Today’s story opens with some text on screen to give us a date and location. We’re in Chicago in the year 1919. Some kids are playing baseball in an alleyway when we see one of the kids call out to another, “I got two bits! We’re going to see the Sox!”
This is how we enter the White Sox ballpark, as we follow the kids to buying their tickets and heading to the bleachers.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the exact price for tickets for the White Sox in 1919. Although I did find that a common price for bleacher seats around the turn of the century was a quarter for a ticket.
So, if that’s the case, the movie would be correct mentioning two bits for tickets.
Not to get too far sidetracked, but that term was a holdover from the colonial period when one of the coins used most commonly around the world were the Spanish dollars. Each Spanish dollar was worth eight silver reales, so that’s how they got the nickname “piece of eight.”
So, in the U.S., one dollar was worth one silver real, and people started calling an eighth of a dollar, “one bit.”
Slowly, over time, that shifted as the American currency did and eventually settled on “two bits” meaning a quarter.
Which would mean the kids were paying a quarter for two bleacher tickets. Or maybe it’s that he had two quarters. The movie is vague, but that probably would’ve been more historically accurate as far as pricing because we know in 1920 the prices were raised from 25 cents for a bleacher ticket to 50 cents. Some newspapers lamented the good ol’ days of the two-bit bleacher seat.
Once we’re in the ballpark in the movie, we get to meet a few new characters. The key one for our story, though, is Charles Comiskey. He’s played by Clifton James. According to the movie, he’s the owner of the White Sox.
If his last name sounds familiar, you’ve probably heard of Comiskey Park. That was the stadium for the Chicago White Sox from the year it was built in 1910 until 1990, with the park being demolished the following year.
Charles Comiskey was a former ballplayer himself, playing over the course of 12 years as first a pitcher and then a first baseman for four different teams. That was between 1882 and 1894. He had a career .264 average with 1,530 hits and 416 stolen bases.
During part of that time, he was a player/manager for the St. Louis Browns, Chicago Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. Between 1883 and 1894, he led his teams to 840 wins to 541 losses for a .608 winning percentage.
After that, he bought his own baseball club in Sioux City, Iowa. Soon after, he moved them to Minnesota where they were called the St. Paul Saints and were part of the Western League. A couple years later Charles Comiskey worked out an agreement to share the city of Chicago with the team that was already there, known as the Chicago Orphans. And so, in 1900, the St. Paul Saints moved to the south side of Chicago and renamed to the White Stockings and joined the American League.
As a fun little fact, the other team that was in Chicago at the time—today we know them as the Chicago Cubs—used to be the Chicago White Stockings from 1876 until 1889. Then, for seven years they were the Chicago Colts. Then they were the Chicago Orphans for about four years until, in 1902, renaming themselves to the Chicago Cubs.
So that means when Charles Comiskey moved his team to the south side of Chicago, he renamed the team to a name many Chicagoans were already familiar with.
Oh, and the White Stockings soon changed their name to the White Sox because the shorter name was much friendlier to newspaper headlines.
Speaking of names to be familiar with, Charles Comiskey had a few nicknames we hear in the movie, too. One was “The Old Roman”, a nickname he got because of his large nose. Although, as a little side note, he wasn’t actually from Italy at all. Charles’s father was “Honest” John Comiskey, a politician in Chicago who immigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1826.
But most of Charles’s friends and colleagues used the nickname we see in the film more: Commy—because of his last name.
Going back to the movie, after being introduced to Charles Comiskey, we see some of the stars of the Chicago White Sox team in 1919 on the field. This is going to be a list of names, so here we go…
First, there’s Eddie Cicotte who is played by David Strathairn. Then there’s Chick Gandil, as played by Michael Rooker. Ray Schalk as played by Gordon Clapp, Swede Risberg as played by Don Harvey, Eddie Collins as played by Bill Irwin, Hap Felsch as played by Charlie Sheen, Buck Weaver as played by John Cusack and the biggest star on the field for the Sox at the time, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. He’s played by D.B. Sweeney in the movie.
All of those were real players. I know we mentioned Joe Jackson in the introduction to this episode, but let’s get a quick rundown on these players because that’ll help us get a better perspective for just how great this White Sox team was in 1919.
And since we’ve already mentioned him, let’s start with Joe Jackson. He was the starting left fielder for the White Sox that year. The 31-year-old also had 181 hits in 599 at bats for an amazing .351 batting average, just five points less than his career average. He also had 96 RBIs and nine stolen bases across 139 games. Interestingly, even though Jackson was the only White Sox starter to have single digits in stolen bases in 1919, that’s not because he was slow.
In fact, quite the opposite. Jackson had 14 triples in 1919…not quite the 26 triples he had in 1912 when Jackson hit .395 in 154 games for the Cleveland Indians.
Jackson also had some pop in his bat. Even though he only hit seven home runs in 1919, that was the dead ball era—or, a period in baseball when not many home runs were hit. In fact, in all of Major League Baseball in 1919 there were only six players who had double-digits in home runs, with Babe Ruth topping the list at 29 and the second-place with only 12.
So, that’s “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. And again, he’s played by D.B. Sweeney in the movie.
Oh…before we cover the others, though, let’s chat about the nickname. That came before his time in the Majors when he got blisters from a pair of new cleats during a game. They hurt his feet so bad that he took them off and kept playing. When a fan called him out for it, the nickname “Shoeless” Joe Jackson stuck for the rest of his life.
