Thursday, June 29, 2006

Time to Revisit Black Sox Scandal?

by Scott Silversten

There are many moments throughout history that remain fascinating simply because we will never know the whole truth.

No matter how much we yearn, the complete events onboard the hijacked flights of September 11 will forever remain a mystery. Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? What was it like on Titanic? Fictional movies have done more to explain, expound and often, distort, events such as these.

In baseball parlance, mystery has always surrounded the events leading up to, and following, the 1919 World Series. That year, eight members of the Chicago White Sox, or the "Black Sox" as they would become known, allegedly conspired to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.

Nearly 87 years after the Black Sox scandal, baseball fans still wonder about what actually took place. Most know only what was depicted in Eliot Asinof’s book, Eight Men Out, and the 1988 movie of the same name staring D.B. Sweeney as Shoeless Joe Jackson.

For those who are unaware, the simple story is this: Eight members of the White Sox, upset with the way they had been treated by stingy owner Charles Comiskey, accepted money from gamblers and fixed the Fall Classic. The players were brought to trial, but acquitted. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis punished the eight players with a lifetime banishment from baseball.

However, fascinating new theories are being raised in Burying the Black Sox – How Baseball’s Cover-up of the 1919 World Series Fix Almost Succeeded by freelance baseball researcher Gene Carney.

I, for one, was not aware of this book until reading Bill Madden’s column in Sunday’s New York Daily News. And after reading Madden’s piece, I it again. I also cannot get my hands on that book too soon.

According to Carney’s research, Jackson testified during a 1924 trial in Milwaukee that he first received money following the World Series and immediately told Comiskey and White Sox General Manager Harry Grabiner of the transaction. Carney claims that Jackson was told to keep the money and to keep quiet.

Jackson, of course, was one of the greats of his time and the best player in the 1919 series, hitting .375 with a homer, six RBI and no errors. Defenders of Shoeless Joe have used that performance in a failed attempt in recent years to get Jackson back into baseball, and thus, into the Hall of Fame. His detractors have said that even if he did not perform poorly, he knew about the fix and never came forward.

In announcing his fateful decision, Landis proclaimed, " player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball."

Now we are faced with the possibility that Jackson did come forward the moment he was given money, and that the cover-up was perpetrated by Comiskey, who feared the dismantling of his talented team if the rumors of a fix were confirmed. Once the fix did become public, Carney argues that Comiskey might have conspired with Landis to banish the eight players in an attempt to preserve baseball’s clean image.

As history has so often noted, Comiskey was essentially concerned with the bottom line. His thriftiness is probably what drove the Black Sox to make the decisions they eventually did, and his fear of future financial losses might have been the impetus for any cover-up in the scandal’s aftermath.

Earlier this year, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig used the publication of a book about Barry Bonds and BALCO as a reason to launch his first investigation into the steroids debacle that has engulfed the sport in recent years.

While he is at it, Selig should also investigate the theories put forth in Carney’s tome and possibly move toward rectifying a true baseball injustice nearly a century old.

Baseball fans and historians may never know the whole truth about the events of October 1919, but we are now faced with the realization that the game was perhaps denied a full career by one of its most legendary, and infamous, individuals.

Say it ain’t so, Joe.


Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday


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