Philly’s Links to the Black Sox Scandal

By Bob Warrington


Baseball fans with some knowledge of the game’s history are aware of the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal when seven members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to lose the World Series in exchange for bribes paid to them by gamblers. All seven players, plus White Sox third baseman Buck Weaver who accepted no money but was aware of the conspiracy, were banned from baseball for life by then-Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Eliot Asinof in his classic 1963 book, Eight Men Out, recounted this sorry episode in baseball history, and Hollywood portrayed it in a 1988 movie of the same name.


Both the Philadelphia Athletics and Philadelphia Phillies had links to principal participants in the conspiracy. Indeed, the Phillies inadvertently played a key role in events that ultimately led to exposure of those White Sox players who threw the 1919 World Series. This article describes the Philadelphia’s teams’ connections to the “Black Sox” scandal.


“Say it Ain’t So, Joe.”

Certainly the most famous of the players banished from baseball because of their involvement in the conspiracy is Joseph Jefferson Jackson, better known as “Shoeless Joe”. He earned that moniker by playing a minor league game in his stocking feet after the new spikes he was wearing became uncomfortable during the game.


Jackson began his major league career with the Philadelphia Athletics. Manager Connie Mack purchased Jackson’s contract for $325 on August 22, 1908 from the Greenville, South Carolina club of the Carolina Association. Jackson debuted for the A’s on August 25, 1908, playing centerfield and getting one hit in four times at bat. Feeling homesick, Jackson left Philadelphia and returned to Greenville. Mack sent “Socks” Seybold to retrieve the wayward player, but Jackson slipped off the train heading back to Philadelphia and yet again returned to Greenville. Mack finally convinced Jackson to return, but he only played in five games for the A’s that season.


Jackson remained with the Athletics organization through the 1909 season but played only sparingly for the parent club that year (5 games) because of his continuing desire to play baseball in the south and be closer to his hometown. Mack farmed the unhappy player to the Savannah club of the Sally League at the start of the season, and Jackson demonstrated his skills as a hitter, leading the league with a .358 average in 1909.


During the 1910 season, the A’s were making a strong run for the American League pennant. Mack noticed that veteran leftfielder Topsy Hartsel was beginning to slow down and determined to bring in another player to buttress his outfield corps. On July 25, 1910, he dealt utility infielder Morris Rath and the rights to Jackson (then on option to New Orleans) to Cleveland for Briscoe Lord who had played three earlier seasons with the Athletics. While regretting the departure of Jackson, Mack felt Lord could offer him immediate help in clinching the pennant—a judgement confirmed when the Athletics became American League Champions and went on to win their first World Series.


Jackson’s career with the Athletics consisted of exactly 10 games spread over the 1908-09 seasons. He played with Cleveland into the 1915 season and was sent to the Chicago White Sox where the infamy of throwing the 1919 World Series awaited him and other members of the team. One can only wonder, as Frederick G. Lieb did in his 1945 biography of the A’s manager, Connie Mack: Grand Old Man of Baseball, whether Jackson would have avoided tragedy and disgrace had he remained under the steadying and wholesome influence of Connie Mack.


The Phillies: A Prominent But Dubious Role

Rumors and allegations about corruption in the 1919 World Series surfaced even before the Fall Classic had concluded. However, a grand jury investigation into the matter did not commence until 1920 when a bizarre incident involving the Philadelphia Phillies unleashed the process of exposure. On August 31, 1920, the Chicago Cubs were hosting the last-place Phillies in a ball game at Wrigley Field. A few hours before game time, Cubs President William L. Veeck received several telegrams from out of town from people he did not know indicating that the game had been fixed and “thousands of dollars” had been bet on the Phillies to win against the Cubs. One telegram ended with the admonition, “Investigate.”


Veeck was baffled by the telegram. Why should there be any betting interest in a routine end-of-season baseball game, especially from the American League city of Detroit? Still, he was sufficiently alarmed to take precautions. The scheduled Chicago starting pitcher, Claude Hendrix, was dropped in favor of ex-Phillies pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, who was now the ace of the Cubs staff. As an added incentive, Alexander was offered a $500 bonus if he won the game. Despite this, the Phillies prevailed 3-0.


Veeck was worried about this disturbing incident and hired the Burns Detective Agency to investigate the telegrams and the allegations. He also tried to keep a lid on the story, but an anonymous letter to the Chicago Herald and Examiner claiming that gamblers in Detroit were willing to bid any amount on the Phillies to win the August 31st game against the Cubs broke the story wide open. A front-page expose in the newspaper that gamblers had arranged a “Sure-Thing Game” jolted Veeck, and he asked Chicago baseball writers to conduct an investigation.


At the same time, Illinois State’s Attorney Maclay Hoyne, sensing both the public’s outrage over allegations of crookedness in baseball and the increasing pressure to investigate and rectify it, summoned the Grand Jury of Cook County to examine the claim that gamblers had fixed the Cubs-Phillies game of August 31st. Chief Justice Charles MacDonald of the Criminal Courts Division presided over the Grand Jury and quickly suggested that it expand its investigation to look at lingering charges that the 1919 World Series involving the Chicago White Sox had not been on the level. His suggestion was quickly adopted. Allegations involving the Cubs-Phillies game soon faded from the Grand Jury’s purview, and nothing ever came of its investigation of that incident. However, Claude Hendrix didn’t pitch again for the Cubs after the 31 August game, and he was released after the end of the season, ending his big league career.