Let’s round out the diamond for the White Sox that year. With Jackson in left field, in center was Oscar “Happy” Felsch—although he usually just went by Hap. If you recall, he’s played by Charlie Sheen in the movie.
Hap tied Joe Jackson with the team lead in home runs with 7. At 27 in 1919, Hap hit .275 with 86 RBI and 138 hits in 568 at bats across 135 games. He rounded that out with 19 stolen bases.
The movie doesn’t really focus on the right fielder for the White Sox that year…in fact he’s not in the movie at all. But that was a man named Nemo Leibold. He was good, too. He hit .302 that year with 131 hits, 26 RBIs and 17 stolen bases across 523 at bats in 122 games.
Heading to the infield, at first base was Arnold “Chick” Gandil. He’s played by Michael Rooker.
In 1919, the real Chick Gandil hit .290 with 10 stolen bases, a home run and 128 hits in 441 at bats across 115 games.
Playing at second base Bill Irwin’s character, Eddie Collins. In 1919, Eddie Collins batted .319 by collecting 165 hits in 518 at bats across 140 games. He also had 80 RBIs and racked up 33 stolen bases, leading the team.
On third base for the White Sox in 1919 was Buck Weaver. He’s played by John Cusack in the movie. But the real Buck hit .296 with 169 hits in 571 at bats across 140 games. He also had some speed with 22 stolen bases and came second on the team with 33 doubles. Hap Felsch led the team with 34.
Between second and third at short stop was Charles “Swede” Risberg. He’s played by Don Harvey in the movie.
In 1919, Risberg had the lowest batting average on the starting lineup at .256. He had 106 hits in 414 at bats in 119 games. He was also the youngest starter at only 24. On the other side of that, Eddie Collins was the oldest at 32.
The last starter for the White Sox in 1919 was Ray Schalk. He’s played by Gordon Clapp in the movie, but the real Ray hit .282 with 111 hits in 394 at bats playing in 131 games.
Wait, did I say Ray Schalk was the last of the starting lineup? Well, maybe for the position players. In the movie, there’s two starting pitchers they focus on: Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams.
Those were the two aces on the White Sox staff in 1919. And talk about aces…they were great.
That year, the 35-year-old Eddie Cicotte pitched in 40 games, starting 35 and racking up an amazing 306.2 innings pitched. Amazingly, he had a 1.82 ERA with an incredible 29-7 record.
Lefty Williams was only 26 years old in 1919, but he was nearly as good as Cicotte. He pitched in 41 games, starting 40 of them. In 297 innings pitched, Williams had a 2.64 ERA and a 23-11 record.
Oh…and you might’ve guessed from their crazy number of innings, but of the 35 games that Eddie Cicotte started, he pitched 30 complete games. As for Lefty Williams, he had 27 complete games in 40 starts.
All combined, the White Sox had the best record in the American League in 1919 with 88 wins to 52 losses, 3.5 games over the second-place Cleveland Indians.
Oh, and yes, if you’ve added those together…that’s 140 games. Not the same as the 162 games played today in Major League Baseball.
Although, the White Sox didn’t have the best record overall that year. That honor belonged to the team the White Sox played in the World Series, the Cincinnati Reds. They had a record of 96-44 for tops in baseball.
But that’s getting a little ahead of our story.
Heading back to the movie, there’s a number of sequences that set up a strained relationship between the White Sox players and the team’s owner.
It starts when we see Charlie Sheen’s version of Hap Felsch grab a pop fly, sealing the team’s pennant and sending them to the World Series.
In the locker room, everyone is celebrating until they get their bonus from Charles Comiskey for winning the pennant. It’s champagne. That’s all. No monetary bonus at all.
As if that weren’t bad enough, it’s flat champagne.
Meanwhile, the movie cuts to Comiskey throwing a lavish party for members of the press. There’s a clear difference between how Comiskey treats the press compared to how he treats his players.
Those scenes didn’t actually happen, but they were scenes that could have happened. By that, what I mean is it was true that Charles Comiskey treated the press with luxury. And he also paid his players very poorly.
One of his excuses for the poor pay was The Great War. World War I, which ended in 1918, had forced a lot of people around the world to make sacrifices even if they weren’t directly involved in the war effort. But, still, the White Sox only had to look across the dugout in the World Series to find players who weren’t having as good a year getting paid a lot more.
For example, we learned about how great Joe Jackson was on the field. His paycheck was $6,000 in 1919. That’s about the same as $88,000 today.
And he was tied with Buck Weaver as the highest paid players on the White Sox.
On the other hand, one of the Reds’s best players was outfielder Edd Rousch. He had a great year in 1919, hitting .321 in 133 games. Not as great as Joe Jackson’s year, but a good year nonetheless. That year he made $10,000, which is the same as $147,000 today.
Some players, like Charles “Swede” Risberg and Claude “Lefty” Williams, only made $3,000 in 1919. That’s about the same as $44,000 today. Pretty much across the board, the White Sox were making less than players on other teams.
It wasn’t a surprise for players in the league, but it also wasn’t anything they could do anything about. Unlike the MLB today, there was no free agency.
There was what sports historians now refer to as the “reserve clause.” Basically, every single contract at that time left the team owners with the right to sign the player for another year. So, let’s say a player signs a one-year contract. At the end of that contract, the team owner had the right to sign the player for another year. The player had no choice to go anywhere else.
