This article was written by Gene Carney
This article was published in the Fall 2009 Baseball Research Journal
In December 2007, a huge collection of documents, most related to the Black Sox scandal and all of them originating in the offices of the lawyers of White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, was purchased at auction by the Chicago History Museum for nearly $100,000. Among the documents are the reports from the detectives whom Comiskey hired through his lawyer Alfred S. Austrian. A letter summarizing their findings, dated May 11, 1920, from J. R. Hunter of Hunter’s Secret Service of Illinois, was among the exhibits in the 1924 trial, when Joe Jackson sued the White Sox for breach of contract. But the rest of the documents, twenty-eight in all, have probably not been seen for nearly ninety years, and they have never before been made public. In this article are the stories they contain.
The day after the 1919 World Series ended, reporter Hugh Fullerton wrote that seven members of the losing team, the Chicago White Sox, would not be on the roster the following spring. When the Black Sox scandal broke nearly a year later, Fullerton said his authority for that speculation was none other than Charles A. Comiskey. Comiskey had learned of the fix early on—according to a Fullerton memoir in 1935, he knew even before Game One—and during the tainted Series he collected the names of eight players. After the Series, he held up their checks. Several players complained to league president Ban Johnson, who was feuding bitterly with Comiskey at the time. Eventually he mailed out the checks and then signed up the suspected players, except for Chick Gandil, giving nice raises to Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Fred McMullin, and Happy Felsch. (Swede Risberg and Buck Weaver were on multiyear contracts.)
Shortly after the Series, Comiskey offered a $10,000 reward for any hard evidence of fixing. In contemporary newspaper accounts, it was reported that he had interviewed several gamblers from St. Louis and had hired detectives to investigate the rumors. It was also reported that he found nothing to prevent him from retaining seven of the eight suspects, keeping his dynastic Sox team intact until the scandal forced him to suspend them with just three games remaining in the 1920 season; the Sox finished two games behind Cleveland.
Precisely how the scandal broke is a long and complex story, still somewhat shrouded in mystery. Ban Johnson and Comiskey both sought to take credit for the general “cleaning up” called for by the scandal. Comiskey went public with the news that he had hired detectives and at considerable expense to himself. In September 1920, his staff had brought three players to the Cook County grand jury that was investigating “irregularities in baseball” with Eddie Cicotte’s admission of taking $10,000 in bribe money finally ending the cover-up of the fixed series. It was supposed that both Johnson and Comiskey had turned over all their evidence to the grand jury, but none of it was ever made public.
About three weeks after the World Series ended, J. R. Hunter met with members of the firm Mayer, Meyer, Austrian and Platt. They directed him to find out what he could about certain players, reporting back to Alfred S. Austrian. Hunter would go to California, where he would eventually meet with Chick Gandil, Fred McMullin, and Buck Weaver. His “operatives” would fan out to Milwaukee, home of Happy Felsch; St. Louis, where certain gamblers suspected of being in on the fix resided; and Chicago, to get information from two women close to Swede Risberg. Apparently no one investigated Cicotte, Jackson, and Williams, the three players who later gave their stories to the grand jury.
Hunter’s men did visit Detroit, where Eddie Cicotte resided, but well after the scandal broke and after the Black Sox trial; that report was filed July 6, 1922. In his “general report” of January 29, 1924, which he must have prepared for the Jackson trial, Hunter gave a stunning description of what “one of the players located in that town admitted.”
Joe Jackson had written to Comiskey on November 15, 1919, offering to come to Chicago to tell Comiskey what he knew of the fix rumors. Jackson later testified at the 1924 trial (but not to the 1920 grand jury, and not at the 1921 Black Sox trial) that he had tried to show Comiskey, immediately after the Series, the $5,000 he received from Lefty Williams. Jackson added that he asked about the money again when team representative Harry Grabiner visited Savannah in the offseason to sign up Jackson for 1920. If that meeting took place, then there was no need to investigate Jackson. His offer to come to Chicago was ignored. It seems likely that, if the team knew about Jackson’s $5,000, they knew that Lefty Williams received the same amount. Whether they knew about Cicotte receiving $10,000 before the Series is not known.
In his book Eight Men Out (1963), Eliot Asinof has Comiskey’s detectives investigating seven of the eight suspected Sox—all but Weaver—and wrapping things up by mid-November. But that was clearly not the case.
