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East Texas and the Black Sox

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
The 1919 World Series is best remembered as the most famous scandal in baseball history, but lost in that history is an East Texas connection to the scandal.

Here’s how it came about.

Eight players from the Chicago White Sox (later nicknamed the Black Sox) were accused of throwing the series against the Cincinnati Reds. Details of the scandal and the extent to which each man was involved have always been murky.

It was, however, front-page news across America and, despite being acquitted of criminal charges, the eight players were banned from professional baseball for life.

The eight were the great “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude (Lefty) Williams, outfielder Oscar (Happy) Felsch, and infielders Buck Weaver, Fred McMullin, Charles (Swede) Risberg and Arnold (Chick) Gandil.

When the scandal broke, Gandil was hospitalized in Lufkin -- then a community of a few thousand people in East Texas -- having his appendix removed. Perhaps he had relatives there. Or he may have been stricken while passing through the community. At the time Lufkin’s only hospital, built by the city’s civic leaders and doctors, had just opened. The hospital soon became known as “the County Hospital” and was later named Woodland Heights Medical Center.

Just why Gandil had his operation in remote Lufkin is not clear, but from his hospital bed Gandil reacted strongly to the Black Sox scandal and promised he would come to Chicago as soon as possible to clear up his side of the story.

Gandil had a pretty good World Series in 1919. Although he was hurting -- perhaps from his diseased appendicitis -- and often played in pain, he was commended by the press for a gutty performance.

He drove in the winning runs in the first two Sox wins. His five RBIs were one less than Shoeless Joe and one more than Collins. Like Collins, Gandil had seven hits in the eight games.

After recovering in Lufkin, Gandil gave a number of interviews before the players’ trial, protesting his innocence, but his comments never received much attention.

One of the curious documents is a 1956 interview Chick gave to a writer. In it, he admitted being a ringleader in the scandal. “Where a baseball player would run a mile those days to avoid a gambler, we mixed freely,” he said. “Players often bet. After the games, they would sit in the lobbies and bars with the gamblers, gabbing away.”

Gandil went on to describe how the fix was planned. He said the eight players did receive $10,000 in advance, which they gave to Cicotte to hold. He put the money under his pillow and by some accounts sewed it into his jacket.

Gandil contended, however, that the 1919 series was played on the level. He said the Series was a genuine upset victory earned by the Reds, and compared it to the 1954 Cleveland Indians team, which had won 111 games but was swept away in October by the New York Giants.

When Gandil’s story was published, Happy Felsch and Eddie Cicotte said Chick told “the real story.” Felsch denied getting any money or doing anything to throw a game.

By 1970, Gandil was in a nursing home in Calistoga, California, where he breathed his last breath on December 13. His wife Laurel had him buried without any fanfare.

We’ll never know the real story behind the Black Sox scandal, and we’ll probably never understand why Chick Gandil checked into an East Texas hospital during the peak of the scandal.
All Things Historical >
July 1, 2005 Column
Published with permission
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a past president of the Association and the author of more than 30 books about East Texas.)
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