Mystery shrouds the death of Arnold Rothstein-the mystery of highstakes poker games, a close-range gunshot in a hotel room, codes of silence, botched investigations, political fixes.
Business as usual on Broadway.
Another great mystery shrouds not his death, but his life. The 1919 World Series, ostensibly a celebration of sport's highest ideals, in reality featured crooked ballplayers, betrayed fans, gamblers double-crossing players, players double-crossing gamblers, missing witnesses, perjury, stolen confessions, purposely mistaken identities, and cover-ups that would make Tammany proud. The Black Sox scandal is the ultimate corruption of our sports heroes, the ultimate corruption of American heroism, period. It remains a linchpin of our popular history-recalled in books, magazine articles, movies, documentaries, and, yes, in everyday conversation and literature.
"Say it ain't so, Joe!" a heartbroken Chicagoan begged fallen idol Shoeless Joe Jackson, and his plea entered the American language. The following became part of our literature:
"Meyer Wolfsheim? No, he's a gambler." Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: "He's the man who fixed the World's Series back in 1919. "
"Fixed the World's Series?" I repeated.
The idea staggered me. I remembered of course that the World's Series had been fixed in 1919 but if I had thought of it all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain.
It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people-with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Arnold Rothstein was Meyer Wolfsheim. Meyer Wolfsheim was Arnold Rothstein. F. Scott Fitzgerald met A. R. only once, but it was enough for Fitzgerald to include him in his greatest novel. Fitzgerald really didn't get Rothstein right. He saw him as crude and uncouth, a vulgarian who mispronounced words and sported human teeth as cuff links. F. Scott Fitzgerald got A. R. wrong, and it's not surprising no one has gotten A. R. and the World Series fix right since.
A. R. planned it that way.
To untangle what A. R. tangled we must start at the beginning, with fairly incontrovertible facts. A cabal of players ("the Black Sox") on the highly favored American League champion Chicago White Sox conspired to lose the 1919 World Series to the National League Cincinnati Reds. The Sox were a talented but unhappy and factionridden ball club. Money played a part in their unhappiness. Some players felt underpaid and hated owner Charles Comiskey for it. But on the Sox were men who would have stolen even if they had been millionaires.
Not one, but two sets of gamblers, financed the fix. The players stretched out their greedy hands and took money from both. Ultimately, both gambling cliques welshed on their promises, shorting the players on the cash promised them. The players retaliated by winning Game Three against Cincinnati, bankrupting one gambling clique and sending them home from the series. However, under threat of violence, the Sox ultimately lost the Series to the Reds.
It was not the perfect crime. Perfect crimes require discretion and intelligence. In 1919, so many players and gamblers flaunted their actions that suspicions surfaced almost immediately. But nearly a year passed before baseball and civil authorities exposed the plot. In July 1921 eight Black Sox players-pitchers Ed Cicotte and Lefty Williams, outfielders Shoeless Joe Jackson and Oscar "Happy" Felsch, first baseman Chick Gandil, shortstop Swede Risberg, third baseman Buck Weaver, and utility man Fred McMullin and a ragtag assortment of gamblers stood trial in Chicago. After several signed confessions disappeared mysteriously, all won acquittal-but not exoneration. None of the eight Black Sox ever played major-league baseball again.
This we know for sure. Less certain is Arnold Rothstein's connection.
A. R. did very little in direct fashion, and until he caught a bullet in his gut, he never paid for his actions. If things happened-illegal things, immoral things, violent things-and he profited from them ... well that was just how things turned out. No one could ever prove anything. If he shot a cop-or even three-he walked, and the detective who wondered aloud whether shooting cops should be punished by civil authorities found himself indicted. If the feds indicted A. R. for questionable activities on Wall Street, the case conveniently never came to trial. If A. R. fixed a World Series ...
"Why isn't he in jail?"
"They can't get him, old sport. He's a smart man. "
-E Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
The Black Sox scandal is not just a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a mystery. It is a labyrinth of fixes, doublecrosses, cover-ups, and a con so big, so audacious, it nearly ruined professional baseball.
And manipulating it all was Arnold Rothstein.
Eliot Asinof's Eight Men Out, the standard history of the Black Sox fix, relates a far different tale-A. R. is a mere latecomer to one portion of the fix, a mere bystander to the other. Asinof places the crime's origin in Boston in September 1919, when the Black Sox approached gambler Sport Sullivan, who then turned to Rothstein for backing. In the interim, however, the Black Sox approached two small-time gamblers, Sleepy Bill Burns and Billy Maharg, about rigging the outcome. They, too, solicited A. R., but he turned them down. A. R.'s sometime henchman, ex-boxing champion Abe Attell, pretending to be Arnold's agent, went ahead fixing the series with Burns and Maharg-but without A. R.
On examination, much of this scenario doesn't make sense. But Eight Men Out is such a well-written book, that it's easy to gloss over the inconsistencies. On even closer examination, many dates, many sequences of events, make even less sense. In fact, they're impossible. Which leaves us with yet another mystery in the life of Arnold Rothstein, but a solvable one if we sift through all the clues. Some are small hints that by themselves mean little. Some are huge inconvenient guideposts ignored for decades. Add them up, and the sum is the true story of the Black Sox scandal-a far more complex and intriguing tale.
