ROOM 615, BUCKMINSTER HOTEL — This is where the greatest professional sports scandal in American history went down. Bigger than Deflategate. Right in the very spot where I am sitting.
I am talking about the Black Sox scandal of 1919. And I am sitting in the spot where the idea was hatched. Right here in the shadow of the Citgo sign (it wasn't there in 1919). My room is less than 300 feet from the Green Monster, which was part of the landscape in 1919 when Chicago White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil sat with Hub gambler Joseph "Sport" Sullivan and agreed to get some teammates to throw the upcoming World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.
The 1919 White Sox had the American League pennant wrapped up when they came to Boston to play the Red Sox on the weekend of Sept. 19-20 in 1919. The ChiSox were on their way to an 88-52 first-place finish and would be prohibitive favorites in the Fall Classic.
They were also angry with their pennypinching owner, Charles Comiskey. Gamblers had pretty good access to ballplayers in those days and the White Sox were easy prey for the wiseguys who wanted to bet on a rigged game.
"Sport" Sullivan was a Boston-based bookmaker who was considered fairly small-time. But his connections with the White Sox would take him to Arnold Rothstein, a New York kingpin who wound up bankrolling the big fix.
The White Sox, a talented bunch that included Shoeless Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, and 29-game winner Eddie Cicotte, were staying at the Buckminster in September of '19 because they had torn up their Hub hotel (either the Somerset or the Buckingham) on their prior trip to Boston.
Gandil was 31 years old in 1919. According to Eliot Asinof's "Eight Men Out" (later a major motion picture starring Charlie Sheen and John Cusack), Gandil first met Sullivan in a Boston pool hall when Gandil was a young infielder with the Washington Senators. Free drinks and cigars went a long way in those days and Gandil evidently was happy to give his Boston pal tips on upcoming ballgames.
The triangular Buckminster was designed by Stanford White — who designed the Boston Public Library — and built in 1897 on the spot where Brookline Avenue and Beacon Street intersect in Kenmore Square. On the weekend of Sept. 19-20, Sullivan hopped out of a cab on Beacon Street and called Gandil's room from the lobby of the Buckminster.
The White Sox had lost to the Red Sox at seven-year-old Fenway Park that Friday. Cicotte was beaten by Waite Hoyt, who would later be an ace with the 1927 Yankees. On Sept. 20, the ChiSox dropped a doubleheader to Boston. Babe Ruth pitched 5⅓ innings and hit his 27th homer in the first game of the twinbill.
As I sit here typing this history, I am in the parlor room of the 615 suite. It feels like the ghost of Sport Sullivan is staring at me across the small round table situated in front of the twin windows.
According to Asinof, on that fateful day in 1919, the disgruntled Gandil made Sullivan an offer he could not refuse. Speaking of the upcoming World Series against the Reds, Gandil allegedly told Sullivan, "I think we can put it in the bag.''
"His proposition was simple enough,'' wrote Asinof. "He could guarantee to involve a sufficient number of ballplayers to insure the defeat of the highly favored White Sox. He wanted $80,000 cash as payment for their implication.''
That was the beginning. After eight White Sox players took cash to lose, Cincinnati beat Chicago, five games to three (best of nine). Discovery of the fix a year later birthed a scandal that threatened to destroy Major League Baseball. In response, the Lords of the Game summoned Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to restore the trust of the fans. Landis was given sweeping, god-like powers and allowed to make unilateral decisions "in the best interest of baseball.''
Landis was the first sports commissioner. Think about that, Boston fans. Without the Black Sox scandal, there might never have been a Roger Goodell.
Despite the fact that the players were acquitted in court, they were banished for life by Landis in August 1920.
Room 615 (hotel manager Rick Roberto believes this is Gandil's old room, but no one is certain) is a no-smoking room in 2016, but otherwise the 94-room Buckminster seems not to have changed much in the last 97 years. The lobby is small, the upstairs corridors are narrow, and the views of Fenway aren't much different than they were when the mighty Bambino was still playing for the Red Sox.
Ruth was known to hang out at a hotel basement speakeasy that today houses Uno Pizzeria. There's a lobby wall plaque explaining the hotel's role in sports infamy. A framed 1920 Boston Post account of the scandal adorns the adjacent Fenmore Grill.
There's also a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen franchise on the Brookline Avenue side of the hotel. It's the shop that contributed poultry product to the Red Sox clubhouse during the Chicken and Beer implosion of 2011.
From Eight Men Out to Eight Men Ordering Out, the Buckminster still stands.