Eddie Cicotte (SABR-Rucker Archive)

September 19, 1919: Cicotte, White Sox turn back Boston as Black Sox Scandal brews

This article was written by Jacob Pomrenke

Eddie Cicotte (SABR-Rucker Archive)Although they had not yet clinched the 1919 American League pennant, the Chicago White Sox were already looking ahead to the World Series as they took a midnight train1 to Boston to face the Red Sox.

Back at home, White Sox team secretary Harry Grabiner announced that advance tickets would go on sale to fans on the morning of Friday, September 19. He and his crew of ticket sellers braced for an onslaught of mail from fans eager to see the fall classic against the Cincinnati Reds.2 Bidding to win their second title in three years, the White Sox were heavy favorites3 in a potential matchup with the upstart National League champions.

Before leaving for Boston, some White Sox players had important business to take care of in New York, where they had lost on Thursday afternoon to Carl Mays and the Yankees. After the game, Eddie Cicotte and Chick Gandil met in the lobby of the Ansonia Hotel with two low-level gamblers, former major leaguer Bill Burns and his partner Billy Maharg.4 Gandil proposed that a group of eight White Sox players would intentionally lose the World Series if the gamblers could come up with a shared payoff of $100,000.5

According to Cicotte‘s grand jury testimony, given in September 1920, he had met with Gandil and infielder Fred McMullin at the hotel a day earlier. They opened the conversation by saying, “We’re not getting a devil of a lot of money … and it look[s] as though we could make a good thing if we threw the world‘s series to Cincinnati.” Cicotte was asked his price for getting involved. He replied, “I would not do anything like that for less than $10,000.”6

Burns and Maharg didn‘t have that kind of money, but they promised to ask around. After arriving in Boston on September 19, Cicotte and Gandil also shopped their idea around with another notorious gambler, Joseph “Sport” Sullivan, who had a reputation for game-fixing that stretched back to the 1903 World Series.7 Sullivan said he too would search for a source of funding the players‘ audacious plan.8 

A conspiracy that began with a series of casual conversations among the White Sox players some weeks earlier was now in full swing. (For a more detailed summary of the entire Black Sox Scandal, read Bill Lamb‘s chapter from SABR‘s Scandal on the South Side.) There were more meetings to come9 and more promises to be made – and broken – before the World Series began and the Black Sox Scandal became a reality. But as the White Sox took the field at Fenway Park, they were a conflicted team to say the least.

They also weren‘t yet confirmed as the AL champions. Their lead over the second-place Cleveland Indians was at 6½ games, with eight games remaining on the schedule for each team. A White Sox win over Boston combined with an Indians loss at Washington would be enough to clinch the pennant. (As it happened, the seventh-place Senators were unable to provide any help to the White Sox in their weekend series, losing four consecutive games to keep Cleveland‘s slim hopes alive.)

To start the opener in Boston, White Sox manager Kid Gleason called on his ace Cicotte, who was making his first appearance after a two-week absence. Between August 15 and his most recent start, on September 5, Cicotte had won seven straight games down the stretch. Newspaper reports at the time10 claimed the 35-year-old Cicotte was given time off in order to rest up before the World Series, which was expanding to an experimental best-of-nine format. Cicotte had already pitched 288 innings and won a league-high 28 games, and the White Sox pitching staff was thin due to the absence of future Hall of Famer Red Faber.11 Cicotte knew he might be in line to start four games if the World Series went the full distance.

Many years later, Eight Men Out author Eliot Asinof and others claimed White Sox owner Charles Comiskey had Cicotte benched in early September, supposedly to deny him a large bonus due to him if he won 30 games. This was said to be Cicotte’s motivation for joining the fix and accepting a bribe from gamblers. Subsequent research on 1919 player salaries has shown that Cicotte was never promised a bonus for winning 30 games and, in fact, he would soon get a chance to try to reach that milestone.12

First, Cicotte had to win his 29th game against a Red Sox lineup that featured Babe Ruth. The 24-year-old phenom, who had already established himself as baseball’s best left-handed pitcher while helping Boston win three of the past four World Series, was now on the verge of breaking the sport’s single-season home-run record. He entered the White Sox series with an astounding 26 homers to his credit, one shy of Ed Williamson’s mark of 27 set back in 1884.

