The 1919 Chicago White Sox (aka Black Sox) are perhaps the most tragic of all teams in baseball history. A powerful squad, they lost that year’s World Series to the Cincinnati Reds despite being heavily favored, and were later had eight of their players banished from the sport for their involvement or knowledge of a plot to intentionally throw the Series. One of those eight was third baseman Buck Weaver, who maintained his innocence until his death, yet was never reinstated. Unfortunately, he was sometimes his own worst enemy when it came to pleading his case.
Gambling plagued baseball during the early part of the twentieth century. Ballparks were gathering places for willing bettors who couldn’t turn around without finding someone willing to take their money on some kind of wager. In retrospect, it’s not that surprising that it finally reached the level that it did with the fixing of the 1919 World Series.
Buck Weaver was a second tier star of the White Sox, always popular but never as statistically productive as teammates like Shoeless Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte. The switch hitting third baseman (He was primarily a shortstop for his first five seasons) was a flashy fielder who hit .272 over nine major league seasons. He was better known for his ability to play small ball (He is still 43rd all time in sacrifice hits) and putting everything he had on the field. Therefore, when news broke about the fix, the inclusion of the infielder was more surprising than most.
On the surface, one can’t say that Weaver ever laid down during the Series. He played all eight games, hitting .324 without committing and error in the field. Although he was never proven to have done anything other than play his best that postseason, it was determined that he was generally aware of the plot of some of his teammates, and that was enough to earn his lifetime ban when baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis thundered down his ruling in August, 1921.
In hindsight, Weaver didn’t exactly help his cause leading up to his permanent suspension. A January 20, 1921 newspaper account details how he was so confident he would be exonerated and able to continue his professional career that he publically offered a group of mostly journalists a $500 bet that he would be a member of the 1921 White Sox. “I will prove to everybody that I am innocent of the charges against me,” he told a group of people. “They can’t start that trial too soon to suit me. When it is over I’ll be cleared.”
He turned out to be partially correct, as he and his teammates were cleared in court. However, they could have never imagined they would feel the wrath of Landis the way they did after proving their “innocence.”
Although there’s no evidence that Weaver’s boastful (and and most certainly tongue in cheek) attempt to secure a bet against his innocence played any role in Landis’ decision, it certainly was not the smartest thing for someone facing severe charges related to gambling could do. At least as the newspaper noted, nobody took him up on his offer.
Weaver played semi-pro ball for years after his expulsion from the majors and exerted great effort in trying to have his case appealed. He was never successful, and even now, decades after his death in 1956, he remains on the outside looking in of professional baseball.
********************************You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew