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of banished players, the Hall of Fame continues a policy of keeping off the ballot anyone whose suspension was not repealed.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.
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.