Uncovering the Fix of the 1919 World Series: the role of Hugh Fullerton.
Hugh Fullerton V, who teaches journalism in a Texas college, got to know his grandfather, the sportswriter Hugh S. Fullerton, for a few years before he passed on in 1945. None of the memories they generated together involved baseball, but they did have fun playing together. Hugh recalled that his grandfather did the cooking in his family; his wife, the driving.
I was disappointed to hear that Hugh's grandfather left behind no papers or diaries. After all, in the stories he submitted just after the Series, he had names and dates and places--all edited out by his supervisors, either for fear of libel or perhaps at the request of Charles Comiskey. Hugh Fullerton and Commy were close, and from all accounts, Hugh was very loyal. When he called on baseball to end its shady dealings with gamblers, he exempted Mr. Comiskey. (1) In one of his last interviews, Joe Jackson claimed to have told Comiskey about the Fix, in the presence of Hugh Fullerton, before the Series. How great it would be if a journal entry would confirm that tiny detail!
The story of the uncovering of the Fix begins with Hugh S. Fullerton. Hugh was born in 1873, and according to Norman L. Macht, he was "the best-known baseball writer in the country" for the first quarter of the twentieth century. (2) "A titan of the Chicago press box," Fullerton graduated from Ohio State College and started writing in Cincinnati in 1889. (3) He moved to Chicago seven years later and in 1919 was on the staff of the Herald and Examiner. He went on after that to write several books, including some fiction. He was one of the founders of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and he was awarded the J. G. Taylor Spink Award in 1964.
Baseball historian David Q. Voigt quotes Fullerton often in describing how the early game evolved--with Fullerton lobbying for "more dash, less mechanical work, more brains by individuals and fewer orders from the bench." (4) Fullerton argued in print for more discipline to curb rowdyism but also gave a voice to the players who felt stifled by the system. Voigt ranks Fullerton with Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, and Franklin P. Adams--all-star company--as individual stylists. Voigt adds: "In 1919 it was Fullerton's detective work that unraveled the web of fact and rumor and exposed the crooked work of the 'Black Sox.'" (5)
Rumors of the Fix were "widespread and detailed" and were not confined to the playing field and locker room. A hundred reporters must have heard them, but Hugh Fullerton was "inquisitive" and "tracking down rumors was a joy of [his] life." Thou shalt not quit was the first of Fullerton's "Ten Commandments of Sports." (6)
Fullerton's "tireless digging" was assisted by Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson, who had covered the Series for a New York paper. Matty became Fullerton's "expert witness," diagramming each questionable play. According to Charles Alexander: "Comparing notes, [they] marked seven plays by the White Sox as highly suspect. In several articles over the winter, Fullerton not only questioned the honesty of the Series but discussed specific plays by specific players that had convinced him that something was amiss." (7)
Fullerton smelled something fishy before the first Series pitches were tossed. The rumors were flooding the streets, because the money being bet was shifting rapidly away from the Sox to the Reds. Thomas Aylesworth and Benton Minks have the odds swinging before game 1 from 3-1 Sox to 8-5 Reds. They quote one New York gambler as saying, "You couldn't miss it. The thing had a rot. I saw smart guys take even money on the Sox who should have been asking five to one." (8) Fullerton wired all the papers with whom he was syndicated: ADVISE ALL NOT TO BET ON THIS SERIES. UGLY RUMORS AFLOAT.
Right after game 1 Taylor Spink had confided to Ban Johnson that stories of a fix were all over Cincinnati. Johnson allegedly replied, "Do you know, Hugh Fullerton told me the same thing." (9) But Fullerton did more than inform baseball's highest authority. He wrote about his suspicions, as strongly as he could, during and right after the Series. His newspaper's fear of libel prevented him from naming the players he suspected.
