Buck Weaver

Black Sox and Their Lawyers, 1920

Black Sox and Their Lawyers, 1921

In the Black Sox Scandal, eight men who were involved in fixing the 1919 World Series were banned from baseball for life. Of these two men, the great hitter Joe Jackson and the fine third baseman Buck Weaver, continue to grip our attention as possible victims as well as perpetrators: Jackson, because he was illiterate, had a change of heart and tried to give back the money, and had twelve hits in the Series; and Weaver, who was approached to take part in the fix, declined, but failed to report the plot to his manager.

Despite the romantic apologies made for these two especially, all eight were, in my view, guilty enough to warrant their punishment, even though ballplayers had been throwing games left and right for decades. The principal gripe of men like Weaver and Fred McMullin may have been that they were left holding the bag without getting any of the swag. The other six pocketed some money, if not all that was promised, so what is there left to say.

Jackson appealed for reinstatement several times, and so did Weaver. Their descendants and devotees continued to appeal for decades after the players’ deaths, unsuccessfully. While Major League Baseball enforces no postmortem suspensions of banished players, the Hall of Fame continues a policy of keeping off the ballot anyone whose suspension was not repealed.

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis issued his ban, placing the eight indicted Black Sox on the ineligible list, on March 12, 1921. As their court trial dragged on toward Opening Day, he feared that in the absence of a conviction an argument would be made that the men should be allowed to play for Chicago in 1921. His ban was thus preemptive—none of the eight could play in Organized Baseball even if the trial and its verdict were postponed.

Ultimately the trial did drag on, and the Black Sox were acquitted in Cook County court on August 2, 1921. However, the “eight men out” had already been banned as of March 12. “Regardless of the verdict of juries,” Landis said after the acquittal, “no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.” This last phrase was surely directed at Weaver.

Buck Weaver

Buck Weaver

Weaver applied six times for reinstatement to baseball, beginning in 1922. In March 1927 Landis replied to his request by stating that his decision of December 1922. Landis wrote to Weaver:

“You testified that preceding the 1919 series, Cicotte, your team’s leading pitcher, asked if you wanted to ‘get in on something”—fix the world series—and you replied: ‘You are crazy; that can’t be done.’

“The world’s series then was played, and so played that even during the series, your manager, at a meeting of the players, stated something was wrong. You knew your club officials were seeking to ascertain the facts, but you kept still.”

Weaver’s final petition came in 1953, when he requested reinstatement from Commissioner Ford Frick.

“A murderer even serves his sentence and is let out,” Buck observed at that time. “I got life.”

He died from a heart attack on January 31, 1956, at age 65, a cautionary tale for all major leaguers who followed.

 

11 Comments

I agree with you and the commissioners that guilty knowledge of the plot without informing the authorities justified his banishment. Some will refer to threats by mobsters if the players didn’t cooperate with the fix, but Buck could have become a confidential informant. Certainly if he had confided in Ray Schalk, the latter would have told the manager.

Regarding Weaver’s lifetime ban I’m drawn back to some Ted Williams’ logic pertaining to Joe Jackson’s life time ban. Ted is reported to have said after Jackson’s death that Shoeless Joe should now be eligible on the logic that because Jackson was dead his lifetime sentence had been served, something that might be applied to Weaver if he meets other HOF requirements.

But he is still on the ineligibility list.

This is not correct. Baseball maintains no ineligibility list f dead miscreants, from George Bechtel on up; it does not exist. What the Hall of Fame may do regarding Jackson, Weaver, et al., is its business, solely.

