Buck Weaver: After the Black Sox

For almost a century, baseball fans have viewed Buck Weaver in a sympathetic light; a victim of his by-gone age, an upholder of the old-school unwritten rule that a man never snitched on his friends. Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book Eight Men Out and the subsequent 1988 film really pushed the “guilty innocent” storyline and shaped modern perceptions of his role in the fix. While Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, and Joe Jackson confessed on record, Buck Weaver loudly proclaimed his innocence ‘til the day he died. Over time, his insistence of innocence, popularity with fans, and sympathetic treatment in Asinof’s Eight Men Out, combined to forge the perception of Buck Weaver as being a casualty of circumstance.

However, recent scholarship has rendered irreparable damage to Weaver’s claim of innocence.

In the 2023 National Pastime article, “Guilty as Charged: Buck Weaver and the 1919 World Series Fix,” Black Sox historian Bill Lamb collects several damning testimonies from the gamblers and the other conspirators implicating Weaver as not only participating in the fix, but also suggesting ways it could be accomplished on the field. Lamb’s article also demonstrates how, despite Weaver hitting a solid .324 in the Series, he was useless when there were runners on base – producing zero RBIs in his 34 at bats.

Another nail in the coffin of Weaver’s purported innocence was provided by Chick Gandil in his 1956 Sports Illustrated interview. Gandil recalls that “Weaver suggested we get paid [the promised $10,000 per player] in advance. Then if things got too hot, we could double cross the gambler and also take the big end of the series cut by beating the Reds. We all agreed this was a hell of a plan.” It must be pointed out that Chick Gandil’s recollection may be a little self-serving due to his anger at Weaver for failing to back up his testimony of additional game fixing during the 1917 season. Even if Gandil’s story is taken out of the equation, there is still much evidence pointing to Weaver having been an active participant in the fix.

Yet, even to this day, the common perception of Buck Weaver is of a good guy who refused to turn on his friends.

GEORGE DANIEL WEAVER was born in Pottstown, Pennsylvania in 1890. He began his professional career in 1908 and, three years later, reached the Pacific Coast League, the highest minor league at the time. Better known by his nicknames “Buck” or “the Ginger Kid” from his hair color, Weaver attracted attention with his flashy fielding at shortstop. The Chicago White Sox bought his contract, and he made his major debut in 1912. It took a few seasons for Weaver to hit his stride, but once he did, he became the most popular player on the Sox and was made team captain in 1914.

The arrival of first baseman Chick Gandil and shortstop Swede Risberg in 1917 made the White Sox into an instant pennant contender. With Hall of Famer Eddie Collins at second and Weaver moving to third, Chicago now had arguably the best infield in the league.

Yet, all was not well in the White Sox clubhouse. The team had fractured into two distinct camps. On one side was the college educated Eddie Collins and his band of strait-laced teammates such as catcher Ray Schalk, pitcher Red Faber, and outfielders Shano Collins and Nemo Leibold. On the other side was Chick Gandil and his group of roughhewn scrappers that would evolve into the “Eight Men Out” that fixed the 1919 Series.

Despite the team’s unhealthy locker room, the White Sox won the 1917 World Series, and after winning the pennant in 1919, were favored to do the same. However, the Sox lost the Reds in eight games and, soon after, rumors circulated about a fix. The story finally broke wide open at the end of the 1920 season and Buck Weaver, Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Swede Risberg, Happy Felsch, and Fred McMullin were suspended (Chick Gandil had retired at the end of the 1919 season). A Chicago grand jury indicted the eight players along with several gamblers.

As the case wound its way through the court system, Buck Weaver loudly proclaimed his innocence. While several of the indicted players formed a team and played exhibition games around Chicago in the summer of 1921, Weaver kept his distance. In one famous vignette that has made the rounds in the decades since, Weaver was asked by Risberg and Felsch if he would join their team, to which Buck haughtily replied, “Nothing doing. I’ll be back in the majors soon and you guys will still be semi-pros.”

On August 2, 1921, the jury found all eight players not guilty. But the next day, newly appointed Commissioner of Baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banished those same eight players from organized baseball.

