Chick Gandil: After the Black Sox

While the distance of more than a century since the fixing of the 1919 World Series has given a sympathetic cast to several of the Black Sox players, this has not been the case for Chick Gandil. Photographs of Gandil show a man with dark eyes peering warily out from deep-set sockets, his face displaying the signs of the prizefighter he once was. It’s the face of a man who is constantly on the make, using both his hard-earned street smarts and brute physical strength to get out of life what he thought was rightly his.

HE WAS BORN Charles Arnold Gandil in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1888. His parents were Christian, a gardener from Denmark, and Louisa, a housemaid from Switzerland. The family moved west and, two years after their son was born, Christian and Louisa got caught up in an infamous San Francisco murder trial.

 

On the night of August 11, 1890, Samuel Jacobson, son of a wealthy trunk manufacturer, was shot by two masked thugs. He staggered home whereupon his mother called the cops and a doctor. Two of the witnesses in the house that fateful night were the Jacobson’s gardener and maid: Christian and Louisa Gandil. Jacobson passed away a week later and the crime turned into a real Gilded Age whodunnit.

Almost a year later, cops accidentally discovered that the perpetrators were a pair of door to door sewing machine salesmen turned stickup artists named Edward Campbell and Sidney Bell. Edwards fingered Bell as the shooter, and the ensuing trial became a media sensation. The Gandil’s name found its way into the newspapers, and Christian Gandil appealed to authorities for police protection due to an intrusive “private detective” harassing the family. Sidney Bell was ultimately found guilty in Jacobson’s death along with three additional robberies.

Meanwhile, the Gandil’s left San Francisco, though if it had anything to do with the Bell trial it wasn’t reported. In the mid-1890s, the family was living in Seattle where Christian placed ads in the newspapers seeking, “All kinds of garden work; per day or contract.” In 1902, the family was living in Los Angeles, where Christian placed similar ads for garden work.

FROM AN EARLY AGE Gandil was known as “Chic” (as he spelled it) or “Chick” (as the press spelled it), which was a popular turn of the century nickname for the name Charles. He played baseball around Los Angeles and was soon doing it for money in the city’s semipro leagues.

Though Chick Gandil never spoke about it, one can speculate that his childhood experience growing up alternately amidst the Jacobson’s opulent wealth and then seeing his father having to place ads for random gardening jobs made him very conscience of those who have money and those who do not. No doubt Chick believed he should be one of those who had the money. In 1906, he quit high school after two years and began his career as a professional baseball player.

Chick learned fast that life on baseball’s lowest rungs was hard. The first team he hooked up with was a semipro outfit in Amarillo, Texas. He endeared himself to the fans by reportedly hitting a homer in his first at bat, but the gig didn’t last long due to the team’s poor finances. He was back in California in July when he got a tryout with the Los Angeles Angels and the Fresno Raisin Eaters of the Pacific Coast League. The PCL was way above Chick’s talent level at the time, and neither team chose to sign him.

At this time, he began using the nom de baseball “Chick Arnold.” The reasons why he needed a new moniker is not known, but perhaps a notice Christian Gandil had printed in the Los Angeles Times holds a clue: “To whom it may concern, I will not be responsible for any debts my son Arnold, sometimes called Chic, may contract on or after this date, July 11, 1907. C. Gandil.”

The 20 year-old Gandil was soon on the move again, eking out a living as an itinerant ballplayer in Playa Del Rey, California and Humboldt, Arizona. He was also reported to have played for the Ft. Worth Panthers of the Texas League before being tossed out for fighting with an umpire.

Gandil soon found work as a boilermaker and playing first base for the Cananea Consolidated Copper Company in Mexico. The Cananea job not only gave Gandil a good-paying skilled job but an additional paycheck for playing ball. He padded his pocketbook further by taking on all comers in amateur boxing matches for $150 a bout.

FINALLY ENTERING professional ball with the Shreveport Pirates of the Texas League in 1908, Gandil married Faye Kelly, his wife for the next 62 years. Gandil later said that his marriage to Faye had tamed his wild streak – knowing his later track record as a brawler and instigator makes one wonder what his pre-1908 self was really like!

