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A black day for the White Sox.

Byline: Steve Zalusky

If you picked up a newspaper 100 years ago, Monday, Sept. 27, 1920, and turned to the sports page, you would have read that the White Sox were a half-game within first-place Cleveland after an 8-1 win over Detroit Sunday in front of an estimated crowd of between 25,000 and 28,000 at Comiskey Park.

You would have read about Joe Jackson's running catch on a line drive to left-center by Ty Cobb in the third. And you would have learned that Happy Felsch tracked down a drive by Harry Heilmann in the shadow of the scoreboard in the sixth.

Eddie Cicotte picked up his 21st win, giving up only one unearned run on his own errant throw to first on a bunt by Cobb that allowed Ralph Young to score from second.

Although the chances were shrinking with four games left, it was still possible for the Sox to claim the 1920 crown, the team's third pennant in four years.

But if you turned to the front page, you would find news that would make the team's fading pennant chances recede way into the background.

There, the story told of how Sox owner Charles Comiskey admitted he was convinced after the first game of the 1919 World Series that someone had "fixed" some of his players. The story was written in the context of Cook County grand jury proceedings then underway.

The catalyst for the grand jury investigation, oddly, came from the North, not the South Side. It was fueled by suspicious reports about an Aug. 31, 1920 game between the Cubs and the Phillies that was allegedly fixed for the Phils to win. Cubs President Bill Veeck (yes, father of that Bill Veeck) was alarmed by telegrams warning of the plot.

Veeck had Cubs Manager Fred Mitchell pull starter Claude Hendrix in favor of Grover Cleveland Alexander. Despite the presence of "Pete" on the mound, the Cubs still lost the game 3-0.

Gradually, however, the focus of the grand jury shifted squarely onto the events surrounding the 1919 World Series.

Writers like Hugh Fullerton, who covered the series, and Frank O. Klein, of Collyer's Eye, a weekly "covering all fields of sport and finance," had already called attention to the brewing scandal,

On Oct. 10, 1919, Fullerton wrote after the Reds wrapped up the series, "There will be a great deal written and talked about this world's series. There will be a lot of inside stuff that never will be printed," adding, "Today's game also means the disruption of the Chicago White Sox as a ballclub. There are seven men on the team who will not be there when the gong sounds next spring, and some of them will not be in either major league."

And Klein, on Dec. 13, 1919, wrote that Sox catcher Ray Schalk predicted that Cicotte, pitcher Claude (Lefty) Williams, first baseman Chick Gandil, infielders Fred McMullin and Swede Risberg, and Felsch and Jackson would be missing from the 1920 lineup.

Charles Comiskey reacted to the rumors by offering a $10,000 reward for proof of wrongdoing.

Fullerton and Schalk were wrong. The players, except for Gandil, were back in 1920 and posed to repeat as champs.

But that was derailed by the grand jury, which was closing in on the details of the fix.

On Sept. 23, 1920, it was reported that two Boston Braves players, Art Wilson and Tony Boeckel, filed affidavits claiming that New York Giants pitcher Rube Benton told of winning bets on the 1919 series after receiving a tip from former Giant Hal Chase that the Sox would lose the first two games and the series.

The affidavits were disclosed by the Cubs' Buck Herzog after he was accused by Benton of offering Benton $800 to lose a September 1919 game to the Cubs.

On Sept. 24, reports said AL President Ban Johnson confirmed that Comiskey held up salary checks after the World Series for eight players, including Cicotte, Gandil and McMullin.

Then, on Sept. 27, in a report out of Philadelphia, one of the fixers, a former prizefighter named Billy Maharg, exposed the plot. Maharg said Cicotte met him and former White Sox pitcher Bill Burns in a New York hotel room and said a group of Sox players would throw the series if a syndicate of gamblers could raise $100,000.

Burns, he said, arranged for the sum with former featherweight boxing champion Abe Attell. However, Maharg said, they were only able to get $10,000 from Attell, who apparently made a killing on the series.

On Sept. 27, 1920, the Sox played a makeup game at Comiskey with the Tigers. Dickey Kerr threw a 2-0 shutout to earn his 20th victory, and Jackson drove in a run with a single.

The following day, Cicotte and Jackson confessed to the grand jury. Cicotte said he was involved in a conspiracy with his teammates and had received $10,000 to fix the series the night before he lost the first game.

The reports had him weeping and saying, "My God, think of my children." He said, "I've lived a thousand years in the last year."

In Jackson's testimony, according to newspaper reports, he said he expected $20,000 but only received $5,000 from pitcher Claude (Lefty) Williams. The reports said he testified he either struck out or hit easy balls when hits would have meant runs.

That day, eight players were indicted, and Comiskey suspended the seven still playing.

Comiskey declared in a telegram to the players, "Until there is a finality to this investigation, it is due to the public that I take this action, even though it costs Chicago the pennant."

In the end, Fullerton, who had been vilified for raising the issue of the fix, rendered his own brand of poetic justice, which would resound along the corridors of history and find its way into songs, movies and books.

He wrote on Sept. 30, 1920, about how Jackson was "guarded like a felon" by bailiffs following his grand jury testimony.

"He did not swagger. He slunk along between his guardians and the kids, with wide eyes and tightening throats watched, and one, bolder than the other, pressed forward and said: It ain't so, Joe, is it?'

"Jackson gulped back a sob, the shame of utter shame flushed his brown face. He choked an instant.

"Yes, kid, I'm afraid it is.'"
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Steve Zalusky
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Sep 27, 2020
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