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National Pastime as Greek Tragedy
on July 30, 2004
From the first paragraph to the last sentence of this gripping book, Asinof grabs your interest and doesn't let go. The story he is telling is fascinating - a tale of talented but clueless ballplayers, manipulating gamblers, money-hungry owners, and corrupt politicians, all coming together to create the greatest scandal the world of baseball has known. He tells it with clear, clean prose that keeps the story moving through every detail to its tragic conclusion.
The eight disgraced ballplayers who threw the 1919 World Series have been dubbed the Black Sox for posterity, yet with two exceptions, they are the most sympathetic characters in the whole sordid story. Chick Gandil, the tough first baseman who hatched the scheme, and his friend Swede Risberg, nasty tempered shortstop, who needed no prodding to join in, don't come off well. The rest of the crew, however, seem to have joined in a half-hearted, hapless manner. Particularly tragic are Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of baseball's greatest all-time hitters, whose talent was only exceeded by his naivete, and Buck Weaver, the outstanding thirdbaseman whose only real fault was his loyalty to his friends in not reporting the scheme, as he took no part in throwing the games, and accepted no money. These clueless, grossly underpaid ballplayers, most of who profited little or nothing from the fix, were the only ones punished for the scandal that rocked the nation.
The tale of the gamblers involved is as fascinating as it is telling. Three distinct levels of gamblers were present in the fix. Sleepy Bill Burns was an ex-ballplayer and small time gambler who did the legwork, consulting with the players. He went bust and was double-crossed by both the gamblers above him and Chick Gandil. Abe Attell and Sport Sullivan were a level up on the gambler's food chain - they had some access to the big time boys, but were not part of that exclusive club. Through constant maneuvering and double-dealing, and calculated risk taking, they were able to walk away from the scheme with a tidy profit. Arnold Rothstein was the big time. His money backed the fix, yet he took almost no personal risk, and emerged completely unscathed from the whole nasty affair while turning a huge profit. Big fish eat little fish, no matter what the ocean.
Finally, the least likeable characters of this tragic, real life morality play were Charles Comiskey, owner of the White Sox, and the rest of the baseball owners. For years they had turned a blind eye to the corruption of gambling in the game rather than expose it and risk the popularity of their sport and the profits in their ticket sales. When the fix of the World Series exploded across newspaper headlines, and they could no longer hide their dirty secrets, they used all their wealth and connections, buying off elected officials, and even colluding with the gamblers behind the fix, to protect their reputations and profits. It was their power, their lawyers, their money, that presented eight ballplayers as the scapegoats for national outrage, while willingly sacrificing true justice and exposure of their own hypocrisy. After reading this book, you may be left shaking your head that Charles Comiskey is in the Hall of Fame, and Shoeless Joe Jackson is forever banned from that hallowed hall.
Eight Men Out is a story of baseball, crime, and legal maneuvering. It is a window into the workings of power, and a cautionary tale of the corruption of the American dream and the twisting of justice by powerful interest. Most of all, it is an American tragedy of lives and reputations ruined, dreams shattered, and potential unfulfilled, that is as fascinating as it is sad.
If you are interested in baseball, American history, or the sociology of American society, you should read this book. You will not be disappointed.