WITH ANY HOPE of resuming his big league career dashed, Buck Weaver overcame his reluctance to consort with his teammates. In September of 1921, several of the banned players had played a brief but successful exhibition tour in Oklahoma. Afterwards, Swede Risberg and Eddie Cicotte joined with promoter William C.V. Meek to form the “Ex-Major League Stars.” Happy Felsch signed on as did Buck Weaver.

The team toured around Chicago then embarked on an extended tour of northern Wisconsin. The tour was hampered by bad weather, poor play, and less than enthusiastic crowds. The money wasn’t anywhere close to what was expected, and tensions ran hot. Halfway through the tour, Cicotte and Risberg got into a fistfight on a Merrill, Wisconsin street corner over money. Cicotte left the team, minus a few teeth, and Lefty Williams was recruited to finish out the tour’s dates in Minnesota. When all was said and done, each Black Sox player received a disappointing $100 for the tour.

Buck returned to Chicago, where he and his wife Helen maintained their home. The Windy City was a hotbed of fast-paced semipro baseball, and Buck’s expertise was much in demand. But, despite his popularity, Weaver was still on the suspended list, and Commissioner Landis made it clear that any player appearing with or against a banned player risked their eligibility to play in organized baseball. In June, it was announced that the Romeos of the semipro Midwest Baseball Association wished to sign Buck Weaver. A petition reportedly containing 100,000 signatures from fans was presented to the league, and Weaver was permitted to play. But just a few days after playing his first game, the Umpire’s Protective Association that provided arbiters for the Midwest Baseball Association, voted to not officiate any games in which Weaver played. Still, Weaver played for the Romeos throughout the summer, presumedly using scab umps.

Even though he hadn’t worn a Sox uniform in three years, the south side faithful still held the Ginger Kid in high regard. In August, “Buck Weaver Day” was held during a Sunday game at White City, a popular south side amusement and recreation park.

Buck Weaver spent the summer of 1924 in Wisconsin holding down third base for the Sorg’s Ice Creams, a semipro club sponsored by Reedsburg dairy owner Al Sorg. Among the Ice Creams’ opponents was the Twin City Red Sox, featuring fellow outcast Happy Felsch. For semipro competition, the crowds attending these games were huge, sometimes in excess of 2,000. It was reported that Buck was paid $500 a month for his services, a very hefty salary for the time. Though Weaver was expected to play for the Ice Creams again in 1925, he did not – except for one game.

According to a 1994 article in the Greensboro News and Record, Buck Weaver was in the stands watching the Ice Creams play Gilkerson’s Colored Giants, a traveling all-Black team. As Reedsburg resident Steve Rundio recalled, the Ice Creams were getting beat, and “All of a sudden, Buck takes off his jacket and loosens his tie and walks down to the field and picks up a bat. He went to the plate, got a hit, stole a base still dressed in his trousers and shirt, and scored the tying run.”

BUCK DIDN’T STICK AROUND the upper Midwest for long. Way down in the Southwest, Hal Chase, a star first baseman before being blacklisted for suspected game fixing in 1919, was managing a team in the independent Frontier League. Soon renamed the Copper League, this rough and tumble semi-pro circuit was made up of wild west mining towns and was a haven for blacklisted ballplayers. Chase’s team, the Douglas Blues, had posted a disappointing record in the first half of the season, and Chase was dispatched to find fresh talent. To the fan’s delight, he returned with Chick Gandil and Buck Weaver.

The addition of big league talent completely turned the Blues around. Weaver batted an awe-inspiring .469 as the Blues tied for the second half pennant. Douglas lost the one-game playoff to the Juarez Indians who went on to beat the Ft. Bayard Veterans, winners of the first half.

The next season, Weaver took over the manager’s job in Douglas. The Blues had lost Gandil, who had joined Ft. Bayard during the previous year’s playoffs. Buck tried to fill the void by recruiting Lefty Williams from Chicago. Unfortunately, Williams arrived suffering from an arm injury and serious drinking problem and was no help to the Blues. He eventually jumped the club to join Gandil in Ft. Bayard. In June, Weaver stepped down as Douglas’ manager but continued as the team’s shortstop. He finished up his second Copper league season with a .427 average and a league leading 14 stolen bases.

