- Series: 1919 Black Sox Scandal
Arnold Rothstein (1882-1928) has been described by historian Leo Katcher as “the J.P.Morgan of the underworld; its banker and master of strategy.” Born into a wealthy New York Jewish family, Rothstein would use his vaunted intelligence to rise to the top of criminal enterprises. Nicknamed the Brain, the Fixer or the Big Bankroll, he was most often known to his underlings as A.R.; and underlings he had. Rothstein was mentor and boss to some of the most notorious gangsters of the 20th century: Meyer Lansky, Legs Diamond, Dutch Schultz, Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano, who said of A.R., “He taught me how to dress...how to use knives and forks and things like that at the dinner table, about holdin’ a door open for a girl. If Arnold had lived a little longer, he could’ve made me pretty elegant.”
Rothstein is credited with making crime a business, using his acumen to organize a network of illicit operations, the godfather before there was a Sicilian Godfather. Per Lansky, “Rothstein had the most remarkable brain. He understood business instinctively and I’m sure that if he had been a legitimate financier he would have been just as rich as he became with his gambling and the other rackets he ran.” His instincts proved very acute when his bodyguard Abe Attell brought him Chick Gandil’s plot to fix the 1919 World Series. Rothstein is said to have rejected the scheme, accurately assessing the harebrained crew of conspirators. After learning that other groups of gamblers were getting involved, some say he fronted $80,000 and then won a fortune betting on the White Sox to lose.
Those bets presaged later huge takes at the track and poker tables that made A.R. the most famous criminal of an increasingly lawless era. The year after the Series fix, Rothstein found the greatest opening a crime lord ever had as Prohibition began. He made massive profits, but got out of the traffic early as he realized he couldn’t control the liquor business to his liking. He was all about control, once remarking that he would bet on anything but the weather because “I can’t fix the weather.”
- As with all of the players and gamblers directly implicated in the Black Sox scandal, Rothstein escaped legal consequences. He testified that he had been asked to participate, but always denied a role
- Slain by a card player who said A.R. had stiffed him on a $300,000 marker, Rothstein took a day to die, taking his killer’s identity to the grave. In a gesture to honor Arnold's upright father, his funeral was officiated by New York’s most prominent Orthodox rabbi
- Series: 1919 Black Sox Scandal
Julius Wilford Arnstein (1879-1965) was a dashing 6’6” charmer, capable of so beguiling his rich and beautiful friends that they never saw his cons coming. Born in Berlin to a Jewish father and raised in New Jersey as an Episcopalian, Arnstein seems to have embraced that duality as he spent much of his life on each side of the law. “No boy could have been brought up with more love and care than was I,” he recalled. He bemoaned that his love for “the beautiful things of life” was overshadowed by his “fondness for the cards, the dice, and the horses.” He plied the trade of riverboat gambler on the high seas, fleecing the cream of society on ocean liners and the casinos of the continent. He idolized his hero and mentor Arnold Rothstein and would gush about A.R.: "He was an honest man, with an outstanding integrity. He had daredevil courage.” This of the man who made Nicky his “admirer, partner and fall guy.”
As skilled as he was at entrancing his marks, Arnstein was blinded by his devotion to Rothstein. He hired A.R.’s famed legal eagle Bill Fallon, the “archetype amoral criminal defense lawyer” who guided Nicky to become perhaps the first defendant to “take the Fifth” in a securities theft case. Nicky beat the rap but, after the fatal gaffe of insulting Fallon, was convicted in a Federal trial with lesser counsel. Undoubtedly it was Nicky’s involvement with Rothstein that implicated him with the “usual suspects” - various gamblers and gangsters of the era - in the Black Sox scandal. If the standard for a “perfect crime” is that no one goes to jail, then the 1919 Series Fix fits the bill. Nobody spent a day in jail, but the National Pastime was severely tarnished and forever changed. Charles Comiskey forcibly disbanded one of the most talented teams of the deadball era, losing eight players to lifetime bans from the game, subsequently condemning one of the sport's all-time greatest stars of any epoch - Shoeless Joe Jackson - to permanent exile.
- Arnstein was famous for his lover and eventual wife, vaudeville queen Fanny Brice. She was faithful as he sat in Leavenworth but divorced him upon his release
- Nicky abandoned the criminal life following his second and final prison term in 1927, moved to LA and prospered. That nickname, by the way, is said to have come from the nickel-plated bike he road as a kid. For all his aliases, that one is the most prosaic
- Perhaps a fitting epitaph of Arnstein’s could be words used in Bill “The Big Mouthpiece” Fallon’s obituary: “his intelligence, eloquence and panache forever stand trial beside his immorality, dishonesty and self-indulgence.”