An investigation of one of the most long-lived and still-living sports scandals: the possible throwing of the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds.
In this fine, stylish piece of reporting, Fountain (Journalism/Northeastern Univ.; Under the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training, 2009, etc.) aims to get to the truth, which is vexing. “Telling the story of the Black Sox [the Black Sox were the White Sox, who got the boot from the commissioner, though they were never found guilty by the grand jury] means acknowledging incompleteness and determining how best to deal with indeterminacy,” writes the author. There is just too much archival data missing; there are too many stories, and too many of the storytellers are dead; and contradictions are all over the evidence. What Fountain does so well is provide the surrounding circumstances—the background to the sport, the gambling, the owners’ greed, the timorous baseball front office, the shafting of the players, all the temptations that coax players to do wrong to gain an edge and make more money—at once shedding light on what is known but especially what has been ignored or underappreciated. The game-fixing routines—which date back to the Civil War—are stories in themselves, and Fountain reports it all. His profiles of the players, clubhouse men, gamblers (from Boss Tweed to Arnold Rothstein), and facilitators are meaty, informative vignettes. The author also includes the gripping story of Shoeless Joe Jackson, who "never played shoeless because he couldn’t afford shoes,” was no bumpkin, actually got along with Ty Cobb (a feat for any player of that era), and wound up with $5,000 without flubbing anything.
The scandal was a game-shattering event and cleansed baseball for a moment. Fountain writes of it with professional élan, which means letting the facts not speak but sing.