Indians’ Sale of Gandil Ended up Having Far-Reaching Repercussions
Vince Guerrieri | On 24, Feb 2016
As the Indians started spring training in 1917, there seemed to be a feeling of adjustment.
The previous season had been littered with moves, from a new owner, Jim Dunn, to the acquisition of center fielder Tris Speaker from the Red Sox. The Indians had gone 77-77, a 20-game improvement from the previous season, and the feeling was that the pieces were in place for a run at the pennant.
But the Indians made one significant change in spring training in 1917 that had repercussions not for them, but throughout Major League Baseball.
Another acquisition the Indians made in 1916 was purchasing the contract of Chick Gandil for $7,500 from the Washington Senators. Joe Judge had emerged as the Senators’ everyday first baseman, making Gandil expendable – and some sources say owner Clark Griffith wasn’t fond of Gandil’s chain-smoking. He would even light up on the bench.
Gandil had a lifetime batting average of .335 at League Park as a visitor, but didn’t perform as well as he or the team would have liked, batting just .259 in his worst offensive season since his rookie year (he did bat in 72 runs and his .995 fielding percentage was tops for first basemen in the American League).
Gandil was sold to the White Sox on February 25, 1917 – 99 years ago this week – for $3,500. Manager Lee Fohl said that Gandil’s eye was gone, but there were rumblings that he was less than a model teammate.
The White Sox – who Gandil played for in his rookie season in 1910 – were in the market for a new first baseman after Jack Ness said he’d rather quit than take a $500 pay cut (and he did). According to The Plain Dealer, Gandil was similarly rattling the saber, hinting “he might not play at all with Chicago if he had to accept the reduced salary Ness turned down.”
But he stayed at the same salary on the South Side, and would play – causing boundless optimism in Chicago, with the Tribune saying that Gandil’s purchase solidified the pennant for the White Sox. It turned out to be true as the White Sox won the pennant and beat the Giants in the World Series.
Two years later, the White Sox advanced to another World Series, this time losing to the Cincinnati Reds. There were whispers of suspicion, but nothing concrete. After the 1919 season, Gandil refused to sign his contract with the White Sox, and played that season with several semi-pro teams.
By August 1920, a grand jury had been convened in Chicago to look into allegations of baseball game fixing. Although the allegations started with a Cubs game, testimony led back to the World Series the previous year – with Gandil as the ringleader.
Gandil had approached gamblers to throw the World Series and served as the go-between between players and gamblers, allegedly pocketing as much as $35,000. But Gandil, who had already retired from Major League Baseball, denied almost literally to his dying day that he had any involvement with the fix. After his death in 1970, his obituary made no mention of his professional baseball career.