Hunter left for California on November 13 but not before sending a note to Harry Grabiner, asking him for a device of some kind that he might use to record conversations. He planned to do that while “the boys” are off playing. He took along his wife, hoping she might extract information once she got “in the wives circles,” but there is nothing in subsequent reports indicating she did.
Hunter next checked in via telegram from Los Angeles, informing Austrian on November 26 that “I am making some headway.” He had connected with Fred McMullin, who offered to assist Hunter in meeting with other players and their friends “next Friday night. May get some inside information at that time.” On December 4, Hunter wrote to Austrian from L.A.— a two-page letter with word of his “guarded inquiry” regarding “Fred McMillan” and “Chick Gundel.” (It would take him a while to get their names correct.)
McMullin was employed that winter at the blacksmith shop of the Southern Pacific Railroad. When Hunter “finally connected” with him, he found McMullin to be “very frank and outspoken.” In his letter, Hunter summarized McMullin’s information in six paragraphs, written as if he were quoting McMullin verbatim—which he isn’t, unless he was using that recording device.
Fred was sorry that the Sox lost the Series, “as it throws suspicion on the players who participated in the games, myself included, and I would do anything to develop the true facts, as Baseball would be a dead issue if anything of that kind could be put over. I am going to put myself in your [Hunter’s] hands and assist you in any way you suggest.”
Hunter had learned that McMullin spoke frequently with his friends about “the suspicion cast on the White Sox.” But what he told Hunter is that he knew nothing about any fixing. He speculates that a fix could be executed only by the pitchers and catcher. He expressed disappointment with pitchers Cicotte and Williams, who had had highly successful regular seasons. Gandil “showed up very poorly, and I could hardly figure him out.” McMullin then offered to meet with Gandil and “get down to brass tacks with him as a matter of self-preservation, and see what I can rope out of him.” Hunter told Austrian that he was “satisfied that Mc-Millan is honest in his intentions, and will do anything he can; but he is very much worried that anything should leak out which would uncover him. I assured him that there was no fear of exposure.” And indeed, there was none—for the next nine decades.
On December 8, Hunter met with Chick Gandil. He sent Austrian a three-page report on December 13. He had learned that Chick and his wife bought a new bungalow, in a new subdivision known as Angeles Massa, “worth about $6,500.” (In Eight Men Out, Asinof has Hunter discovering that Gandil has also bought “a sizeable quantity of diamonds,” but there seems to be no evidence to support that.) Harry Grabiner had told Hunter that, of all the players on the team, Gandil was “the most prospective man who would be susceptible to any deal with gamblers.” Hunter posed as an ordinary salesman with interest in real estate and then got around to talking baseball.
Gandil said he “felt keenly” about the stories circulating that suggested the Sox tossed the Series. But he said he neither took any money nor was approached by anyone offering bribes (which may have been technically true, if Gandil initiated the exchanges with the fixers). He blamed the rumors on the gamblers who lost big when they bet on the favored Sox in the first two games (both won by the Reds). Gandil goes further, stating that no one on the Sox “got a dollar to lend himself to any crooked deal.”
Losing the Series helped raise suspicions, but Gandil said it was simply an upset. (He was still saying that in 1956, when he was interviewed by Mel Durslag for Sports Illustrated.) “I got so provoked that I wrote Mr. Comiskey that I did not want to continue in the game, and asked that he release me.” That was not the case: Gandil intended to play ball or manage a team out west, and he continued playing “outlaw ball” even after being banned in 1921. He explained that he had taken out a $3,300 mortgage on his home, and he was quick to tell everyone that he did not buy it, or his new car, with any ill-gotten monies.
Hunter tested Gandil’s stories with others and found that he was consistent, if not totally honest. Gandil had given Hunter a “guarded inclination [to think] that Weaver should know, if anyone,” whether any player took a bribe the previous October.
On December 20, Hunter telegramed Austrian from San Francisco, to let him know he had received the wire from the Sox to discontinue his work on the West Coast. But he’s met with Buck Weaver and “picked up some pointers” that may prove fruitful when he gets back to Chicago.