His pro ball career almost came to an end the next spring when he refused to report to Shreveport, signing with the Fresno Giants of the California League instead. The California League was considered an “outlaw league” because it was not under the control of the National Commission, the organization that ran minor league baseball. Fresno gave Chick $225 and lent him a suit of clothes to sign with them and were rightly upset when he took both the money and outfit when he left to sign with Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League. Fresno filed charges and Gandil was arrested. The Sacramento club paid his debt, the issue of his Shreveport contract was smoothed over, and Gandil was allowed to play ball again.

By the time of the 1919 World Series, Chick Gandil had nine years of big league experience under his belt and was one of the most respected first baseman in the game. He was also one of the most unlikeable. Described by his contemporaries as a “professional malcontent,” Chick was a tough ball player, a bully ready to settle any differences with his fists. He had come to believe he was chronically underpaid, continually taken advantage of by those who had all the money, and resented the college educated players who seemed to get the bigger paychecks. His discontent made him a magnet for like-minded teammates, and a distinct clubhouse clique formed with Chick Gandil at its head.

And time did nothing to mellow Gandil out. Early in the 1919 season, Chick fought a full-blown bout against Tris Speaker of the Cleveland Indians after the latter slid hard into first base. The fight spread from first base to the pitcher’s mound and on towards second base as both teams crowded around to watch. Later retellings of the brawl make sure to mention that none of Gandil’s teammates attempted to help him, though the same could be said about Speaker’s Indians compadres. James Crusinberry of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “it was a rough and tumble tiger battle with claws, spikes, fists, feet, and possibly even teeth before the two finally were dragged apart.” Both men received a five-game suspension and a $50 fine.

Gandil and pitcher Eddie Cicotte were the admitted masterminds behind the 1919 World Series fix. It was Gandil who acted as the contact man to the gamblers and it was he who oversaw the handling of the money. It’s believed he made the most money out of all the players, pocketing the bulk of the gambler’s buy-in dough instead of sharing it with his teammates. The amount, generally assayed at some $35,000, was roughly nine times his regular salary. The other players who did not get their due suspected Gandil of hoarding the cash but could not prove anything. Besides, when the 1920 season began, Chick wasn’t even with the White Sox anymore.

AS CHICK TOLD IT, he refused to play for Chicago in 1920 because they cut his salary. The real reason was probably more complex, the two main components being that with his ill-begotten loot he didn’t need to play in 1920 and that it was in his best interest to stay far away from Chicago when the fix ultimately came to light.

 

And stay far away he did. As the other seven conspirators were battling for the 1920 pennant, Gandil was playing in the romantic-sounding Yellowstone-Snake River League in Idaho. The townspeople of St. Anthony collected a staggering $10,000 as well as some real estate and an interest in an insurance business for Chick Gandil’s services. And Gandil wasn’t the only pro playing in Idaho that summer; the high salaries offered by the league lured many Pacific Coast League and American Association players to Idaho as well.

At first, St. Anthony’s investment in Gandil looked good. He arrived two weeks before opening day and helped pick and then train his ballclub. However, the big money being spread throughout the league meant competition was stiff, and Gandil’s club managed only a frustrating .500 record. On June 9, those frustrations came to a head.

St. Anthony was in Pocatello for their Wednesday game. In the last half of the second inning, St. Anthony starter Keogh got two quick outs before giving up a double and single. He then hit the next batter to load the bases. When the next batter cleared the bases with a triple, Gandil called time and went to the mound to replace Keogh. An argument ensued, and Keogh took a swing at his manager. Gandil responded with a right hook to the jaw that knocked the rebellious pitcher off his feet. Disagreement settled, Gandil called in a relief pitcher and Keogh took the next train out of Idaho.

Up to this point, Gandil had six singles in twenty at-bats in six games – an even .300. Not too bad in a league that averaged in the low to mid .200’s but pretty weak for a guy who was playing in the World Series less than a year earlier. St. Anthony’s team was equally disappointing, sitting firmly in fourth place. On June 18, it was reported that Chick Gandil was quitting the league and returning to California with his wife. The reason given was “on account of the high altitude.” A later news story reported that Gandil was “forced to leave St. Anthony on account of an attack of appendicitis.” Whatever the cause, Gandil left his club in 4th place with 4 wins and 5 losses.

Instead of getting his appendix removed, Gandil signed with Bakersfield of the San Jose Valley League. Meanwhile, back east, the World Series scandal had broken wide open. Eddie Cicotte and Joe Jackson had spilled their guts to a grand jury in Chicago, and Chick Gandil was indicted along with the other conspirators. When word of his indictment reached California, Chick was long gone, having abandoned his team in Bakersfield, again citing appendicitis. When the press finally caught up with him, Gandil was in a Lufkin, Texas hospital recovering from an appendectomy. He issued a statement through his physician denying any part in the developing scandal.