One huge, inconvenient piece of evidence is not ignored for lack of credibility. Its source has major credibility. History has ignored it because it just never fit in, never quite made sense until now.
In August 1919, as during every August, A. R. summered in Saratoga, betting on the ponies and operating his brand-new gambling house, The Brook. Also in town was former Chicago Cubs owner Charles "Lucky Charlie" Weeghman. At The Brook, Weeghman chanced to meet a friend from Chicago's North Side, gambler Mont Tennes. Tennes, who controlled racing wire services nationwide, had gambling and underworld sources nationwide. It was his business to know things. What he knew in Saratoga was that the upcoming World Series was going to be fixed.
A. R. told him. A. R. told him a lot. As Weeghman remembered it, Rothstein himself, Abe Attell, Nat Evans, and Nicky Arnstein were working the gambling end of the fix. Chicago first baseman Chick Gandil and infielder Fred McMullen were the players involved.
Pitcher Eddie Cicotte was in on it, too. Earlier that August, the White Sox visited Boston for a three-game series, and Cicotte was busy trying to cajole Buck Weaver into joining the burgeoning scheme. Boston was home to Joseph J. "Sport" Sullivan, one of Beantown's most prominent bookmakers-and Boston, and particularly Boston's ballparks-had many fine bookmakers.
Sport knew all about baseball. Some even said he had fixed the 1914 Philadelphia Athletics-Boston Braves World Series. Everyone had expected an easy Athletics triumph, but the upstart Braves swept four straight. The biggest winner on that little venture was Broadway's George M. Cohan. Sport Sullivan was his betting broker.
The White Sox returned to Boston in mid-September. Buck Weaver remained reluctant, but that didn't matter. Gandil and Cicotte would do business. Sullivan met them at Chicago's team hotel, the Buckminster, a cozy little place just blocks from Fenway Park. Some said the players approached Sullivan. Gandil said otherwise. It really didn't matter. Both sides knew what they wanted.
Gandil claimed Sullivan suggested that he and Cicotte entice five or six additional teammates into the plot. Sport promised $10,000 to any player involved. Gandil thought recruiting so many players was too risky. "Don't be silly," Sullivan responded. "It's been pulled before and it can be again."
Gandil knew what that meant. He'd known Sullivan for a long time. He'd heard the whispers about the 1914 Series. And you didn't have to go back that far. The American League heard rumors that the 1918 Red Sox-Cubs World Series was fixed-and would have investigated them had the league office not been cash-strapped from the war. There were even question marks surrounding the 1917 Series. John McGraw suspected his second baseman Buck Herzog of taking a dive on that one.
Gandil and Ed Cicotte invited six other players into the conspiracy: Fred McMullin, Buck Weaver, Swede Risberg, Lefty Williams, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Happy Felsch. "Not that we loved them," Gandil would say, "because there never was much love among the White Sox. Let's just say we disliked them the least." Weaver probably never agreed to join the plot, but neither would he inform management of its existence.
The next morning, most likely September 20, Gandil informed Sullivan the deal was a go-cash in advance. Sport said it would take time to get the money. That was true. A. R. certainly had $80,000, but wasn't about to hand it to either Sullivan or the players in midSeptember. The Big Bankroll would never allow that kind of money sit to idle for two full weeks. Rothstein would never part with a dollar, let alone eighty thousand of them, one second longer than necessary.
Meanwhile, in late summer 1919, former major-league pitcher Sleepy Bill Burns traveled north from his Texas ranch, peddling oil leases and reconnecting with old friends in baseball along the way. In the majors Burns would sometimes fall asleep on the bench in the middle of a ball game. When awake, he gambled, always ready for cards or craps. On leaving baseball, he speculated in petroleum. He did well, but not fabulously well.
Burns first visited St. Louis, trying to cajole players into investing in his properties. Next, he traveled to Chicago. When the Cubs left town, Burns followed them east by train. "He prefers traveling with a ball club," observed the Chicago Daily News, "as he knows he can have a lot of entertainment." In Cincinnati, Bill worked out with the Reds. In Philadelphia he met with the visiting New York Giants and their crooked, game-throwing first baseman, Hal Chase.
Reaching New York, Burns checked into the White Sox team hotel-the Ansonia. On Tuesday, September 16, 1919, a few days before the Sox met with Sullivan in Boston, wet ground conditions at the Polo Grounds canceled play against the Yankees. With nothing better to do, Eddie Cicotte began fixing a World Series, starting with a boast to Burns that the Sox would win the pennant. That wasn't controversial-Chicago had paced the league since July 10 and now led Cleveland by eight games. Cicotte cryptically added he "would have something good" for Burns. There the conversation ended, but Burns comprehended Cicotte's meaning.