Dear John: As you might have expected, I read today’s post on the Black Sox scandal with considerable interest. While I generally share the post’s point of view, I would take issue with several statements contained therein. Joe Jackson’s claim that “he had a change of heart and tried to give back the [fix] money” is only one of his self-serving, never-told-the-same-way-twice accounts of the fix and unsupported by any evidence in the historical record. After being paid off after Game 4, Jackson kept the money on his person for the remainder of the Series and later deposited it in his bank account. The Weaver claim of being “approached to take part in the fix, declined, but failed to report the plot to his manager” is also irreconcilable with the historical record. Weaver attended no fewer than three pre-Series fix meetings, and was later named as an active scandal participant by every Black Sox who ever spoke about the fix (Eddie Cicotte, Joe Jackson, Lefty Williams, Chick Gandil, and inferentially Happy Felsch, as well as by gamblers Bill Burns and Billy Maharg). Burns and Maharg also put Weaver in Room 702 of the Sinton Hotel in Cincinnati when payoff money was distributed after the Sox lost Game 2. Eddie Collins and Dickey Kerr, moreover, were convinced that Weaver was among the Sox players who continued to throw games during the 1920 regular season and later said so publicly. Regarding the Landis decree of March 1921 banning the indicted Sox players from playing in 1921, same was issued when the prosecution foundered and went back to the grand jury for superseding indictments, thus delaying trial of the matter indefinitely. The March 1921 ban was temporary in nature and subject to reconsideration at the close of the judicial proceedings against the accused players. Landis followed the trial closely via daily trial transcript and rendered his permanent ban on the Sox within hours of their acquittal, perhaps sharing my view that the not guilty verdicts were inconsonant with the great weight of the evidence presented at trial and a likely product of jury nullification. Final petitions for the posthumous reinstatement of Jackson and Weaver were denied by Commissioner Manfred on July 20, 2015, and that determination probably closes reinstatement efforts. And finally, a real nit: the courtroom photo of the Black Sox (minus Felsch and Fred McMullin) and four of the criminal defense lawyers who represented them was taken in June 1921, not 1920. Having gotten this out of my system, my compliments on another enjoyable and thought-provoking post. Great, as always talking to you in Miami, and see you next April in Cooperstown. Till then, best wishes. Bill Lamb

Interesting. I’d never heard that Weaver was that complicit. I’d like to hear your take on Tim Hornbaker’s book, Turning the Black Sox White, which seems to rehabilitate the erstwhile tightwad Comiskey, if you’ve read it.

Good seeing you in Miami, John.

Wayne: In my opinion, the Hornbaker book is an important work, badly written. As demonstrated in the published research of Bob Hoie and others, Comiskey was not a particularly tight-fisted club owner. The 1919 White Sox had the second highest player payroll in major league ball, with various Sox, including Eddie Cicotte, Buck Weaver, and Ray Schalk, being at or near the top in salary for their respective positions. Bill Lamb

Splendid as always, Bill. I knew that Jackson’s tale, like Weaver’s, was more than a bit disingenuous. Both were guilty and those who take up their cause are, in my view, in willful ignorance of the facts. Caption will be fixed–whoops, corrected–posthaste.

Another outstanding piece, John, and I totally agree with you. Ted Williams did argue for Jackson’s reinstatement on the premise that the Shoeless One, now dead, had served his “lifetime suspension.” You are correct in stating that there is no actual “lifetime suspension.” However, that being said, even if there were a “lifetime” banishment for Joe, I like to think that the banishment would be for the “lifetime” of baseball and not the life span of the offender. I, for one, am pleased that Jackson and Weaver are not eligible for the Hall of Fame because it is the best thing for baseball.
(Also, great comments by Bill Lamb)

I have thought that the idea of a posthumous induction would be a, and for me the only, way to get Pete Rose’s career into the Hall, simply because I don’t believe he can be allowed to speak from the podium on induction Sunday. I also believe that the Hall should stop hiding behind MLB on this; re-write or delete their rule disqualifying those with life-time bans from consideration, and let the Hall’s electors, the baseball writers, decide which of the game’s miscreants and scalawags should be inducted. Induction honors the careers of these men, not the men themselves. That seems to be the way the writers have and will deal with the PED factor.

I enjoyed all that preceded this.
Charlie Starr
A fan

Well said Charlie Starr. I agree with your sentiments. We can’t disregard a whole generation of players.

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