August 17, 2017

Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown: The Chicago Press

June 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

This is the second in a series of reports on my research at the Chicago History Museum, May 27-29. The first appeared in NOTES #489, and contained a kind of overview of my findings in the CHM “Black Sox Scandal Records.” In this issue, I report on what I found in the CHM’s newspaper microfilm archive.

“ALL I KNOW IS WHAT I READ IN THE PAPERS”

Will Rogers, who has a cameo appearance in the B-Sox story, got a lot of mileage out of that line. Rogers was as deft as any late-night comic at sifting humor from the newspapers of his day. Our understanding of the B-Sox events, because it relies so much on Eight Men Out, is largely based on what was written about them in the press — which in 1919-1920, was “the media.” And the problem with this is simply that much of what appeared in print, starting right as the scandal was breaking, was inaccurate.

If you picked up the Chicago Herald and Examiner on September 26, 1920, a couple page one headlines would compete for your attention. Choir Boys Fight Cops With Guns would probably be the first item you’d read.

Four Sunday school boys and a dozen policemen fought a running battle yesterday afternoon within the loop. And when the police learned of their Sunday school affiliations, they announced they had rounded up a gang of a dozen choir boys who have been systematic auto thieves and holdup men at night.

Good grief, you might say to yourself, choir boys shooting at lawmen? Well, at least we have good old clean baseball. But before you can turn to the sports page, the headline just to the right catches your eye: Crookedness Winked At By Club, Is Claim. Officials Retained Players After Bribery Proof, Witness Charges.

The H & E had interviewed Mr Clyde Elliott at his offices, Greater Star Productions. He had been subpoenaed September 25 by the Cook County grand jury, to tell what he knew about the fix of the 1919 Series, and he said he had “plenty of evidence” to share. Elliott and Max Ascher, rabid Sox fans, met with Sox reps Harry Grabiner and Kid Gleason the day after the WS ended, and Elliott accompanied Gleason to East St Louis within a few days, to listen to the story of Elliott’s friend, Harry Redmon. A month after Elliott talked to the H & E, Redmon would tell all to the grand jury himself. The CHMD (Chicago History Museum documents) contain Redmon’s full testimony.

Elliott knew — as Gleason must have known, a few days after the Series — that there had been bribery, involving seven or eight Sox players, with $100,000 being the price tag.

What puzzles me is why the Sox officials haven’t taken any action before. I know that at least one of them [likely Gleason] has known all about the deal for a long time — months. But in the face of this the crooked players have been permitted to remain on the team, and probably have been “collecting” from the gamblers this season, as well as last.

Elliott denied betting on the Series himself, so this was not “the wail of a sore loser.” Elliott himself had been silent for a nearly year, of course, perhaps out of loyalty to the Sox, and perhaps because he, like Hugh Fullerton, expected the Sox to clean house before the 1920 season began. But not completely inactive — Elliott was apparently responsibly for the visit to Chicago made by poolroom gambler Joe Pesch and Harry Redmon, both of St Louis, in late December 1919. (We know this now because we have Redmon’s grand jury statement.) Elliott knew what Redmon knew, and was already puzzled in December that Comiskey was not doing more about it.

Again, this story appeared September 26, two days before Eddie Cicotte went to the grand jury to put an end to the cover-up forever. In 1919, Hugh Fullerton was on the Herald and Examiner staff, and if you are new to the B-Sox trail, and want to read about the 1919 World Series before, during, and after it was played, I strongly recommend the coverage in the H & E.

GENERAL JOE

I think the most-read newspapers for info about the B-Sox story are the NY Times, and the Chicago Tribune. Both were “major league” in that day, and carried in-depth coverage of the events, including Q & A from the B-Sox trial in 1921. Both are easily accessible in many libraries, and now, via ProQuest. There is little doubt that Eliot Asinof relied heavily on both.

But if he looked up the Chicago Evening Post of September 28, 1920 — “D-Day” for the scandal, the day Cicotte and Jackson went to the grand jury — he would have found this: “Joe Jackson, outfielder, came out flat-footed today and said that he did not believe any player on the team was dishonest. ‘The playing of the Sox in the last two weeks proves to me that every player’s conscience is clear.’” After stumbling on their last swing East, the Sox were on a roll and had closed to within a half-game of the first-place Clevelanders.

I am ready to go before anyone at any time any place to testify to what I know. I know little or nothing except the rumors. I know I have never in all my baseball career been approached with any gambling proposition. If anyone ever does approach me that way I’ll knock his block off.

Jackson went on to say that he heard about the fix rumors from Kid Gleason, in the clubhouse in Cincinnati. My guess is that this was before Game One, and certainly not later than before Game Two. “We were urged to show by our playing that the rumors were false.”

“General Joe” Is Ready went the sub-head in this story. It appears from what Jackson said later that when he went to Alfred Austrian, the team lawyer, he again said that he knew little. Yet when he enters the grand jury room that afternoon, he tells about being approached by Chick Gandil, being promised $20,000, only receiving $5,000, but what for? Because he also testifies that he played the whole Series to win. The CHMD has a lot more information about Joe Jackson’s quality time with Austrian, and the circumstances in which he went to the grand jury.