Burns had company in New York-his friend, a thirty-eight-yearold gambler, ex-lightweight boxer, and sandlot ballplayer named Billy Maharg. They had known each other for a decade, and Maharg once spent a year at Burns's Texas ranch. Maharg lived in Philadelphia, working for the Baldwin Locomotive plant. Maharg and Burns were preparing to travel north (or to Mexico, or to New Mexicoaccounts vary) for a hunting trip.
On Thursday morning, September 18, Burns and Maharg loitered in the Ansonia lobby. Maharg was writing a letter when Burns walked over and introduced Cicotte and Chick Gandil. Once Gandil determined Maharg was sufficiently crooked, he got down to business: the White Sox would throw the whole World Series or any part of it for $100,000.
Burns had money, but nowhere near that much. And $100,000 was just the beginning. A fixer required far more capital than that for the heavy betting necessary to turn a profit. Burns didn't have $10,000, let alone $100,000. Maharg had less. Burns sent Maharg home to raise capital. "I saw some gamblers in Philadelphia," Maharg later testified. "They told me it was too big a proposition for them to handle, and they recommended me to Arnold Rothstein ..."
While Maharg traveled south, the White Sox moved north to Boston and, unknown to Burns, negotiated with Sport Sullivan. When Sullivan proposed the fix with Gandil and Cicotte, they proved clearly receptive. Gandil would say about that meeting: "The idea of taking seven or eight people in on the plot scared me." The idea of a fix didn't scare him. He'd been planning one with Sullivan for weeks. He'd been planning one with Burns and Maharg. He'd have planned one with anyone who even looked as if he had the cash or knew someone who did.
In Manhattan, Maharg and Burns pursued their funding, pursuing, in fact, Sport Sullivan's source of funding-Arnold Rothstein. Maharg, bearing a letter of introduction from a Philadelphia gambler named Rossie, visited Rothstein's office. A. R. wasn't in. They sought him at Aqueduct-again, no luck. Burns and Maharg did, however, meet someone calling himself A. R.'s "first lieutenant": Curley Bennett. There really was a New York underworld character by the name of Joseph "Curley" Bennett. He operated a Broadway pool hall, pimped, and ran with Tom Foley's branch of Tammany. Like Attell he had served as Arnold Rothstein's bodyguard. But the fellow Burns and Maharg met wasn't Bennett, he was Des Moines gambler David Zelser. As we shall see, Zelser had his reasons for not being properly introduced.
Through Zelser, Burns and Maharg scheduled a meeting with A. R. at 8:30 that night, most likely September 27, 1919, at the Astor Hotel grill. Three other men sat at A. R.'s table: Val O'Farrell, one of the city's premier private detectives, was one, and, depending on who told the story, a member of the local judiciary was another. Circumstances were not ideal for proposing the fix of the century. Burns and Maharg made their pitch anyway: Chicago would throw the Series for $100,000. If A. R. provided the bankroll, he could clean up.
Arnold exploded. He wanted no part of their scheme. He wanted no part of them-and if they knew what was good for them, they'd never see him again-about anything.
In actuality, A. R. wanted no part of their fix. He had his own in motion with Sullivan. But there was something deeper going on. This was no sincere outburst, no fury generated by small-timers muscling in on his idea. Quiet calculation-not spontaneous anger-motivated Arnold Rothstein. He knew there would be a meeting. He knew its agenda: fixing the World Series. Despite the sensitive topic, A. R. scheduled a meeting not in his office, nor even in a relatively secluded back room at Reuben's, but in the middle of the biggest, busiest hotel in Manhattan-in the very heart of Times Square, no less. Conveniently, with him were three witnesses, including former police officer O'Farrell. The normally reserved, soft-spoken Rothstein rejected Burns in violent terms "nearly coming to blows with the would-be fixer," creating as noisy a scene as possible.
Rothstein ambushed Burns and Maharg. If his own Series plot went sour, if Sullivan or the players started to talk, Rothstein could blandly state (and did-repeatedly): Me? In on it? Never. Let me tell you how I ran those two cheap chiselers out of the Astor ... I called them blackguards, you know, I called them skunks ...
Rothstein had already dispatched Sport Sullivan to Chicago, with Nat Evans along to supervise him. He told Nat to travel under the name of Brown and gave him $80,000 cash for the fix. The whole idea bothered Evans. Too many people already knew too much about it. Don't worry, said A. R.: "If nine guys go to bed with a girl she'll have a tough time proving the tenth is the father."
On September 29, Sullivan and Evans met the Black Sox at the Warner Hotel on Chicago's South Side. The players wanted their $80,000 up front. Evans wanted collateral. Gandil said he'd give his word. Evans couldn't keep from laughing, and retorted, "In my book, that's not much collateral for eighty grand."
Evans gave $40,000 to Sullivan, holding the rest back for bets. Sullivan kept $30,000 for his own betting, giving Gandil just $10,000. Gandil needed that $10,000-and quickly. Eddie Cicotte, who would open the Series on the mound, was making noises. He wouldn't cooperate unless paid up front. "The day before I went to Cincinnati I put it up to them squarely for the last time that there would be nothing doing unless I had the money," Cicotte would later confess. "That night I found the money under my pillow. There was $10,000. I counted it.... It was my price."
