Black Sox Scandal: 2019 Year in Review

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What a whirlwind of a year! I can’t predict what the Black Sox Scandal‘s bicentennial is going to bring 100 years from now, but it’s sure going to be hard to top all the fun we had in 2019.

Perhaps we’ll have a few more answers to the questions we’ve been asking all year long. Hopefully our modern research still will be studied — and questioned and updated — by future historians. Maybe we’ll even have Harry Grabiner’s full diary by then …

No matter what happens, our SABR Black Sox Scandal Committee can look back on what all we accomplished in 2019 with considerable pride.

The bright spotlight for the 100th anniversary turned on as soon as the calendar flipped to January 1 — I received two emails on New Year’s Day asking for information and an interview request about the scandal — and it didn’t let up until weeks after the World Series ended.

From the launch of our Eight Myths Out project to the chart-topping Infamous America podcast series to the upcoming ESPN Backstory documentary, it seems everyone was interested in learning more about the 1919 World Series. And thanks to the hard work of so many committee members — most especially Bill Lamb, Rick Huhn, Bruce Allardice, Bill Felber, and Mike Nola — we were fully prepared for the onslaught of attention from the media and the general public around the world.

Here are some highlights from our incredible Black Sox centennial year:

Black Sox-Eight Myths Out

One hundred years after the fixing of the notorious 1919 World Series, we’re continuing to shed new light on baseball’s darkest hour. SABR’s Eight Myths Out project, which launched on March 19 at SABR.org/eight-myths-out, was a collaborative project produced by members of our committee, intended to correct many common errors and misconceptions about the fixing of the 1919 World Series.

The Eight Myths Out project used groundbreaking research and resources to provide a more complete understanding of what happened a century ago. This included accurate player and team salary information from the 1919 season, legal documents and transcripts from the Black Sox grand jury proceedings and criminal trial, hundreds of interviews with players from the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds, and newsreel film footage from the 1919 World Series games.

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The new Infamous America podcast series on the Black Sox Scandal hit No. 1 on Apple Podcasts’ history charts and more than 250,000 listeners tuned in to hear about the 1919 World Series this summer.

Produced and hosted by Chris Wimmer of Black Barrel Media, Season 2 of the Infamous America series debuted on Wednesday, August 7 with a weekly six-episode narrative arc of the Black Sox Scandal, plus two bonus interviews with myself and Mike Nola of BlackBetsy.com. I worked behind the scenes as a technical adviser with Chris to help shape the story of the 1919 World Series using the best available research. SABR’s Scandal on the South Side book was used as source material and the Black Sox Scandal Research Committee was acknowledged in each episode. Listen to the series on your favorite podcast app or streaming service, or online at BlackBarrelMedia.com.

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Our committee also played a huge role in shaping the media narrative of the Black Sox Scandal in 2019, with features and profiles by reporters from across the world, including:

  • Chicago Tribune: “‘Shoeless’ Joe’s legacy is complex, 100 years after Black Sox scandal,” by Patrick O’Connell (which landed us on the A1 front page!)
  • The Athletic: “A cold case, not a closed case: The baseball obsessives correcting the record about the 1919 Black Sox Scandal,” by Zach Buchanan
  • New York Times: “Forget What You Know About the Black Sox Scandal,” by John Thorn
  • PBS NewsHour: “100 years since ‘Black Sox’ World Series, new details challenge long-held story,” by Stephanie Sy
  • ESPN.com: “Could the Black Sox scandal happen today?” by Steve Wulf
  • NPR’s “Only A Game”: “Joseph ‘Sport’ Sullivan’s Little-Known Role In The Black Sox Scandal,” by Shira Springer
  • CBC Radio’s “Sunday Edition”: “Revisiting the Black Sox Scandal of 1919,” by Michael Enright
  • Associated Press: “A century after Black Sox, baseball cheating goes high-tech,” by Ben Nuckols
  • United Press International: “100 years later, historians still debate baseball’s darkest moment,” by Alex Butler
  • L’Equipe: “En 1919 éclatait le scandale des ‘Black Sox,’ première affaire de match truqué de l’histoire,” by Francois Lemouton
  • The National Post: “On the verge of Opening Day, a consumer advisory for baseball history buffs,” by Colby Cosh
  • Newsday: “Black Sox scandal: How it unfolded 100 years ago,” by Steven Marcus
  • Fox Sports Ohio: “The Black Sox Scandal and the Cincinnati Reds,” by Jim Day
  • Cincinnati Magazine: “The Cincinnati Reds Won the 1919 World Series Fair and Square,” by Scott Powers
  • WTTW/Chicago: “The American Mythology of the Black Sox Scandal,” by Daniel Hautzinger
  • NPR Illinois: “You Know The Story Of The 1919 Black Sox? Think Again,” by Sean Crawford
  • Sox Machine: “Where the Black Sox Scandal stands, 100 years ago and today,” by Jim Margalus
  • Baseball Prospectus: “There’s Always Next Year,” by Mike Bates
  • Bookies.com: “Pennsylvania MLB Stadiums Testing Grounds For Sports Betting,” by Brant James
  • Daily Herald: “100 Years Later, Legend of 1919 Chicago Black Sox Lives On,” by Scot Gregor
  • Winnipeg Free Press: “100 years since the Black Sox scandal,” by T. Kent Morgan
  • Silver City (N.M.) Daily Press: “Fort Bayard, Hurley offered second chance for disgraced major leaguers,” by C.P. Thompson
  • Yardbarker.com: “Ghost hunter: How Shoeless Joe Jackson became bartender’s obsession,” by Jon Gold
  • ABC-15 (Phoenix): “Phoenix man brings 100-year baseball scandal to life with new podcast,” by Nohelani Graf
  • Chicago Tribune: “100 years after the Black Sox scandal, MLB — now aligned with a gambling partner — owes Buck Weaver and Shoeless Joe Jackson another look,” by Phil Rosenthal (who also highlighted our work on several other occasions this year)
  • The Athletic: “Media Circus: Black Sox Scandal,” by Richard Deitsch