When Fullerton's articles appeared, with Matty's diagrams and Fullerton's own discoveries about the Fix, the fixers, and the money, they were widely read and, as noted before, largely dismissed as "improbable muckraking." (10)
Fullerton's editorial crusade was all uphill, because there was a strong sentiment and belief, widely held, that baseball was just too hard to fix. Alexander cites several "experts" who had espoused this view, including nineteenth-century star Montgomery Ward. But Fullerton insisted that all it took was "honest players not squealing on their corrupt teammates." (11)
Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns note that Fullerton's campaign started in his column following game 4, a 2-0 Cicotte loss. Cicotte had pitched a terrific game but had made a wild fielding throw and botched a cutoff attempt to open the doors for the Reds. After the Series ended, Fullerton wrote: "There is more ugly talk and more suspicion among the fans than there has ever been in any World Series. The rumors of crookedness, of fixed games and plots, are thick. It is not necessary to dignify them by telling what they are, but the sad part is that such suspicion of baseball is so widespread." (12)
What happened during the Series made Fullerton's case harder to make. The gamblers did not deliver the promised big bucks. Some money was delivered, but only a fraction of what was promised. Probably after game 5, but maybe as early as game 3, the White Sox realized that they were being had and decided to strike back by winning the Series and claiming the bigger prize money. Down 4 games to 1, they took game 6, 5-4, with Gandil knocking in the winning run. Then they took game 7, behind Cicotte's pitching and Jackson's hitting, 4-1. But game 8 slipped away early--it was Lefty Williams's third loss--as the Reds pounded out 16 hits in a 10-5 rout.
Richard Cohen and David Neft state that "one gambler told writer Hugh Fullerton before the [8th] game, 'All the betting's on Cincinnati. It's going to be the biggest first inning you ever saw.'" (13) Ward and Burns report Fullerton's parting shot after the Series: "There will be a lot of inside stuff that is never printed." And Fullerton called on the club owners to call off the World Series--to make 1919 the last--because he felt the game was now in the control of gamblers.
Fullerton predicted that seven White Sox players would not be back the next spring. He was confident that Comiskey would do something. Ray Schalk made a similar statement to a Chicago reporter, but when he was contacted by The Sporting News and asked to be more specific, he refused to comment. "Now what does Ray Schalk know?" TSN asked. (14)
Testifying in a 1924 trial in which Joe Jackson sued the White Sox for breach of contract and back pay due, Fullerton was asked about his post-Series statements and what was behind them. He replied: "I wasn't convinced of it, no ... I considered it good enough to shoot at, yes ... good enough to make a good story for the newspapers.... I was convinced that they [the seven players] would not be there, guilty or not--the talk was so strong that they would be out." (15)
Life went on, with the Fix being swept neatly under the carpet. But Fullerton did not stop writing about it in October 1919. Fullerton's courageous article, "Is Big League Baseball Being Run for Gamblers, with Players in the Deal?" ran not in Chicago but in the New York Evening World, prompting Nelson Algren to write: "His own paper, roaring daily ... about corruption in public life, fled like a hare when confronted by the need for simple honesty." (16) In his novel Blue Ruin, Brendan Boyd describes Fullerton locking himself up in a storage closet and banging out his indictment, then being told a few days later, "We can't use this," without further explanation, by his Herald and Examiner editor. (17)
Fullerton, discouraged and disillusioned by this development, felt as if he wanted to quit writing baseball. He went to the managing editor of the Evening World, John H. Tennant, saying, "I'm sick and tired of writing about a game that has gone crooked. That Series was fixed." Tennant then directed him to write a special series on it. The editor reportedly said, "It's hot, but this story has to be told." (18) Even toned down and with names removed, the story was a blockbuster.
Despite its accusatory and shocking title, the article ran inside the paper, on "the sporting page"--it was not splashed across page one in bold type. The piece appeared on December 19, 1919, just two months after the Series ended. In the article, Fullerton writes not so much about the fixed Series as about the fact that so many people in so many different cities are talking about the apparent success of gamblers in fixing the Series--but that baseball officialdom is not doing much about it. He is clearly bothered that baseball's reputation as a clean sport has been sullied, more than ever before. It pains him.
As forcefully as he can, Fullerton calls on baseball to settle things. If the Fix was in, the guilty need to be punished. If they are found innocent, wonderful--baseball's reputation is restored. He is putting baseball on trial. He focuses on the American League, which, "smirched with scandal, held [their annual fall] meeting, wrangled, fought and blackguarded [attacked with abusive language] each other, and separated without an effort to clear the good name of the sport." He is dismayed that the American League has closed its eyes and ears, hoping the whole thing will just go away.