Players had a lot less choice in the matter. They were bought and sold by team owners who reserved the complete rights to their service. If the players didn’t like their paycheck and left the team, by the rules of the league, no other team could sign the player who had refused the contract of another team.
So, the White Sox players were stuck with lower salaries for years and not many other options. For some, like Shoeless Joe Jackson, playing ball was the only thing they knew. Jackson grew up in a rural mill town in South Carolina where he made $1.50 a day working at the mill before turning to a career in baseball. Surely that’s not something he wanted to return to.
Oh, and as a little side note, the movie’s correct in showing that Jackson didn’t know how to read or write. That was more common in those days, especially coming from a rural background.
Not to get too far ahead of our story, but in the movie we see this in an interaction with a fan where the fan yells to Jackson, “Hey Jackson, can you spell ‘cat’?” The fans laugh, but Jackson hears it from third base where he stood after hitting a triple. Then Jackson yells back, “Hey mister, can you spell ‘shit’?”
That exchange actually happened! It just happened in 1909 while Jackson played for a team in Savannah, Georgia, and not in 1919 like we see in the movie.
But making a lesser salary wasn’t the only thing that slowly gnawed away at the White Sox players over the years. It was all the other ways Comiskey tried to save a buck here and there. For example, the White Sox players daily meal allowance was $3, less than the league minimum on other ball clubs of $4.
That doesn’t sound like much, but today that’d be the difference between $45 a day and $60 a day. That adds up.
And it probably didn’t help that even before the scandal, a lot of fans around the league had taken to calling the White Sox the Black Sox because Comiskey dialed back the funds for cleaning their uniforms. That forced players to wear the same uniform for days on end without washing them…meaning they usually took the field with the dirtiest uniforms.
Then, to make matters worse, like we saw in the movie, Comiskey would spend lavishly to make the press reporters happy. In return, they seldom reported anything behind the scenes that was going on or the player’s unhappiness.
Probably the most common example of something that made the players unhappy was something we saw in the movie. We see it happen when pitcher Eddie Cicotte talks with Comiskey about a $10,000 bonus he’s supposed to get. Comiskey replies coldly with, “29’s not 30.”
There’s not a lot of explanation about what’s going on there in the movie, but what it’s referring to was a bonus that Comiskey had promised Cicotte if he got 30 wins that year. As we learned, he had a 29-7 record in 1919. Close, but not quite.
Of course, what the stat log doesn’t show is that Eddie Cicotte might’ve hit the big 3-0 if he had only been given the chance. You see, Cicotte was pulled from the rotation with only a few weeks left in the season. Comiskey’s claim was that he wanted to have Cicotte rested for the playoffs, but being so close to 30 wins most historians think that was awfully fishy. Especially since, as we learned, Cicotte had already pitched in over 300 innings across 40 games that year.
As for the champagne we see in the movie, that’s a little nod to something that actually happened, too. After winning the pennant in 1919 and earning a spot in the World Series, the White Sox players found their bonus for their great play was a case of flat champagne.
That very well might have been the last straw in something that had been chipping away at many players for a long time. So, it’s not hard to see why the fed-up players would be tempted by promises of a lot of money. But, would they actually go through with it?
Let’s go back to the movie’s timeline now, because it’s time to set up how the fix happened after winning the pennant. According to the movie, it’s Chick Gandil who mentions the idea of getting six or seven other players to throw the World Series to Joseph “Sport” Sullivan. Sullivan is played by Kevin Tighe in the movie.
Sullivan doesn’t believe he can do it, but Chick Gandil insists he can…for the right price. Meanwhile, another couple players enter the arena soon. It’s “Sleepy” Bill Burns and Billy Maharg. He’s played by Richard Edson while Bill Burns is played by Christopher Lloyd.
These two want in on the action. Like he did with Sullivan, Gandil insists he can get some of the other players in on fixing the World Series…again, for the right price.
Burns and Maharg go off to see if they can get financing for the operation from a gangster in Chicago named Arnold Rothstein. According to the movie, this happens through Rothstein’s associate, a former boxer named Abe Attell.
After this, we see Chick Gandil trying to convince some of the players to go along with the plot. Most reject the idea, but then Gandil is surprised to find Eddie Cicotte be the first to join in. He tells Gandil he’ll do it for $10,000 up front. The plot is on. With Cicotte on board, it doesn’t take long for Gandil to convince other players to go along with it.
All the participants in the scheme that we see in the movie were real. And overall, this is a great example of how different mediums need to change some things to show the facts. By that, what I mean is the end result of all this is pretty accurate to what happened—but the way it happened in the movie is simplified, so by extension that means the scenes in the movie aren’t really how it went down.
Probably one reason why the movie changed the specifics was to adjust the timeline. The truth is that the idea to fix the World Series was something that was forming months before the Series took place. That’s different than in the movie where we see it happening after the Sox win the pennant.
Although, to be fair, as we learned earlier, the 1919 White Sox were a powerhouse and most expected them to make it to—and win—the Series.
As the 1919 baseball season was underway, Chick Gandil was growing increasingly unhappy with his situation. He vented often to veteran pitcher Eddie Cicotte, who wasn’t happy that other pitchers much younger than him with a lot less success getting paid a lot more money on other teams.
Initially, Eddie didn’t pay much attention to Chick’s complaints. He listened, but that’s about as far as it went. But then, slowly, Chick’s tactics shifted more and more to focus on the one thing Eddie worried about outside of baseball: Money.
