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Hal Chase

First Base
  • Series: 1919 Black Sox Scandal
  • City: New York
  • Team: Highlanders
  • League: American League

Harold Homer Chase (1883-1947) may have been among the best first-basemen ever, but his “errors” place him as mediocre at best. His own words are his epitaph: “I am an outcast, and I haven’t a good name. I’m the loser, just like all gamblers are.” A star for the NY Highlanders for the first nine years of the franchise, admired by peers such as Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson, Chase even went on to out-poll dozens of later entrants into the Hall of Fame. Such was his prowess at first and plate. But his compulsion to wager, and the ease of access to illicit betting (the bookies were in the front row) consigned this great player to ignominy.

  • Chase’s spiral from NY idol to deportee from Mexico evidenced his inability to stay straight in an era when the crooked path was wide and inviting
  • Chase was banned from baseball for life by commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis in 1922 for his (unsubstantiated) role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal
  • Despite the controversy that consumed his career, Chase received more HOF votes in 1936 than 18 future HOFers, and more votes in 1937 than 32 future HOFers, but he never appeared on the ballot again

Bill Burns

  • Series: 1919 Black Sox Scandal
  • City: Washington, D.C.
  • Team: Senators
  • League: American League

William Thomas Burns (1880-1953) was an American League pitcher who didn’t finish well. He began his career of failed finales in his rookie season, 1908, with the Washington Senators. Bill took a no-hitter into the ninth inning and got two more outs before Germany Schaefer spoiled his bid and won the game. A year later with the White Sox, and facing his former teammate Walter Johnson, Burns lost another no-hitter with one out to go. Not until Dave Stieb had the misfortune of losing (consecutive!) two-out no-nos in 1988 would such a fate befall another major leaguer.  The ‘08 season was a fine one for Bill, who apparently didn’t earn his “Sleepy” sobriquet until later, when he developed a reputation for a lackadaisical demeanor on the mound. He had an outstanding 1.69 ERA in 1908, but would never win more than eight games in a season en route to a 30-52 career record.

It was his career-ending tour with the Tigers in 1912 that would prove fateful for Sleepy Bill. On May 18, teammate Ty Cobb couldn’t resist battering a maimed and abusive fan, earning a suspension from league president Ban Johnson and triggering a walk-out by the team. Detroit’s owner wanted to forfeit and Johnson threatened to fine him if he didn’t field a team in Philadelphia. Thus Burns crossed paths with Billy Maharg, who was one of the replacement players against the Athletics. Years later, the two would team up in a scheme that provided the most notorious of endings for Bill Burns: the end of any reputation for honor in baseball. He and ex-boxer, and shadowy operator Maharg, likely at the behest of the most famed gambler of his day, Arnold Rothstein, would fix the 1919 World Series. Burns met with Eddie Cicotte and Chick Gandil at a New York hotel prior to the postseason. Investigation later revealed that Burns acted with Rothstein’s chauffeur, Maharg, and claimed to be representing someone known as “A.R.” For all of the rumors and speculation surrounding the Black Sox scandal, one bit of testimony was clear. Burns told the Assistant State Attorney: “I had the hundred thousand dollars to handle the throwing of the World Series. I also told them that I had the names of the men who were going to finance it.”

  • Sleepy Bill, known for carelessness as a pitcher, was a willing henchman to the biggest crime lord of the era. He displayed a carelessness for the truth, for morality and integrity, forever staining America’s Pastime
  • Another footnote to the Black Sox: Jean Dubuc was a player on the 1919 New York Giants (and had also been on the 1912 Tigers). Despite having an excellent year for the Giants in 1919, John McGraw released Dubuc, unexpectedly and without explanation, before the 1920 season. Dubuc then left the country to play and, in retrospect, lay low in Canada for 1921, and returned to play minor league ball in the States in 1922, but would never again play in the major leagues. When asked later why he had released Dubuc, McGraw stated that Dubuc "constantly associated" with Sleepy Burns and suspected that the two of them, along with Hal Chase, had conspired to ensure the Giants would lose out to the Reds during the 1919 pennant chase. Further raising suspicions of Dubuc's complicity in the year-end gambling scandals of 1919, his former Giants teammate Rube Benton testified in court during the Black Sox hearings that Dubuc had been tipped to the world series' fix by an anonymous telegram that urged him to place bets on the Reds. Combining that testimony with McGraw's suspicions, many (including The Sporting News) considered Dubuc's "guilty knowledge" of the fix as evidence of conspiracy equal to that of some other scandal participants, such as Buck Weaver and Joe Jackson, but Jean Dubuc somehow escaped such judgement from Kenesaw Mountain Landis and was never formally banned from professional baseball.  Dubuc would hence go on to have a successful career as a scout for the Detroit Tigers, signing Birdie Tebbetts and Hank Greenberg. Nobody knows who sent Dubuc that anonymous telegram in 1919, but the most common candidate proposed by historians is Sleepy Bill Burns.