SURPRISES

The Chicago Daily News of September 28 was full of surprises. No one expected any Sox players to go before the grand jury until the season had ended; if they won the AL pennant again, maybe not until after the Series. Suddenly, eight of them had been indicted. According to the News, Judge Charles McDonald and State’s Attorney Hartley Replogle, after reading Billy Maharg’s story (told to James Isaminger in the Philadelphia North American, then flashed around the country), agreed that Eddie Cicotte should be contacted and urged to tell what he knew.

The CHMD has all the details of Eddie’s “Black Tuesday,” too. We now can read Austrian’s notes, a synopsis of what Eddie said, and Cicotte’s own detailed version of his negotiating with Austrian, Replogle and then McDonald.

Cicotte had hoped to get in and out of the grand jury room without anyone noticing. He didn’t want his teammates to know that he had “spilled the beans,” and he just might have hoped that — because he said he pitched the Series to win — things might be kept quiet at least a few more weeks, offering him and his team a shot at redemption, in another World Series. He got into the grand jury unnoticed, but — alas — was spotted by a reporter as he snuck out. Or “was smuggled out” as the News put it. “‘Did you get a bath, Eddie?’ a friend called, referring to an ‘immunity bath.’ Cicotte grinned sheepishly and made no reply.” It is interesting how many newspapers assumed that the three players who volunteered to go before the grand jury, had been promised immunity from later prosecution. That they were not — was a surprise.

FRED MCMULLIN, THE MISSING LINK

If you first read about the Fix in the Chicago American of September 28, you would think that the mastermind of the whole deal was — Fred McMullin. There it is, Fred’s smiling face in a 3? x 5? page one photo, under the banner Name McMullin in Fixing of White Sox. Weeghman Affirms Bribery Report, went the sub-head, and then this: “Fred McMullin, utility infielder, was named today as the ‘fixer’ in the alleged $100,000 ‘frame-up’ of the 1919 world’s series.” That’s right, the fixer. Move over Hal Chase, we have a new Usual Suspect.

I’m not sure how the American reached its conclusion about Fred. His name was in the grand jury leaks, all right. But something Charles Weeghman said about getting his tip from Monte Tennes in Saratoga, must have implicated McMullin more deeply. He had been scouting (with Eddie Murphy) in Cincinnati before the Series, giving Fred an opportunity to set up something there — maybe that’s what the American pounced on. In any case, he was identified as the “go-between” in the Fix.

This story appeared before Cicotte knocked everything else off the front pages. So the American was still reporting about the possible involvement of “numerous Chicagoans, not baseball players.” The Rothstein-Attell-Burns-Chase-Evans quintet was known, and Nicky Arnstein (onetime husband of Funny Girl Fannie Brice) came up, along with “race track plunger” Max Blumenthal. But Hal Chase really was the Usual Suspect: “Hal Chase, outlawed player, who lurks somewhere in the vicinity of nearly every fresh charge.” The American speculates that Gandil received $22,000, an odd number that you don’t see much in the story.

It’s the September 28 issue of the American, remember, but it’s too early for the big Cicotte scoop. Instead, on page two, the headline is Zimmerman and Cicotte Deny Benton Story. Ray Schalk was denying, too — that he ever fought with Lefty Williams, or other teammates, after the Series. Cicotte’s denial was carefully couched: Benton had suggested that Eddie might know the name of a Pittsburgh gambler/fixer; that’s what he denied. He admitted that he received his WS check late, but attached no significance to that. The held-back checks served to link together the eight men who were in the Fix rumors. Heinie Zimmerman was blunt and to the point: “Benton is a liar.” Phil Hahn, a betting commissioner, also named by Benton, offered to give $5,000 to charity if anyone could link him to the scandal.

Two other squibs in this issue of the American caught my eye. In one, grand jury foreman Harry Brigham answers a question from an American reporter by saying that “it was doubtful that the eight White Sox players mentioned in the various charges would be indicted.” But they were, and swiftly, and other CHM documents suggest that the Austrian/Replogle/McDonald gang was responsible.

In the other interesting item, Mrs Lefty (Lyria) Williams is quoted at some length, denying that she bet on the games. She was with Kate Jackson, buying shoes for — no, just kidding there. She and Kate were attending the theater, and had good alibis with corroboration for her whereabouts during the Series. As if that was not enough, she noted that it would be bad luck for her to bet when Lefty was on the mound. She missed Game Two, but was there in Game Five (Lefty vs Hod Eller, she recalled), and “was so excited that I cut my hand on the railing. When ‘Happy’ Felsch misjudged that fly ball I could have jumped out of the box and killed him on the spot.” Sorry Lyria, get in line behind Kid Gleason.

There had been rumors (I think these followed many games that were lost by wildness) that Lefty had been drinking, but Lyria W. disputed that. “I never knew of a man who worked so hard to win when he was sent in to pitch.” She also had a theory about what “slowed Cicotte up”: “He knew there was to be a baby. The baby was born two days after the series closed. I think he had that on his mind. As soon as the series was over he boarded a night train and went to his wife.” Did you all know that?

The above is an excerpt from Issue #490 of Gene’s Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown. To read the rest of the issue (or past issues), click here.

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