Newspaper Coverage of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal

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Newspaper Coverage of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal
Apr 21, 2015

Stuart Dezenhall is a graduate of Bucknell University. His senior  term papers were on the  1919 Black Sox scandal, the 1936 Berlin Olympics and  the national impact of Muhammad Ali. In the last several years he has been on the public relations staffs of the Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions and New York Jets.

 

Eddie Cicotte, Chicago AL, at Hilltop Park, NY/Photo by Bain News Service

In October 1919, sportswriters, fans and bookies expected the Chicago White Sox to easily defeat the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. With betting lines favoring Chicago to win in the best-of-nine series, shock pervaded the baseball world when Cincinnati won four of the first five games. The White Sox won the next two games, restoring a sense of normalcy and cutting the Reds lead in the series to 4-3. On October 9, with a 10-5 victory in Chicago, the Cincinnati Reds claimed the title.

The surprising result of the 1919 World Series led to baseball’s infamous “Black Sox” Scandal, which that culminated in the banishment of eight White Sox players who had accepted money to throw games, netting conspiring gamblers millions. The newspaper coverage of the scandal adhered to the cultural norms of the late Progressive Era to appeal to a public that put a premium on the purity of American’s pastime and the expulsion of corruption. The reporting focused on keeping the brand of baseball as clean as possible —– dismissing early, unfounded rumors of foul play and eventually highlighting the role of outside influence in the corruption, primarily that of Jewish gangsters.

To understand the journalistic coverage of the scandal, it is important to consider the cultural backdrop in which the story took place. During the Progressive Era, the Americanization movement attempted to strip foreign influence from the national population, that which was increasingly immigrant-based. The movement saw the rise of the Ku Klux Klan; the use of eugenics to “scientifically” promote white American superiority; the prevalence of anti-Semitism; and the passing of laws restricting immigration. This period also coincided with the growth of spectator sports. Baseball was quickly linked to nationalism; – it was patriotic and protected from outside corruption. [1]  Newspapers, in bed with baseball owners, popularized the sport raising their circulation.[2] With the national mindset obsessed with un-American corruption and their own circulation to consider, newspapers  sought  to  preserve the image of baseball and covered  the  scandal accordingly.

Anti-Semitism was a pillar of the Americanization movement during the Progressive Era, which that featured waves of Jewish immigration from Europe. Jews made quick progress in America and were among the most successful, both culturally and financially,  immigrant groups, both culturally and financially, and were thus deemed a “dangerous force undermining the nation.” [3] Americans  specifically  targeted Jewish  Americans  as  representing foreign influence on America, as a group usurping white hegemony and eventually as part of the Red Scare, spreading Bolshevik radicalism that. To mitigate the Jewish impact on America, Jews were restricted from certain Northeastern universities and banned from some white-collar industries. Anti-Semitism ranged from such restrictions to being a focus of the KKK, whose leader, the Imperial Wizard, thought so much of the Jewish threat on American society that he cast them as an “absolutely unbendable element … incapable of attaining the Anglo-Saxon level [of assimilation].”[4]

At first, before any proof of wrongdoing was available, journalists protected the White Sox, attributing the rumors of foul play to one uninformed reporter or sore-losing gamblers. An outside influence in the form of Jewish gangster Arnold Rothstein entered the rumor mill, providing a character for reporters to vilify rather than attacking the cheating players. Eventually, once players admitted to throwing games, reporters denounced them as cheats but emphasized the prominent, scheming role of Jewish gangsters rather than the ballplayers that took their money.