Some of the owners wanted, like Fullerton, a full investigation. And "some are for keeping silent and 'allowing it to blow over.'" Fullerton continues: "The time has come for straight talk. How can club owners expect writers, editors and fans to have any faith in them or their game if they make no effort to clean up the scandal?" He then fires these strong words at a specific target: "If one-quarter of the charges that Ruppert, Comiskey, Frazee and Huston made against President Ban Johnson of the American League are true, Johnson should be driven forever out of baseball. If they are not true, the men making the charges should be driven out." Fullerton was allied with Comiskey, an enemy of Ban Johnson. This contingent of dissatisfied American League owners would unite a year later with the National League owners to remove Ban Johnson from power and replace the three-man National Commission with a commissioner.
Fullerton seems to be as upset about Cincinnati manager Pat Moran's charges that certain persons tried to get his players drunk before the first Series game as he is about the gamblers' nasty business. And he takes Moran to task for keeping that quiet, because it meant the crime went unpunished.
Fullerton sees the charges against the seven White Sox players as "more directly injurious" to baseball than those against the owners. Why? Because: "The public has for years had little faith and much disgust in the officials and club owners." Players being accused of cheating is not new, either. What has Fullerton so incensed is that "never before have players been so freely charged." He feels as if a murder has been committed in public view and the murderer is walking away, without any problems.
OUT ON A LIMB
Fullerton is not grandstanding; he is a reluctant crusader. He writes: "I have steadfastly refused to believe this [the conspiracy to fix the Series] possible. Some of the men whose names are used are my friends and men I would trust anywhere, yet the story is told quite openly, with so much circumstantial evidence and with so many names, places and dates, that one is bewildered."
Fullerton considers Comiskey an honest man, but he is sure that Commy knows the whole story, "knows perhaps more than anyone else." He applauds Comiskey's $10,000 reward and his hired detectives. Just as he fought against the belief that baseball could be rigged, and then that the Series was rigged, so he clings to the hope that Comiskey will act--that he will ban the guilty players. He points to the feud raging in the American League as the only thing that has prevented Comiskey from investigating all charges.
Then Fullerton explains why he seems to be the only writer out on this particular limb: "For nearly two years I have been working to discover some evidence of what has been going on." He is referring here not to the 1919 Series but to the gambling rumors that had been plaguing the game. (Earlier, he referred to Hal Chase's activities, which Christy Mathewson would not tolerate when he managed the Reds.) A Boston gambler had told him that the syndicates "had men" on every team. Fullerton scoffed, but sure enough, some of the players named wound up in trouble. In July 1919 a Chicago gambler took Fullerton aside and questioned him seriously about the honesty of baseball. Fullerton's response: "I told him it was straight." He knew the gambler was also a fan, and his suspicions were aroused.
Finally, Fullerton gives his eyewitness report on the gambling scene he observed on the eve of the 1919 Series. He was told as soon as he arrived in Cincinnati that the first two games were a sure bet. Yet the heavy betting was not convincing--Fullerton knew gamblers "considered themselves wise" but were also "the biggest suckers in the world" when they heard tasty rumors. Never-theless, Fullerton went to Mathewson with what he'd heard, and Matty ridiculed the rumors. But both men were so suspicious by now that they sat together and took notes of every play in the Series that seemed as if it might be crooked. They found seven.
