's version contradicts the Burns/Maharg version, and what Rothstein told the grand jury was obviously completely different from Attell's story, because The Big Bankroll walked away unindicted.

We don't know, therefore, whether Sullivan and Evans were really carrying $80,000 of Rothstein's money, and if they were, we don't know precisely how much of that went to the players, or how much was ultimately received by each individual player. We know that Sullivan came up with the initial ten thousand to cover Eddie Cicotte's demand to be paid that amount in advance of his first start. We know that Attell handed ten thousand to Burns, who then took it to the players, but we don't know how that money was divided among the conspirators. We know by the players' own admissions that at some time during the Chicago homestand, either after game four or game five of the World Series, Joe Jackson, Lefty Williams and Happy Felsch received $5,000 apiece. That money did not come from Attell, so it must have come from Sullivan. Apart from that, nothing is certain. It is presumed those four players never received any additional money, and that Buck Weaver never received any at all. It is further presumed that Gandil, Risberg and McMullin did get some money, but nobody knows precisely when or how much. There has been a great deal of speculation about the money trail, but there is no hard evidence, and probably never will be because the trail is cold. The narrative above is my attempt to reconcile everyone's stories, based on my understanding of the case and those particular individuals. It should not be considered factual.




After the scandal.


For about another decade, Arnold Rothstein continued managing his criminal enterprises and buying public officials, as well as providing loans and bail money to innumerable shady characters, always extending his own influence in the process. Powerful men on both sides of the law remained connected or indebted to him. He also continued his high-stakes gambling exploits, not because he needed it as a source of income, as in his younger days, but because it was his passion and he could not live without it. The infamy he gained from the 1919 World Series didn't seem to scare him away from fixing major sports events. He and Abe Attell were reportedly involved in many boxing dives and fixes, and they may even have fixed a heavyweight championship fight.

  • In the first Dempsey-Tunney fight, Rothstein was at ringside, having wagered $125,000 on Tunney, the challenger, a 4-to-1 underdog. Tunney pulled off the upset. Rumors spread that Rothstein's agents had paid one of Dempsey's bodyguards to poison the champ before the fight.


  • In the Dempsey-Tunney rematch, the so-called "long count" fight, Rothstein and Attell allegedly offered Tunney $1 million to throw the fight, but were rebuffed. Tunney won a unanimous decision.


Arnold Rothstein died young (46), murdered by a firearm. That seemed to be the fate of many gangland figures in the 1920s, but oddly enough, Rothstein was not killed because of his involvement with organized crime and its violent denizens. It was actually his love for gambling that did him in. He was shot over poker I.O.U.s




Arnold Rothstein in pop culture.


After Rothstein's death, his wife Carolyn wrote a tell-all called "Now I'll Tell," which is long out of print. As soon as it was released, it was immediately adapted into an homonymous 1934 movie, but with the names changed and the events fictionalized. Spencer Tracy played an ersatz Rothstein named Murray Golden. Although the film took its name from Mrs. Rothstein's book, some felt it seemed much closer to a failed stage play called Room 349. The playwright (Mark Linder) thought so as well, and filed a plagiarism suit against the movie studio.


Mrs Rothstein's original written version was putatively non-fictional, but most reviewers and other Rothstein biographers call it a whitewash. Regarding the 1919 World Series, she denied any knowledge that Arnold took an active role in the fix, but she wrote:

"If it were charged that Arnold had used his inside knowledge that they were going to be bribed to make winning bets, I would believe it. As a matter of fact, I do believe it. I might go further than that and say I know it."


Leo Katcher's 1958 biography of Rothstein, "The Big Bankroll," was also turned into a film, this time using Rothstein's real name. Unfortunately, the 1961 film virtually ignored the World Series. David Janssen starred in the movie, which was circulated both as "The Big Bankroll" and "King of the Roaring 20s." (Tagline: "The hell-bent, jazz-crazed era and the man who ruled it all.")

One reviewer opined, "Rothstein is always quiet, well-spoken and beautifully dressed in very good suits. He looks and acts more like a corporate Vice-President of Finance than a stereotypical gangster." That may have been meant as a pan, but it's probably a reasonably accurate description of the real Rothstein as well.


In more recent times, Rothstein has appeared as a character on HBO's Boardwalk Empire (played by Michael Stuhlbarg), in the 1991 film Mobsters (played by Salieri himself, F. Murray Abraham), and of course in the classic baseball film about the Black Sox, Eight Men Out (acted by Michael Lerner). In my opinion, it was Stuhlbarg who completely nailed it.



A.R. was also said to be the inspiration for many fictional characters, the two most famous being Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls," and Meyer Wolfsheim in "The Great Gatsby." Although Wolfsheim is a lowbrow ethnic caricature, while the real Rothstein was quite refined, there is no doubt who the character is meant to represent. He is described as a Jewish "denizen of Broadway" and "a gambler. He’s the man who fixed the World’s Series back in 1919."



Next, in Part IV: "Follow the Money"