This article was originally published in the December 2020 edition of the SABR Black Sox Scandal Committee newsletter.
For a few years, Ed Brandt was one of baseball’s best left-handed pitchers, winning 68 games between 1931 and 1934 with the Boston Braves. The highlight of his 11 seasons in the big leagues came on Opening Day in 1935, when he outdueled Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants to win in Babe Ruth’s first National League game with Boston.
A decade earlier, Brandt’s major-league career was nearly derailed before it began — after he found himself on the same field as Chick Gandil in an “outlaw” game in Oregon. As a result, he was suspended from Organized Baseball for one season and barred from playing in the Pacific Coast League when he was 21 years old.
Even though Gandil was playing under an assumed name, they were on opposing teams, and Brandt was only on the field with the disgraced Black Sox first baseman for just one afternoon, none of those details mattered to baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. “Birds of a feather flock together,” he had once said.1
What makes Brandt’s story unusual is not that he played independent baseball with the banished Black Sox, as thousands of other amateur and semipro players did throughout the 1920s and ’30s. But Brandt may have been the only future major-leaguer who was actually punished for doing so.
“I didn’t know Gandil from Adam’s off-ox,” Brandt later said. “But I was outlawed.”2
Almost no one else on that field that day in Oregon knew for sure if Chick Gandil was there, either.
When Judge Landis announced that Gandil and the other seven Chicago White Sox players who fixed the 1919 World Series were banned from ever playing professional baseball again, he also made it clear that any ballplayer who associated with them would face the same punishment.
Just six weeks after Landis issued his ban in August 1921, he sent a threatening letter to a team in Saginaw, Michigan, that attempted to hire Eddie Cicotte to pitch for them: “Any baseball player engaging in the sport with or against Eddie Cicotte in a scheduled semi-pro game here Saturday will be placed on the ineligible list, fined, and barred from further participation in professional baseball.”3
Landis worked hard over the next few years to follow through on his threat, expanding his “ineligible” list to include dozens of players who breached a contract, refused to report to his team, or otherwise found themselves in the commissioner’s cross-hairs. In that era, the reserve-clause system bound a player to one team for his entire career; his only leverage was to walk away from Organized Baseball and play for an independent team that was unaffiliated with the major or minor leagues.4 This, too, was seen by Landis as a reason to suspend a player indefinitely.
During the Roaring Twenties, thousands of independent teams flourished in big cities and small towns across the United States, propped up by rabid fan support and sponsored by local businesses and benefactors. Many talented ballplayers with major- or minor-league experience found a lucrative way to make a living that way, hired as ringers to provide an edge against rival teams.
Ed Brandt was one of those players. A hard-throwing left-hander born in Spokane, Washington, his pitching prowess as a teenager attracted attention from the Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League in 1922, when he was just 17. He became homesick during his first spring training in California and left camp early. The Indians persuaded him to go pitch in a smaller Class D minor league in South Dakota, but as SABR biographer Paul Rogers wrote, “he again became plagued with self-doubt and headed home.”5
Brandt made four appearances for Seattle in 1924 and pitched in five more games in 1925, but he left the team early each season for more comfortable surroundings near his home in the Pacific Northwest. A Boston Braves scout saw him pitch in Wallace, Idaho, and tried to convince him to travel to Chicago for a tryout when the team was on a road trip. But Brandt apparently failed to show up.6
In May 1925, he joined an independent, semipro team in Baker, Oregon, instead. Brandt was reportedly paid $250 per month to pitch one game a week in the Blue Mountain League. His considerable talent placed him head and shoulders above the “weekend warriors” who made up the bulk of the four-team circuit. Brandt made up his mind that “never again would I try out in Organized Baseball,” he later told The Sporting News.7
The whispers began almost as soon as Tom Gossett stepped onto the field that summer in La Grande, Oregon, a working-class lumber mill town at the foot of the Blue Mountains. Baker and La Grande were separated by about 50 miles, following Lewis and Clark’s old route along the Oregon Trail. The other two teams in the league were just farther north, in Pendleton, Oregon, and across the Washington state line in Walla Walla.
Gossett, a strapping 6-foot-1 athlete with broad shoulders, large hands, and intense, deep-set eyes, told everyone he was a first baseman, but his La Grande Pirates teammates soon learned he could play every position well. He was installed at third base to fill a hole in the roster, but when the starting catcher was beaned, Gossett filled in behind the plate for one game, too.
He hit longer drives than anyone else on the team, and he could be counted on to come through in clutch situations. On April 26, Gossett doubled and scored a run in the Pirates’ home opener against Pendleton, whose star left-handed pitcher, Earl Dunlap, had struck out 17 batters in his previous start.8 Two weeks later, Gossett “whacked [a double] along the motor row where it hid among the cars,” a key hit in a 6-0 win against Baker that featured a no-hitter by La Grande pitcher Buck Hein.9 The only other La Grande player with any significant athletic experience was shortstop Hughie McKenna, who had been a multisport star at Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University).10
In addition to his considerable skills on the diamond, La Grande’s new third baseman had charisma and a highly developed baseball intelligence, leading to his being named team captain by manager Harris French, who owned an automobile dealership in town. Gossett was also an “all-around authority” on other sports, too, volunteering to serve as a boxing referee at the Oddfellows Gymnasium for a bout.11
By mid-summer, fans were abuzz that Tom Gossett had a more distinguished baseball pedigree than he may have let on. Toward the end of May, the rumors grew wilder:
“A report printed in the (Pendleton) East Oregonian states that Chick Gandil, Chicago Black Sox, is playing regularly with the LaGrande club of the Blue Mountain League. Positive identification of Gandil has been made by a former minor league associate, according to the article, which states that Buck Weaver and Swede Risberg are generally believed to be on the LaGrande roster under the names of Holtz and Williams.”12
A wire service picked up the report and spread the rumors in newspapers all across the country. But the report greatly exaggerated how many former big-leaguers were in eastern Oregon. Gandil and his old pal Weaver would indeed become teammates later in 1925, but not in La Grande.13 Swede Risberg, meanwhile, could be found playing for a team based in Scobey, Montana, near the Canadian border — where he was joined by Happy Felsch.14 None of the other Black Sox were on the La Grande team with “Tom Gossett,” however.
It’s unclear why Gandil chose to play under a pseudonym in La Grande, when he and the other Black Sox had spent years playing “outlaw” baseball under their real names in order to draw larger crowds and make more money from gate receipts. Unlike most of the other Black Sox, Gandil had experience using an alias to play ball, having done so for several years as a teenager in the minor leagues.15 He had also spent time in this part of the country before, so perhaps he was was trying to keep a lower profile for some reason.
Back in 1920, after he refused to report to the Chicago White Sox in a contract dispute, Gandil spent several months as a player-manager with an independent team in St. Anthony, Idaho, on the eastern end of the Snake River, a full day’s drive from La Grande. Gandil abruptly left Idaho in mid-season after suffering from a bout of appendicitis. He was still recuperating from his appendix surgery when the Black Sox Scandal was publicly exposed in September. Gandil released a statement denying any involvement in the fixed World Series, and that’s where another clue to his identity in La Grande can be found. It was reported that Gandil left the hospital and went to Lufkin, Texas — “to the home of his wife’s parents, T.R. Gossett.”16
Although rumors were flying all over the Blue Mountain League, as far as the La Grande team was concerned their third baseman was still Tom Gossett, who had also taken over as manager from Harris French. The local Observer newspaper had not yet linked Gossett to Gandil, perhaps giving their players a sense of plausible deniability if any questions arose in the future.
Ed Brandt and the Baker Bears came to town for a highly anticipated game on Sunday, June 21. A Baker win would put them in a tie for first place with the Pirates, with just five games remaining on the schedule. But La Grande took an early four-run lead, their final run coming on Gossett’s third-inning RBI double, which proved to be the difference in a 4-3 win that “had all the excitement possible except a run by the fire department.”17 It was Brandt’s first loss of the season.