Fullerton's last exhibit for this trial on paper is this:
Twenty minutes before the final game in Chicago started, I was taken aside by a gambler, who told me to plunge. I was mad by that time, and demanded that he come through with some proof or shut his mouth, that he was a crook and accusing others. He laughed and remarked: "You ought to have cleaned up on it--tipping one team and playing the other." I was mad all the way through, but wanted to learn something, so I asked: "What do you know about to-day?" "It'll be the biggest first inning you ever saw," he said. These things, and worse, are printed in the Western cities. The club owners know all about them. The baseball authorities must go to the bottom of the entire matter of gambling. (19)
Little note was taken of it at the time, but in his historic December 19, 1919, article, Fullerton gave baseball a plan for uncovering the conspiracy that he was certain had ruined the Series. He suggested that Judge Landis interrogate gamblers named Zork, Levi (two brothers), Eddie of Boston, Tim of Des Moines, Abe Attell, Bill Burns, Pesch, and Redmon; and then question Monte Tennes of Chicago, and Arnold Rothstein; followed by Comiskey's detectives, manager Kid Gleason, writers Jimmy Crusinberry and Ed Wray of St Louis, and Fullerton himself; and finally, ballplayers Ray Schalk and Eddie Collins.
Looking back, Fullerton had named many of the key figures who, when called before a grand jury in September 1920, helped break open the Fix. For the record, while Comiskey's detectives ignored Fullerton's plan, Comiskey's archrival, Ban Johnson, followed it up and fed key witnesses to the grand jury. Johnson's motives may not have been purely to clean up baseball, however; he was also interested in wrecking the White Sox franchise. As Robert Cottrell writes: "Two days later, Fullerton again declared that 'a complete investigation' was necessary. [He] asked Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis [who was not yet the game's Commissioner] if he would assume 'the responsibility of conducting an investigation if the powers of baseball are willing to submit the entire matter to him and assist him in bringing witnesses before him.'" (20)
In 1924 Fullerton gave Comiskey credit for keeping him active in pursuit of hard evidence. They corresponded in January 1920, when Fullerton had become discouraged; Comiskey motivated him to keep at it for six or seven more months.
THE RESPONSE TO FULLERTON'S CHARGES
If Hugh Fullerton wrote a similar story today, charging, for example, that Barry Bonds and six or seven of his teammates on the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates received money from gamblers for giving the National League playoffs to the Braves, and it ran in Sports Illustrated, he would be instantly in the glare of the media. He would be forced to produce evidence, and if he had it, he would be famous.
Hugh Fullerton, unfortunately, had only the word of "gamblers, politicians and players." (21) And he had a scorebook marked with seven suspicious plays. He had not the power to bring the truth to light; all he could do was rail against the American League owners, and Ban Johnson, who did have the power, for failing to do more.
In a word Fullerton was crushed for his attack on baseball. The establishment assailed him, and his reputation was ruined. Baseball Magazine called him an "erratic writer" who knew so little about baseball that he thought games could be fixed! Fullerton's career spun out of control. The Sporting News also defended baseball's integrity against the charges Fullerton had made. Christy Mathewson, who had sat beside Fullerton and charted the suspicious plays, took off in the opposite direction, blaming the White Sox loss on overconfidence and arguing that the Reds' superior pitching had turned the tide. Writing in Liberty in 1927, Fullerton said: "I was assailed from all directions and an attempt was made to assassinate me. This only strengthened my conviction that the Series was crooked." The syndicates indeed may have considered knocking Fullerton off, but that might have increased suspicions. (22)
Fullerton's reputation now destroyed, Steve Klein notes that his impact was lost on future generations of sportswriters. Other writers who probably knew of the Fix, such as Ring Lardner and Damon Runyon, left baseball writing and moved on, although there is good reason to believe that Lardner was more soured by the advent of the lively ball and the worship of home runs. (23) Fullerton eventually followed them out. He spent much of the rest of his life working in the movement to return the McGuffey textbooks to America's classrooms.
It was on his departure from the 1920 grand jury hearings that Joe Jackson is said to have encountered a small boy, who said the most famous words never spoken, "Say it ain't so, Joe." The saying is a fixture in our language as "an expression of disbelief or hoped-for denial," but it does not convict Jackson. (24) The most vivid account was Hugh Fullerton's, which appeared the day after Jackson's testimony.
Fullerton's account is served up as a kind of punch line, after he describes Joe Jackson as a fallen idol who "sold his honor." When Jackson is asked to "say it ain't so"--the "it" refers to Joe's being part of the conspiracy. But it ain't necessarily so.