Gandil and his wife eventually relocated to Los Angeles where he watched from afar as the World Series scandal wound its way through the Chicago courts. Though he and the other seven Black Sox were found not guilty of all charges, new baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned all eight from ever playing in organized baseball again. This meant not only expulsion from the majors but the minor leagues as well.

After the banishment, Gandil tried to entice his former teammates to join him for a barnstorming tour of the west coast, but none took him up on it. For the next few years, Chick Gandil worked as a housepainter and plumber around Los Angeles, with newspapers occasionally reporting that he was in bad financial straits and soliciting former friends for help. However, by 1924, it appears Chick found a new line of work.

IN THE YEARS after WWI, the Pacific Coast League, one of the three top minor leagues in the country, had a problem with game fixing and gambling. Around the same time the eight Black Sox players were banished, the PCL also expelled several players and began heavily cracking down on gambling in their ballparks. One of the biggest bookies on the coast was Nicholas Andreas Dandolos, aka “Nick the Greek.” An immigrant from Crete, The Greek was known as the guy who both won big and lost big. He circulated in the same high end gambling circles as Arnold Rothstein, one of the fixers behind the 1919 World Series scandal. Back in 1919, The Greek was said to have won $125,000 betting on the Reds to win the series. After that, The Greek moved west and became heavily involved with PCL betting, allegedly backed by Arnold Rothstein’s formidable bankroll.

In the summer of 1924, Coast League officials banned The Greek from several of their parks, and newspapers across the country made him a household name. Collyer’s Eye, a weekly sports journal that was among the first to break the news of the 1919 World Series fix, offered the most extensive coverage of The Greek’s activities. On Valentine’s Day, 1925, Collyer’s reported that The Greek had made more than $500,000 on PCL gambling the previous year and named Chick Gandil as the bookie’s “chief lieutenant.” Gandil’s name being linked with another gambling scandal involving none other than Arnold Rothstein and Nick the Greek surely angered Commissioner Landis and merited a closer examination. However, shortly after the Collyer’s Eye piece came out, Chick Gandil disappeared.

Simultaneously, a mysterious ballplayer named Tom Gossett arrived in La Grande, Oregon. La Grande was one of the four timber industry towns to field a team in the Blue Mountain League. The league was unaffiliated with organized baseball, and the players were mostly amateurs who worked the forests during the week, salted with a few ringers with pro experience.

Tom Gossett was heads above the rest of the talent in the league. He billed himself as a first baseman but was able to play anywhere he was needed, including catcher. His hits traveled farther than anyone else’s, and his natural baseball mind led to his being named team captain. Speculation flew about who La Grande’s phenom really was until the Pendleton East Oregonian broke the story on May 19: Tom Gossett was Chick Gandil. While it was later revealed that “Gossett” was his wife Faye’s parent’s name, the reason for using the alias remained a mystery – though his incrimination in the Nick the Greek scandal may have necessitated the need for a clean name.

The East Oregonian article went on to state that Gandil’s fellow Black Sox pals Buck Weaver and Swede Risberg were also playing for La Grande under the names Holtz and Williams. Weaver and Risberg were not with La Grande, but Gandil’s cover was blown. He eventually assumed the managerial reigns and led La Grande to the Blue Mountain League pennant. According to Jacob Pomrenke’s article in the December 2020 SABR Black Sox Scandal Committee Newsletter about Gandil’s time in La Grande, the former big leaguer batted “.313 with five doubles, two triples, and seven runs scored” in 14 games. The morning after winning the pennant, Gandil reclaimed his given name and boarded a train south to Arizona.

DOWN ALONG the Mexican border in Arizona and New Mexico, another unaffiliated league had formed. Originally founded in 1925, the Frontier League, soon renamed the Copper League, eventually became a true outlaw league, employing many banned ballplayers trying to make a living outside the reach of organized baseball and Commissioner Landis. Prominent among the outcasts was Hal Chase. Along with being regarded as the finest first baseman of his era, Chase earned a reputation as a guy who could throw a game without being caught. Though nothing was ever proven, and no charges brought against him, Chase found himself blacklisted after the 1919 season. In 1925, he was hired to play and manage the Douglas Blues of the Copper League. His team didn’t fare very well during the first half of the split season, so he went in search of fresh ballplayers. He returned to Douglas with Chick Gandil and Buck Weaver.