As a 35-year-old pitcher who had just bought a new farm for his family, money was always on his mind. Would he be able to provide for his family after baseball?
We don’t really know all the thought that went into this…what we do know is that, just like the movie shows, at one random point in the train ride from Chicago to Boston for a game, Eddie sat down next to Chick and told him he would do it…for $10,000 up front, before the Series.
That’s all he needed to hear. Chick started rounding up other players to join the fix.
The movie gets the players involved correct, too. There was Charles “Swede” Risberg, who Chick had already mentioned the fix to many times throughout the season.
Just like the movie shows, it was one of those times when Chick was talking to Swede that Fred McMullin overheard the conversation. He was primarily a bench player so he wasn’t on Chick’s list of those who needed to know…but he did know about it. So, he had to get cut in or else everyone would find out.
As it turned out, that wouldn’t really matter…but, that’s getting ahead of our story.
Although it mentions the number of games, since today the World Series is a best of seven, I still think it’s worth pointing out that the World Series back then was a best of nine games.
Chick assumed as the ace of the staff, Eddie would pitch two or three of those games. So, if they were to throw the Series, he’d need another pitcher.
That’s where Claude “Lefty” Williams came in. Just like the movie shows, Lefty was resistant at first. He didn’t believe it. How could his teammates be in on something like that? Chick convinced Lefty that he already had enough players to fix the Series anyway—he’d be missing out on a certain payday.
But then, and again it’s something we see happen in the movie, after Lefty found out Eddie Cicotte was involved…that’s what turned him.
After this, Chick rounded out the core group of Sox sluggers by getting Buck Weaver, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, and Happy Felsch. Those players made up the heart of the Sox order: the 3, 4, and 5 hitters.
So, to recap, the eight ballplayers involved were Chick Gandil, Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Swede Risberg, Fred McMullin, Buck Weaver, Joe Jackson, and Happy Felsch.
Oh, and the movie was also correct in showing the people involved on the outside of the team.
Chick Gandil had told Sport Sullivan he could fix the Series for $80,000. Chick had reached out to Sport as the only person he thought might be able to get that kind of money. Sport told Chick he could get the money, so that’s when Chick started to go around trying to get the players in on it.
But then, and not really related to that, was the involvement of another gambler named Bill Burns. Before turning to gambling, Bill was a pitcher in the Majors. So, when he ran into Eddie Cicotte at a hotel, he asked Eddie point-blank about some rumors he’d been hearing from his underground connections: Was there a fix in place for the Series?
Eddie laughed it off. At this point, the 1919 season was dwindling down, and that meant time was running out for Bill to get the pieces in place if he were to be in on a fix—even if Eddie hadn’t confirmed nor denied that there even was one.
By the time their conversation ended, Eddie admitted there was something up. He also told Bill they were having a hard time getting the money to fund the venture. Bill told Eddie he wanted in on it. Bill would help come up with the money.
In the movie, we see Bill Burns and Billy Maharg appear on screen at the same time. But that’s not how it happened. It was after this discussion with Eddie Cicotte that Bill Burns decided to get in touch with Billy Maharg, an associate of his that he knew could help him with the logistics of it all.
After finding out there was another gambler in on the fix, Chick Gandil told Bill Burns that he’d need $100,000. That was their price for throwing the Series. Nevermind he’d told Sport Sullivan the price was $80,000. Now, the price went up. Or, even better, combine the two for a take of $180,000 for throwing the Series. It sounded good to the players!
The problem for Bill Burns and Billy Maharg was that…well, they didn’t have that kind of money. They tried their best but couldn’t raise the money.
But then, they found someone who was interested: Arnold Rothstein. He’s played by Michael Lerner in the movie, and in truth, well…let’s just say that Arnold Rothstein was a big-time player in the underground world of Chicago.
$100,000 was a lot of money, but if anyone had it…it was Arnold Rothstein. And just like the movie shows, Bill Burns and Billy Maharg brought the idea to him. That was at the end of September, so that gives you an idea how fast they had to work.
At first, Arnold wasn’t interested. He didn’t believe it could happen.
But then, after a couple days, he reached back out to Bill Burns with the message: He was interested. That’s all he needed to hear. The fix was on.
Oh, and as a little side note, some people have suggested that Billy Maharg wasn’t his real name. Some people think that was a fake name, and the associate of Bill Burns was none other than another former baseball player named George Frederick “Peaches” Graham.
After all, Maharg is Graham backward.
Not to get too far ahead of our story, but Maharg was asked this question point-blank by a lawyer if he was actually George Graham. Maharg’s response was that he knew who Graham was, but he wasn’t Graham.
And as far as I can tell, everyone just took Maharg at his word.
Going back to the movie, the World Series is about to begin. Just before the first game, Eddie Cicotte finds $10,000 under the pillow of his bed. The plan is in place, and if the players are still going to do it the message they’ll send that the fix is on is by Eddie Cicotte hitting the first batter of the game.
At the stadium, we see a journalist named Hugh Fullerton—he’s played by Studs Terkel—talking to the White Sox manager, Kid Gleason. He asks if there’s a fix on the Series, something Kid denies. After leaving, Hugh turns to his associate, a man named Ring Lardner, and tells him as he’s keeping score on the game to circle anything that seems fishy.
The first pitch of game one is right down the middle for a strike. Is he not going to go along with the fix?