Lefty Williams

  • Series: 1919 Black Sox Scandal
  • City: Chicago
  • Team: White Sox
  • League: American League

Claude Preston Williams (1893-1959) was the third Black Sox player to confess and the first to hear the jury say “Not Guilty,” sparing him from prison but dooming him to a life of shame. Lefty was being groomed to become the White Sox ace and had consistently challenged Cicotte for that unofficial designation throughout the fateful 1919 season. But teammate Chick Gandil’s blandishments lured Williams into the scandal that would forever taint the talented Chicago squad. By the time the Pale Hose finally won another pennant in 1959, Lefty was a month from death. The press noted that he was unable to celebrate, being “tired and aging and ill and sick at heart.” On pace to be an elite southpaw of the 1920s, Lefty Williams instead became a man broken by his betrayal of the game at which he excelled.

Lefty had come up with the Tigers as a kid in 1913, but floundered and was sent to the Pacific Coast League. He starred for the Salt Lake City Bees in ‘15, earning a trip back to the majors when Charles Comiskey purchased his contract. Williams validated the owners’ judgment by helping lead the team to the 1917 pennant with a 17-8 record. The following year was a lost cause for MLB with the war on and the government calling up players. Many, including Williams and his pal Joe Jackson, sought shipyard jobs to escape the draft. This became a wedge within teams and perhaps none more than the Sox. Labeled as “unpatriotic,” the “work or fight” players who chose defense jobs were vilified by management and teammates alike.

Nevertheless, in 1919 Comiskey welcomed his charges back to the fold. Williams was stung by the owner’s stiffing him of his final ‘18 paycheck, adding to an aggrieved mindset. Gandil found an all-too-willing mark when he peddled his scheme to throw the Series that everyone knew the White Sox would be in. Overcoming wildness that plagued his early years, Lefty was terrific that year with a 23-11 record and 2.64 ERA. His remarkable control made his World Series performance all the more notorious. He logged a record three losses and curried trouble every start with a rash of bases on balls. The only other pitcher to lose three games in a Series is George Frazier of the Yankees, who equaled Lefty’s dubious feat in 1981.

  • Williams expressed remorse even before the Series ended. Some believe he was threatened by mobsters. Having already received $5,000 mid-Series, he later admitted “I was sorry. I wanted to be out of it and not mixed up in it at all.”

Buck Weaver

Third Base
  • Series: 1919 Black Sox Scandal
  • City: Chicago
  • Team: White Sox
  • League: American League

George Daniel Weaver (1890-1956) climbed to a lofty height during his baseball career and plummeted to an historic low that would test any man. Buck’s dad insisted he forego his mother’s funeral to begin his pro career in the White Sox system. He ended his career when Judge Landis banished him from the game along with 7 fellow Sox. In between, this gregarious, cheerful soul basked in the shadows of the Great Pyramid sporting a fez during the 1913 world tour and danced for joy after Comiskey’s club locked up the ’17 Series, a team he had led in batting and afield. Although pilloried with his teammates for throwing the 1919 Series, Weaver played errorless ball, hit .324, and was never accused of taking money. He would spend the rest of his life trying to clear his name. After Cicotte and Jackson confessed, the Sporting News headlined: “Chicago Fans Grieve Most for Weaver and Still Hope for Him.”

  • Played exclusively for the White Sox (1912-1920), averaging .272, and was the only banned player to remain in Chicago
  • Buck successfully sued his penurious owner for his 1921 salary

Swede Risberg

  • Series: 1919 Black Sox Scandal
  • City: Chicago
  • Team: White Sox
  • League: American League

Charles August Risberg (1894-1975) grew up on the streets of San Francisco, dropping out of school in the third grade. He had a flair for baseball and, when he switched to shortstop, he blossomed into a defensive star worthy of a call-up to the White Sox in 1917. Swede’s minor league experience foreshadowed the future outlaw character he would display almost from his arrival in the big leagues. In 1913, when Risberg traveled to the LA area to play in the Pacific Coast League, he was drawn to the Vernon/Venice Tigers. At that time these were the only communities in Los Angeles county that were “wet.” Booze was the defining identifier for owner Pete Maier’s club. When it was in Vernon fans could enter the park directly from Doyle’s bar.

Risberg made the big club based on his defense, but hit so poorly in his rookie season that he only got two pinch hitting appearances in the ‘17 Series when the Sox beat the Giants. Swede returned to California for part of the 1918 season, escaping the draft by taking a shipyard job that amounted mostly to playing semi-pro ball for the company during that “work or fight” year. By his own testimony, Swede was crooked throughout his major league tenure, all with Chicago. He claimed to have been the organizer of a scheme in 1917 to bribe Tiger players to throw some games. And he was at the center of the Black Sox Scandal in 1919. Later many would assert that, despite the clear conspiracy with gamblers, the Reds won fair and square although they were thought to be far inferior to Chicago. It is difficult to make a case from the players’ performance. Risberg would be an exception. He apparently threw himself into the fix with zeal, committing a record eight errors and going 2 for 25 at bat. And his reported payout of $15,000, which was more than four times his salary, was a far bigger reward than others realized. He may have earned his bonus because he served as an enforcer. Joe Jackson received a death threat from Risberg if he “blabbed.” Shoeless Joe would later describe Swede as a “hard guy.”

  • True to his scofflaw nature, Risberg defied Judge Landis’ ban and played exhibition ball for years. As the youngest of the “Eight Men Out,” and having a very brief tour in the majors, he had incentive to play wherever he could
  • It may be that the game he tarnished got its revenge. Swede had been spiked in Chicago and the wound never properly healed. He lost the leg in his old age, dying in a nursing home in Redding, CA on his 81st birthday