Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out

With their World Series drought at 103 years—and clearly headed to 104—pretty much any book on the Cubs is about losing baseball. But the best read about local losers is actually a south-side story—sorry, Sox fans. Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series is a riveting piece of investigative journalism showing how the enormously talented White Sox squad of .351 hitter Shoeless Joe Jackson and 29-game-winner Eddie Cicotte threw enough of the Series to lose it to Cincinnati. “There was a growing mythology about this great team; the public had placed a stamp of invincibility on it,” Asinof writes. “These were the big-city boys coming down to show the small-towners how the game should be played.” Yet eight Sox, embittered by their low wages, started talking with gamblers, and before it was over they’d blown it for cash. The story has been told many times by now, including in a fine movie version of Asinof’s book, and critics have speculated that the absence of footnotes in the book means Asinof filled in blanks he couldn’t substantiate through research. But 48 years after its publication, Eight Men Out remains the definitive account of the scandal. It’s about more than baseball—it offers a fascinating glimpse into the nation’s culture, economy, politics, and morals of the time, showing, among other things, the power of gambling interests and their close ties to the game before club owners were forced to clean up its image. Sox diehards might be comforted to know that Asinof found evidence suggesting the Cubs threw some games in 1919 and 1920, for example, and he may not have uncovered the half of it: in a 1920 court deposition released this spring by the Chicago History Museum, Cicotte hinted that the idea of throwing the 1919 Series had come from the north-siders, who’d dropped the 1918 Series to Boston. —Mick Dumke