With Hal Chase manning first, the versatile Gandil moved over to second base. From the start, Gandil’s agitating and combative attitude breathed new life into the team. He batted .390 as the Blues tied for the second half pennant. Douglas lost the one-game playoff to the Juarez Indians, who went on to face the Ft. Bayard Veterans, winners of the first half. Gandil jumped teams and played first base for Ft. Bayard in the best of three series. Juarez’s ace was former big leaguer Tom Seaton. Seaton was one of the players tossed out of the Pacific Coast League in 1920 for gambling and game fixing rumors. Gandil went 0 for 5 as Seaton won two straight games to give Juarez the championship.

The following season, Gandil remained with Ft. Bayard while Weaver took over the manager’s job in Douglas and augmented his club by recruiting Lefty Williams from Chicago. Meanwhile, Ft. Bayard acquired outfielder Jimmy O’Connell. Formerly a rising star with the New York Giants, O’Connell was thrown out of organized ball in 1924 by Commissioner Landis after he admitted to offering an opposing player money to “go easy” in a game against the Giants. O’Connell was at the peak of his talent and was tearing up Copper League pitching at a .450 clip. Sparked by O’Connell’s bat, Ft. Bayard was securely in first place.

Tensions soon arose between Chick Gandil and Jimmy O’Connell. While no one could find fault with O’Connell’s bat, Gandil took exception to what he considered the young star’s poor fielding. Gandil may also have resented O’Connell’s popularity with the fans. While Gandil’s rough demeanor made him fit right in with the hardscrabble mining crowd, O’Connell’s good natured and boyish personality made him unavoidably appealing to everyone who saw him play. Gandil began a relentless campaign of bullying that backfired when the outfielder snapped and literally chased the former boxer out of Ft. Bayard’s ballpark with a baseball bat. Though Ft. Bayard lost their star first baseman, the consensus among the fans was essentially good riddance.

Chick landed on his feet with the Chino Twins. The team was sponsored by the Chino Copper Company and represented two towns, Santa Rita and Hurley, hence the name “Twins.” He immediately led Chino from fifth place to finish in second behind Ft. Bayard. Chick batted a healthy .371 and was named Chino’s manager for the 1927 season. It was reported that Chino had also bolstered their club by acquiring Buck Weaver for the coming campaign.

During the off-season, Chick traveled back to Chicago to join Swede Risberg in giving testimony 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 eventually brushed aside the allegations when no other players would back up Gandil and Risberg. Especially galling to Gandil was Buck Weaver’s refusal to back up the allegations. According to Gandil, he got his revenge by releasing Weaver from his Chino contract. Perhaps fearing for his safety if he tried joining any other Copper league team, Weaver decided to remain in Chicago.

The Twins could have used Buck Weaver as the team had a terrible first half of the split-season, managing just 8 wins against 18 losses. Chick batted a lofty .481 and miraculously turned the ball club around in the second half to finish up 21-10, gaining them a seat in the championship series against Ft. Bayard.

But just as the series was to begin, Chick Gandil disappeared. For unknown reasons, he left not only the team but the whole region of the country. None of the local papers even suggested a reason for Gandil’s abrupt departure and none have surfaced since. Luckily for Chino, Gandil left the club in great shape. The team battled back from a 3 games to 2 deficit to take a doubleheader and the championship. This would be the final season of outlaw ball in the Copper league; the next season the league would become part of the minor league system and join organized baseball in expelling all banished players.

AFTER LEAVING the Southwest, Gandil resumed working as plumber around Berkeley, California. Later he and his wife settled in the Napa Valley. In a 1956 Sports Illustrated interview, Gandil admitted that he and Eddie Cicotte concocted the idea of fixing the 1919 World Series, but that the players double crossed the gamblers and played the series on the level. He stayed out of the spotlight for the rest of his life, emerging only briefly a year before his death in 1970 to grant an interview to Dwight Chapin of the Los Angeles Times. After reiterating his insistence that he and the other seven players tried their best to win, Gandil concluded the interview by declaring, “I’m going to my grave with a clear conscience, you understand?”

 

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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.

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