At the conclusion of the season, Chick Gandil, now manager of the Chino Twins, announced that his team had secured Buck Weaver for the coming campaign. However, during the off-season, Chick Gandil and Swede Risberg gave testimony in Chicago about the White Sox taking up a collection to pay Detroit Tigers players to lose a four-game series during the 1917 pennant race. Commissioner Landis brushed aside the allegations when no other players would back up Gandil and Risberg. Gandil was especially angered when Buck Weaver refused to corroborate the charges, telling the Chicago Tribune, “He double-crossed us and didn’t tell the truth in Chicago.” According to Chick, he got his revenge by releasing Weaver from his Chino contract and banning him from playing in the Copper League.

NOW UNATTACHED for 1927, Weaver once again capitalized on his popularity around Chicago by playing in the city’s semipro circuit. The Midwest Baseball Association voted to allow Weaver to play, and the umpire association agreed to lift their 1923 ban. Playing for the Hammond, Indiana club, Buck was greeted by large crowds wherever he played, and many of the opposing teams held “Buck Weaver Day” when they faced Hammond. 6,000 turned out at Logan Square Park on May 8, 6,500 packed the Duffy Florals home park on August 14, and 5,000 on September 4 at Chicago’s American Giants Park. For the semipro level, these turnouts are quite impressive when you take into consideration the fact that fans could have chosen to see the major league White Sox and Cubs instead.

Buck switched allegiances to the rival Duffy Florals for the 1928 and 1929 seasons. His reason for choosing his new club may have been two-fold – besides being a top-notch ballclub, the team was sponsored by the owner of a large south side floral shop, and Buck was pictured in several newspapers working in Duffy’s greenhouse tending to flowers.

Weaver likely needed a new line of work. He’d been partners in his brother-in-law William Scanlon’s pharmacy. Over the years “Scanlon’s Drug Store” had expanded to six south side locations, and according to family lore, the pair were approached by fellow south side pharmacy owner Charles Walgreen, who wanted to combine their resources and expand. Scanlon and Weaver declined. Walgreens went on to become a multi-billion dollar corporation with over 8,600 locations nationwide while Scanlon’s empire went bankrupt.

BEFORE THE 1930 season began, several clubs were fighting to secure Buck for the summer. He told the Vidette-Messenger via long distance telephone interview that if he didn’t sign with the Duffy Florals, he’d be partial to joining Deak Austin’s Chestertown Boosters. He also shot down the rumors that he was in talks with a South Bend outfit. In the end, Weaver decided to be playing manager for the Chicago Krutckoff’s, sponsored by Republican politician Edward Krutckoff. At the same time, Weaver began a campaign to have Commissioner Landis clear his name and reinstate him. It could be that Weaver’s decision to play for the Krutckoff-sponsored team was in the hopes of getting on the good side of Landis, himself a life-long Republican.

In June, Buck’s attorney Louis Rosenthal told the Richmond Item that, “they had unearthed some new evidence that they felt would prove Weaver’s innocence.” The “new evidence” was never revealed, and Landis didn’t comment on the matter.

On the tenth anniversary of the Black Sox being indicted, the Associated Press ran a short item on Buck working the mutuel window at Hawthorne Race Course “selling $2 show tickets.”

Buck switched both teams and political parties for 1931, taking over the reins of the Cooneys, sponsored by Democratic operative Dennis “The Duke” Cooney.” He played for the Cooneys through the 1933 season and wound down his playing days with the self-named “Weaver’s West Side Colonels.” He briefly got back in the game during World War II by managing the Chicago Bluebirds, a professional women’s softball team.

BUCK LIVED OUT the rest of his days in Chicago. He worked various jobs, from tile installer to elevator repairman. One family story is that while working as a painter, Weaver was hired to put a new coat of paint on the walls of the courtroom he and the other Black Sox appeared in back in 1921.

After numerous letters to the commissioner’s office went unanswered, it became apparent to Weaver that he’d never be exonerated by Major league Baseball. The Ginger Kid became jaded in his later years, telling author James T. Farrell, “A murderer even serves his sentence and is let out. I got life.”