It is not until January 22, 1920, that Hunter filed his three-page report on Buck. He explained that he had a real-estate man “connect up” with Weaver at his home in Venice. Buck denied knowing anything about any “frame-up to throw” the games, though he added that some of the plays “might be construed as being suspicious.” He said that “if any crookedness took place, it was pulled off in Chicago” and two South Side girls would know about it.
Later, Hunter phoned Weaver, posing as a reporter. Weaver repeated his story, saying the best team simply lost. He added that only a few players would need to be bribed, not “half the team.” He was sorry that the Sox lost, which just added fuel to the fix rumors. He was aware that the rumors would hurt baseball and that the popularity of the sport was directly linked to player salaries. He worried that baseball would become as discredited as horse racing. Hunter found Weaver to be “a rather frank, outspoken fellow” and was inclined to believe his account.
Leaving Los Angeles, Hunter tried to connect with Swede Risberg in San Francisco, but then he got the letter from the Sox, pulling the plug on his California investigations. But he did learn the names of the two Chicago girls Weaver mentioned, one of them being Risberg’s “sweetheart,” and one of his operatives was trying to rent a Chicago flat with them (“take a room at $10.00 per week”). Hunter speculated that Risberg may have given “Miss Marie Purcell” $500 to start her up in a business.
Finally, Hunter refers to an article in Collyer’s Eye, a Chicago weekly. The Eye, which had been doing its own investigating in the wake of the tainted Series, reported on October 18 that a “striking blond” woman bet $2,000 on the Reds. The Eye thought it might be the wife of Lefty Williams, and those rumors persisted for several years. But Hunter thought the description was of Florence Brown, the friend of Marie Purcell. Hunter was hopeful that his operative could gain access to the papers in Miss Purcell’s room and “install a dictagraph” so that he might get “inside plans” from Risberg or any players visiting there.
CHRISTMASTIME IN MILWAUKEE
On Sunday, November 2, “Mr. R.” traveled to Milwaukee and assigned “Operative #11” to investigate Happy Felsch. A native of Milwaukee, Felsch lived there his entire life and spent the offseason there in the fall of 1919. Number 11 set out to locate Felsch the next day. He had been given the wrong address, he soon learned from the bartender at a saloon where he was told ballplayers hung out. Number 11 was also informed that Felsch had bought a new Hupmobile and was out hunting ducks.
Number 11 then visited another baseball hangout, where he noticed a large picture of Felsch at the bar. There he was told Felsch had sold his house, bought a car, and was living somewhere in the neighborhood. At a third bar, called Hungarian, he heard that Felsch had lived next door but moved down the street. From a grocer, he learned that Felsch lived with his wife, her parents and sister, and the sister’s two small children. Their home was in a “poor neighborhood” and had eight rooms and no bath; they were renting it for $22 a month. They were crowded quarters, and Number 11 wrote that “this fact will prevent me from obtaining a furnished room in their house.”
Over the next three days, while Felsch was away hunting, Number 11 “made frequent trips to the saloons” to glean any information he could from the patrons. He returned daily to Felsch’s house, hoping to shadow him, finally finding the garage empty on November 11. Number 11 then filed his first report to the Hunter office. It was forwarded to Austrian on November 14.
His next report picks right up on November 12, where Number 11 arrives too late. Felsch had left in his car. For the next week, Number 11 cruised Felsch’s neighborhood and visited the saloons where Felsch usually hung out, but he made no connections. Then he asked the office for help. On November 21, Operative ABG left Chicago for Milwaukee, meeting with Number 11 around dinnertime. Then they started visiting pubs, staying in one saloon several hours. They learned that Felsch was going hunting again the next day. They check one more saloon but learned nothing there.
ABG knocked on the Felsch door November 22, posing as an oil-lease salesman, and spoke with Felsch’s mother-in-law. She said Felsch was sleeping in. ABG and Number 11 decided to wait him out and finally saw Felsch leave his house and drive away about 1P.M. They then went to his favorite saloon, but he wasn’t there. Back at the Felsch house, his mother-in-law told ABG that Felsch was at a friend’s, preparing for a deer-hunting trip. ABG and Number 11 waited the rest of the day, but Felsch never returned.
