Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Baseball [Print without images]

Thursday, December 13, 2007
Papers detailing Black Sox scandal sold to museum for $100,000

Associated Press

BURR RIDGE, Ill. -- The Chicago History Museum won a collection of rare documents, letters and memos detailing the Black Sox scandal at an auction that ended Thursday.

The museum offered about $100,000 for the collection, topping 35 other bids, said suburban Chicago auctioneer Mastro Auctions.

Experts say the papers offer insights about the Chicago White Sox and their notorious alleged actions in a betting scandal during the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds that was one of the darkest events in baseball history.

The documents shed light on the White Sox players, then-owner Charles Comiskey and the formative years of professional baseball, said Peter Alter, a curator at the Chicago History Museum.

"What we really need to do is dig through it and start organizing it," he said.

The museum will eventually display some of the documents and make the collection available for inspection by researchers, officials said.

The existence of the thousands of pages of material was previously unknown. Authorities aren't sure how they ended up packaged together or where they might have been over the past eight decades.

Mastro Auctions declined to reveal the identity of the two sellers and said they likely purchased the box without knowing exactly what was inside.

The papers include documents from the 1921 criminal trial against eight White Sox players accused of throwing the Series as part of a gambling scandal. They also include documents from a 1924 lawsuit in which some of the players sued the Chicago franchise for back pay.

The White Sox players, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, were acquitted, but all were permanently banned from the game by the first commissioner of baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., will receive photocopies of the documents, Mastro Auctions said.

Led by Jackson, pitcher Eddie Cicotte and Hall of Fame second baseman Eddie Collins, the White Sox were considered one of baseball's greatest teams to that point. They were a divided bunch, however, with many players angry at tightfisted owner Comiskey. That made them ripe targets for opportunistic gamblers looking for a Series lock -- or so the story goes.

Professional gamblers Arnold Rothstein and Joe "Sport" Sullivan headed a group of shady characters that hatched the scheme to fix the Series. First baseman Chick Gandil took charge for the White Sox, asking for money up front and recruiting teammates -- including Cicotte and another star pitcher, Lefty Williams.

When Cicotte hit Reds leadoff batter Morrie Rath with his second pitch in Game 1, it was a signal to bettors: The fix was in.

The White Sox opened as heavy favorites before the odds dropped. With rumors swirling, they lost the best-of-nine Series in eight games. In the press box, sports writers such as Hugh Fullerton circled suspicious plays on their scorecards.

The plot was soon exposed and, within a year, a grand jury was investigating. Jackson, Cicotte, Gandil and Williams were among the eight players indicted and then suspended by Comiskey. In June 1921 the players were found innocent in court -- but not by baseball. Landis, hired to clean up the game, barred all eight for life.

As he left the courthouse one day, Jackson encountered a youngster. According to the Chicago Herald and Examiner, the boy tugged at Jackson's sleeve and uttered a famous phrase.

" Say it ain't so, Joe," the boy pleaded. "Say it ain't so."

The Black Sox scandal left a permanent scar and inspired Eliot Asinof's 1963 book "Eight Men Out," which was made into a 1988 movie. Since Landis' ruling, baseball has consistently taken a hard line against gambling -- most notably the lifetime ban of career hits leader Pete Rose. Jackson, with a .356 career batting average that ranks third in baseball history, is not in the Hall of Fame.

The White Sox, who had won the 1917 World Series, didn't win another championship until 2005.