Fullerton could have had something else in mind. Joe Jackson had just left the courtroom. He had testified that he took money and did not play his best baseball in some games, but he also said that he played every game to win, at bat and in the field. That's what he claimed the rest of his life. Nevertheless, he knew of the Fix. What fans had hoped to hear from Jackson was something that would refute Eddie Cicotte's story. Instead, Jackson confirmed that the Fix was in. And that may be what "it" meant in "Say it ain't so."
Put another way, Fullerton removes the last shred of hope that this ugly story about the 1919 Series is false, by having Joe Jackson, superstar, confirm it. If Fullerton took his opinion on Jackson from Comiskey, he would have suspected Jackson was somehow involved with the plot (he accepted some of the gambler's money, from his friend and pitcher Lefty Williams), but he might have also believed, as Comiskey later testified, that Jackson really did play the Series to win.
Perhaps Fullerton was with Comiskey when Jackson told him of the Fix, the night before game 1. We have (so far) only Jackson's word for that. Perhaps he heard from Gleason that Jackson asked to be benched before game 1, "so there could be no doubt" he was not involved. None of the plays Mathewson judged suspicious involved Jackson. Or he may have heard that Jackson tried to see Comiskey right after the Series, to show him the tainted money, and that Jackson offered to come to Chicago that November.
If Comiskey believed Jackson was innocent of crooked play, would Fullerton have a different view? Could he? Fullerton had put his faith in Comiskey and really believed Commy would clean house before the 1920 season. But Comiskey did not; only Gandil was gone. The rest not only returned but received generous raises (except Buck Weaver, who had signed a multiyear contact for 1919-21 but held out for a raise anyway, and Joe Jackson).
The Fix was uncovered. Fullerton took the occasion, writing in the New York Evening World, to call for a housecleaning of baseball "from cellar to garret. Nothing but a change of heads of organized baseball and a wholesale expulsion of players can save the national game." (25)
Writing in The New Republic that same month, Hugh Fullerton might well have used the title "I Told You So" instead of "Baseball on Trial." Fullerton was right, but instead of whining about the way he was treated, he calmly and thoughtfully notes that baseball "has received a blow from which it will be a long time recovering." (26) He recounts what was found out when the players confessed before the grand jury, recounts his suspicions and his charting plays with Mathewson during the 1919 Series. He calls on ballplayers who suspect their teammates are controlled by gamblers to speak out.
Fullerton points out how gamblers and corruption pretty much shut down horse racing in many parts of the country--sending the gamblers into baseball. Gambling had been a big problem for more than twelve years. He mentions at least three other World Series that were tainted, without saying which ones or naming names. He points to the clearing of Hal Chase, after Mathewson charged him with fixing games, as a green light for players to play dishonestly without fear of being discovered or punished.
He repeats that the climate of baseball was such in the 1919 season that gamblers could openly boast of owning players on various clubs, and no one blinked an eye. He writes: "Through it all the officials in charge of baseball adhered to their policy of curing an evil by declaring it did not exist and by using their influence over consciously or unconsciously subsidized sporting writers to suppress the accusations and punish those who demanded an investigation."
This is as close as Fullerton gets to "I told you so." The scandal is now public, the players banished, but Fullerton is not satisfied. He clears Comiskey but takes this parting shot: "Baseball hardly can be purged of crookedness while, among those who own clubs are men who are themselves gamblers and interested in gambling businesses."
With the scandal now out in plain sight, Hugh dropped Baseball Magazine a note, asking for a retraction and an apology for their caustic attack the year before. They printed his letter but replied "with neither apology nor retraction." Instead, they piled on Fullerton again for "picking up an ugly story" and "blowing it up into a muckraking tirade against organized baseball." Eliot Asinof notes that Baseball Magazine had constantly resisted any investigation into Fullerton's charges, denying the need. (27) Now that the matter was public knowledge, they still could not see the truth!
RISKING AND LOSING
Was Fullerton a Don Quixote? He took a huge risk, and lost. He underestimated Comiskey's ability to keep the lid screwed tightly on the scandal. Comiskey had given him his first real job, and Fullerton had a blind spot when it came to the Sox owner; this cost him dearly. He imagined that the owners and Ban Johnson had consciences to which he could appeal with passion and logic. He must have hoped that his voice would be joined by writers in every major city and that his article would be the snowball that started an avalanche. In reality, his case had a snowball's chance in hell.