On December 10, Number 11 wrote to Austrian, explaining that, during the past week, all of his efforts to connect with Felsch had failed. Felsch was either out of town or not home. But Number 11 had a clue— he was told by someone that Felsch had opened “a Christmas tree headquarters at 559 3rd St.” Proceeding to that address, Number 11 found that the store there was rented by the Schlitz Brewery Co. and stocked with 225 Christmas trees. Felsch’s trees were elsewhere. The next day, he finds out where—the lot near Felsch’s home is filled with trees, which he was selling.
Number 11 bought a large tree from the man on duty and then invited him to the saloon across the street. There he learned that the man was Felsch’s father-in-law. Now Number 11 decided to pose as someone interested in selling trees himself, saying he’d like to buy “quite a number,” angling to meet Felsch in person. An appointment was made for Number 11 to meet with Felsch between 6 and 7P.M. They met, finally, at 6:20 P.M., after forty long days of countless saloon visits and fruitless stakeouts.
Felsch, of course, was ready to leave town again and tried to turn Number 11 over to his father-in-law. Number 11 learned that Felsch paid $1,875 for his Hupmobile, which froze in his barn about ten days earlier and was now in a garage. Felsch then remembered a meeting he had to attend, and Number 11 could walk with him only as far as the streetcar. But first, Number 11 got Felsch into a corner saloon, where Felsch started talking about—bowling. Forty-five minutes later, he remembered his appointment again and said good-bye, asking Number 11 to come back in the morning.
Number 11 arrived at Felsch’s home at 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning. He bought twenty-five trees, which are piled on a Ford truck and delivered to Number 11’s home. Afterward, Number 11 and Felsch visited a saloon, where they had drinks and shot some pool. Felsch talked about—his next fishing trip. Number 11 was invited back to Felsch’s home, where Felsch entertained him with his new player piano, purchased recently for $560. Number 11 was reluctant to bring up baseball, since they were not that close yet. But Number 11 let him know that he liked fishing and had a vacation coming up. Felsch invited him to go along on the trip north. Number 11 had him right where he wanted him. They talked, and Felsch explained to him “in detail the various moves of a ballplayer, and I can see that he has taken a liking to me.” Number 11 left about 12:30 P.M., advised the office on developments, and received “instructions for the future.”
Monday and Tuesday, Number 11 set his trap. He played cards at Felsch’s home, entertained him at a saloon, and had his wife accompany Felsch and Mrs. Felsch on a shopping tour, during which the couple “were open in their statements and talked on a lot of subjects,” though none had anything to do with the fix. Number 11 was convinced that he needed to get Felsch “alone, and in the proper mood, before he will talk at length about baseball.”
It had been necessary for Number 11 to buy more trees, making one wonder who was stringing whom along. Number 11 wrote that he hoped he could sell the trees later. The weather was not suitable for fishing, but “just as soon as the ice gets right” Number 11 had him. On December 17, Felsch phoned Number 11 and said he was eager to dispose of more Christmas trees. Number 11 was fortunate and found Felsch a buyer for 190 of them. “This purchase seemed to please him.” But Felsch reported that the ice has cracked, so there would be no fishing trip any time soon. They could always talk, though, visiting saloons. Felsch was now resting up; his team was bowling that evening. He told Number 11 that, on road trips, he was partners with Eddie Cicotte. Number 11 watched Felsch bowl that evening, but they could not talk.
The next day, Number 11 stopped by and paid Felsch for the trees. Felsch demonstrated the player piano again, played the phonograph, and explained more baseball plays and tricks. When the conversation drifted to “the owners and officials of the game,” Felsch commented that many of the officials “have great graft”— the same as those of any business. Number 11 did not pursue this, not wanting to “show too keen an interest, not wishing to arouse any suspicion at so short an acquaintance.” After lunch, they headed to a saloon and talked with the barkeep about ice fishing. Then they parted. Felsch promised to phone him.
On December 24, Number 11 wrote the report that the Hunter office had been patiently waiting for. He had returned from a fishing trip with “F” and his friends. This was the first time that he referred to Felsch as “F,” and he did so throughout the report. Perhaps he figured this one would go all the way to the top.
The party had left Milwaukee on Friday the 19th. Felsch furnished the car, his friends the cottage, and Number 11 the provisions, which must have included a lot of beer. The fish, however, were not biting, and the party returned sooner than expected. Number 11 was doing his own fishing, of course. Felsch talked sports, saying all sports could be faked, even baseball. Club owners could have an understanding about where the teams would finish and have their players perform accordingly. When the 1919 Series came up, Felsch said the Sox were “over confident and out of luck.”