And lest we forget, the very first Black Sox program to appear on air this year: Katie Nolan’s epic retelling of the scandal on Comedy Central’s Drunk History! I was giddy when I learned Eric Edelstein and friends used our SABR Scandal on the South Side book behind the scenes as a resource for the show.

I was also fortunate to be invited on a number of baseball podcasts and radio shows to talk about our committee’s work, including:

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From Connecticut to California, I relished every single minute I got to talk about the Black Sox Scandal in person in 2019, and to meet everyone who wanted to learn more:

  • Tempe, AZ: Road Scholars talks on March 4 and March 14 at Hilton Garden Inn
  • Middletown, CT: Eight Myths Out panel with Bill Lamb and Jim Margalus on March 23 at Middlesex Community College (listen)
  • Bisbee, AZ: Book signing on April 6 at Bisbee Books & Music
  • Sun City Grand, AZ: Eight Myths Out talk on May 8 to Sun City Grand Sports Group
  • San Diego, CA: Eight Myths Out panel with Rick Huhn, Bruce Allardice, and Bill Felber at SABR 49 convention on June 27 at Manchester Grand Hyatt (listen)
  • Cincinnati, OH: Eight Myths Out panel with Greg Rhodes, Greg Gajus, and Rick Huhn on August 16 at the historic Mercantile Library
  • Chicago, IL: SABR Black Sox Scandal Centennial Symposium on September 28 at the Chicago History Museum (listen) — plus two wet and wild Chicago baseball history walking tours!
  • Fort Bayard, NM: Eight Myths Out talk at Fort Bayard Baseball Symposium on October 19 at Fort Bayard Historic State Park

I also gave talks or interviews via Skype to SABR chapters in Lexington, KY; Toledo, OH; Cleveland, OH; and Rochester, NY; to classes at the University of Alabama, American University, and Arizona State University; and to high school students in Ohio, Massachusetts, and Arizona.

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Coming soon! Back in June in San Diego, I was interviewed by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Don Van Natta Jr. for an upcoming episode of ESPN’s Backstory documentary series. (Click here to view the trailer.)

The “Banned* For Life” episode on Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose is scheduled to premiere on Sunday, January 19, 2020, and will be available afterward on the ESPN+ streaming service.

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One of the most entertaining experiences I had all year was the impromptu episode of Mystery Science Theater 1919: Eight Men Out that I recorded with my friend Chris Kamka of NBC Sports Chicago during spring training at my home in Arizona.

Over a few boxes of Chicago pizza, we decided to have a little fun and record our commentary as we discussed what the film got right and wrong about the Black Sox, the legacy of Eight Men Out, and the memorable cast of characters on and off the screen.

I learn something new about baseball every time I talk with Chris. It was a blast to hang out with him and talk about this film.

Black Sox books
Somewhere in the middle of all this, I found time to write more about the Black Sox Scandal, too. Here is a sampling of my published work in 2019:

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All of the attention in 2019 culminated with our spectacular SABR Black Sox Scandal Centennial Symposium at the Chicago History Museum in September — a truly once-in-a-century event!

We had a distinguished lineup of panelists and presenters, including some of the folks listed above along with David Pietrusza, Daniel Nathan, Bill Savage, Susan Dellinger, Michael Haupert, and Kevin Braig, who helped put the story into context and provided insight on our collective understanding of the scandal to a capacity crowd of more than 200 people. Click here to listen to highlights from the symposium at SABR.org.

When you come up with the idea for an event out of thin air and put a year’s worth of planning into it, you just hope the room isn’t empty by the time it arrives. People will come, Ray — and you all certainly did. I got to spend my year with so many of my favorite people and made a bunch of new friends along the way. Thank you all for making this dream come true!

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None of this could have been accomplished without a lot of help behind the scenes. Special thanks go out to Erika Johnson, Jessica Trent, Peter Alter, and Julie Wroblewski of the Chicago History Museum; Allie O’Reilly of the Chicago White Sox, Hope Murden of the Palmer House Hilton; Rich Hansen, Richard Smiley, Lorene Kennard, Bill Pearch, and Jason Schwartz of SABR’s Emil Rothe Chicago Chapter; Sarah Wiener for the amazing symposium logo; Mike Noren of Gummy Arts for the illustrated Black Sox baseball cards; Deb Jayne at the SABR office; and especially Tracy Greer for … just about everything else involved with planning and organizing such a wonderful event (and keeping me sane throughout this crazy year!)

It’s a testament to how much people still care about this story 100 years later and how much we’re still learning about the Black Sox Scandal. Of course, we still have a few more big anniversaries coming up, with the grand jury in 2020 and the criminal trial in 2021. But first, let’s take a minute to enjoy this moment. It’s been a fun year!

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