There are a multitude of books concerning various aspects of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox Scandal. Asinof’s Eight Men Out is probably the most famous. By now it’s dated, new information is available, and frankly some of the stuff is made up. One of the better attempts at understanding the scandal is The Betrayal by Charles Fountain.
Fountain is a professor of journalism at Northeastern and has written other baseball books, notably a work on Grantland Rice. He turns his attention in his new work (published in 2016) to 1919 and the World Series. He begins by reminding us that much of what actually happened is unknowable and thus much of what we accept as received wisdom and truth is actually mere speculation. Because that’s true, Fountain does not worry about the exactitude of detail in explaining the scandal.
He looks, rather, at the way the era unfolded in baseball. He sees it as an era of rampant corruption within the sport with gamblers having an inordinate amount of influence on the game. There’s an entire chapter on Hal Chase using him as an example of how easy and commonplace throwing a ball game had become. Fountain points out that owners, writers, and even many fans knew about Chase and that none of them did anything to stop either him or the other players involved in gambling.
There’s another chapter on Judge Landis explaining why he was chosen as Commissioner as well as how the entire idea of a Commissioner came into being. The Charles Comiskey-Ban Johnson feud takes center stage for much of the book, as does the inability of the National Commission to stop the corruption. As an aside, I’m generally a fan of August Herrmann, President of the Reds and head of the Commission, but he comes off terribly in the book. And Fountain’s arguments are persuasive enough to make me reconsider my view of Herrmann. Fountain also dwells in some detail on how much influence Ban Johnson had on baseball and how much the owners, particularly the National League owners and a minority of the American League owners (led by Comiskey) wanted to curtail his role.
Fountain does not spare the baseball writers of the era either. He finds them complicit in the corruption. Most knew what was happening but for a variety of reasons (fear of firing, fear of losing access to the players and parks, etc.) failed to write about it. The few that did, found their stories suppressed by editors who didn’t want to anger the owners. Because it is the owners, along with the gamblers, who come off worst in the book. The author does not single out Comiskey in particular, but indicts the group as venal, uncaring, and concerned with image so much that they are unwilling utterly to rock the baseball boat. But Fountain doesn’t let the players off entirely. They knew what they were doing and willingly went along with the fix.
All in all this is an excellent study of the Black Sox Scandal. The book is worth the read by students of the sport, the scandal, and even the era in America. It’s available a number of places. I got my copy at Barnes and Noble for $27.95.