The first stories of conspiracy were written by Hugh Fullerton of the Chicago Herald and -Examiner. Fullerton questioned the integrity of some White Sox players, counting seven suspicious plays. Fullerton only vaguely suggested that some players might not have given full effort, saying, “(The) unbeaten faction of the beaten White Sox did not  quit,” [5] implying  that  a  suspect  few  spoiled  the  team’s  success  for  others. Competing journalists were quick to label Fullerton as being ignorant of the sport.[6] When Fullerton began demanding that players and owners clean up a sport heading for a moral crisis, the Chicago Herald- and Examiner refused to print his stories.[7]

Papers that wrote about the Series after its conclusion disparaged the play of the losing team but generally did not believe foul play was a factor, concluding that a fixed series  was  unrealistically  conspiratorial.[8] This  skepticism  was  reinforced  when  press- savvy White Sox owner Charles Comiskey offered $20,000 for any information proving that foul play had influenced the World Series.[9] “These yarns are made out of the whole cloth and grow out of bitterness due to losing wagers,”[10] Comiskey said in a widely – publicized statement.

On October 17, eight days after the conclusion of the World Series, the tone of the story darkened as the first non-Fullerton article investigated the rumors. The Fort Wayne Star- Telegram linked a large $12,000 bet made on the underdog Reds to gamblers and mobsters with inside information.[11] Though potentially damning, the article noted that such claims were linked to losing bettors jealous of their peers walking around with “pockets  full  of  money.”[12] This  exemplified  the  tone  of  coverage  that  was  quick  to disregard notions that baseball had been corrupted, much less that the players were involved.

The narrative of a “fixed” Series took hold on November 10 when the Fort Wayne News- Sentinel  linked  the  rumors  to  Rothstein.  Rothstein  was  quoted  as  saying  that gamblers he knew who never placed bets over $100 were suddenly making $5,000 wagers,[13] which  confirmed  for  many  that  he  had  had  a  hand  in  the  fix.  Still,  some journalists continued to opine that a fix was too complicated to pull off, [14] which validated the game’s popularity and the circulation of their papers that reported on it.[15]

Lingering rumors led to the MLB’s official investigation nearly a full year after the World Series ended. In the early stages, journalists eagerly reported that the investigation had uncovered little evidence of a fix. New York Giants pitcher Rube Benton then changed the investigation when he testified that he had been told that Game 1 pitcher Eddie Cicotte, Game 2 pitcher Claude Williams, first baseman Chick Gandil, centerfielder Happy Felsch, and one unnamed player had each received $100,000 to throw games.[16] Even with seemingly incriminatory evidence, newspapers nevertheless focused on the corruption of the game by gangsters, not players. Reporters quoted the grand jury foreman saying, “Chicago, New York, Cincinnati and St. Louis gamblers were bleeding baseball and corrupting players.”[17] Robert Edgren of The New York Evening World hoped the government would “run down those responsible for the debauchery of baseball players,” and explained that the players, “little more than grownup boys,” were “victims of shrewd, smooth, entirely unscrupulous gamblers.”[18]

As more names appeared in testimony, a clearer picture was forming that gave journalists more ammunition to focus on the dark forces preying on players, including former boxer Abe Attell, the alleged organizer and former ballplayer Hal Chase, and, of course, Arnold Rothstein.[19] It was far more culturally acceptable to discuss the greed and immorality [20] of a Jewish outlaw than it was to heap blame on national heroes. After all, anti-Semitism ranged from labeling Jews as communists [21] to suggesting they were taking advantage of American capitalism as they flourished in banking, real estate and clothing manufacturing. [22] As the Sporting News wrote, “There are no lengths to which the crop of lean-faced and long-nosed gamblers of these degenerate days will go,” [23] referencing the easily vilified Jewish gangster.

On  September  28,  1920,  a  “mystery  witness”  admitted  to  the  collusion  and Cicotte, Gandil, Williams, Felsch, Buck Weaver, Fred McMullin, Swede Risberg and star “Shoeless” Joe Jackson were indicted for conspiracy to commit an illegal act. After protecting the players so fervently prior to the indictment, journalists reported the news as “disillusioned fans” [24] and newspapers printed headlines reserved for an outbreak of war or  a  political  assassination. [25]  Despite  an  eventual  not-guilty  verdict  due  to  legal technicalities and misplaced evidence, the MLB promptly banned the eight players for life, an action that appealed to America’s Progressive Era penchant for reform. The MLB Commissioner, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, reassured fans saying, “Baseball is entirely competent to protect itself against the crooks both inside and outside the game.” [26]

Journalists rallied behind the banishment that removed a few bad seeds in an otherwise pure sport. Supporting the players, now “shattered idols,” [27] no longer yielded a benefit to the press or the sport.