Meanwhile Abe Attell had just returned to Manhattan. Retired from boxing, Attell supported himself in various ways, entertaining vaudeville audiences with tales of the old days, serving as A. R.'s bodyguard-and gambling. But times were tough. Five days before the Series began, while in Chicago, he pawned his wife's platinum and diamond ring for $125. Back in New York a day or two later, he needed to borrow more money. Beyond that, he needed a way to make money-quick money, easy money. Soon he heard rumors of what was happening in Chicago since his departure. Money was about to change hands between ballplayers and gamblers. One of those gamblers sounded like Nat Evans. At the Polo Grounds, Attell met the Giants' Hal Chase. A couple of days after soliciting A. R. at the Astor, Burns had informed Chase there was going to be a fix (somewhat optimistically, it must be admitted, since he had nowhere near the money necessary to accomplish it). Chase told Attell, and Attell conveyed the news back to A. R. ("I told him he had better get off Chicago, as it [the Series] was going to be thrown.") They met at the Astor. Sport Sullivan was present.
They, of course, knew all about it, but Attell's report made A. R. nervous. What did Burns mean that the Series "was going to be thrown?" Did Burns know about Sport Sullivan? Did Chase? Rothstein changed his mind about Burns and Maharg. Not about financing their scheme-what was the point of that? But it might be wise to keep an eye on them. Arnold now ordered Attell and David Zelser to meet with Burns. Whether A. R. authorized them to use his name in their dealings, we'll never know for sure, but they certainly did, and they laid it on thick for their audience.
Attell and Zelser, still pretending to be Curley Bennett, met Burns at his room at the Ansonia. Also present were Hal Chase and two of Chase's teammates, pitchers jean Dubuc and Fred Toney. Toney left, but Dubuc remained. On trial in Chicago, Burns related what happened:
Q-When was the conversation?
A-Two days before the series [opened on October 1].
Q-What did they [Attell and Zelser/Bennett] meet you for?
A-They came to arrange the fixing of the series.
Q-What did Attell say?
A-He asked me to go to Cincinnati to see the players. Bennett also wanted to see what kind of a deal he could make with them. I told him I would go and see.
Q-Did Bennett say anything about whom he represented?
A-Yes, he said he represented Rothstein and was handling the money for him. Bennett also wanted to go to Cincinnati to confer with the players.
Q-Was anything else said?
A-I asked Attell how it was that he had been able to get Rothstein in when I had failed?
Q-What did he say?
A-He said he had once saved Rothstein's life and that the gambler was under obligations to him.
Q-At that time you were at the hotel was any mention made of money?
Q-In what way?
A-Bennett said Rothstein had agreed to go through with everything.
Q -Just what was said in reference to the $100,000?
A-They were to pay that to the players for the series.
Q-What was said?
A-Bennett said he would handle the money and that Attell would arrange for the betting.
Attell and Zelser were aboard for the ride. Burns and Maharg were about to be taken for one.
The World Series started in Cincinnati on Wednesday, October 1, 1919. Attell and Zelser set up shop in Room 708 of the city's Sinton Hotel. Their assignment: bet as much on the Reds as possible. "He [Attell] had a gang of about twenty-five gamblers with him," recalled Maharg. "He said they were all working for Rothstein. Their work was very raw. They stood in the lobby of the Sinton and buttonholed everybody who came in. They accepted bets right and left and it was nothing to see $1,000 bills wagered."
Chicago Tribune reporter James Crusinberry saw it, too-Attell atop a chair in the lobby, hands full of thousand-dollar bills, yelling he'd take any bet on the Sox. "I was amazed . . . ," Crusinberry would recall. "I couldn't understand it. I felt that something was wrong, almost unbelievably wrong."
Yes, it was wrong. And so is the conventional picture that Abe Attell worked without A. R.'s knowledge. Attell had hocked his wife's ring in Chicago a week before. Now he commanded a platoon of gamblers with fists full of thousand-dollar bills.
Where did he get the money?
To ask the question is to answer it.
But answering it, leads to another, harder one: Why did Arnold Rothstein empower Abe to act as his agent? He already had Evans and Sullivan on the case. Why work with two bums like Burns and Maharg?
Attell's assignment wasn't the fix. Arnold didn't want more money pumped into the fix-but into bets. That's where the money was. That's why David Zelser was with A. R. at Aqueduct and why A. R. took pains to conceal Zelser's identity. Rothstein didn't want a flood of money coming out of New York, shifting the odds from the White Sox to the Reds. That would create suspicion, suspicion of him. No, he wanted most of the betting done by Midwesterners in the Midwest. Zelser would work with a coterie of St. Louis and Des Moines gamblers. But A. R. must have felt uneasy about trusting a veritable stranger like Zelser. So at the last minute he assigned Attell to oversee the operation. If Abe kept his other eye on Burns and Maharg, so much the better.
Yet there was something even more cunning about A. R.'s actions: What if A. R. already had decided to stiff the players? What if Sullivan and Evans didn't pay them the full amount? Then the Black Sox might jump ship, might play to win. But what if they saw even more money from a different source dangled before their eyes? What if they were promised $80,000 by one group of gamblers and $100,000 more by another? Who would risk walking away from that much? The other fellow's greed was a wonderful thing, a marvelous tool for making money for yourself. It had already provided A. R. with several fortunes, and it could certainly work again with these rubes.