After Christmas, Number 11 remained in constant touch with Felsch. When the 1919 Series came up, Felsch either dropped or changed the subject. On December 30, Happy and Marie Felsch were at the home of Number 11. They spent the afternoon and evening there. Happy agreed to take Number 11 and his children out for a drive, leaving the wives at home alone to chat. Felsch and Number 11 visited bowling alleys and saloons, returning about 5:30 P.M. While the men and children were away, Mrs. Number 11 heard Mrs. Felsch tell about how confident she and Happy were before the 1919 Series, and how disappointed after. They blamed the loss on poor pitching. She said they felt that Lefty Williams had been in no condition to pitch one of the games, having had whiskey the night before, even after being warned by the manager not to drink. “She spoke of a pitcher [likely Red Faber] who has been in the Navy, who had so much Antitoxin shot into his arm that it practically made him useless.” The Felsches were at Number 11’s home until late in the evening but said nothing else that Number 11 judged to be reportable.
On New Year’s Day, Felsch was sick in bed. His wife phoned Number 11 to cancel their theater party that evening. Felsch was still in bed the next day, but feeling better, when Number 11 visited. Number 11 writes, “He has not indicated to me in his talk thus far that he had his hand in the deal, but has told me various ways that it could be done.” Number 11 then acknowledges receipt of instructions to discontinue his investigation for the time being.
On January 8, Operative Number 11 filed his final report, and Hunter forwarded it to Austrian on January 12. Number 11 had gone fishing with Felsch again— for fish, that is—for several days at Okauchee Lake. One evening, while sitting and smoking, the topic of Comiskey’s $10,000 reward for information came up— it was mentioned in an item in the Milwaukee Journal on December 30, and Felsch had noticed it. “He did not seem at all interested and only said that he had heard of it. Claims that he cannot imagine that any player would stoop so low.” Felsch blamed the fix rumors on gamblers who were sore losers.
“My observations to date: I believe that ‘F’ is innocent, but at the same time I believe he knows more than he cares to tell.” Felsch and Number 11 parted at the latter’s home, “on the best of terms, and ‘F’ promised to visit me again in the near future. Was given instructions to do nothing further for the present.”
WHAT ABOUT DETROIT?
As noted above, the only report filed by the detective who visited Detroit was filed in 1922. On January 29, 1924, with the coming Jackson trial in mind, J. R. Hunter sent Charles A. Comiskey a “general report” on the findings of his staff. In that two-page letter Hunter says that his man in Detroit reported that
one of the players located in that town admitted that he knew there was a frame-up between some of the players and the gamblers, where they were to receive certain amounts of money in the event that they would permit Cincinnati to win; and this player volunteered to give an affidavit covering such facts, providing we would get the consent of his lawyer who was located in Detroit, and whose name he furnished.
This was probably Eddie Cicotte, who had confessed to the 1920 grand jury that he took a $10,000 bribe. The only other White Sox player who lived in Detroit was Nemo Leibold. There is no record of an affidavit by him, and so, if Leibold was the player Hunter was referring to, we can only guess that his lawyer advised against it.
On October 7, 1920, in the wake of the scandal’s breaking, The Sporting News reported that a Detroit paper ran an article about one of the “clean Sox,” Nemo Leibold, “a graduate of Detroit’s sand lots.”
Before the start of the last World’s Series some of Leibold’s former team mates and pals wrote him asking for an inside tip on the Series. Leibold never answered the letters. When Leibold returned to Detroit last winter his friends demanded to know why he ignored their letters. “I was in a spot where I couldn’t advise you either way, so I just didn’t answer. That was the only thing I could do,” answered Leibold without further information.
That Leibold may have had some “guilty knowledge” is not at all surprising. There is ample evidence that manager Kid Gleason confronted the team about the fix rumors, perhaps as early as before Game One, mentioning the $100,000 figure that was being tossed around. (Comiskey testified at the 1924 trial that Gleason spoke to the team before Game Two.) Whatever Leibold knew, we may never know.
