Chicago “Black Sox Scandal” of 1919 shook baseball to its core and almost ruined the game. Sportswriter Ring Lardner was at the heart of the story and reported regularly on the subsequent trial and banning of the eight players involved. The case shook Lardner’s belief in the game and robbed baseball of one of its greatest early writers.
Adapting from Eliot Asinof baseball classic 8 men out, director John Sayles put Lardner back into the baseball and literary spotlight during the 1988 hollywood film Eight Men Out. The movie included some big name talent, including John Cusack and John Mahoney (of many films and later Frasier fame). Sayles, himself an actor, played Lardner, who quickly figured out something was amiss behind the scenes of the Chicago White Sox. Strong reviews from strong media outlets and critics such as the New York Times Janet Maslin (“story of boyish enthusiam gone bad in an all too grown-up world, Eight Men Out represents a home run.”) gave this movie its preverbal legs and is now considered a classic amongst baseball film buffs.
Ring began his sports writing career in South Bend, writing for both the South Bend Tribune & the South Bend Times. He moved to Chicago and wrote for the Chicago Inter-Ocean, the Chicago Examiner and finally the Chicago Examiner. After bouncing around for a few years, including taking time off to work on the fictional book You Know Me Al, Larnder returned to Chicago and resumed writing for the Tribune.
This leads us into the scandal itself. The official story goes like this: Many players within the Chicago White Sox organization were upset with the pay and negotiation tactics of the Sox owner, Charles Comiskey. When Joseph Sullivan approached White Sox first baseman Arnold Gandil on the behalf of New York mobster Arnold Rothstein the timing was right. Gandil was able to gather seven other players (thus brining to the total to eight) to throw games vs the Cinncinati Reds in the 1919 World Series. For this the players were promised $100,000 total.
Ring Lardner wrote pieces for the Tribune after the series hinting and reporting the rumors floating around the majors at the time, that the players may have been “on the take”. He continued with his stories and eventually major league baseball began to look into these assertions. After the owners appointed a new commissioner in Judge Kenesaw Mountin Landis the case was tried in a court of law. After a trial that was riddled with news coverage and most likely affected by public opinion, the players were acquitted. Judge Landis saw things another way however, as he proceeded to ban all eight players that were involved in the scandal.
After the scandal of the 1919 Black Sox played itself out, Lardner continued to cover baseball until he retired from the Tribune. According to biographies, while Ring did cover the sport, he did begin subtly questioning the happenings and outcomes of games. Ring Lardner passed at the age of 48 due to complications from tuberculosis in 1933.