Wednesday, March 7, 2012

109. Chick Gandil: After The Black Sox

For better or for worse, the story of the 1919 World Series and the 8 Chicago White Sox banished from the game has taken on a mythical quality in the last 90 some-odd years. Countless books have been written about every angle of the scandal, major movies feature the eight in all their glory and even a few misguided congressmen have wasted the taxpayer's time trying to somehow use the laws of the country to reinstate Shoeless Joe Jackson half a century after his death. For me, I never had any romantic misconceptions regarding the Black Sox. With the exception of Buck Weaver, those remaining seven were dirty ball players who sold their souls for cash. To me, banishment from the game was a just punishment.

But that's not what I want to write about. Authors much more talented than me have already covered the scandal. What I am more interested in is what happened to those eight after they were thrown out of the game in 1920. Earlier I featured stories on Happy Felsch and Eddie Cicotte's post Black Sox careers and to continue with that series I bring to you the infamous leader of the scandal, Chick Gandil...

Chick Gandil was the mastermind behind the fixing of the 1919 World Series. Described by his contemporaries as a “professional malcontent”, Chick was a thug of a ball player, even being suspended during the 1919 season for punching an umpire. He was a juvenile delinquent and after dropping out of high school he ran away from home, working his way south and west, all the while scratching out a living as an itinerant ball player and boxer. By 1907 the 20 year-old found himself in Cananea, Mexico working as a boilermaker in a copper mine and playing first base for the company team. Entering professional ball the following season, Gandil had 9 years of big league experience under his belt at the time of the fix.

He made the most money out of all the players, pocketing some $35,000, nine times his regular salary. After being turned down for a raise in 1920 he left the game and went west, spending most of his earnings. Later he and a few of the other Black Sox formed a touring team called "The Ex-Major League Stars" which disbanded after Gandil knocked out a few of Eddie Cicotte's teeth in an argument over money.

Since playing against any of the banned players would jeopardize a ball player's standing with organized baseball, Gandil and the other Black Sox had to look far and wide for a league that would let them play. The Copper League in Southern Arizona and New Mexico was one such haven.

Formed in the early 1920's, The Copper League was made up of rough and tumble mining towns and the play as well as the fans were as rowdy as could be expected from frontier wild west towns. The infamous Hal Chase, generally described as the greatest first baseman of all time, migrated to the league after his forced retirement from the majors. It was in his capacity as manager of the Douglas Blues in 1925 that he extended offers to all of the out of work Black Sox players. Lefty Williams, Buck Weaver and Chick Gandil accepted offers to play. Along side those three who were implicated in the 1919 world series fix was former New York Giant Jimmy O'Connell who was thrown out of baseball for trying to bribe members of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1924.

Gandil began his Copper League career as the second baseman of the Douglas Blues. A first baseman in the majors, Gandil moved over to second because Hal Chase was holding down the position in addition to his role as team manager. From the start Gandil brought his agitating and combative attitude to the team. Near the conclusion of the season he abruptly left the Blues and joined the Fort Bayard Veterans team. The following season he signed with the Veterans again and was joined by Jimmy O'Connell. The two black-listed ballplayers were constantly at odds with each other , apparently mostly instigated by the bully Gandil who rode O'Connell about the quality of his outfield work. By the end of June Gandil was forced to leave the team after O'Connell, fed up with the tough older man's bullying, chased the former boxer out of the Fort Bayard ballpark with a baseball bat.

Chick landed on his feet however and was quickly snapped up by the Chino Twins. Chino was actually an amalgamation of two towns, Santa Rita and Hurley, hence the name "Twins." Chino was the name of the mining concern that employed most of the people in the region, the Chino Copper Company.

Gandil soon became the Twins' manager as well as first baseman. When the season ended he stayed on in Chino working for the copper mine. It was also during the off-season that Chick traveled back to Chicago to give further testimony about fixing games during the 1917 season.

For 1927 the Twins were supposed to be featuring Buck Weaver and Happy Felsch but neither former Black Sox joined the team by the time the season began. Rumors circulated that Gandil had forced the popular Weaver out of the league because of his testimony which was counter to what he and Swede Risberg had said regarding the '17 season. What ever the reasons, the Twins had a terrible first half of the split-season, managing just 8 wins against 18 losses. Chick batted a lofty .481 and somehow was able to turn the ball club around in the second-half and finished up 21-10, gaining them a seat in the championship series against Fort Bayard.

But then just as the series was to begin, Chick disappeared. For unknown reasons he left not only the team but the whole region of the country. After giving up on the game Gandil began working as plumber and settled in the Napa Valley of California. He spent the rest of his life denying the White Sox threw the World Series saying that the team played their best to win.

Stay tuned because I will be featuring the remaining 5 Black Sox ball players and their post-pro ball careers. I would like to give credit where credit is due for some of the sources I will be using in this series. Besides first hand contemporary newspaper articles, the following 3 sources were indispensable:

After The Black Sox: The Swede Risberg Story by Alan Muchlinski. Simply excellent chunk of research that shines a light onto the later years of Swede and his former teammates who he played against.

Outlaw Baseball Players in the Copper League: 1925-1927 by Lynn Bevill. A M.A. thesis published online that is the best source I've found that really explains the role of the Black Sox in the Copper League but also does a great job at telling the story of the towns and how the league operated. No list of sources would be complete without a big thanks to this site dedicated to the Black Sox. The authors downloadable pdf of every existing outlaw and semi-pro game featuring a member of the Black Sox is just a monumental achievement and unbelievably helpful in tracking the movements of the eight men.


  1. My grandfather,John L. Smirch, played Catcher, 1926 Pacific Coast league, San Francisco SEALS. 1927 Played FT. Bayard, New Mexico, Hal Chase Manager.
    1928 played, Catcher Bisbee Bee's, broke leg early in season. Four weeks later played catcher, Alexandria Reds,21 games with a broken leg, Grandpa, You are my HERO.

  2. John L. Smirch also played catcher for the 1925 Douglas Blues, Hal Chase manager, Lefty Willims ,pitcher
    Chick Gandil first base, Buck Weaver third base