While Ruth was outhomering every other team in the league, the defending champion Red Sox were floundering. Pitcher Carl Mays had walked off the mound after a game and refused to play again until he was finally traded to the Yankees in July. After the Red Sox finished in a disappointing sixth place –  at 66-71, it was their first losing record in 11 years – owner Harry Frazee infamously sold off Ruth’s contract to New York as well.

On this Friday afternoon, the Red Sox struck first against Cicotte in the first inning. Joe Wilhoit, making his first start for Boston in center field, led off with a single and came around to score on Ruth’s grounder to second base. Earlier that summer, Wilhoit had set a professional baseball record with a 69-game hitting streak for Wichita of the Western League.13  

In the third inning, Ruth again tagged Cicotte for an RBI double to right-center field after a misplay by the normally sure-handed second baseman Eddie Collins on a grounder by Ossie Vitt kept the inning alive. With two RBIs, Ruth increased his league-leading total to 108. But Cicotte allowed only one more runner to reach second base after that, inducing two double plays to hold the Red Sox offense at bay.

Boston’s 20-year-old rookie Waite Hoyt made a strong effort to keep pace. The White Sox stranded nine runners on base before finally pushing across the winning run against the young right-hander. The White Sox scored their first two runs in the second inning, on an RBI single by Swede Risberg to score Happy Felsch and a squeeze bunt by Cicotte to score Risberg.

Hoyt was still on the mound in the eighth inning when the White Sox broke the 2-2 tie. Gandil doubled to left field and moved to third on Risberg’s fly ball to deep center field. Ray Schalk threatened to pull off another successful squeeze, drawing in third baseman Vitt, but then he tapped the ball over the head of a charging Vitt to score Gandil with the go-ahead run.14 The 3-2 margin was enough for the White Sox to win their 87th game of the season, dropping their proverbial “magic number” to one.

The Boston Herald’s Burt Whitman was impressed with the quality of Chicago’s play: “Maybe those Cincinnati Reds will pull a ‘Braves of 1914’ clean-up against the White Sox in the world series this fall, but there was nothing to indicate such a development.”15

It took the White Sox five more days before they were finally assured of a berth in the World Series. On September 24 Cicotte made his next start, against the St. Louis Browns at Comiskey Park. Aiming to win his 30th game, Cicotte pitched poorly and allowed five runs before he was removed for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. The White Sox rallied and won the game on Shoeless Joe Jackson’s walk-off single to clinch the AL pennant.16

By then, the plot to throw the World Series was fully set in motion. Gandil organized another players-only meeting at the Warner Hotel in Chicago on the eve of Game One, when he and Cicotte were joined by Buck Weaver, Felsch, and perhaps Lefty Williams and McMullin. Cicotte returned to his room that night to find $10,000 under his pillow – exactly the amount he had asked for at the Ansonia Hotel in New York.17 The fix was on. 



This article was fact-checked by Kevin Larkin and copy-edited by Len Levin. SABR members Gary Belleville and Kurt Blumenau provided comments on an earlier version of the article.

Photo credit: SABR-Rucker Archive.



In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and SABR.org.





1 I.E. Sanborn, “White Sox Notes,” Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1919: 12. The time of the White Sox’ departure from New York on the evening of September 18 helps to confirm the other details provided by Billy Maharg in his testimony. See Note 4 below. 

2 Irving Vaughan, “White Sox Ticket Sale Opens Today at Sox Park,” Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1919: 12; James Crusinberry, “Calls for World Series Seats Bury White Sox Office Force,” Chicago Tribune, September 20, 1919: 15.