Did Fullerton accomplish anything? Yes. His singular attempt to clean up baseball, even though it failed, at least brought to national attention the very real problem of baseball being strangled by gambling. Fullerton had had enough; he just could not take it anymore. But baseball owners were not about to air their dirty linen (or sox, in this case) if they did not have to, and no one was making them.
NOT A HISTORIAN
Hugh Fullerton V noted that his grandfather was a reporter, not a historian. When he turned in a piece, he cleared his desk and moved on. The exception was the article he wrote in December 1919, which no Chicago editor would OK, calling for an investigation of the Series based on the widespread rumors, which were surely turning into knowledge for more and more inquisitive minds.
Challenging baseball meant taking a risk. But perhaps taking risks for the right reasons was in the Fullerton genes too. The first Hugh Fullerton was a Presbyterian preacher in south central Ohio and an active link in the Underground Railroad. Hugh V recalled being shown the attic of the family home, where slaves traveling north to safety stayed. On one wall was a dartboard. Its center was a peephole, so those in hiding could tell when the coast was clear.
1. Or that may have been his editors again.
2. Mike Shatzkin, ed., The Ballplayers (New York: William Morrow, 1990), p. 367.
3. Shatzkin, ed., The Ballplayers, p. 367.
4. David Q. Voigt, American Baseball, vol. 2 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970); Voigt, America through Baseball (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1976), p. 52.
5. Voigt, American Baseball, p. 83.
6. Voigt, America through Baseball, p. 54.
7. Charles C. Alexander, Our Game: An American Baseball History (New York: Holt, 1991), p. 115.
8. Thomas Aylesworth and Benton Minks, The Encyclopedia of Baseball Managers (New York: Crescent, 1990), p. 197.
9. J. G. Taylor Spink, Judge Landis and 25 Years of Baseball (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1947), p. 82.
10. Shatzkin, ed., The Ballplayers, p. 367.
11. Alexander, Our Game, p. 87.
12. Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, Baseball: An Illustrated History (New York: Knopf, 1994), p. 139.
13. Richard M. Cohen and David S. Neft, The World Series (New York: Dial, 1979), p. 15.
14. The Sporting News, December 1919, cited in Harold Seymour, Baseball: The Golden Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971).
15. Transcripts of Jackson vs. Chicago White Sox, pp. 1091-97. Fullerton testified on February 7, 1924.
16. Nelson Algren, The Last Carousel (New York: Putnam's Sons, 1973).
17. Brendan C. Boyd, Blue Ruin: A Novel of the 1919 World Series (New York: Norton, 1991).
18. Frederick Lieb, The Story of the World Series (New York: Putman's Sons, 1949), p. 140.
19. Robert C. Cottrell, Blackball, the Black Sox and the Babe (Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2002).
20. Cottrell, Blackball, the Black Sox and the Babe.
21. Lieb, The Story of the World Series, p. 19.
22. The most detailed description I've found of the reaction to Fullerton's article was written by Steve Klein and was once posted at the BlueEar.com Global Journalism Community Web site. It is no longer archived there; I thank Trey Strecker for sharing Klein's long essay with me.
23. Lardner himself blamed his loss of interest on the way the game changed, from the dead-ball era of Cobbian strategy to the lively ball era of Ruthian bombs: "Baseball hasn't meant much to me since the introduction of the TNT ball." See Ring Lardner Jr., The Lardners Remembered (New York: Harper and Row, 1976); and Jeff Silverman, ed., Lardner on Baseball (Guilford CT: Lyons, 2002).
24. Paul Dickson, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (New York: Avon, 1989), p. 341.
25. Hugh S. Fullerton Sr., "Is Big League Baseball Being Run for Gamblers, with Players in the Deal?" New York Evening World, December 15, 1919.
26. Hugh S. Fullerton Sr., "Baseball on Trial," New Republic, October 1920, p. 18.
27. Eliot Asinof, Eight Men Out (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963), p. 210.