Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series

Author: Eliot Asinof
Year: 1963
Genre: History

An interesting history of the 1919 Black Sox scandal from a journalistic perspective. It's the book that John Sayles's movie was based on.

I picked up this book (for $1!) because of my casual interest in baseball history, but baseball isn't really the point of the story at all. Instead, it's a sad reminder of the way that power protects the powerful, whatever side of the law they might be on, while pawns and servants (innocent or not) are left to take the fall. It seems clear that all of the eight banned players were present during discussions about throwing the World Series, and that at least some of them actually cheated during the games. It's also clear, though, that the gamblers who really benefited from the fix got away clean while cheating the players out of most of their payoff. In the end, there was a sort of unspoken agreement among the more powerful gamblers, lawyers, and baseball team owners that the easiest face-saving decision would be to treat the eight suspected players as harshly as possible — and then to do nothing else. It's even more tragic because baseball is all that guys like Shoeless Joe Jackson knew how to do.

I wonder how much has changed since 1919. Of course, with baseball players now regularly paid in the millions, they have little reason to throw games for money. They're much more powerful than they were. I believe, though, that there still exists a sort of collusion among teams, players, and the media to perpetuate a wholesome, nostalgic view of baseball. (How often did "kids" and the "national pastime" come up in contemporary discussion of the 1919 World Series? How much are they mentioned in connection with Barry Bonds?) Talking about baseball as a cultural institution is good for business, after all, and talking about it as a business, well, isn't.

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