After winning two of their next three games, La Grande clinched the pennant with a 12-0 shutout against Baker (Ed Brandt did not pitch) on July 12. Gossett did not record a hit, but the “peppy manager whose work has really won the pennant for La Grande … drew a great deal of applause every time he lifted the willow.”18
In 14 of the 15 Pirates games where box scores could be found, Gossett batted .313 with five doubles, two triples, and seven runs scored. He also recorded a .946 fielding percentage at third base, a position that Chick Gandil never played in his professional career.
The following day, the La Grande Observer reported that Gossett wouldn’t stick around to help the team celebrate:
“Gossett left this morning for Douglas, Arizona, to play baseball with teams in Arizona and Mexico. Tom will finish out the season there with a number of his old friends and expects to return to La Grande some time in October to locate here. Several jobs have been offered him — he is an expert pipe fitter and plumber and he plans to remain in La Grande over the winter. Gossett was accompanied on the trip by Mrs. Gossett.”19
Five days later on July 18, a new first baseman made his debut with the Douglas Blues of the outlaw Copper League: Chick Gandil, back now under his real name. His shortstop for that first game in El Paso, Texas, was a familiar face, Buck Weaver, who had joined the team a week earlier. Both of them were recruited by Douglas’s manager, former major-leaguer Hal Chase, known as the “Black Prince of Baseball” both for his defensive wizardry and his ethical lapses when it came to fixing games.20
Gandil and Weaver spent three summers together playing outlaw baseball in the Southwest. When Chase became injured and left the team, they called upon pitcher Claude “Lefty” Williams, another old Chicago teammate, to help out.
The La Grande newspaper finally acknowledged the truth about their star infielder on August 4:
“Gandil, if Gossett really is the famous ex-leaguer, was one of the most popular players on the team. …He was treated with respect and given a welcome in every city where he led the Pirates. … Many believe that the trend of circumstances will react favorably toward the ultimate reinstatement of Gandil in organized baseball.”21
By then, the Blue Mountain League season was over and Ed Brandt was back home in Spokane, pitching in a semipro city league to finish out the year. In early 1926, the Seattle Indians again tried to persuade the talented 21-year-old left-hander to return to the Pacific Coast League. This time, they received shocking news. The National Association, which governed baseball’s minor leagues, had placed Brandt on the “ineligible list.” He was suspended indefinitely for two of Judge Landis’s most despised crimes: breaking his contract with Seattle the previous year and playing on the same field as one of the Black Sox.
National Association president John H. Farrell told Seattle club officers that Brandt “would have to refrain from playing with ineligible players for one year before he could gain admission” to the Coast League.22
Brandt wasn’t the only player to press his luck by stepping on the field against the banished Black Sox in the 1920s. Ernie Wingard had been a teammate of Shoeless Joe Jackson’s in Louisiana before joining the St. Louis Browns in 1923. Vern Underhill (Cleveland Indians) and Syd Cohen (Washington Senators) were both on the 1926 El Paso team that faced off against Gandil and Weaver every weekend before they reached the majors.23 None were punished for their transgressions like Ed Brandt.
Brandt spent most of his year under suspension pitching semipro ball in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, until Seattle’s request to let him return was finally approved in late September. Brandt made his PCL season debut on October 5, pitching two-plus innings in a loss to the Oakland Oaks. In 1927, he returned to the Coast League and had a breakout season, winning 19 games for Seattle — where he pitched occasionally to catcher Joe Jenkins, a long-ago teammate of Gandil and Weaver on the 1919 White Sox.24
At the age of 23, Brandt’s contract was sold to the Boston Braves and he made his major-league debut on April 15, 1928, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, pitching in front of two Hall of Fame infielders, George Sisler and Rogers Hornsby. He struggled on a terrible Braves team as a rookie, losing 21 games and any shred of confidence he possessed on the mound. But he stuck with it and when Bill McKechnie was hired in 1930, the manager’s gentle urging helped him turn things around.