When J. R. Hunter summed up his agency’s finding in a letter to Comiskey dated May 11, 1920, he made no mention of Detroit. And the investigation ended. But it reopened in 1922, when three White Sox players filed lawsuits against the club, for back pay and damages to their reputations and careers. Hunter himself (or “our Mr. H.”) visited Eddie Cicotte in Detroit, to see if Cicotte would be a helpful witness for the Sox in the coming trials. They met at a hotel on July 2; Hunter dated his report July 5.
Mr. H. sounded Cicotte out and then wrote a summary of what Cicotte was supposed to have said. “Comiskey was actually kind and considerate to all his players,” Mr. H. wrote. Cicotte expressed deep regret for what he did and the disgrace it brought. He pledged to help but referred Mr. H. to his lawyer, Daniel Cassidy, of Detroit, and gave H. Cassidy’s address.
There is every reason to suspect that Mr. H. was telling Comiskey what he wanted to hear. On August 23, Cassidy wrote to Alfred Austrian that Cicotte was declining the deposition; he preferred to stay out of the public eye. When Cicotte was deposed, against his will, in 1923, he was not at all cooperative, probably advised by his attorney not to say anything incriminating. This forced the Sox lawyers to depose him again, just before the 1924 trial, reading to Cicotte his grand-jury statement from 1920 and asking him if he was telling the truth at that time. Grudgingly, Cicotte stood by his 1920 statement, avoiding any charges of perjury.
Immediately after the 1919 Series, the White Sox received a tip about gamblers from St Louis and sent team representatives, including manager Kid Gleason, to check it out. They met with Harry Redmon, a theater man in East St Louis. Redmon’s story, told twice to the Sox (Redmon came to Chicago in December 1919 and spoke directly to Comiskey and Austrian), can now be read in full, as the documents at the Chicago History Museum contain the transcript of his grand-jury statement from late October 1920.
Redmon pointed the Sox toward Joe Pesch, a gambler and pool-room operator, who became the target for Hunter. Operative EM first reported on November 9, 1919. He found Pesch’s billiard hall. He was also checking out gambler Carl Zork and had found him in the city directory, but there was no listing for “Abe Attell” (a New Yorker at the time), and EM thought “Abe Attell” might not be a real name. (Attell was later alleged to have worked as a messenger between White Sox players and gambler Arnold Rothstein.)
At the pool hall on November 12, EM made friends with some of the regulars—Herman, Al, and Bill. They introduced him to Pesch, who in turn introduced EM to a car dealer named Jones. The next day, EM was dancing with Jones and Jones’s daughter. And EM overheard what may have been the first documented use of the phrase “Black Sox”: “Some man” remarked to Pesch: “I want to bet on the Black Sox, as they can’t call themselves ‘White Sox’ any longer. They do not play white baseball. With them a man does not get a good chance for his money.” EM picked up on the remark but is unable to learn the man’s name.
In his next report, EM is now EWM. On November 14, he spent all afternoon at the pool hall and got to know Al pretty well. Al gave EWM a rundown on the hall’s finances, saying that, if it were not for the “handbook,” they would lose money. But in 1919, handling $17–18,000 in baseball betting, they lost about $1,000. That morning, EWM met Carl Zork “under a misleading pretext.” In the evening he saw Zork and his wife but didn’t make contact. By November 17, EWM had played a lot more pool, and he had concluded that Jones knew little about baseball. He saw Zork again, but only in passing. He did not “hang out” in his hotel’s lobby.
On November 21, EWM wrote that his progress had been slowed by a pool tournament at Pesch’s place. He was also frustrated in his attempts to corner Zork, who was “most always with his wife.” By November 30, EWM had talked with a lot of pool players, and, while they all felt the 1919 Series was crooked, none had “any information as to how it was pulled off.” Al pointed to the games pitched by Cicotte and Williams but had no idea who was “in on the deal.” Al believed “it will never be found out.” Al mentioned that Kid Gleason was in town, investigating for three or four days, “but I do not believe he got anything definite.” Gleason did not meet with Pesch, “an authority on baseball [who] sets the prices on betting.” Al did not think Pesch was involved in any fixing, since he lost $2,000 on the Series. Al stated that, if he knew anything, he’d take it to Comiskey for the reward money. “Every man has his price.” Al wondered if Cicotte and Williams were the only ones who played crooked, betting their own money.
