....but just say no to his fellow Black Sox teammate ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson

Black Sox Scandal: Local community leaders ‘reinstate’ Buck Weaver to baseball… 

By Tom Siebert

Aurora, Ill., June 13, 2021 — “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

Those famous words from a disappointed young fan more than a hundred years ago echoed hauntingly across a ballroom––a baseball room, really––at the Fox Valley Mall in Aurora last night.

A retired Cook County judge was presiding over a mock retrial of two Chicago White Sox great ghosts, outfielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and third baseman George “Buck” Weaver, both of whom were accused with six other players of throwing the 1919 World Series, in the so-called Black Sox Scandal that nearly struck out our national pastime.

Community leaders from DuPage, Kane, and Kendall counties all participated in the benefit event, held in memory of former Naperville City Councilman David Wentz, who died last January at the age of 57.

“Dave loved history and baseball,” said master of ceremonies Janice Anderson, one-time chairperson of the DuPage County Board. “So this is a great way to honor him.”

And then the Honorable Judge Russ Hartigan, cousin of former Illinois Attorney General Neil Hartigan, threw out the first pitched admonition.

“Remember the rules,” the judge declared sternly. “We want a clean and fair fight, no rabbit punches, and keep the shenanigans down to a dull roar!”

Taking the witness stand as slugging outfielder Jackson was DuPage County Judge Jim McCluskey, who wore a current Sox cap and, fittingly, no shoes.

“I guess I still play baseball,” he told the judge, jury, and amused audience. “Me and seven of the fellas meet up with some of our old pals and play here in this field out yonder, just someplace in the middle of a cornfield.”

That was a not-so-disguised reference to the whimsical 1989 movie “Field of Dreams,” in which an Iowa farmer builds a baseball diamond for the apparitions of the eight White Sox players who were banned from the game, even though they were found not guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud on Aug. 2, 1921.

Shoeless” Joe Jackson and George “Buck” Weaver

On the next day, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner, issued his historic “Eight Men Out” lifetime ban to Jackson, Weaver, first baseman Arnold “Chick” Gandel, utility infielder Fred McMullin, shortstop Charles “Swede” Risberg, center fielder Oscar “Happy” Felsch, and pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams.

At the Aurora trial, Commissioner Landis was portrayed by former Cubs pitcher Rich Nye, a member of the fabled 1969 team that featured Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Ferguson Jenkins.

“In order to restore the confidence to the public, we needed to get rid of those eight rotten apples,” stated Nye, with no trace of prejudice that he was a Cub throwing shade on the crosstown rival Sox.

The scene stealer in this community theater was Naperville attorney Keven McQuillan as White Sox club owner Charles Comiskey, whose purported miserly salaries inspired eight of his players to allegedly accept payoffs from a gambling syndicate reportedly run by New Yorker Arnold Rothstein.

In the Aurora play, the “Old Roman” rightly pointed out that he had suspended seven of the eight players–––Gandel had left the team to play semi-pro ball––in the midst of another pennant race in late September 1920, nearly a year before the court verdict was rendered.

But under the glaring lights of the makeshift courtroom, “Comiskey” melted under questioning from “Weaver’s attorney” and then went off on Judge Hartigan.

“What are you going to do?” he asked the judge. “Throw me in the can?!”

And just like an umpire ejecting an unruly manager, Hartigan held the fictional team owner in contempt and had him removed from the room by “bailiff” Jack Beal.

The alleged ringleader of the World Series scheme was the colorful Gandel, who reportedly received $35,000 while others on the infamous team pocketed only $5,000.

Playing Gandel was Martin Flowers, owner of Montgomery-based Limerick Communications. On the witness stand he claimed that Shoeless was “clueless” about the Series fix and then gave an assist to his teammate Weaver.

“Buck never threw anything,” he asserted. “He was a stand-up guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

That seemingly exonerating testimony, coupled with decades-long doubts about Buck’s part in the plot, apparently led the jury to posthumously “reinstate” Weaver, who died in 1956.

As for Jackson, whose .356 career batting average is the third highest in baseball history, he hit .375 in the 1919 World Series, including a home run, threw out five base runners, and handled 30 chances in the outfield with no errors.

So if Shoeless Joe were trying to throw the series, won 5 games to 3 by the Cincinnati Reds, he was doing so subtly.

But the question that has perplexed baseball historians for more than a century is whether the South Carolina native, who died in 1951, ever took any gambling money.

Said “Jackson” to the Aurora jury: “As for getting paid, Chick gave me some money and said it was my bonus and winked at me. But I did not know he got it from those gangsters.”

And that self-incriminating statement, based on newspaper accounts of grand jury testimony at the time, is what probably prompted this panel to just say no to Joe’s reinstatement.

The day after the players were acquitted, the real Judge Landis shocked the baseball world with his own decision:

“Regardless of the verdict of juries, 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.”

And as for the casting of this courtroom drama, there was some suspected gender-bending. Nadia Kanhai, publisher of the online Aurora Times, was Chisox manager Kid Gleason, while American League president Ban Johnson was Jamie Littell, owner of Moe Joe’s Cajun restaurant in Plainfield.

The rest of the stellar cast were former DuPage County Board member Jim Healy as Weaver’s attorney; Naperville attorney John Risvold as a defense lawyer; Joe McElroy, an independent city planner from Naperville, as Weaver; and jury forewoman Kandace Henning, who heads the Alive center for Aurora and Naperville teens.

Alive was the favorite nonprofit of the late Councilman Wentz, who also served as a Naperville Township trustee as well as a member of the Naper Settlement Museum Board. All proceeds from Saturday night’s event were earmarked for the Alive center.

Ex-Cub Nye, who was a mechanical engineer and prominent veterinarian after his baseball career ended due to a torn rotator cuff, later spoke fondly about his 1969 teammates, who only seemed to want to lose after leading the National League East Division for five glorious months.

But the former pitcher gave humble high praise to the “Amazing” New York Mets, who overcame a 9½-game deficit, blazed past the Cubs to win the division by 8 games, beat a Hank Aaron-led Atlanta Braves club in the first NL Championship Series, and won the World Series over the “invincible” Baltimore Orioles, 4 games to 1.

Nye, who is now a partner in the Fox Valley Gallery of Wood in Batavia, said, “That Met team was one of the greatest of all time.”

And so were the 1919 White Sox. Football legend and then-Wheaton resident Harold “Red” Grange once said that the team was better than the 1927 New York Yankees, who had a couple of guys named Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

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Tom Siebert
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Tom Siebert has a BS in journalism from the University of Illinois and many years' experience as a writer/editor. As seen in: Chicago TribuneMediumThe Beacon NewsBarrington Courier-Review,PatchSouth Florida Sun SentinelSan Diego Citybeat

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