On January 31, 1956, Buck Weaver suffered a heart attack and died alone on a Chicago sidewalk. He was 65.

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PLAYING FOR CLOUT

Businesses have long capitalized on baseball as a way of advertising their goods and services. The first great Negro league team, the Page Fence Giants, were created in 1895 to advertise the company’s woven fencing products. Former big leaguers were in high demand since their name recognition would be sure to bring fans to the ballpark. For instance, after his career ended, Hack Wilson toured with the Tube City Beer team, while Grover Cleveland Alexander pitched for the House of David team which represented a religious colony and amusement park in Michigan.

Chicagoland in the 1920s and 30s featured many company-sponsored teams, but also ones that represented local politicians. As one of the most popular players to wear a White Sox uniform, Buck Weaver was highly sought after by Windy City politicos trying to earn clout amongst their constituents. Weaver appears to have been non-partisan, playing for both Republican and Democrat politicians in Chicago. Here is a look at some of the teams Buck played for along with who or what they represented:

SORG’S ICE CREAMS What better way to advertise your dairy than to hire a former big leaguer? Reedsburg, Wisconsin dairy owner Al Sorg thought so, and shelled out $500 a month to have Buck Weaver on his team.

ROMEOS This team played in the independent Chicago Midwest Baseball Association. The Romeos were managed by Jimmy Ryan, a legendary outfielder for the Chicago White Stockings/Colts/Orphans in the last 15 years of the 19th century.

NIESEN’S HAMMONDS This team representing Hammond, Indiana was managed by Billy Niesen, patriarch of Chicago semipro baseball. Starting around 1910, Niesen managed some of the finest semipro teams in the Midwest. A dedicated promoter of the game, Niesen is quoted as saying, “Baseball is a great common ground on which bartenders and bishops, clergymen and bosses, bankers and laborers, meet with true equality and understanding.”

DUFFY FLORALS Team sponsored by John J. Duffy, a Chicago politician and owner of a florist shop on Halsted Avenue. Buck Weaver played for the Florals while also working in his green house. Duffy served as an alderman and was appointed to many city and county positions, rising to be head of the Cook County Democratic Party, a position said to be second only to the office of the mayor of Chicago in its power and influence.

KRUTCKOFF’S This team was sponsored by Charles Krutckoff, a longtime Republican Party leader. At different times an owner of a tire company and bank president, Krutckoff was a sports enthusiast, horse racing fan, and president of the Jockey Club of America. He was president of the Hawthorne Race Course where Buck Weaver sold tickets at the mutuel window.

COONEYS Chicago gangster Dennis “The Duke” Cooney sponsored this ball team. The Duke was an old school pimp, brothel owner, slumlord, and bootlegger. He was also highly connected in the Democratic Party machine and acted as Al Capone’s go between with Chicago’s politicians.

BUCK WEAVER’S COLONELS Sponsored by the West Side News, a civic-minded community newspaper that was founded during the Great Depression to provide employment to hundreds of out of work locals and champion local businesses.

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David Fletcher’s biography of Weaver at SABR.org was very helpful when writing about Buck’s early career. As mentioned earlier in this piece, Bill Lamb’s National Pastime article, “Guilty as Charged” offers a new look at Buck’s part in the scandal. And when writing anything on the Copper League, John William Smirch’s The Last Stand of Outlaw Baseball is a must have.

 

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This week’s story is part of an 8-Booklet set highlighting the fate of the Black Sox players after their banishment from organized baseball.

Each of the hand-numbered and signed 4 ¼” x 5 1/2″ booklets feature an 8 to 24 page story along with a colored art card attached to the inside back cover. These mini-books are a sub-set to my usual monthly Subscription Series.

2 thoughts on “Buck Weaver: After the Black Sox

  1. My grandpa played for the West Side News Colonels in 1934. I have a picture and a letter to him from the team, but still doing more research, looking for more photos. I remember him talking about Buck Weaver, but I was very young at the time to appreciate how cool that was. I appreciate the article!

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