Then, on the next pitch, Eddie pitches it high and inside. It hits the batter, giving him first base while also signalling to the gamblers that the fix is on.
All of that happened.
On September 29th, 1919, Eddie Cicotte found $10,000 under his pillowcase at the hotel as they prepared for the Series. $10,000 in 1919 is about the same as $147,000 today.
It’s what he asked for…the ball was in his court. If he was going to go through with the fix, just like the movie shows, his task was to indicate this by hitting the first batter in game one.
As far as the other players, they didn’t see any money before the Series began. Not for lack of trying, though. But Bill Burns introduced the players to Abe Attell, who managed to convince them that the money was good—but he had been told not to give them the money all at once. Instead, he was supposed to give it to them $20,000 at a time for each game they lost.
Understandably, the players were worried. But what could they do? If they wanted to see any money, they had to start by throwing game one. They figured they’d throw game one and game two. Those games were pitched by Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams. Game three’s starter was slated to be rookie Dickie Kerr.
He wasn’t in on the fix, but because Eddie would pick back up pitching game four—they figured they’d lose game three, as well, and then win game four behind Eddie Cicotte. That way Eddie could save face for the loss he suffered in game one.
At least, that was the plan.
Oh, and the movie is also correct in showing Hugh Fullerton suspecting something being up. A big reason for that was because he was seeing a lot of the big bets on the Series going toward Cincinnati even though Chicago was the clear favorite to win.
Then, to seal the deal, Hugh randomly ran into Bill Burns. Since Hugh was a well-known journalist and Bill was a former ballplayer, they knew each other. They chatted for a bit and Hugh threw out the question. We don’t know exactly what that conversation was like, but I’d like to think it went something like this:
“Say, Bill, who are you betting on for the Series?”
“The Reds, of course. And if you’re smart, you’ll do the same.”
That was enough for Hugh to want to dig deeper. He decided to pay close attention to the Series and see if he could pick out plays that seemed…well, a bit off. So, just like we see in the movie, he decided to circle around every single play that was suspicious to him on the scorecard.
On October 1st, game one of the World Series kicked off. The White Sox, as the visitors, went to bat first. Right fielder Shano Collins, who wasn’t in on the fix, got a single to lead off the game but was thrown out trying to steal second. Final line score for the top of the first was no runs, one hit and no errors with no one left on base.
The Reds came to bat in the bottom of the first. Eddie’s first pitch of the 1919 World Series was a strike to the Reds second baseman, Morrie Rath. A fastball. It was a little high, but over the plate nonetheless.
Then, Eddie gave the signal. It happened just like we see in the movie with a pitch that hit Morrie in the back. On the surface, it might’ve looked like a mistake. But it was no mistake.
The eight members of the White Sox knew it. Arnold Rothstein knew it.
I won’t go into every single pitch and play in this episode, but if you want to get detailed stats check out baseball-reference.com
for not only game one but every game of the 1919 World Series. I’ll add a link to that in the show notes.
The Reds slaughtered the White Sox in that first game by a score of 9 to 1.
If there were people suspecting the Series was being fixed before it started, the performance in game one only served to feed those suspicions.
One key thing the movie doesn’t mention, though, is how the odds changed. The day before game one of the Series, the White Sox were given gambling odds of 8 to 5. After game one, those odds changed to 5 to 7 in favor of the Reds.
It’s not something anyone suspected, but the odds changing like this meant there were a lot of people placing bets on the Reds. Why? Well, they must know something.
Heading back to the movie’s timeline, things don’t get much better in game two. This time it’s Lefty Williams pitching. And again, the players give it less than their best effort.
According to what we see in the movie here, the White Sox catcher, Ray Schalk notices something is up. It started with the poor performance from Eddie Cicotte in the previous game and carried over into Lefty’s performance…throwing pitches that don’t match what Ray called.
At the end of the game in the movie, we can see the scoreboard reading 4-2 in favor of Cincinnati.
And that’s true.
Even though everyone was shocked that the Reds won the first game—even the Reds players themselves were shocked they managed to blow out the Sox—no one really expected them to win two back-to-back.
But they did.
Just like the movie shows, the Reds really did defeat the White Sox in game two of the 1919 Series by a score of 4-2. Most of that was on the strength of a 3-run 4th inning by the Reds.
It was nothing like the blowout of the day before, but the movie’s also correct in showing that Ray Schalk was upset at his teammates’s subpar play.
For the most part, the players involved in the fix tried to ignore the catcher. Eddie Cicotte tried to ignore him in the first game, bypassing his calls for many pitches. And Lefty Williams did the same thing in game two…but not quite as much as the movie makes it seem.
You see, Eddie had gotten pummeled in game one. It was the worst loss Lefty had seen the Sox ace suffer in all the six years he’d been on the team. Lefty didn’t want to lose quite so badly. After all, he was young and he figured to be playing ball for many more years.
So, for most of the game, Lefty was his normal self…a great pitcher. But, in the end, he did manage to give up enough so the Reds could win 4-2.
The Series was headed back to Comiskey Park in Chicago with the Reds up two games to none.
Back in the movie, game three goes a little differently. Unlike how we see starters for the first two games being in on the fix, game three’s starter is rookie Dickie Kerr.
According to the movie, he pitches a great game as the Sox get their first win in the Series.
The movie is pretty accurate here.
The final score for game three was 3-0 in favor of the White Sox. The Reds only managed to get three singles the entire game, all of which were scattered harmlessly across different innings.