And if Burns and Maharg were caught? Back at the Astor Hotel, A. R. had already established his alibi. Very, very publicly, he had told Burns and Maharg he wanted no part of their scheme, no part of a World Series fix, no part of their fix. If caught, they would hang by themselves. Well, maybe not by themselves. The undertow might trap Abe Attell, but, if it did, it wouldn't be the first time Arnold had left the Little Champ in the lurch.
It was a beautiful, subtle, multilayered and, above all, financially economical plan. What A. R. couldn't foresee was how clumsily Attell, Zelser, Evans, and Sullivan would implement it-how much attention they'd draw to themselves, to the carloads of money they were betting, how much they'd shoot their mouths off.
Aggravating matters were the Midwestern gamblers Attell and Zelser employed to place bets. They talked and talked to the wrong people. The single most ignored aspect of the Black Sox case is the involvement of so many of these Midwesterners. What was a fellow from Des Moines like David Zelser doing with A. R. in New York? Why had Zelser concealed his identity from Burns and Maharg? Why were so many of these gamblers working for Attell, infesting hotel lobbies in Cincinnati and Chicago, waving thousand-dollar gold notes, frantically betting every cent on the Reds?
When the fix was exposed, five of the Midwestern gamblers were indicted for conspiracy-Zelser and his two brothers-in-law, fellow Des Moines gamblers, Ben and Louis Levi, and St. Louis gamblers Carl T. Zork (Abe Attell's former manager) and Ben Franklin. Yet we ignore them. They stand before us at virtually every stage of the action, yet remain invisible. Abe Attell should have employed New Yorkers in such a sensitive and lucrative assignment, men he knew and trusted. Instead he worked with Zork and Zelser and company. Why? How had these men materialized on such short order, in such prominent roles?
They were there all along. The scheme began in St. Louis in early 1919, with the forty-year-old Carl Zork, and the city's "King of Gamblers," thirty-six-year-old Henry "Kid" Becker. Zork and Becker, no strangers to fixing major-league ball games, plotted to fix the biggest games of all: the World Series.
Becker originally wanted to fix the 1918 Red Sox-Cubs World Series but didn't have the cash. It might have proved the same in 1919. All talk. Not enough cash. Who would even be in the upcoming series? The defending world champion Red Sox? The National League champion Cubs? The White Sox? Ah, here were possibilities. The Sox hadn't performed well in 1918, but the war was over, their players had returned, and they were once again a club with much talent and little conscience. One could do business with a bunch like that. The Giants? Even more promising. Hal Chase had returned to the club, after a stint in Cincinnati, and was always cooperative in such enterprises.
Kid Becker never put his plan in operation. In April 1919 someone shot him dead. Newspapers said it was a "highwayman." Attorney Bill Fallon later claimed the assailant was a rival for the Kid's girlfriendan embarrassing end for Henry Becker, husband and father.
But Carl Zork and his associates survived. By July 10, 1919, both the White Sox and Giants had reached first place. Becker's old St. Louis crew revived the Kid's grandiose plan. Their task was enor mous. Knowing crooked players was one thing. So was fixing regularseason games. But rigging a World Series was quite another. Fixing a World Series requires massive capital. Only one gambler had the necessary money and nerve: Arnold Rothstein, by now nationally known as the biggest, smartest, and best-connected gambler around.
We do not know how or when Becker's old clique brought the plan to Rothstein. We probably never will. But he agreed to bankroll the operation. Most likely that is exactly how he saw it. He wasn't fixing anything. He merely loaned funds to some enterprising gentlemen-and at very steep interest rates. If, in the bargain, A. R. knew about a "sure thing" and placed his own sizable wagers on the proposition, well, so much the better.
Back in Manhattan after providing Sullivan with the go-ahead, Rothstein proceeded with that investing, starting with Harry Sinclair. Sinclair had prospered considerably, having founded wildly successful Sinclair Oil in 1916. A. R. telephoned Harry, ostensibly about horse racing. Inevitably, talk turned to the upcoming Series. Before Sinclair knew it, he had $90,000 down on Chicago. More bets followed with another rich sucker, racing-stable owner Edward E. Smathers and, within a short time, A. R. had $270,000 on the Reds. Betting more might have roused suspicion.
That same night Rothstein had a visitor: Nick the Greek Dandolos. Nick had lost $250,000 (some said $600,000) to Rothstein the year before, and his luck was hardly better at the recent Saratoga meet. He needed money. Rothstein respected Dandolis and handed him $25,000. It was a loan, to be repaid . . . "or God help you if you don't," but A. R. had some advice for The Greek: Put it all on the Reds.
