100 Years Later: The 1919 Chicago Black Sox Remain Popular with Collectors (Part I of V)
100 Years Later: A five-part review of cards associated with the Chicago Black Sox Scandal of 1919
With the 100-year anniversary of the infamous Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919 here, I thought a look back at the cards surrounding those involved was appropriate. The Black Sox scandal is one that has gotten so much coverage that it can’t adequately be covered in one part. Thus, I’ll be offering a five-part look at the players and cards surrounding the event with a new part being issued each weekday this week.
Part I: The 1919 Chicago Black Sox Remain Popular with Collectors
Part II: Interesting Cards of Cincinnati Reds Players in the 1919 Series
Part III: Cards of Others Associated with the Black Sox Scandal Have Drawn Interest
Part IV: Despite Ties to Scandal, Interest for Clean White Sox Players has been Tepid
Part V: Following Bans, Black Sox Players were Largely Forgotten in the Gum Card Era
A tl;dr overview of the 1919 scandal
Way back in 1919, a group of folks got together and figured out a way they could all make money. Seems pretty harmless, right? In reality, what probably seemed like easy money at the time turned out to be one gigantic mess.
If you’re unfamiliar with one of baseball’s greatest scandals, the story is as follows. The Chicago White Sox were a great team in 1919. So great, in fact, that they weren’t only expected to win the World Series that year, by most accounts, they were supposed to win decisively. The team won 100 games in 1917 on their way to a World Series win and, despite winning only 88 in 1919, were still seen as the favorites.
A plan to throw games in the series was pitched to players and several of them bit on it. Who was crooked and how crooked they were is still a point up for debate. But, essentially, eight members of the heavily favored, World Series bound Chicago White Sox either knowingly took money to throw games against the Cincinnati Reds or they allegedly knew about the fix and didn’t speak up. The specific involvement of Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver, specifically, has been debated for decades.
The players involved were to make several thousand dollars for their part in helping to cost the team games while gamblers, including the famous Arnold Rothstein, that arranged it, knowing the fix was in, would bet heavily against them and also make money. Things didn’t go quite as planned as the White Sox won some games and cost some gamblers money. But they did ultimately lose the series, averting disaster for some that bet big against them. There’s a lot more to it and the excellent movie Eight Men Out is a good place to start if digging into online articles isn’t your thing.
The team’s problems weren’t over, though, as rumors of the fix got out. A trial was ultimately held with counts of conspiracy to defraud as the charges. Key evidence, including some confessions, went missing, however, and the players were found not guilty. Despite that, new commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis decided the players were guilty and banned them from the major leagues. The eight banned players included:
- Eddie Cicotte
- Hap Felsch
- Chick Gandil
- Shoeless Joe Jackson
- Fred McMullin
- Swede Risberg
- Buck Weaver
- Lefty Williams
Cards for the eight banned White Sox players have never been hotter
Without a doubt, Shoeless Joe Jackson was the most gifted and the most famous of the bunch. His ban undoubtedly is part of the reason he does not have many cards issued. His cards are easily the most desirable with none more famous than his major league rookie card, his E90-1 American Caramel issue, and his scarce T210 Old Mill minor league card. Though there aren’t any really high-grade T210 Jackson’s out there, a PSA 8 E90-1 American Caramel card sold for nearly $670,000 in 2016, making it one of the more valuable pre-war cards out there.
There are cheaper Jacksons available. His W514 strip card and his 1913 Barker and National Game cards can be found for under $1,000, under the right circumstances and in lower-grade.
Another recent option for collectors is a T202 Hassan Triple Folders card that was found to feature Jackson in the middle in recent years. That’s one of his cheapest options and can be had for under $500.
But others are popular with collectors, too.
In general, Weaver is the second most popular player of the banned eight and his cards have soared in value despite a relatively nondescript career. Weaver, like Jackson, has always been one of the more controversial players with many arguing he should not have been banned. His involvement is largely seen as only knowing about the fix rather than participating in it. Nevertheless, he was banned, and that has caused his cards to skyrocket abnormally as somewhat of a cult hero.
Like Jackson, Weaver doesn’t have many cards due to the scandal and World War I, which cut into card production. But he’s got several that are popular with collectors. One is a minor league issue from the T212 Obak set. It’s easy to see the impact of the scandal on a card like that. Without it, it’d probably be possible to buy low-grade examples of it for, what, $50 or $100? But it’s hard to find under $500 even in bad condition.
Weaver has other, tougher minor league issues but he’s got some nice major league cards, too. Two of his popular ones are his T207 (generally viewed as his major league rookie card and shown here) and his 1916 M101-4/5 Mendelsohn cards.
One of the more interesting Weaver cards out there is his rare Tango Eggs card. Those cards were the same ones as in the E101 Anonymous set but Weaver’s was one of four in the Tango Eggs set that was added in replacing a card. Interestingly, it uses the same picture as Joe Tinker, who he replaced. Teammate Hap Felsch also is in the set replacing and using the same picture of Ray Demmitt. Here’s a lot more on it, as well as other cards that were replacements.
Gandil and Cicotte are the next two popular players and both had big roles. Gandil is often seen as the ringleader and the one that was said to have been the point of contact for the gamblers. Cicotte was also instrumental. He pitched in three games and lost two of them. Their roles, likewise, have boosted the values of their cards. Both were fine players but are valued as if they were Hall of Famers. Prices for both vary but they are not usually as pricey as Jackson or Weaver stuff. Your best bet for quality cards of the two might be their T205 and T206 cards (both are in T206 and Cicotte is in T205) as those are relatively plentiful. In low-grade condition, you can get those starting around $75-$100.
While those four are usually the ones with the most expensive cards, the other four are quite desirable, too. The problem for collectors is that Risberg, Williams, McMullin, and Felsch have considerably fewer cards than the others.
A popular destination for them is the W514 set. Seven of the eight Black Sox players are in that issue with the lone one not found being McMullin. Risberg, Williams, McMullin, and, to a lesser degree, Felsch, would generally just be common cards. But, as they were part of the series, their cards are much more expensive. Common W514 strip cards, for example start around $10 in low-grade condition. However, Risberg, Williams, and Felsch W514 cards are typically in the $100-$200 range.
Of the group, McMullin cards are the toughest. He has a 1915 Zee-Nut card and, while he was the least important player of the bunch, his card is ironically one of the most expensive because he doesn’t appear in most sets. The price tag for McMullin’s card if he wasn’t involved in the scandal might be around $25 or so in low-grade condition. But as one of the banned players, it’s more than $5,000.
The 1919 World Series scandal ended up costing these eight players their careers. But while it would be of little consolation to them, the values of their baseball cards subsequently skyrocketed. And now, 100 years after the event, their cards are hotter than ever before.