On Oct. 9, 1919, the Cincinnati Reds beat the Chicago White Sox to capture the World Series crown. But the 10-5 victory was no ordinary game — it was the final blow in the biggest scandal to ever hit baseball, and it would lead to major changes in how the sport operated.
In the fall of 1919, the Chicago White Sox were early favorites to win the World Series against the Reds, but eight White Sox players were reportedly paid money to make sure it would never happen: Arnold "Chick" Gandil, first baseman; Eddie Cicotte, pitcher; Oscar "Happy" Felsch, center fielder; "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, outfielder; Fred McMullin, utility infielder; Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop; George "Buck" Weaver, third baseman; and Claude "Lefty" Williams, pitcher. They were indicted for conspiracy to defraud for intentionally losing the World Series.
While what exactly happened was in dispute, most reports agree the plan was put into motion when Gandil met with known gambler Joseph Sullivan to tell him he thought the World Series could be bought. Gandil might have felt that way because many White Sox players, despite their winning record, weren't being paid as much as other players around the league because of the team's miserly owner, Charles Comiskey. Sullivan is said to have gotten mobster Arnold Rothstein to bankroll the fix.
Word spread in the clubhouse that money could be made by making a few errors in the World Series. After the White Sox lost the final game on Oct. 9, rumors started to fly that the fix had been in. A week later, Comiskey released a statement offering $20,000 to anyone who could tell him about the scheme.
All eight men were eventually indicted, but not all of them fessed up to being guilty. In fact, evidence shows that the biggest star of the team, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, was more than likely not actively in on the fix. His World Series batting average was .375 and he was said to have given it his all. According to History.com, "Jackson claimed his teammates gave his name to the gamblers even though he hadn’t agreed to participate, and the other players admitted that Jackson never attended meetings about the fix."
He later signed a confession saying he was paid $5,000 for losing, but Jackson, who never learned to read or write, later said a team lawyer manipulated him into signing. He also said he tried to return the money and talk to White Sox owner Comiskey about the plan both before and after the World Series, but was rebuffed.
On Aug. 2, 1921, after just three hours of deliberation, all eight players were found not guilty. But the damage had been done. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis said despite the acquittal, all of the men would be banned for life from playing baseball. The ban extends into post-career activities, such as Hall of Fame inductions, which hurt Jackson the most.
Landis was eventually named Major League Baseball's first commissioner to tighten control of wrongdoings in the sport. Jackson died in 1951, still proclaiming his innocence and, despite pleas from baseball fans and sports writers, remains ineligible for the Hall of Fame.