EWM has concluded that Al is truthful, and this view about him seems to be the “general feeling.” EWM had been unable to find Frankel (a gambler from Omaha who went by the name Ben Franklin) but reported that Harry Redmon was in town. He also mentioned an article in the Journal about the fix, and he understood that Tom Fairweather, mayor of Des Moines, Iowa, had written a letter to the White Sox. (Several gamblers involved in the fix lived there.)
On December 4, EWM restated his belief that he was at a dead end in St Louis. He acknowledged receipt of a wire directing him to “discontinue and return.” “All of the boys were sorry to see me go.”
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF EWM
Back in Chicago, EWM met with Alfred Austrian and was given information about Marie Purcell, a name received from Hunter’s trip to California. In EWM’s reports, Purcell became “Subject.” EWM was soon living at the Drexel Arms Hotel, in room 310, just a few doors from Subject. She was, EWM reported after finally seeing her on December 10, about 5 feet 7 inches, about 150 pounds, 24 years old, and of medium build. She had black hair. Her friend—Florence Brown—was the same weight and age. She was 5 feet 6 inches and had reddish blonde hair and good features. EWM met them in the hotel cafe and on the streetcar. He learned that Subject owned a beauty parlor, confirming what Hunter had learned. Both Purcell and Brown had recently moved to Chicago from Detroit. (Newspaper accounts after the scandal broke mentioned “beautiful women brought in from Detroit,” but they were supposed to have gone after the Reds.) By the evening of December 17, EWM was playing cards in the women’s room, having already stopped by the parlor for a manicure. After the card game, EWM went out for a walk with them, ending up at the Ellis Cafe, where they danced and drank until 12:45A.M.
EWM noticed in Subject’s room a picture of Swede Risberg in his baseball uniform. “He is a very wonderful friend of mine.” Risberg came up again in conversation at the Ellis Cafe. He and his friends were with Purcell and Brown at their Chicago hotel throughout the 1919 World Series, “sneaking away” from their own hotel and their manager. Subject had passes for all the Series games in Chicago.
On December 29, EWM reported that he had been with the women almost every evening. They had all become good friends. They occasionally went out dancing and drinking into the wee hours. A traveling tire salesman, Roy Theilen, joined them one evening and remarked: “No wonder the ’Swede’ lost these games. I would have too if there was as much in it for me as there was for him. Then another thing, if he was with Marie (meaning Subject) every night, he didn’t have much ’pep’ the next day.”
But no one talked about any money being paid, and EWM did not pursue it. EWM learned from Florence Brown that Subject received the startup money for her business from her father, not from Risberg. EWM was skeptical about that. He was invited by the women to move into an open room in their apartment. He thought this a good idea, as he would be better able to keep track of Subject’s mail. And, he speculated, he would eventually meet Risberg and other baseball players when they came to Chicago: “We could have some fine times together.”
EWM did not report again until after the holidays. His contact with the two women had been constant. Subject said she had not heard or seen Swede Risberg since the Series ended. “Miss B.” said she was very friendly with Fred McMullin, and “in fact, both Subject and Miss B. are on very friendly terms with most of the players on the Sox, and frequently held some lively parties when they were in town.”
On January 5, EWM reported that Subject had been observed in her room with the framed picture of Swede Risberg. She started swinging it and remarked, “Well old kid you may swing worse than that, if you are not careful—if ‘they’ knew what I know.” That convinced EWM that the women know all about the fix but won’t talk.
An article in the Chicago Tribune on January 9 had Risberg holding out, threatening to resign and start a restaurant in California. Miss B’s mother then said she supposed he would “take his $10,000, which he was supposed to have gotten in the Series.” Subject replied that it was a bluff, that Swede would sign and play again with the White Sox (which he did). EWM then made his move, asking “Subject point-blank what she received out of the $10,000”—and she admitted she got her shop out of it. He asked what else, and she changed the subject.
The next report from EWM, who now went by S-1, came more than six weeks later, on February 25, 1920. He had moved in with the two women and Miss B’s mother. He had agreed to pay half the rent for at least three months. But he had not learned any more about Risberg’s $10,000 from anybody. One evening he brought up the fix rumors and said it looked like Risberg was in on it, and that touched off an hour-long argument. Neither woman believed that the Series was thrown. They said a friend of Risberg’s lost $800 betting. Hunter met with S-1 at length and was confident he would eventually meet Risberg, McMullin, and others, a development that would justify this lengthy undercover operation.