Though the players were condemned, the role of gangsters continued to color articles about the scandal, as their role in taking advantage of the players remained a popular and safe narrative. In 1921, the Dearborn Independent featured a two-part series on Jewish gamblers and their corruption of baseball. According to the first article, the “most dangerous blow dealt baseball was curiously notable for its Jewish character.” [28]

The second article outlined two forms of Jewish presence in baseball, “The first fear concerns what the Jews are doing to baseball; the second fear concerns what the Jews would do to the manager if he complained about it.” [29] Even after the end of the scandal, the Jewish influence, while never proven in the investigation, remained a prevalent theme in media coverage.

Journalists called the ballplayers cheats only after they admitted to taking money to throw games and were banished from the sport but reported on the influence of Jewish gangsters without any such evidence. With an interest in maintaining circulation, they were also significantly influenced by mainstream America’s accepted cultural attitudes and love of baseball, and therefore attempted to protect baseball’s reputation by disassociating the game from external corruptors who were a preferable and palatable culprit in baseball’s great fix.

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[1] Eliot Asinof, Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series (New York: Holt, Rinehart and

Winston, 1963), 197.

[2] Charles L. Leon, Self-Exposure: Human-Interest Journalism and the Emergence of Celebrity in America, 1890-1940. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 242.

[3] John Higham. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 New York: Atheneum, 1963.

[4] Hiram Wesley Evans. “Address of the Imperial Wizard.” Speech, Ku Klux Klan, Dallas, October 24, 1923.

[5] Hugh Fullerton. “Fullerton Says Seven Members of the White Sox Will Be Missing Next Spring.”

Chicago Herald and Examiner. October 19, 1919.  http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1,

2012).

[6] Gene Carney. “Uncovering the Fix of the 1919 World Series.” Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and

Culture 13, no. 1(2004): 39-49.

[7] Daniel A.Nathan. Saying It’s So: A Cultural History of the Black Sox Scandal. Urbana: University of

Illinois Press, 2003, 17.

[8] John Lardner. “Remember the Black Sox?” In This is Chicago. New York: Henry Holt and Company,

1952, 396.

[9] Steven M. Chermak and Frankie Y. Bailey. Crimes and Trials of the Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood

Press, 2007, 12.

[10] Report that the Sox Received a Monetary Consideration Denied.” Columbus Daily Enquirer. October 15, 1919, sec. News/Opinion.  http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).

[11] Betting Scandal Connected With World’s Series Is Now Expected.” Fort-Worth Star-Telegram. October

17, 1919.  http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).

[12] Ibid.

[13] James J. Corbett. “Where There Is Smoke There Must Be Fire.” Fort-Wayne News Sentinel. November

10, 1919.  http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).

[14] Menke, Frank G.. “Menke Laughs at Idea of Fixed Series.”  Duluth News Tribune. November 16, 1919. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).

[15] Douglas Linder. “An Account of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox Scandal and 1921 Trial.” UMKC School

of Law.  http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects (accessed January 1, 2012).

[16] “Said 5 Sox Got $100,000.” Kansas City Star. September 24, 1920.  http://infoweb.newsbank.com

(accessed January 1, 2012).

[17] Associated Press. “Grand Juror is Shocked by Ball Scandal. September 24, 1920. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).

[18] Robert Edgren, “Edgren’s Column.” New York Evening News. October 1, 1920. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).

[19] “Details of Gambling Pool on Last World Series Bared; Attell Made Deal With Chase.” New York Times, Chicago Tribune. September 25, 1920.  http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).

[20] Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925, 282.

[21] Ibid, 279.