Some fans were elated, hoping that the Sox were returning to form. They had a victory, were at home, and their ace Eddie Cicotte was set up to pitch the next game.
Of course, as we’re watching the movie, we know the rumors of a fix are more than just rumors. So, when we see Eddie Cicotte take the mound for the next game, we an idea of what might happen.
And it goes according to plan…for the players throwing the game, at least. We don’t really see much of what happens in game four in the movie, but we see the end result: The White Sox lose.
And that’s true.
Although it’s worth pointing out that Eddie Cicotte pitched a much better game than he did during the blowout of his first outing. The final score of game four of the Series was 2-0, with the Reds squeaking out the victory.
It’s also worth pointing out that the movie was correct in showing those two runs came on an error by Eddie Cicotte when he cut off a throw from the outfield and allowed everyone to be safe. It was a questionable play, for sure.
Back in the movie, game five is shown as quickly as we see game four. By that, I mean we don’t see a lot of the gameplay…just a few key moments. For example, we see some errors by Happy Felsch in the outfield in game five. The implication there is that Happy’s doing his part to throw the game.
While those plays are true, and it is true that Happy Felsch’s participation in the rumored fix were suspect due to his poor play in game five…after the Series, Happy Felsch claimed he actually tried to make those plays. He just made honest errors. It happens.
The problem, though, is when some players are trying to throw the Series in a way that doesn’t look like they’re throwing the Series…well, even when you do make a bad play it looks suspicious.
The final score of game five was 5-0 in favor of the Reds. Lefty Williams, the game’s starter for the Sox, got the loss as he gave up all five earned runs.
That gave them a four games to one advantage, meaning they’d only need to win one more game to take the best of nine Series.
Going back to the movie, the players head back to Cincinnati for game six.
With the Reds one game away from winning the Series, Dickie Kerr will be on the mound again. Again, we don’t see a lot of the game in the movie, but we see the key moment. For this game, it’s in the top of the 10th inning with the score tied 4-4. There’s men on first and third with Chick Gandil up to bat.
John Cusack’s version of Buck Weaver is dancing off third and begs Chick to do something…make a play. And he does, slicing a single into the outfield and allowing Buck to score.
The Sox win 5-4!
And it was, just like the movie shows, Chick Gandil who hit a single to center, scoring Buck Weaver for the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th.
Of course, the movie doesn’t show that the Reds came up to bat in the bottom of the 10th with a chance to tie the game. And surely there was a lot of tension in the air because it the heart of the Reds order that came to bat.
It was their 4-5-6 hitters facing Dickie Kerr, the game’s starter who was still in the game. Two ground outs and a popup later, and the White Sox took game six by a score of 5-4 in 10 innings.
Back in the movie, after game six, the Chicago fans are happy with the Sox victory. But, in New York, Arnold Rothstein isn’t.
Then again, the players aren’t happy, either. We see an interaction between Lefty Williams and Eddie Cicotte back at the team’s hotel the night before. Lefty says something to the effect of that there’s been no sign of the money, but then he asks Eddie what he’s going to do about the next game.
“I’m not sure yet,” Eddie replies thoughtfully.
Then, at the stadium, Lefty is there with Happy Felsch when the two players ask Chick Gandil where the money’s at. Chick says he can’t get a hold of Sport Sullivan, and Abe Attell apparently lost all his money when the Sox won game three.
What do they do now? After all, they haven’t seen any of the money they’ve been promised. But they’ve been holding up their end of the bargain…where’s the money? Should they keep throwing the games?
Well, in the movie, we see the players give their answer on the field.
Behind strong pitching from Eddie Cicotte, strong defense, and bats that have come alive, the movie indicates the Sox won game seven. Although we don’t really get a great shot of the scoreboard in the movie.
However, we know from history that the movie’s showing here is correct.
After winning game six in the 10th inning on Tuesday, October 7th, on the next day, the White Sox defeated the Reds by a score of 4-1.
Eddie Cicotte pitched like the ace he was, going for the complete game victory.
Going back to the movie, even though the Reds still held the Series lead four games to three, with the Sox winning the last two, it was getting too close for comfort for some of the gamblers.
We see a scene where Lefty Williams is approached by a fan. After signing an autograph for him, someone else approaches. Lefty asks who he should make it out to, and the man simply replies, “You’re going to lose tomorrow.”
Lefty chuckles, “Oh yeah?”
The man then proceeds to threaten Lefty.
“If you don’t lose tomorrow, your wife dies.”
And, according to the movie, they do. Lefty pitches so poorly that he’s taken out of the game in the first inning. But, it’s too late. The damage is done. The Sox lose the game and, with it, the Series.
Well, I suppose I should say that we don’t know for sure if Lefty Williams was threatened like that. He claimed he was, though. But that’s not really the kind of thing that gets documented, and it’s certainly not the kind of thing the person doing the threatening will come forward to admit freely. So, it’s one of those moments in history that we sort of have to take the word of one person.
What we do know, though, is that after getting the first batter out, Lefty Williams gave up four runs before he was relieved by Bill James. It certainly was an atypical start for Lefty, who went 23-11 with a 2.64 ERA in 1919.
The final score of game seven was 10-5. The Reds won, and with it took the 1919 World Series.
Back in the movie, the Series might be over, but the investigation into an alleged fix is just beginning. And things move pretty quickly, so let’s get a quick overview of the scenes we see in the movie.
