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Nicky Arnstein

  • 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.”

Abe Attell

  • Series: 1919 Black Sox Scandal

Abraham Washington Attell (1884-1970) grew up on the streets of San Francisco relying on his fists to punish the bullies foolish enough to come after him. He gained national renown by taking the featherweight title in 1901. He regained the belt in ‘06, going on to defend 18 times. He became a popular Manhattan store owner before taking his Little Champ act to vaudeville while continuing to box occasionally until 1917.

Attell became notorious for his alleged involvement with “The Big Bankroll” Arnold Rothstein. He was reputed to be A.R.’s sometime bodyguard. Whatever friendship Abe may have had for the greatest crime lord of his day, Rothstein did not reciprocate, as indicated by his testimony in the Black Sox prosecution: “The whole thing started when Attell and some other cheap gamblers decided to frame the Series and make a killing. The world knows I was asked in on the deal and my friends know how I turned it down flat. I don’t doubt that Attell used my name to put it over. That’s been done by smarter men than Abe. But I was not in on it, would not have gone into it under any circumstances and did not bet a cent on the Series after I found out what was underway.”

Many who have tried to unravel the sordid affair assert that Attell and another gambler, Sport Sullivan, vied for the direct role in the fix. Rothstein, it has been reliably reported, sought to take advantage of the rivalry among leagues of gamblers to make a killing as a bettor, not, as was oft alleged, as the financial backer of the misbegotten enterprise. In any event, Abe Attell became inextricably tied to Rothstein and was one of those formally charged. He fled to Canada for a year, supposedly to avoid being deposed. Eventually he and others were prosecuted, but the case dissolved when, wonder of wonders, the whole grand jury file somehow disappeared. The fingerprints of notorious defense attorney Bill “The Big Mouthpiece” Fallon seemed to be all over the matter, perhaps explaining why he made the big bucks.

  • Before his alleged involvement in the Series fix, Attell’s stellar fight career had included a first: he and brother Monte, a bantamweight, became the first brothers to hold concurrent world championships
  • In 172 professional fights, Attell lost just 9 of them. He won 125, 51 by KO, and had 21 draws and 8 no contests.
  • Despite the stain of scandal, Abe lived a long and colorful life and was honored with numerous inductions into boxing halls-of-fame, including the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1955, the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in ‘82 and the San Francisco Boxing Hall of Fame in ‘85