Arnold Rothstein (1882-1928) Financier of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal

 

By Marshall Fogel

T

he interest in Joe Jackson sparks the imagination of the American public. Movies, books and memorabilia concerning Joe Jackson, the White Sox team, and the gamblers all produce evidence for us to decide what the truth is surrounding Joe Jackson's knowledge, and his participation, if any, in the "throwing" of the 1919 World Series.

Should Jackson be exonerated from the fix? Jackson says he asked Charles Comiskey, the Sox owner, to bench him for the entire series because he did not want to be implicated as a part of "the fix." Or, should Jackson be considered culpable after the last game, because he accepted money from fellow teammate Lefty Williams.

Joe Jackson
One of Joe Jackson's best cards, his 1915 Cracker Jack

With the series over, Williams, who was drunk, went to Jackson's hotel room and handed Jackson an envelope containing $5,000 from the gamblers. Jackson refused the money and he stormed out of his own room while threatening to tell Comiskey about the fix. When he returned, the money was lying on the floor. Jackson went to Comiskey's office and he was refused a meeting with the Sox owner. To complicate the controversy surrounding Jackson's culpable role in the scandal, the following statistics become important: in the series, Jackson was responsible for more hits than any player on either team. He scored five runs, drove in six runs, made 16 put outs, and he made no errors in the field.

Debates surrounding Joe Jackson point to the same important question: should Jackson be deserving of being a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame? The reporting of the 1919 World Series scandal has been voluminous. The one exception is the role of the gamblers' intimidation upon the players (once participating Sox players realized that they would not be paid the money promised at the time they could have withdrawn from throwing the series.)

Buck Weaver
Buck Weaver is one of the more notable names from the Black Sox

By game eight of the series, the Reds had won four games and the White Sox had won three. Games six and seven were won by the Sox. Kerr won game six and Cicotte, in a brilliant performance, won game seven. Most history buffs believe the players involved in the fix decided that payment, from the gamblers, was not forthcoming; therefore, the fix was off. Lefty Williams was scheduled to pitch the crucial eighth game. A loss would end the series and result in a win for Cincinnati.

The singular moment in time, that may well have changed the outcome of the series, was a phone call made to Lefty Williams the night before the eighth game. Lefty received the call and he listened to the caller threaten his life. The caller may well have threatened the life of his wife, as well if he didn't throw the eighth game. The threat worked as Williams gave up four runs in the first inning by simply throwing fast balls. The final score was ten to five. Cincinnati won the World Series five games to three.

Did Williams and his co-conspirators have reason to take the threat seriously in throwing the deciding eighth game? The answer lies with defining who is Arnold Rothstein.

Joe Jackson
This Play Ball card was produced after Jackson's career

Arnold Rothstein, as told by his contemporaries, could fix anything except one item, the weather. Known in later years as the Brain, this multimillionaire gambler was born of Jewish parents in the Jewish and Italian ghetto in New York in 1882. Like so many immigrants arriving from Europe, Jews and Italians were denied access to economic and social opportunities available in American life.

It is certainly reasonable to understand, but not approve of, the lifestyle of some of these people. Many chose criminal activity so as to move away from the endless life of poverty, denial and ethnic prejudice. Arnold Rothstein, as well as others, chose the path of a hustler and a criminal. At 16, Rothstein left school to become a salesman. Before he was twenty, he hung out in pool halls and he learned the art of betting. At age 20, this self-employed bookie bet on horses, prizefights, elections, and baseball. He accumulated enough money to make loans at high interest rates, and he always carried a big roll of $100 bills so that he could immediately make deals.

In 1909, he married an actress. Thereafter, he opened a wagering discount house, became a bootlegger, and made a fortune. He earned the reputation of being the most important underworld icon of his time due to his connections with politicians, judges, police, and criminals. He knew, more than anyone engaged in criminal activity, how to insulate himself from arrest and indictment. With this ability, he allied himself in criminal activity with Dutch Schultz, Legs Diamond, Frank Costello, Johnny Torrio, and Waxey Gordon. He tutored and then hired two youngsters, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky.

