Fall 1919. The Chicago White Sox have just completed the regular season with the best record in baseball. The World Series will be played, but it seems like a mere formality. The fact is that there is no other team in the major leagues who seems capable of winning more games over the course of a short series against the Sox. The team should be celebrating in style but the champagne delivered at the behest of owner Charles Comiskey turns out to be very cheap and very flat. This coming on the heels of the news that the champagne represents the grand sum of the bonus they were promised if they won the pennant. Not for the first time, the players feel let down and abused by ownership. Thus sets the stage for the low-level grumbling about to grow into a rumbling insurrection against the tightfisted owner.
When Chick Gandil, the first baseman for the Sox, is approached by shady gambling interests with the opportunity to make really good money by doing nothing more than playing badly, he is eager to play ball. In fact, Gandil is so eager that he actually seeks out more gamblers behind the fixer’s back to make bigger money. All he need to do to pull this off is find a handful of like-minded teammates who share a greater distaste for Comiskey than a taste for World Series glory. Recruitment turns out to be remarkably easy as he quickly has a shortshop, outfielder and utility man in the bag.
Still, the plan is doomed to failure if he can’t convince the best pitcher in the league to come on board. Eddie Cicotte at first flatly refuses, but then he goes into Comiskey’s office to get the $10,000 bonus that the owner promised him if he could win 30 games that season. The problem is that Cicotte only won 29 games. Cicotte’s argument is that he likely would have won that 30th game had the owner not ordered the manager to rest his pitching ace after win 29 so he would be fresh for postseason. Gandil is convinced that Comiskey was far less interested in his health than he was in saving himself a $10,000 loss. When Comiskey flat out refuses to make a deal, he effectively seals a World Series loss for his team. All that is needed to guarantee this outcome is bringing the team’s number starting pitcher into the plan and convincing the team’s most feared batter, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Third baseman Buck Weaver eventually becomes aware of the fix, but promises not to rat on his friends.
All three of the small time gamblers in on the fix are now forced to seek out much bigger players in the world of organized crime in order to finance the thing. That issue gets settled, albeit with a little murky underhandedness, and the World Series proceeds as scheduled. The unusually lackluster performance by the red hot White Sox in game can hardly be overlooked. Two prominent sportswriters in Chicago are especially attuned to something being severely not right and take it upon themselves to dig deeper.
They don’t have to dig very deep before things start to unravel. After losing first two games to the Cincinnati Reds, the White Sox win game three behind a pitcher who is not part of the throw. This not only starts to make the gamblers a little nervous, it increases the suspicion of the sportswriters.
The rest of the team joins the pitcher of game three in playing hard for victory as does Buck Weaver. Even Shoeless Joe, who is supposedly in on the fix, is putting up impressive numbers that help to defer suspicion. Nevertheless, Cicotte also loses game 4. By Game 7 the manager ha become more than a little anxious and plans to substitute for the poorly performing Cicotte. When his ace begs for one more shot, however, he gives in and Cicotte goes on to win Game 7. The 1919 World Series was an experiment in a best out of 9 format, however, so the Series is far from over.
Game 8 means starting the other pitcher who is being paid to throw the Series, but he has yet to see any money and decides to follow Cicotte’s lead and pitch for a win. A threat posed to the continuing existence of his wife stops that misguided plan in its tracks. Instead, he goes out and pitches so badly that he doesn’t make it past the first inning. Despite Shoeless Joe hitting his only home run of the Series, the White Sox lose and almost immediately talk begins spreading of a fixed World Series.
An investigation is launched culminating with a grand jury indicting eight players including Buck Weaver and Shoeless Joe Jackson—and not one single gambler. A trial is held and the verdict returns: all eight found not guilty of on charges of conspiring to defraud the public. The owners of Major League Baseball, hoping to maintain their antitrust exemption and chart the course of their own legal entanglements, create a new position: Commission of Baseball and promptly choose former Judge “Kennesaw Mountain” Landis who bans all eight players from baseball for life.
Forever after the 1919 Chicago White Sox would be known as the Black Sox.