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Baseball, 'Boardwalk Empire' and Arnold Rothstein

With Boardwalk Empire and Major League Baseball's seasons over, a look at the infamous Black Sox scandal and Arnold Rothstein's part in the big fix.

By Jim Waltzer
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 12, 2011

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Meanwhile, another potential fixer emerged from the ranks: former big-league pitcher “Sleepy” Bill Burns, a man with a mediocre fastball, but an endearing drawl and, more importantly, a buddy of fellow hurler Cicotte’s. For Burns, Gandil upped the ante to $100,000. Burns scouted for cash, but all roads on the money trail led to Arnold Rothstein.

So now, writes author Asinof, “two rival factions were working the same street.”

Rothstein already had taken sufficient measures to secure the fix, but Burns could provide an insurance policy — with no premium payment. Rothstein stocked another member of his entourage, former featherweight boxing champion Abe Attell, with betting money (to be wagered on the National League champion Cincinnati Redlegs, of course) and made the “Little Champ” his emissary to Burns. (Asinof and Pietrusza disagree as to whether Rothstein called the shots in this instance or Attell acted on his own — either way, the intent was to lead Burns on and then stiff him.)

The Sox did tank the Series (after pitcher Cicotte signaled thumbs-up by beaning the Reds’ leadoff hitter in Game One), five games to three (in a best-of-nine Series), though money betrayals and conscience spurred them to play on the level in their three victories. A disgruntled Burns became the prosecution’s star witness in the subsequent beleaguered trial beginning in Illinois State Court in July 1921, but despite his convincing testimony and confessions from three of the Sox conspirators, all of the players and gamblers were exonerated. (The signed confessions had somehow become “unavailable.”)

Regular viewers of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire have seen the character of Arnold Rothstein request that Nucky Thompson, in a quid pro quo, influence the Illinois judge to let him off, but it was Rothstein’s crafty powerful attorney, payoffs to witnesses, and American League President Ban Johnson’s self-interest that, ultimately, kept the Big Bankroll rolling. He was never even indicted. 

When the verdict was handed down, the courtroom erupted as if the White Sox had just won theWorld Series, but the jubilation was short-lived. The next day, newly appointed baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned the Gang of Eight from baseball.
For life.

Skating free per usual, Arnold Rothstein had more fortunes to make. And a rendezvous with a bullet in seven years’ time.

Click here for Atlantic City Weekly's Boardwalk Empire Notes page

Click here to see video from the Boardwalk Empire Season One Premiere Party in Atlantic City

Click here to see video from the Boardwalk Empire Season Two Premiere Party in Atlantic City

Click here to see photos from Season One Premiere Party in Atlantic City

Click here to see photos from Season Two Premiere Party in Atlantic City

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