3 Joe Le Blanc, “20 to 1 the White Sox Win Five Straight Games,” Collyer’s Eye, September 20, 1919: 1.

4 Billy Maharg and Bill Burns both testified under oath about their initial meeting with the White Sox players, which helps to establish the specific timeline of events. In Maharg’s deposition on December 16, 1922, he specified that he watched Carl Mays and Erskine Mayer (his ex-Phillies teammate) pitch at the Polo Grounds before meeting with Burns, Gandil, and Cicotte at the Ansonia Hotel afterward. Maharg and Burns’s testimony can be found in Jacob Pomrenke and David J. Fletcher, eds., Joe Jackson, Plaintiff, vs. Chicago American League Baseball Club, Defendant (Chicago: Eckhartz Press, 2023), 287-299. 

5 The $100,000 payoff would be about $1.7 million in 2023 dollars, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.

6 “Synopsis of Testimony of Edward V. Cicotte Given Before the Grand Jury of Cook County on September 28, 1920,” Chicago History Museum, Black Sox Scandal Collection. This eight-page typed summary was likely compiled after the fact by a prosecutor with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. For a deeper analysis of Cicotte’s involvement, see Bill Lamb, “Reluctant Go-Along or Fix Ringleader? Analysis of Eddie Cicotte’s Role in the Corruption of the 1919 World Series,” SABR Black Sox Scandal Research Committee Newsletter, Vol. 12, No. 2, December 2020.

7 For details on Sullivan’s previous game-fixing efforts, see Bruce Allardice, “Sport Sullivan,” SABR BioProject, accessed November 1, 2023. A historical marker installed at the Hotel Buckminster in Boston claims that Sullivan first met with Chick Gandil there on September 18, 1919, but the White Sox were still in New York City that day. The Sullivan-Gandil-Cicotte meeting likely took place on September 19 or 20 instead, either at the Buckminster or the nearby Lenox Hotel (or possibly both).

8 In the coming days, Burns, Maharg, and Sullivan all approached Arnold Rothstein, the New York City kingpin gambler known as “The Big Bankroll.” While Rothstein kept a plausible distance from the scandal and never met with any White Sox players, he enlisted a key lieutenant, Nat Evans, to work closely with Sullivan and put up the money to pay off the fixers.      

9 There were at least two more players-only meetings held in the days leading up to the World Series, one in Cicotte’s room at the Warner Hotel in Chicago and another before Game One at the Sinton Hotel in Cincinnati. Cicotte, Joe Jackson, and Lefty Williams all testified that Buck Weaver attended both of these meetings.

10 I.E. Sanborn, “Cicotte Puts Sox Within One Game of Clinching the Flag,” Chicago Tribune, September 20, 1919: 15.

11 Faber – who had won a record-tying three games in the 1917 World Series – reportedly fell ill with the flu before the 1919 season, and he was also battling arm and ankle injuries. He did not pitch at all in the 1919 Series against the Cincinnati Reds.

12 For more on Cicotte’s 1919 contract and the mythical bonus, see SABR’s Eight Myths Out project.  

13 Wilhoit’s hitting streak record still stood as of 2023. Only Joe DiMaggio, who recorded a 61-game hitting streak in the minor leagues in 1933 and followed it up with a celebrated 56-game streak for the New York Yankees in 1941, has seriously challenged the mark since.

14 James C. O’Leary, “Coming Champions Drub Red Sox, 3-2,” Boston Globe, September 20, 1919: 5.

15 Burt Whitman, “Chisox Show Finesse of Champs in Opener Here,” Boston Herald, September 20, 1919: 6.

16 Jacob Pomrenke, “Walking Off to the World Series,” Scandal on the South Side: The 1919 Chicago White Sox (Phoenix: SABR, 2015), accessed online on November 17, 2023.

17 Lamb, “Reluctant Go-Along or Fix Ringleader?”

Additional Stats

Chicago White Sox 3
Boston Red Sox 2

Fenway Park
Boston, MA


Box Score + PBP:

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