In Cincinnati, Bill Burns and Billy Maharg collided with reality. The first World Series game would be played on October 1. That morning they visited Attell and Zelser's room, expecting the $100,000 they promised the Sox. Attell wouldn't turn over a cent "saying [he] needed the money to make bets." But Abe wasn't entirely unreasonable. The 1919 Series was best-of-nine gamestaking five games to win it all. Attell would deliver $20,000 after each Chicago defeat. That seemed fair to Burns and Attell, and later when Burns talked with the players, even they thought it reasonable. (After all, they counted on even more from Sport Sullivan.) They would wait.
Eddie Cicotte didn't mind. He already had his $10,000 from Sullivan. As a signal to gamblers that the fix was on in the first inning of the first game, Cicotte plunked Cincinnati leadoff batter Morrie Rath in the back. In the fourth inning, he surrendered five runs, on the way to a 9-1 Reds victory. It wasn't a particularly subtle performance, and rumors reached firestorm status. But Eddie had performed as promised, and Arnold Rothstein plunged another $85,000 on the Reds.
Burns and Maharg returned to the Sinton at 9:30 that evening for the first $20,000. Attell stiffed them. "The money is all out on bets," he snapped. "The players will have to wait." Burns and Maharg gave the bad news to Chick Gandil, promising they'd deliver some cash by morning. Morning came. No money arrived. Gandil and Lefty Williams, Game Two's starting pitcher, went for a walk and found Attell, Burns, and Maharg. Attell still wouldn't pay. Instead, he produced a telegram dated the previous night. It read:
ABE ATTELL, SINTON HOTEL, CINCINNATI. AM WIRING YOU TWENTY GRAND AND WAIVING IDENTIFICATION, A. R.
Even the dumbest ballplayer knew who A. R. was. But Gandil wasn't there to read; he was there to collect. Still, Attell put him off. Not until tomorrow, he promised. Gandil's unhappiness grew. After the Little Champ departed, Burns tried pacifying Chick, promising a Texas oil lease as collateral. Maharg thought Burns was a fool: Why should Bill risk his own assets to protect Rothstein or Attell?
Burns, Maharg, and Gandil decided to do little detective work. At the local Western Union office they inquired about A. R.'s telegram to Attell. The clerk found no record of it. The trio was stunned. Was everything a lie? Would they ever get their money?
The clerk made a mistake. The telegram had, in fact, been sent from New York. But Burns, Maharg, and Gandil didn't know that, and suspicion became panic.
Some say the telegram had not been sent by A. R.-that it was a hoax, sent on Attell's orders by David Zelser to fool Burns, Maharg, and the players into thinking they would be paid. This scenario is more likely: A. R. actually did send the telegram himself-or he may not have. It really didn't matter. After all A. R. was too busy and too important to bother sending telegrams. The Big Bankroll could order any number of flunkies to run to a telegraph office for him. More importantly, why assume the telegram referred to bribe money? It meant what it said: A. R. was sending Abe twenty grand-twenty grand for bets on the Reds.
White Sox management also had a bad night. After Game One, Chicago manager Kid Gleason found himself in the Sinton lobby along with Cicotte and Risberg. The Sox had just been humiliated, but Cicotte and Risberg grinned and laughed as if they hadn't a care. Gleason already harbored suspicions. This scene pushed him over the edge. "You two think you can kid me?" he screamed. "You busher, Risberg! You think I don't know what you're doing out there? Cicotte, you sonavabitch. Anybody who says he can't see what you're doing out there is either blind, stupid, or a goddam[n] liar."
Gleason realized the horrible truth of what he'd blurted out. He froze. Chicago Herald and Examiner sportswriter Hugh Fullerton came up from behind and quietly led him away. But Gleason wasn't through. He told Chicago owner Charles Comiskey. What he said wasn't news to The Noble Roman. Comiskey already knew plenty. Mont Tennes had not only warned club secretary Harry Grabiner of suspicious frenzied, pro-Red betting, but informed Comiskey that Gandil, Risberg, and Felsch had also thrown late regular-season games for St. Louis gambler Joe Pesch. At three that morning, Gleason and Comiskey rapped on the door of American League President Byron "Ban" Johnson's hotel room. It wasn't easy for Comiskey. He and Johnson had founded the league together, had once been the closest of friends. But that was years ago. Now they hated each other.
Comiskey stood in the hotel corridor. He needed Johnson's help. His team had turned rotten, betraying him, selling out the league and jeopardizing baseball itself. Johnson was too big a fool, too small a man, to listen. "That is the whelp of a beaten cur!" he sneered as he dismissed his enemy.
By now rumors were sweeping the country. The World Series was fixed. Even before the Series started, Risberg had received a call from Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle, demanding to know what was up. In the Sinton lobby, United News Wire sportswriter Westbrook Pegler accosted George M. Cohan. Pegler wanted Cohan to compose a song about the Series for his syndicate. Pegler flattered Cohan that anyone writing "Over There" in forty-five minutes wouldn't need more than fifteen minutes for a song chronicling the Fall Classic. "Cohan laughed," Pegler recounted, "and said the series was beneath his artistic notice. After all the war had not been a frame-up."
Cohan had very good information. Abe Attell had spied him dining with Nat Evans and surmised George M. was "about to be taken." After Evans left, Attell warned Cohan about the fix. Cohan refrained from more wagering on the Series-and the word spread even faster.
