“Chickie’s a Sport”

Chick Gandil as a Senator

In most accounts of the Black Sox scandal, Chick Gandil takes center stage as the prime mover among players. He is portrayed as grasping, malevolent, and greedy. In the “Eight Men Out” movie the actor Michael Rooker does this portrayal wonderfully. But according to his friends he was a good pal, someone who looked after his buddies, would help them in a pinch. In Sleepy Bill Burns’ phrase, “Chickie’s a Sport.”  Maybe that makes Gandil a complex person, like most of us.

Arnold Gandil was born in Minnesota in 1887. His parents moved to Berkeley, California while he was still young. He played ball, did poorly in school, then left to find his own way in the world. He was athletic enough to both box and play baseball. He played semipro ball for a number of Western teams, most of which were tied to companies. He worked as a boiler maker and copper smelter worker while playing ball on the weekends. Primarily a catcher, while with a team in Mexico he became a first baseman. That seems to happen a lot. Both Rudy York and Gil Hodges, noted first basemen, started out as catchers.

In 1908 he found both a wife and a minor league team in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was good enough to get a trial with the St. Louis Browns. Cut, he ended up in Sacramento by way of Fresno (where he got in trouble for absconding with $225 of the team’s money), and came to the attention of the White Sox. He had a terrible year in Chicago. He hit a buck 93 with an OBP of .267 and only 72 total bases in 77 games. The Sox sold him to Montreal where he played well in 1912.

In 1913 the Washington Senators picked him up. He stayed through 1915 hitting well and playing first superbly for the era. He hit .300 a couple of times, had an OPS+ over one hundred each season, stole some bases, and led the American League in first baseman assists twice. All that got him sold to Cleveland for $5000. He did OK, but his hitting numbers were beginning to slide. He made up for it by leading the AL in assists, putouts, range factor and fielding percentage among first basemen. Needing a first baseman, the White Sox, his original team, picked him up in March 1917.

He had a fairly standard Gandil year in 1917, hitting .273 with an OPS of .631. He again led the AL in fielding percentage and was third in putouts. He did well in 1918, better in 1919. In 1917 Chicago won the World Series with Gandil hitting .261 for the Series and leading the team in RBIs (5). So far a fine, if fairly pedestrian, career.

Of course his entire career is defined by the last eight games, the 1919 World Series. There is universal agreement that Gandil was a prime mover in throwing the Series (Among other indicators, he and attempted Series fixer Sleepy Bill Burns had been teammates in 1910.). He was one of the few players to get his entire cut, he played poorly in the field, undistinguished at the plate, and made a lot of money by 1920 standards. It was enough to allow him to retire. He stood trial in Chicago in 1921, was acquitted, then banned by Judge Landis. He continued playing outlaw ball with an occasional sidetrip to independent minor leagues in the West through 1927.

He ended up as a plumber in California, proclaimed his innocence in a couple of 1950s articles, including one of the first “Sports Illustrated” articles, and died in 1970. By then he was largely forgotten.

For his career, Gandil hit .277, had an OBP of .327, a slugging percentage of .362, for an OPS of  689 (OPS+ of 103). He had 1176 hits, 173 of them were doubles, 78 were triples, and he hit 11 home runs. There were also 557 RBIs and 1538 total bases. As a first baseman (he played 2 games in the outfield) his numbers are much better. He was a superior fielder and led the league (as mentioned above) several times in several categories. And if not for 1919 he would be totally obscure.

I’m of two minds about the Black Sox. On the one hand I understand the frustration of doing a job well and being grossly underpaid. I understand revenge. What I don’t understand is willfully throwing ballgames. I have no sympathy of guys like Gandil or the other seven “Black Sox” (well, maybe just a little for Buck Weaver) but I do kind of understand their reasoning. I may understand it, but I don’t like it. The defense of Gandil is generally that he came from a hard background, a poor background and baseball was a way out. Then it turned out it didn’t pay all that well. Having just said that, I’m reminded that  Honus Wagner came from much the same background (his was in coal not copper) as did any number of other players of the age. So I can’t cut Gandil any slack for his actions. I’m frankly glad he was banned.

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One Response to ““Chickie’s a Sport””

  1. William Miller Says:

    I have to agree with your conclusion. If Judge Landis did not take the harsh action that he did, more cheating would have occurred in the future. That’s what gets me about Pete Rose supporters, he violated the one cardinal rule in baseball. He was not screwed, he screwed up.
    Carlos Delgado was another player who started out as a catcher and quickly transitioned to first base.
    Nice job,

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