Pomrenke: The enduring myth of the ‘stolen’ Black Sox confessions

From SABR member Jacob Pomrenke at The National Pastime Museum on March 12, 2018, with mention of SABR member Bill Lamb:

One of the most dramatic scenes in John Sayles’s acclaimed 1988 film Eight Men Out occurs near the end of the movie, as the baseball world is anxiously following its “trial of the century,” the criminal conspiracy case against the Chicago White Sox players who fixed the 1919 World Series.

A trial witness refers to confessions supposedly made by Eddie Cicotte, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Lefty Williams to a grand jury months earlier. The judge asks for the documents to be brought forward, but the prosecutor shocks everyone in the courtroom with the announcement: “We don’t have them, Your Honor. They’ve been stolen!”

It’s a compelling scene, one that conveys the widespread corruption rampant in Chicago during the Prohibition Era and baseball’s penchant for covering up its misdeeds at any cost. It’s implied that White Sox owner Charles Comiskey and gambling kingpin Arnold Rothstein conspired to lift evidence from the State’s Attorney’s Office in order to sabotage the prosecutor’s case against the Black Sox. There’s just one problem: It’s simply not true.

And neither is most of what you’ve probably read about the complicated legal proceedings in baseball’s biggest scandal.

The grand juries (there were two of them), the criminal trial, and the civil lawsuits involved in the Black Sox saga are some of the least understood aspects about the scandal. But as we approach the 100th anniversary of the 1919 World Series, new access to the trial transcripts, witness testimony, and depositions has helped dispel old myths about what really happened in the courtroom, stories that were often based on faulty newspaper reporting and some creative license by Eight Men Out author Eliot Asinof and many other writers.

Consider the stolen confessions. In 2013, the Lelands.com auction house offered a $1 million reward to anyone who could produce “signed confessions” from Cicotte, Jackson, or Williams. But as Bill Lamb—a retired prosecutor and author of Black Sox in the Courtroom, the definitive story of the scandal’s legal proceedings—has pointed out, those documents do not exist and they never have. Grand jury witnesses, like the three players who admitted their involvement in the plot to fix the World Series, do not normally sign their testimony transcripts. In fact, the Black Sox defendants probably never even saw a copy, because the transcript would have been created by a court stenographer after the fact.

Read the full article here: https://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/enduring-myth-stolen-black-sox-confessions-part-1

Originally published: March 15, 2018. Last Updated: March 15, 2018.