The Grand Jury, meanwhile, turned its attention increasingly to the 1919 World Series, and on 28 September, seven White Sox players were indicted after Eddie Cicotte and Joe Jackson confessed that they had taken money to throw games. Developments led inexorably to a trial and a ruling by Commissioner Landis to ban for life from Major League Baseball all eight of the “Black Sox” players.

Thus, questions regarding a Phillies victory in an otherwise insignificant game against the Cubs near the end of the 1920 season triggered a chain of events that would uncover the National Pastime’s greatest scandal and lead to reforms that would forever change how the game was governed. But the Phillies association with the scandal did not end there.


The Phillies and a Philly Fighter

Two of the prominent figures involved in arranging the World Series “fix” were William Thomas “Sleepy Bill” Burns and William Joseph “Billy” Maharg. Burns was an ex-pitcher now in the oil business and Maharg an ex-fighter now living in Philadelphia. Burns arranged with his old friend, White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte, to pay eight Sox players $100,000 to throw the 1919 Series. Burns and Maharg raised the payoff money from notorious New York gambler Arnold Rothstein. The incentive for gamblers to bribe the White Sox—who were heavily favored to win the Fall Classic—was to bet large sums on the underdog Cincinnati Reds to win individual Series games and the entire World Series. So began the cascade of dishonesty that resulted in the White Sox losing the 1919 World Series to the Reds—piloted by ex-Phillies manager Pat Moran—and the famous “Black Sox” trial.


Both Burns and Maharg testified as witnesses during the trial about the gamblers’ scheme, and both men had previous connections to the Phillies. Burns pitched for the Phillies during his brief major league career, posting a 6-10 record during the 1911 season. During his testimony, Maharg stated that he had played major league baseball in two games. The second game was in 1916 when he was with the Philadelphia Phillies! Records indicate that Maharg participated in one game for the Phillies that year, playing the outfield and going 0 for 1 at bat. Why he played in only one game for the club remains unclear.


In addition to his brief stint as a player, Maharg was an assistant trainer with the club in 1916. The accompanying Phillies team photograph taken in Baker Bowl at the beginning of the 1916 season shows Maharg (on the extreme left of the top row in coat and tie) with the team. Perhaps his previous occupation as a fighter made Maharg suitable as a trainer for the club, but he was only with the Phillies that one year, and circumstances surrounding his arrival and departure from the club are unknown. What intrigues, if any, he may have fostered while with the club—who lost a close race to Brooklyn for the National League pennant in 1916—are also lost to history.


The 1916 race, nevertheless, was also clouded in allegations of corruption made by New York Giants manager John McGraw, who indicated that his club deliberately lost to the Brooklyn Dodgers late in the season to enable that team to nose out the Phillies for the National League pennant. Three former Giants’ players were members of the 1916 Dodgers, and it was hinted that, with the Giants’ pennant chances gone, players on that team preferred to see their old teammates get World Series paychecks. (There then were no shares for the other first division clubs.) Phillies manager Pat Moran also sensed foul play and asked League President John K. Tener to conduct an investigation. Tener made inquiries into the matter, but nothing ever came of his effort.


Still Another Connection!

But what about that other major league game Maharg claimed on the witness stand to have been in as a player? In yet another link to Philadelphia, the game involved the Athletics. On May 15, 1912, Ty Cobb, stormy petrel of the Detroit Tigers, was suspended indefinitely by American League President Ban Johnson for leaping over the rail at the New York Yankees’ Hilltop Park and beating a fan who had been taunting him from the stands. Other Tigers players, believing that Cobb was justified in his actions, informed Johnson that they would not take the field against the Philadelphia Athletics at Shibe Park on May 18th unless Cobb was reinstated. A stipulation in the American League constitution stated that any team failing to field a team for a scheduled game would be fined $5,000.


Not wishing to lose the money, team president Frank Navin ordered Tigers manager Hugh Jennings to recruit a team in less than 24 hours to play the Athletics. Among the castoffs and semi-pros Jennings assembled in Philadelphia was none other than Billy Maharg. He played the infield with the ersatz Detroit Tigers team that day, going 0 for 1 in his only at bat. The Athletics, by the way, easily won the game 24-2. Johnson quickly ended the strike by threatening to banish the regular players from baseball if they did not return to the field. They did, but the Athletics pounding of the pseudo-Tigers on May 18, 1912 ranks as one of the club’s most bizarre victories in its long and illustrious history.


A Final Thought

The amount of speculation generated by the Athletics’ and Phillies’ close contact with principles from both sides of the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal is considerable. It ranges from the “What ifs?” had Joe Jackson stayed with the Athletics to Billy Maharg’s still shadowy association with the Phillies. While the answers to such questions will never be known, Philadelphia’s links to individuals and events involved in the 1919 World Series “fix” remain one of the scandal’s most intriguing features for Athletics and Phillies fans.

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