The Herald and Examiner's Hugh Fullerton wired every paper in his syndicate: ADVISE ALL NOT TO BET ON THIS SERIES. UGLY RUMORS FLOAT. In New York veteran gambler Honest John Kelly refused any bets on the Series. "Everyone knows Arnold Rothstein has fixed it," Kelly commented matter-of-factly. Covering his tracks, A. R. now did what he often did: he bet against himself, bet against the Reds. After all, it propped up odds on the White Sox, and his public wagering on Cincinnati might prove very handy if events really went sour.
Attell and his gang were clearly not helping matters, but neither was Nat Evans. On the morning of the Series opener, Nat was in his room at the Sinton. Next door, local bookmaker Johnny Fay could clearly hear him on the phone, excitedly arguing with a man named "Arnold"arguing how to split their winnings, about holding out on bets.
Fay hadn't been born yesterday. He handled some of the biggest bettors in the business-and he knew who Arnold had to be. Nonetheless, he went downstairs to ask the hotel operator.
It was indeed Arnold Rothstein.
Fay called New York bookmaker Maxie Blumenthal and told him the news. Now, not only did the smart money know that the Series was being fixed, they knew who was doing the fixing.
Game Two saw the Sox-and Lefty Williams-lose 4-2. Burns and Maharg again visited the Little Champ, now fully expecting $40,000. "I never saw so much money in my life," Maharg recalled. "Stacks of bills were being counted on dressers and tables." Burns thought the stacks were "four to five inches thick."
Novelist Wilfred Sheed once wrote of the Little Champ, that he "was one those sublimely crooked characters ... who wouldn't take a quart of milk home to his mother without selling the cream first." Neither Burns nor Maharg was Abe's mother, so he had no hesitancy in stiffing them yet again. Egging him on was David Zelser, still posing as Curley Bennett. "To hell with them," Zelser said contemptuously of Burns and Maharg. "What do we need them for!"
Bill Burns couldn't believe Attell's sheer effrontery and stupidity. He grabbed Attell, demanding to know how long the players would cooperate without seeing some cash.
The Little Champ conferred with Zelser and the Levi brothers. They knew the players would be getting money from Evans and Sullivan, so they weren't too worried. But, why take chances? Attell reached under a mattress, took out a wad of currency, and counted out $10,000.
"That's not enough!" Burns snorted.
"That's it," Attell responded. "That's all they can have."
"They won't accept it Abe," Burns pleaded. "For Chrissakes, there's eight of them."
"They'll take it," Attell responded coldly, adding A. R. had $300,000 down on the Reds. Then he assumed a conciliatory stance, promising that when the Series ended the players would "all get their money." Burns and Maharg started to leave. They knew they weren't going to win this one. "Wait a minute," Attell called out. "Tell the ball players that they should win the third game. Much better for the odds, that way."
When Burns and Maharg saw Gandil, the first baseman took the ten grand. He wasn't happy, but he took it-and kept it for himself.
Game Three was in Chicago. By now everyone was doublecrossing everyone else. Gandil informed Burns and Maharg that the Sox would play to lose. The duo scraped together $12,000 to bet on the Reds. The enraged players then played Game Three to win-and did, defeating the Reds 3-0 behind Little Dickey Kerr.
Attell had not studied at the feet of the Great Brain for nothing. He sensed trouble-perhaps he had even heard something from Sullivan and Evans-and began betting on Chicago to win. After the game, gambler Harry Redmon saw Abe carrying a big metal box, about two feet long and a foot high through the swank Hotel Sherman. It was filled with cash. "If you see Zork," he shouted, "tell him they haven't left little Abe broke."
But Burns and Maharg were wiped out. Attell lied, telling them he, too, suffered heavy losses. Then he added that Burns should order the Sox to lose Game Four. If they did, Attell would give them $20,000 of his own bankroll. "And they will get it too," he emphasized. "If they lose the next game."
Burns wanted to know why the players couldn't be paid before Game Four-that might, after all, make them more cooperative. "I don't trust them ballplayers anymore," Attell responded.
By now Burns had no cash and less dignity. He brought Attell's proposition to the Sox. They greeted it with the ridicule it deserved. "All right," Sleepy Bill parried. "We'll drop the whole business. But I want my share of the ten thousand I got you."
By now Gandil knew that Burns was powerless. "Sorry, Bill," he grinned. "It's all out on bets."
His teammates exploded in laughter. A humiliated Burns threatened to expose the whole rotten deal. "I'll get my share or I'll tell everything," he sputtered. The Sox wouldn't budge. He and Maharg got good and drunk and slunk away from what began as the opportunity of a lifetime. "I had to hock my diamond pin to get back to Philadelphia," Maharg remembered bitterly.
The Black Sox were ready to walk away from the fix. The double crossers were tired of being double-crossed and would now play to win.
