Friday, March 16, 2012
111. Buck Weaver: Innocent, But Still Guilty
Out of all the Eight Men Out, Buck Weaver is the only one who elicits any kind of sympathy from me. Weaver was a product of his age, upholding the turn of the century version of the unwritten "no snitching" code that so many of today's inner-city youth hide behind when it comes time to stand up for what is right. Buck was no different - he failed the test when it came time to speak up and stop the fix his teammates put in motion back in September, 1919. For this he never stopped paying the price, forever banned from the game he loved...
Besides being a pretty good hitter, “Buck” was an outstanding fielder, to the point of being the only third baseman Ty Cobb would not steal against. As far as I'm concerned that speaks more volumes about The Ginger Kid than any statistic found in the Baseball Encyclopedia. One of the most popular men to ever play for the White Sox, Weaver apparently knew of, but refused to participate in the fixing of the 1919 Series. It was this knowledge that was used against him and he was banned along with the other seven crooked ballplayers after the 1920 season. Even his stellar batting and errorless play in the series wasn’t enough to save him.
Weaver spent 1921 proclaiming his innocence to the point of deluding himself into believing he would be absolved of his part in the fix and be let back into the game. While the other banned players formed the "Ex-Major League Stars" and attempted to tour the mid-west, Weaver refused a lucrative contract to play with them and flatly refused to have anything to do with his former teammates. One afternoon in Chicago Weaver was asked by Risberg and Felsch if he would join their team that day to which Buck haughtily replied “Nothing doing. I’ll be back in the majors soon and you guys will still be semi-pros.” At this point he still believed he would be back on the White Sox. Throughout the summers of 1921 and 1922 newspapers in the mid-west featured stories about Weaver and his supposed appearances with a variety of semi-pro teams but these turned out to be just rumors. He was home in Chicago with his wife patiently waiting to be reinstated. It wasn’t until the following year that Buck came to the realization that Judge Landis’ ruling was indeed binding.
Weaver now needed to make a living and he began hiring himself out to semi-pro teams. In July he swallowed his pride and briefly reunited with Cicotte, Jackson and Risberg on the Bastrop, Louisiana ball club. He also played that summer with a team called “Sorg‘s Ice Creams” from Reedsburg, Wisconsin. He reportedly hit .369 that season and played against Happy Felsch who was roaming the outfield for the Twin Cities Red Sox.
1925 found Weaver in Arizona where he was recruited to play in the outlaw Copper League. This rough and tumble semi-pro circuit was made up of wild west mining towns and was a haven for black-listed ballplayers. Weaver’s team, the Douglas Blues, was managed by the crooked Hal Chase and featured Chick Gandil at second base. Gandil soon jumped the team for another in the league but the following year Weaver became the Blues manager and was joined by Lefty Williams. Weaver coached the Blues to a losing record and wasn’t helped by Lefty’s desertion mid-season to join the rival Fort Bayard club. To cap it off, Buck also severely injured his ankle that season and didn’t return to the Copper League in 1927. The reasons went unreported, but there was talk of Chick Gandil pulling strings to keep Weaver away because of their disagreement over the 1919 fix. Weaver still told anyone who would listen that he was clean while the other seven were guilty, most recently that winter in Chicago when he and the other Black Sox were called to testify in court once again. Gandil must have been seething every time he had to face Weaver’s team and now he felt the self-righteous Buck had double-crossed him again.
Weaver was an extremely popular figure in the Windy City and his presence in uniform on a ball field was sure to attract a crowd. While the other Black Sox generated a mix of mostly negative reactions when they played after 1920, Buck seemed to always get a warm welcome and no place was more friendlier than the Chicago area. Spring of 1927 brought the much-heralded return of the Ginger Kid to the area’s sandlots when he signed on with the Hammond, Indiana Hammonds. As the Hammonds made the league circuit a few opposing teams threw a “Buck Weaver Day” in honor of the popular third baseman. The Hammonds played against other top-notch Chicago area semi-pro clubs like the Logan Squares and Duffy Florals as well as Negro league teams such as the Chicago American Giants.
Moving over to the rival Duffy Florals, Weaver finished out his playing days by switching over to shortstop and managing the Floral’s for the ‘28 and ‘29 season. At the age of 41 Buck fronted a team called “Buck Weaver’s Cooney’s” which was financially backed by one of Al Capone’s associates named Duke Cooney. The team played through the 1933 season and Buck wound down his playing days with another self-named semi-pro club, “Weaver’s West Side Colonels.”
While all the other Black Sox left Chicago for good after 1920, Weaver remained there for the rest of his life. He worked for the city of Chicago, installed elevators and eventually went into the drugstore business with his brother in-law. A fellow by the name of Charlie Walgreen approached Buck with an offer to combine their drugstores into a city-wide chain but Weaver declined. Walgreen’s became, well, WALGREENS, and Weaver’s store went under during the depression. The once fun-loving third baseman devolved into a bitter, disgruntled man, always decrying his punishment by Judge Landis and proclaiming his innocence in the 1919 fix. At the age of 65 the Ginger Kid suffered a heart attack and died alone on a Chicago sidewalk. His numerous letters to the commissioner’s office and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown never once received a response and the one man who rightfully should have had the best chance at reinstatement was left overshadowed by all the publicity generated by Shoeless Joe Jackson’s deluded supporters.