Charles Comiskey ball
This might be the only single signed Charles Comiskey ball in existence

Luciano and Lansky were pals as kids and they grew up together in the tough ethnic slums of New York. Luciano later became the Capo of the five Costra Nostra (our thing) families of New York. Luciano never made a move without consulting the brilliant business advice of Lansky. Luciano and Lansky were regarded as equals in the Costra Nostra. Luciano made it clear to the heads of the five families of New York that Sicilians would, of course, only be allowed to be members of the Costra Nostra. There was, however, an exception in the close association with Jews such as Meyer Lansky, Dutch Schultz, Bugsy Siegel, Gurrah Shapiro, Longy Zwillman, Moe Dalitz, and the notorious Louis Lepke, the head of Murder, Inc. Murder, Inc. consisted of "tough Jews" and the Sicilian, Albert Anastasia, who were hired to kill for the Costra Nostra.

Though all of these connections were not in place for Rothstein by 1919, at the time of the fix, enough of Rothstein's power to take care of business was well known. Rothstein, like Lansky, was a very short, diminutive man. Luciano, in his remembrances commented that Lansky, pound for pound, was as tough as anyone he had ever met. Most important, Rothstein was as connected with Tammany Hall leaders as anyone on the east coast.

Turning back to 1919 and the World Series fix, it was Rothstein that paid the majority of the money that the players received. Rothstein, himself, bet over $250,000 on the series. He bet the entire amount, not on each game, but that the White Sox would lose the World Series to Cincinnati. The eighth game of the series was so very critical to Rothstein. He became more than annoyed that the White Sox won games six and seven; and Rothstein perceived that the fix was off.

Joe Jackson batBlack Betsy, Jackson's favorite bat, sold in excess of $500,000 in 2001

When Rothstein learned that Williams was to pitch game eight, he put into motion the most important event that brought about a World Series win for Cincinnati; that is, the threatening phone call to Lefty Williams the night before game eight. If Lefty Williams had any reasonable insight as to Rothstein's connection with the fix, Williams would have certainly known of Rothstein's ability to carry out a murder threat against him and perhaps his wife. Williams helped to lose game eight and Rothstein collected the rewards of his bet.

Rothstein later testified before the Chicago grand jury and was exonerated of any involvement in the fix. After the White Sox scandal, Rothstein made a fortune in bootlegging and other criminal activities. When prohibition was repealed, Rothstein laid the groundwork for national syndication in gambling, drug trafficking and prostitution. Rothstein laid the road map for national criminal syndication at the doorstep of Lansky and Luciano, who successfully developed the Costra Nostra national crime syndicate. Both learned well from their mentor, Arnold Rothstein.

Rothstein was murdered in 1928. The story goes that Rothstein lost $320,000 in a poker game. He refused to pay the debt alleging, ironically, that the game was fixed. Shortly thereafter, he was shot in the stomach at the Park Central Hotel in New York. A few days later he died. The murder was never solved. Some suspect he was killed for failure to pay his gambling debt. Others believe that Dutch Schultz had Rothstein murdered to increase the scope of his own criminal empire. Nonetheless, Lansky and Luciano took on Rothstein's idea of a national criminal syndication and eventually built the biggest criminal empire in American history.

Joe Jackson
Joe Jackson by A.K. Miller

Lefty Williams, once banned from baseball, ran a pool hall in Chicago and barely made a living. He later moved to Laguna Beach, California and managed a landscape business. He died in November 1959 at the age of 66.

Rothstein and Lansky were never convicted of a crime. Luciano served time in prison and was later paroled and deported to Italy. He was paroled due to his promise to keep the longshoreman "in line" during World War II. Comiskey, who knew of the strong rumors of the fix even before the series, and knew details of the fix during the series, did nothing about it. Nothing except lie about Jackson's plea to stop the fix before the series, do something about the fix when Jackson tried to get Comiskey to take the $5,000 from him, and to covet Jackson's testimonials about the fix after the World Series.

Comiskey is in the Hall of Fame. Ty Cobb is in the Hall of Fame after beating up a man with no limbs and threatening citizens with a pistol more than once during his career.

Tris Speaker is in the Hall of Fame even though he was once considered a hateful, possibly racist man.

Ty Cobb
Ty Cobb was not well-liked for a time but that didn't prevent him from reaching the Hall of Fame

Who? High Pockets Kelly, Dave Bancroft, Travis Jackson and Ross Young are in the Hall of Fame thanks to Frankie Frisch helping his teammates into the Hall when he served on the Hall of Fame committee.

What of Joe Jackson - is he not a tragic victim of the distortion of the truth which has kept him from induction into the Hall of Fame, where his place of honor should now be ready to receive his plaque?