Nicky Arnstein

  • Card 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.”