The Black Sox Scandal

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The Black Sox Scandal was a sports law case involving a Major League basketball game, where the eight members of the Chicago White Sox, were accused of causing an intentional loss in the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds (Blake 148). The match-fixing was facilitated by a gambling syndicate led by a famous gambler, Arnold Rothstein. Although the crime was committed in August 1919, the case was carried out in 1920 and 1921, finally coming to a close with the banning of the eight convicted players from Professional Baseball in August 1921 by the National Commission of Baseball. Although the eight players were publicly acquitted of all criminal charges, their Ban from professional baseball included a permanent banishment from post-career honors such as the Baseball Hall of Fame (Blake 149) This was a historical event that exposed the reality of match-fixing by gamblers and shaped the future of Baseball in America.

The scandal was sparked by Charles Comiskey’s unfriendly attitude and low wages to his players, although they were among the top performers in various leagues as well as winners of the 1917 World Series (Hackney 16). In existence was the Baseball’s Reserve Clause, a club owners’ agreement which prevented any player who did not fulfill his contract with the club or proper release could not be accepted in any other professional team. This left the players exposed to the booming gambling world, where fraudsters would pay well to guarantee them a win. The conspiracy was agreed upon between the gamblers and the players on 21st September 1919 at the Ansonia Hotel in New York City (Hackney 17). The results of the final match were unbelievable to other players, fans and analysts, thereby raising a rumor on the possibility of the game being fixed. Ex-players and managers compared notes on match analysis and the possibility of a fraud, which became the subject of every media station in the entire region.

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Rumors of corruption in baseball teams dragged on for months, touching players and many other clubs. In September 1920, a grand jury was formed to investigate the claims. Eddie Cicotte was the first one to confess to participating in the controversy (Blake 148). The trial began officially on 27th June 1921 in Chicago (Blake 147). However, evidence was stolen from the courthouse shortly before trial, only to be found later in Comiskey’s lawyer’s house. After a three hour deliberation, all the accused players were pronounced not guilty. However, the game lost its reputation and was termed as corrupt.

Dignity was lacking in professional baseball. To restore it, the owners of the clubs appointed federal judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis to head a reformed National commission on baseball (Edwards 119). He was given unlimited authority over the game as the first Commissioner of baseball. His first step after taking office was placing the eight players who had been accused in an “ineligible list,” such that they could no longer play professional baseball indefinitely (Edwards 119).

Furthermore, the new Commissioner went ahead to ensure that the convicted eight served as an example to the rest by ensuring that they never returned to Baseball (Hackney 17). Landis delivered his verdict shortly after, declaring that whoever sits in confidence with cooked ballplayers and gamblers would be expelled from the sport in the United States of America (Edwards 118). The National Commission of Baseball was committed to restoring public trust and transparency in the game (Hackney 17). Many other players who had been previously accused of corruption and participation in match-fixing were also banned from professional practice. The commissioner was the highest and final authority over the newly re-organized sport. Backed up by his experience as a federal judge, Landis caused tremendous changes to the sport, making its popularity to grow steeply in the American society. The ban of the eight members of the Chicago White Sox is still in effect as of 2018, although all of them are dead. It is a constant reminder to all players to remain transparent.

  • Blake, William D. “Black Sox in the Courtroom by William F. Lamb.” NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 22.2 (2014): 147-149.
  • Edwards, R. A. R. “Saying It Was So: Exploring the Black Sox Scandal.” Reviews in American History 45.1 (2017): 117-119.
  • Hackney, Sarah. “Mapping biases in baseball tales: the Black Sox scandal (1st Ed).” IConference 2016 Proceedings (2016).

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