Sure enough, S-1 was still with the women when April rolled around. On April 13, Swede Risberg appeared at the apartment, remaining for supper and not leaving till 1:30A.M. Risberg joked about how manager Gleason caught him coming into his spring training hotel in Dallas at 2 A.M. S-1 in his report then referred to a report he filed after meeting Risberg the day before, on April 12, a report not in the collection.
After reviewing all of EWM’s reports, the reader may wonder whether EWM is perhaps a female operator. But a January report quotes Subject as saying to EWM, “Say Ed, what are you trying to do—get something on me or looking for information,” and laughing. In a report of December 4, from St Louis, EWM used his first name while quoting “Al.” And in a postscript in his final report, Hunter confirmed that he and Harry Grabiner had suggested that “operative leave his present quarters and try to arrange headquarters for himself,” but they decided to leave the decision to “Mr C.” (Comiskey).
In the days that follow, Risberg phoned often. He had promised Gleason that he would be in his own hotel by 11:30 P.M. Subject thought Risberg would find ways to sneak out. There is no mention of S-1 moving on or moving out. He and the women he was investigating may have lived happily ever after.
On May 11, 1920, J. R. Hunter prepared what would be his final report (until that Detroit trip in 1924). He summed up all of his detectives’ activities, in St Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, and California. His men “were not able to make any specific connection between the players and the gambling combination” they found in St. Louis. Nothing developed from meeting with the three players on the West Coast. “Nothing conclusive” came out of the operative’s discussions of bribery with the Chicago women. No evidence of betting was found. Hunter and his men gave it their best try but still could not answer the question about what prompted the rumors of a fixed World Series. He thanks Comiskey for the cooperation from everyone in “the White Sox Company.” And he presents the bill for his services: $3,820.71.
After the 1924 Detroit trip, Hunter amended the final bill to $3,884.98—still well below the $10,000 quoted by Comiskey after the scandal broke, in a statement that he prepared, at the suggestion of Yankee team owners Cols. Huston and Ruppert, to tilt public opinion in his favor. Comiskey said that the investigation was terminated May 20, 1920, but in fact there was little activity after January.
In the report that he prepared for the 1924 trial, Hunter made it seem that the Detroit work was done in 1919. Put on the witness stand at the 1924 trial, he was quizzed about his agency’s activities. He did not mention the Detroit work. Only the May 11 summary was on exhibit at the trial. Asked if he knew that Comiskey had spoken with Happy Felsch a few days after the 1919 Series, Hunter replied that he had heard some reference to that but could not recall what was said. He was asked, “Were you told to avoid those sources of information that might pick up something that might be embarrassing to Comiskey, or to the White Sox?” Hunter replied simply, “No, sir.” He had no guess as to why he was not asked to investigate Jackson, Cicotte, or Williams.
Most likely it was the team lawyer Alfred Austrian who advised Comiskey to investigate his players. It was a way of doing something while keeping his team mostly intact. When the scandal finally broke, the Chicago Tribune cited Harry Grabiner, who said that Comiskey had been investigating the fix rumors during the past year and that he conveyed his findings immediately to the grand jury. “We presume it was this evidence that caused the indictments to follow.” It is not clear that the reports actually made it to the grand jury, but that he had hired detectives was important for Comiskey. He was perceived to be not part of the cover-up but rather as working to rid baseball of any crookedness. There were some accusations, but they never gained traction.
In 1990, after Yankees owner George Steinbrenner paid gambler Howard Spira for information damaging to ballplayer Dave Winfield, he was ordered by Commissioner Fay Vincent to resign and was banned from the club’s day-to-day operations. In 1919, the National Commission was a lame duck, and American League president Ban Johnson was under fire from several club owners, including Charles Comiskey. There is little doubt that the struggle for power within baseball prevented a coordinated, thorough investigation into the rumors of bribery connected with the 1919 Series. What Comiskey found, through the detectives he hired, he kept to himself. And their reports remained hidden from public view—until today.
GENE CARNEY was the author of “Burying the Black Sox: How Baseball’s Cover-Up of the 1919 World Series Fix Almost Succeeded” (Potomac, 2006), “Romancing the Horsehide: Baseball Poems on Players and the Game” (McFarland, 1993), and dozens of baseball articles. He died in July 2009.