“This kid, for years, was licked,” McKechnie said. “He knew he couldn’t make the grade up from the semipro clubs to the major leagues. Big-league scouts knew just as positively that he was ready for major league service. Brandt suffered from a terrible inferiority complex. Eventually he got rid of it so that today he is a great star.”25
1 “Buck Weaver Asks For Reinstatement,” New York Herald, January 14, 1922.
2 Harry T. Brundidge, “Ed Brandt Won Belated Success With Boston Braves After Prolonged Battle to Gain Confidence in Himself,” The Sporting News, November 19, 1931, 7.
3 “Landis to Bar Players in Game with Cicotte,” New York Tribune, September 22, 1921.
4 In the 1951 Celler Committee hearings in the US House of Representatives on baseball’s antitrust exemption, a partial list was introduced of players who were suspended by Judge Landis for playing against “ineligibles.” One of these players was James Thompson “Doc” Prothro, who was suspended for appearing in a semipro game in Chicago with Dickey Kerr, the 1919 World Series hero who found himself barred from the major leagues for three seasons because of a contract dispute with White Sox owner Charles Comiskey.
6 Rogers, SABR BioProject.
7 Brundidge, The Sporting News.
8 “Pendleton Defeated by Pirates,” La Grande Observer, April 27, 1925. Dunlap, a US Navy veteran in World War I who had once tried out for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League, reportedly had been invited to spring training with the New York Yankees in 1925. But he does not appear to have made any appearances in professional baseball. See Spokane Spokesman-Review, June 30, 1925.
9 “Hein Pitches No-Hit, No-Run Game,” La Grande Observer, May 11, 1925.
10 “Pirates Play Bucks Sunday,” La Grande Observer, June 25, 1925.
11 “Fighters to Meet Tonight,” La Grande Observer, June 8, 1925. Gandil had also been a well-regarded amateur boxer before he made the major leagues, so he knew his way around a ring.
12 “Black Sox Outcast Plays in Oregon,” Medford Mail Tribune, May 21, 1925.
13 On the same weekend as the initial report about Buck Weaver playing in Oregon, he was actually in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, playing in a game there against the Gilkerson Union Giants. See Madison Capital Times, May 26, 1925.
14 Alan Muchlinski, After the Black Sox: The Swede Risberg Story (Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2005).
16 “Chick Gandil Talks,” Montreal Gazette, October 9, 1920.
17 “La Grande Trounces Baker,” La Grande Observer, June 22, 1925.
18 “La Grande Wins 1925 Gonfalon,” La Grande Observer, July 13, 1925; “Credit for Winning of Pennant Due Gossett,” La Grande Observer, July 13, 1925.
19 “Gossett to Play With Douglas, Arizona, Team,” La Grande Observer, July 14, 1925.
20 Lynn Bevill, “Outlaw Baseball Players in the Copper League: 1925-27” (master’s thesis, Western New Mexico University, 1988), accessed online at BevillsAdvocate.org.
21 “Dick Kerr Reinstated by Landis,” La Grande Observer, August 4, 1925. As the headline shows, this was the same day Judge Landis reinstated pitcher Dickey Kerr from his three-year suspension for jumping his contract with the White Sox.
22 “Brandt May Go To Seattle,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, March 30, 1926.
23 Several other future major-leaguers, including Emmett Nelson, Verdo Elmore, and Otis Brannan, also played outlaw baseball against the Black Sox before they made the big leagues. Dozens of other minor-leaguers also played against the Black Sox prior to joining Organized Baseball. But none had to serve a one-year suspension for playing against the Black Sox like Ed Brandt did.
24 “1927 Seattle Indians,” Baseball-Reference.com, https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/team.cgi?id=41b4512e , accessed December 10, 2020.
25 Brundidge, The Sporting News.