According to the movie, the two journalists we saw earlier on, Hugh Fullerton and Ring Lardner, help spur on the investigation of the players they suspected throughout the Series.
Then, we see the White Sox owner, Charles Comiskey, put up a reward of $1,000 for anyone who can come forward with proof that there was a fix. One of the players, Eddie Collins, admits there was indeed a fix, but he turns down the reward money.
This leads Comiskey to push for a position brand new to organized baseball…a commissioner. That’s where Kenesaw Mountain Landis comes in as he’s appointed to be the first Commissioner of Baseball. His first task? Cleaning up the game from any alleged gamblers.
The basic idea of what we’re seeing here is all true, but if you’re like me, when you’re watching the movie it’s hard to tell how long this is taking because the film doesn’t really talk too much about dates.
That’s important because probably the biggest difference between the movie and what really happened is something the movie doesn’t even show at all.
And that is simply that even though there were rumors during the Series of a fix, and many who believed them to be true, not much happened after the 1919 Series.
The movie’s correct in showing that Hugh Fullerton was one of those who believed the rumors after seeing the Series for himself, was one who used his position as a journalist to question the establishment. He wondered very publicly why there wasn’t more being done to root out the gamblers.
But, nothing happened during the off season.
Well, that’s not entirely true. During the off season, gamblers around the nation were starting to realize that they could make some money off the ballplayers.
In the 1920 season, the rumors that plagued the 1919 World Series spread to plenty of other teams around the league. The White Sox weren’t the only players who were alleged to throw games during the 1920 season. Although they, too, were told to throw key games to keep their record low enough that the odds wouldn’t get too far out of hand.
All the while, the rumors of fixed games around the league were clearly becoming an issue for the owners. Some historians have suggested that the fixing of the games itself wasn’t as much of an issue to them as it was that the public was learning about the fixes. By that, what I mean is that a lot of the owners seemed to have been content with simply covering up the allegations.
But, baseball was America’s pastime. Coming out of World War I, there was a renewed sense of American pride. If baseball wasn’t on the up-and-up, what’s next?
But, the owners didn’t turn to a new Commissioner right away like the movie implies.
The movie doesn’t mention this at all, but one of the key figures involved in uncovering the fix wasn’t Kenesaw Mountain Landis at first. It was someone who is hardly in the movie at all, a man by the name of Byron “Ban” Johnson. His small role in the film is played by Clyde Bassett.
He was the president of the American League, which means as things stood, he was the one who should take care of the alleged gambling rumors. He was also an arch rival of Charles Comiskey’s who would’ve jumped at the chance to take the White Sox owner down.
Comiskey knew this, so that’s one reason why he wasn’t so keen on trying to dig deeper behind the rumors of a fix in the ’19 Series. It also played no small part in Comsikey’s supporting a new ruling party over the leagues.
Still, the movie gets the basic gist correct. It was a former federal judge named Kenesaw Mountain Landis who was appointed as the first Commissioner of Baseball on November 12th, 1920.
Kenesaw Mountain was an imposing figure who was well-known and helped the owners of baseball seem impartial in their dealing with cleaning up the sport. Some historians have suggested his appointment was as much a public perception as it was an attempt at cleaning up baseball.
Oh, and as a fun little fact, Kenesaw Mountain Landis got his unique name after a real mountain in Georgia. His father was a surgeon for the Union Army during the Civil War during the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain when a cannonball shattered his leg.
When he son was born, he named the boy after the site as a reminder of the life-changing moment. Although, Kenesaw Mountain Landis’s name is spelled with one “n” compared to the geographical location spelled with two “n’s.”
Back in the movie, things comes to a close with a court case to determine if the 1919 World Series was fixed. We see a brief scene where a tearful Eddie Cicotte admits they were crooked.
After this, reporters outside ask Eddie if he got immunity in exchange for talking about it. Eddie looks at the reporter, “What’s that?”
The camera cuts to a piece of paper with the words, “Waiver of Immunity” written on top. A man named Alfred Austrian is there with Joe Jackson and he tells Joe that he has to sign the document if he wants to be a witness. They don’t want you to get in trouble, they just need you to be a witness. You’ve gotta sign to be a witness, everyone does.
The illiterate Joe Jackson signs an “X” on a piece of paper. Since he can’t read, he clearly doesn’t know he’s signing away his immunity.
Later, as Joe leaves the courtroom, a young boy pleas with him in a statement that’d become a common saying for decades to come, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”
You can almost see the young boy’s belief in his hero get dashed as Joe replies that it is true.
Well, only maybe on that last part. It’s something that was reported to happen, but many years later Joe Jackson himself said that interaction never took place.
But the overall plot points here that we see in the movie is a pretty good representation of what really happened.
What the movie doesn’t show is that Eddie Cicotte signed a waiver of immunity, too. Although he could read, he was overcome with emotion and didn’t feel up to reading the piece of legalese thrown in front of him.
The lawyer we see in the movie, Alfred Austrian, and another associate of his were the only other two in the room when they insisted they’d take care of him. He’d be alright. All you’ve got to do is sign this piece of paper, and we’ll make sure everything is okay.
Later, Joe Jackson would sign a waiver of immunity, too. He couldn’t read, so he didn’t know what he was signing. He trusted the legal men around him who were insisting that’s what he needed to do to make everything alright.