[22] Ibid. 161.

[23] Sporting News. October 9, 1919, 4.  http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).

[24] Lloyd Chiasson, Jr. The Press on Trial: Crimes and Trials as Media Events. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997, 80.

[25] Nathan, Saying It’s So, 20.

[26] J.G. Taylor Spink.  Judge Landis and Twenty-Five Years of Baseball. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1947.

[27] United Press, “Rothstein May Go on the Stand for Ballplayers.” Duluth News-Tribune. July 25, 1921. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).

[28] Jewish Gamblers Corrupt American Baseball,” The Dearborn Independent. September 3, 1921. http://www.jrbooksonline.com/Intl_Jew_full_version/ij46.htm  (accessed March 6, 2012).

[29] Jewish Gamblers Corrupt American Baseball,” The Dearborn Independent. September 10, 1921. http://www.jrbooksonline.com/Intl_Jew_full_version/ij46.htm  (accessed March 6, 2012).

 Bibliography

  • Associated Press. “Grand Juror is Shocked by Ball Scandal. September 24, 1920. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).
  • Betting Scandal Connected With World’s Series Is Now Expected.” Fort-Worth Star- Telegram. October 17, 1919. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).
  • Charles L. Leon, Self-Exposure: Human-Interest Journalism and the Emergence of Celebrity in America, 1890-1940. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).
  • Daniel A.Nathan. Saying It’s So: A Cultural History of the Black Sox Scandal. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003.
  • “Details of Gambling Pool on Last World Series Bared; Attell Made Deal With Chase.” New York Times, Chicago Tribune. September 25, 1920. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).
  • Douglas Linder. “An Account of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox Scandal and 1921 Trial.” UMKC School of Law. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects (accessed January 1, 2012).
  • Eliot Asinof, Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963).
  • Gene Carney. “Uncovering the Fix of the 1919 World Series.” Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 13, no. 1 (2004).
  • Hiram Wesley Evans. “Address of the Imperial Wizard.” Speech, Ku Klux Klan, Dallas, October 24, 1923.
  • Hugh Fullerton. “Fullerton Says Seven Members of the White Sox Will Be Missing Next Spring.” Chicago Herald and Examiner. October 19, 1919. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).
  • J.G. Taylor Spink.  Judge Landis and Twenty-Five Years of Baseball. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1947.
  • James J. Corbett. “Where There Is Smoke There Must Be Fire.” Fort-Wayne News Sentinel. November 10, 1919. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).
  • Jewish Gamblers Corrupt American Baseball,” The Dearborn Independent. September 3, 1921. http://www.jrbooksonline.com/Intl_Jew_full_version/ij46.htm (accessed March 6, 2012).
  • Jewish Gamblers Corrupt American Baseball,” The Dearborn Independent. September 10, 1921. http://www.jrbooksonline.com/Intl_Jew_full_version/ij46.htm (accessed March 6, 2012).
  • John Higham. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925.  New York: Atheneum, 1963.
  • John Lardner. “Remember the Black Sox?” In This is Chicago. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1952.
  • Lloyd Chiasson, Jr. The Press on Trial: Crimes and Trials as Media Events. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.
  • Menke, Frank G.. “Menke Laughs at Idea of Fixed Series.”  Duluth News Tribune. November 16, 1919. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).
  • Report that the Sox Received a Monetary Consideration Denied.” Columbus Daily Enquirer. October 15, 1919, sec. News/Opinion. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).
  • Robert Edgren, “Edgren’s Column.” New York Evening News. October 1, 1920. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).
  • “Said 5 Sox Got $100,000.” Kansas City Star. September 24, 1920. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).
  • Sporting News. October 9, 1919, 4. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).
  • Steven M. Chermak and Frankie Y. Bailey. Crimes and Trials of the Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007.
  • United Press, “Rothstein May Go on the Stand for Ballplayers.” Duluth News-Tribune. July 25, 1921. http://infoweb.newsbank.com (accessed January 1, 2012).

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