What Burns and Maharg didn't know is how nervous Chicago's Game Three win made their fellow conspirators. Attell and Zelser may have seemed unflappable, but even before Game Three they still had parted with ten grand more than they ever intended to. After Game Three, their underlings, Carl Zork and Ben Franklin, were panic-stricken. They met with two friends from St. Louis, gamblers Joe Redmon and Joe Pesch, at Chicago's Morrison Hotel, begging for $5,000 toward a $20,000 payment to the players. Redmon and Pesch turned them down.
Unlike Burns and Maharg, Rothstein and Sport Sullivan weren't betting on individual games, but rather on the Series as a whole. Just after midnight on the morning of Saturday, October 4, A. R. and Sullivan conferred at Rothstein's offices. They weren't worried about Chicago's Game Three victory. But when Sullivan reached the lobby at the Ansonia Hotel, around 1:00 A.M., gambler Pete Manlis, yet another associate of Rothstein, greeted him. Manlis wanted to bet on the Sox. Suddenly Sullivan was worried. Did Manlis know something he didn't?
Just after 9:00 A.M., Sullivan phoned Chick Gandil. Gandil and his teammates were fed up. They'd received a measly $10,000 from Sullivan-and not a dime since the Series began. Now they'd play to win. Sullivan knew this could result not only in his financial ruin, but in death at the hands of A. R.'s henchmen. He promised Gandil $20,000 immediately and another $20,000 before Game Five. He had no intention of making the second payment, but Gandil needn't know that.
Before Game Four a messenger delivered twenty one-thousanddollar notes to Gandil. Five thousand each would go to Jackson, Felsch, Williams, and Risberg. Ed Cicotte already had $10,000-so he could damn well wait before receiving more. Buck Weaver and Fred McMullin wouldn't get anything. True, Buck had sat in on meetings to plan the fix, but he was doing nothing to further the plot. McMullin hadn't earned anything either, sitting on the bench. He might get something-but not now.
Even without more money, Cicotte lost Game Four 2-0. It was a good loss, fairly subtle, and more artistic than his first defeat. Rain washed out play on Sunday, October 5. There was no game-and no additional money. Play resumed on Monday-but the money deliveries didn't. Yet the now-trusting Black Sox still threw Game Five, as Lefty Williams and his teammates collapsed in the sixth inning, losing 5-0 to Reds righthander Hod Eller.
But still no more money came. The Black Sox realized they had been had once again. Well, if money can't be made dishonestly, one could always try earning it honestly-for the winner's share of the Series. The Sox won Game Six 5-4 in twelve innings behind Dickie Kerr. With Cicotte finally on the level, they captured Game Seven 4-1. Now Chicago trailed Cincinnati by a mere 4-3 margin. If the Sox took the next two games, they would not only be world champions, but how better to cover the tracks of throwing a World Series than by winning a World Series?
There was another factor. Mont Tennes was hearing rumors that a group of gamblers who had lost heavily on the Sox-and who stood to lose more if the Sox ultimately lost the Series-were about to take the law into their own hands: They'd bribe key Reds players to lose. Reds manager Pat "Whiskey Face" Moran heard the same stories and confronted pitcher Hod Eller: "Had any gamblers approached you, Hod?"
"Yep," Eller replied laconically. A gent on the elevator had offered him five one-thousand-dollar bills. Hod told him if he didn't get lost "real quick he wouldn't know what hit him." Moran told Eller he could still pitch-but he was keeping an eye on him.
A. R. now became nervous and summoned Sport Sullivan to his home. He didn't shout, didn't sweat, but made it clear that things were too close for comfort. The Series should not go nine games.
Sullivan realized two things. Despite Rothstein's pleasant demeanor, he had no choice. The Series had to end with Game Eight. And, Sport knew that merely offering the Sox more money might not necessarily work. Why should they trust him? Why should he trust them? Perhaps other gamblers were working to ensure a Cincinnati loss.
Finally it came to him. Money might not work-but force could. Lefty Williams would start Game Eight. A call went to Chicago, to man named "Harry E" who knew how to handle things.
For a mere $500 in advance, this gentleman would contact Lefty Williams and in no uncertain terms indicate that Lefty should notwould not-survive his first inning on the mound. If he did, he would not survive ... period.
Around 7:30 on the evening before Game Eight, Williams and his wife were returning from dinner when a man wearing a derby hat and smoking a cigar approached them. He desired a word with the lefthander-alone.
His message was straightforward. Pitch to lose, pitch to lose big in the first inning, or bad things would happen. Bad things to Williams. Bad things to his wife.
Lefty Williams got the message. So did his teammates.
When Hugh Fullerton entered Comiskey Park for Game Eight, a gambler friend provided him with some friendly advice: Bet heavy on the Reds because they are going to have "the biggest first inning you ever saw."
In the press box itself, the gambling fraternity moved about at will, not bothering to keep their voices down. New York sportswriter Fred Leib overheard three men talking. They were worried the Sox might still pull the Series out. Then a fourth gambler entered and reassured his comrades cheerfully: "Everything is okay, boysnothing to worry about. It's all in the bag. Williams will pitch and it will be all over in the first inning."
He was right. The Reds scored five times in the first inning, coasting to a 10-5 win. The Series was over, and Arnold Rothstein was even richer than before it had begun.