1919 Chick Gandil Signed Chicago White Sox Contract

Sold For: $44,438

Auction Year: 2012 spring

Lot: 11

Item Year: 1919

Category: Autographed Baseballs/Flats/Photos

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One can rightfully argue that the events that unfolded in the fall of 1919, when eight members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to "throw" the World Series, can all be traced back to this historic document: Chick Gandil's 1919 Chicago White Sox contract. Its historical significance notwithstanding, this piece also has a remarkable provenance: It originates from Bill Veeck's wife, Mary Francis, and is accompanied by a signed one-page letter of provenance from her detailing its history. (Veeck purchased the White Sox in 1958 from the Comiskey family.)

Chick Gandil was the ringleader of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal and some might say that this contract was tantamount to a deal with the devil, seeing as how Gandil's salary for the season amounted to $666 per month. While Gandil's actions were reprehensible, they were ultimately born out of frustration at White Sox owner Charles Comiskey's penurious ways. It was common knowledge that the White Sox players, many of whom were the top players at their respective positions, were, on average, among the lowest-paid players in the league. In that regard, a strong case can be made that Comiskey himself was indirectly responsible for contributing to and planting the seeds of the infamous "Black Sox Scandal," though no one would argue that Comiskey's frugality exonerates the conspirators for their nefarious actions.

The four-page fold-over contract, dated January 20, 1919, between Chick Gandil and the American League Base Ball Club of Chicago, has been signed in black fountain pen by "Chick Gandil" (grading "10") and "Chas. A. Comiskey" ("9"), owner of the Chicago White Sox. It is also signed in black fountain pen ("9") by Ban Johnson in his capacity as American League president. The one-year agreement calls for Gandil to receive a monthly salary of $400, plus an additional monthly bonus of $266.66, for a total monthly salary of $666.66 for the season. Based upon a six-month season, that salary amounts to just under $4,000 a year.

What is both interesting and ironic, and perhaps a foreshadow of things to come, is the manner in which Gandil has chosen to sign his name. Instead of signing straight across on the dotted line, he has scripted his name at a pronounced vertical angle, one might even say "crooked," so that it not only intersects the appropriate dotted line, but also touches upon Comiskey's signature. Given the haphazard manner in which he signed, it might have even been an early sign of indignation at what he considered to be a sub-par salary. Because the salary records for teams at that time are incomplete, we cannot compare Gandil's yearly salary with each of the other starting first basemen in the major leagues. However, given what we do know, Gandil would have been justified in feeling slighted by the offer. In 1918, Stuffy McInnis, first baseman for the Red Sox, received a $5,000 yearly salary and in 1912 and 1913 first baseman Hal Chase was paid $8,000 and $6,000 a year, respectively, by the New York Yankees. Jake Daubert, who was the opposing first baseman for the Reds in the 1919 World Series, and, admittedly a better player than Gandil, earned a yearly salary of $9,000 from Brooklyn in 1918.

Adding to Gandil's resentment of management was the fact that he, as well as a number of other players on the team, felt that Comiskey financially favored the better educated members of the White Sox, such as Eddie Collins and Ray Schalk. In time, this divided the clubhouse, with Gandil eventually emerging as the leader of a clique that included Buck Weaver, Swede Risberg, and other players who later took part in the conspiracy. As the 1919 Series approached, Gandil made it known in gambling circles that certain members of the White Sox could be bought for the right amount, thought to be between $80,000 and $100,000 at the time. To guarantee results, Gandil recruited a number of key players on the team to take part in the conspiracy: pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams, shortstop Swede Risberg, and outfielders Joe Jackson and Hap Felsch. Utility infielder Fred McMullin demanded to be included once he learned of the deal, but Buck Weaver, who was initially recruited and stood witness to the affair, later declined to take part. With the necessary players lined up, the heavily favored White Sox then proceeded to shock the baseball world by losing to the Reds in eight games. Unfortunately for Gandil and the other conspirators, they were double-crossed by their underworld partners and never received the full amount promised. While no one knows the exact amounts received by each player, it is believe that Gandil received about $35,000 for his lack of effort in the Series. With the cash in hand and rumors already circulating during the off season of a "fix," it was not surprising that Gandil did not report to spring training in 1920 but instead unofficially retired. His official retirement came one year later, when he, along with Cicotte, William, Jackson, Felsch, Weaver, Risberg, and McMullin, was permanently banned from baseball by newly appointed baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Gandil's signature, like most of the other eight 1919 "Black Sox" conspirators, is rare in any form, let alone on his 1919 White Sox contract. This is, without a doubt, not only the most desirable Chick Gandil signed item imaginable, but one of the most historically significant 1919 "Black Sox" related items of any kind in existence. Because of the lore of the 1919 scandal and its cultural and historical importance, this is a rare museum-caliber piece that would be equally at home on display at either the Baseball Hall of Fame or the Smithsonian Institute. The contract (8 x 13.5 inches) displays a vertical and two horizontal folds, as well as a number of staple holes in the upper left corner, to which there are a number of small tears. A small, illegible ink notation appears at the top of the first page. In Very Good to Excellent condition overall. Matted and framed, with Plexiglas on each side so all of the pages can be viewed in their entirety, to total dimensions of 14.5 x 34 inches. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $44,438

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