MLB Narrative History: The Cleanest Black Sox

A statue of baseball star 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson (1887-1951) situated outside the grounds of the Fluor stadium Greenville, South Carolina. Jackson began his baseball career with the Greenville Spinners. (Photo by Epics/Getty Images)
A statue of baseball star 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson (1887-1951) situated outside the grounds of the Fluor stadium Greenville, South Carolina. Jackson began his baseball career with the Greenville Spinners. (Photo by Epics/Getty Images) /
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Chicago White Sox
Aug 18, 2005; Chicago, IL, USA; (File Photo: Date Unknown) Pictured: Joe Jackson when he played for the Cleveland Indians. ‘Shoeless’Joe Jackson and seven of his Chicago White Sox teammates were implicated in fixing the 1919 World Series and letting the Cincinnati Reds win. Jackson had a .375 in the series, 12 hits, no errors and hit the lone home run for the White Sox. The eight players were banned from baseball for life by Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis. ‘Shoeless Joe’ died on 12/5/1951 just 10 days before he was scheduled to appear on Ed Sullivan’s “Talk of the Town: in an effort to clear his name. (Photo by Sporting News/Sporting News via Getty Images) /

In the biggest scandal in the history of the game, some of the Black Sox were much cleaner than others

It is reasonable to argue the worst scandal in the history of American sports is the Black Sox scandal of 1919. The facts of the case are pretty well-known, even today. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox allegedly conspired with gamblers – some of them allied with Arnold Rothstein, a brilliant, rotten man – to throw the World Series to the inferior Cincinnati Redlegs. Rothstein was ultimately shot to death at a poker game in 1928, but by then, all the Dirty Sox had been thrown out of major league baseball.

This expulsion occurred in 1920, and had been ordered by baseball’s first commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a man who later fought hard behind the scenes to keep African-Americans out of MLB. Luckily for the history of the nation, Landis went to his grave before he could affect Branch Rickey’s decision to hire Jack Roosevelt Robinson to work for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Photographers also rejoiced. Seldom has a man taken so miserable a portrait as Landis.

Yet when Landis threw the eight Black Sox out of baseball, the public – South Side Chicagoans notwithstanding – approved. The White Sox of 1919 had been, and remain with the ’27 Yankees, ’29 A’s and ’75 Reds, one of the greatest teams ever assembled. That they would throw a World Series seemed one of the great unforgivable sins. History has begun to see, however, different degrees of guilt among the awful eight, beginning most notably and completely with Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out in 1963.

Chick Gandil, the Pale Hose first sacker, remains the dirtiest of the infamous eight. Indeed, he proposed throwing the Series to the buzzard-gamblers circling the championship matches. Ironically, Gandil got away from the fix in the best shape. He retired to “the good life” in California.

The great Shoeless Joe Jackson remains the most puzzling of the eight. It has been well established he did receive dirty money, but he then went out and hit .375 in the ’19 Series. Later, half-drunk, he admitted to a grand jury that he “hadn’t played good baseball” during the battles with the Reds, but the question arises: Did Jackson pull one over on the gamblers?

It is debated seriously whether or not Shoeless Joe can be assigned a single thrown play during the Series. He may have “dogged it” on a fly ball that fell for a hit in game five, but it is hard to tell. No videotape. Jackson didn’t reach the ball first after it fell for a hit. Centerfielder Felsch did. Jackson played left, and had 12 hits during the Series, including the only home run, in the last game. He still stands third on the list of lifetime average leaders (.356) and remains the answer to the arcane trivia question: Who holds the record for the most hits in his last major league season? Rarely reaching base on Texas-leaguers, Shoeless Joe slammed 218 during the 1920 campaign. In October of that year he and seven fellow players were indicted.

The cleanest black sox, however, were worn by Pottstown, PA, native George “Buck” Weaver, who played third for the Chisox.