Oh, and even though the movie never mentions this, some of the White Sox players talked about getting lawyers. But, they were assured that they didn’t need lawyers. Just sign the papers and we’ll make sure you’re taken good care of.
Going back to the movie, the court case turns out to be a victory for the ballplayers. The movie gets this pretty accurate. But the verdict of “not guilty” doesn’t do much for the eight White Sox players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series, though.
Even though they’re cleared by law, Judge Landis uses his power as the Commissioner of Baseball to declare that no ballplayer who gambles or even hears anything about gambling without reporting it will play baseball again.
And so, just like that, the eight White Sox players are out. They’re done with baseball.
As you can probably guess, that is true.
Even though there were rumors and allegations of players around the league fixing games, in my personal opinion, it sounded a lot like the White Sox throwing the 1919 Series was how the Commissioner of Baseball and the owners intended to make an example moving forward.
They did that by banning eight White Sox players from baseball for life. Chick Gandil, Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Happy Felsch, Swede Risberg, Buck Weaver, Fred McMullin, and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
As the movie comes to a close, we’re transported forward a few years to 1925. There’s some fans watching a game when a new ballplayer named Brown steps to the plate. They don’t recognize him, but after ripping a hit, one of the fans says he think that might be Joe Jackson.
Buck Weaver is in the stands and says he knows who Joe Jackson is…he was one of the best ballplayers ever.
“Well?” one of other fans asks of the player who just lined a hit. “Is that Joe Jackson?”
Buck looks out to the field. Then, after a pause, “No, that’s not him.”
The final bit of text on screen tells us that none of the banned players played Major League Baseball ever again. It also tells us that Buck Weaver tried to clear his name every year until his death.
That’s true. Well, mostly. Buck did try to clear his name numerous times, and insisted on his innocence for the rest of his life. Saying he tried to clear his name every year until his death might be overkill, though. I mean, he tried a lot at first…starting just a few months after the jury found the players not guilty.
But, it fell on deaf ears. Judge Landis wouldn’t reinstate him. He tried after Judge Landis was out as Commissioner in 1945. But the new Commissioner, Happy Chandler, also wasn’t interested in reinstating the now-aging Buck Weaver.
And so, just like the movie says, none of the eight ballplayers who were banned ever played Major League Baseball again.
For some, like the 36-year-old Eddie Cicotte, the ban was an embarrassing early retirement. For others, like the 27-year-old Lefty Williams, it was cutting short a promising baseball career.
For example, Joe Jackson actually signed a new contract after the 1919 World Series. He’d broken a record with 12 hits, the most in World Series history—a record that, stood for almost 50 years until Bobby Richardson had 13 hits in the 1964 Series.
Which is interesting that Charles Comiskey offered Joe Jackson a new three-year contract even after the 1919 World Series allegations of fixing games. He wasn’t the only one, either. Buck Weaver signed a three-year deal, too. Others were offered contracts as well.
Before signing the new contract, Joe Jackson specifically asked if the White Sox included the 10-day clause. That was a clause many clubs used that basically stated that the team could fire the player for any reason with only 10-days notice.
He was told the contract did not have the 10-day clause in it. He tried to get his wife to look at the contract first…she usually read the things he signed to make sure it was all on the up-and-up. But, he was told that wasn’t necessary. It was just a normal contract and there was no 10-day clause.
So, he signed.
But, I’m sure you can see where this is going. It did have the 10-day clause. Sort of like how he was told the waiver of immunity he signed was…well, the exact opposite of that. Makes you wonder how many times he was taken advantage of because he couldn’t read.
The scene we see at the end of the movie where a player calling himself Brown turns out to be Joe Jackson also happened. Except it wasn’t in 1925 like the movie shows. It was in 1922 when Joe Jackson’s love of the game led him to try playing again. He knew he couldn’t play big league ball, but he just wanted to play.
So, he played on a team in Hackensack, New Jersey. He simply went by the name “Joseph.” He played well in his first game. Probably too well. Someone recognized him as Joe Jackson, and immediately the opposing team demanded that the game was forfeit and no one play against Hackensack as long as he stayed on the team.
He was dropped from the team, but soon a sports promoter named Eddie Phelps had an idea. He tried to start a new team made up of players thrown out of baseball. They’d be billed as the Big League Martyrs. That didn’t last long.
But then, in 1923, Joe Jackson changed his name to Johnson and Eddie Cicotte changed his name to Moore as they joined Swede Risberg on a team in Louisiana. Joe Jackson did so well, hitting over .500, that he was recognized as Shoeless Joe yet again.
Gradually, the banned players stopped playing organized ball and started making new lives. For example, Chick Gandil moved to California where he became a plumber. Happy Felsch returned to his family in Milwuakee, opening a bar there. Eddie Cicotte returned to his family’s farm in Michigan for a while before becoming a game warden.
As for Joe Jackson, he returned to his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. He tried to play from time to time. He was even offered a job by the Greenville baseball team. They were a minor league team, though, and upon hearing of the job offering Judge Landis interfered. He declared the ban was not only for the majors, but also the minors.
Joe opened a liquor store in Greenville, which he ran for most of his aging years. In 1951, there were some people who tried to bring Joe back out from the shadows. The folks behind the movement to help clear his name even managed to get an opportunity for Joe to tell his side of the story on national TV.
Joe was delighted at the chance!
With the holidays around the corner, they set a date for January of 1952.
Sadly, Joe didn’t make that long. He had a heart attack and died on December 5th, 1951 at the age of 63.