Last night the television decided I needed to know more about the Black Sox scandal because after Field of Dreams for the first time, hubby and I found Eight Men Out while flipping through the channels. Both films feature the 1919 White Sox who were disgraced after it was discovered they agreed to throw the World Series for a payoff from gamblers after being fed up by their owner’s cheapness and broken promises. Those involved, including the legendary “Shoeless” Joe, were banned from baseball. While in Field of Dreams, their story is less central to the plot, Eight Men Out follows the team from pennant win to their disgraceful banishment from the sport they loved, despite never being convicted by the courts.
The film has a strong cast with John Cusack as Buck Weaver, the only one of the eight that did not accept money from the gamblers but was still banned for knowing about the fix and not reporting his teammates. His struggle as he is trapped between being loyal to his teammate versus “doing the right thing” by turning them in. He knows exposing the truth will not only destroy his teammates’ careers but break the hearts of the fans and tarnish baseball’s reputation. He tries to play the best he can and hopes that his teammates will change their minds, but they are all in too deep and Weaver ends up losing everything in the process.
The real bad guy here is owner Charles Comisky who took advantage of this team, making them vulnerable to the gamblers’ offer. Early in the film, pitcher Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn) is upset when his promised bonus for winning thirty games is again being thwarted by management. It has been theorized that when Cicotte approached 30 wins, he would be benched for the rest of the season to avoid rewarding him as promised. Years before the scandal, the team was known as the Black Sox when management started charging players for laundering their uniforms and the players protested, causing their white uniforms to become dirty (black) over time. In the film, the team is rewarded for winning the pennant with champagne in the locker room but are disheartened to learn this is the bonus they were promised for a good season. Cicotte pops the cork and discovers the champagne is flat. This mistreatment allows player Chick Gandil (Michael Rooker), the White Sox who organized the fix, an easier sell. These guys weren’t the multi-millionaires their present day counterparts are. Year after year they helped others get rich while they received meager salaries.
However, the things do not go according to plan. The players do not get their money as promised and midway through the series decided to play fairly. But they have done business with some dangerous individuals. Pitcher Lefty Williams (James Read) is threatened by one of the gamblers, who promises his wife will be killed if he doesn’t pitch poorly enough to be thrown out in the first inning.
While Weaver is portrayed as the biggest victim in this story, many find “Shoeless” Joe Jackson to have been unfairly banned. One of baseball’s best players of his age, many feel that the illiterate Jackson did not have the intelligence to understand exactly what was going on. While he accepted money (unlike Weaver), he played well during the series, not making the errors that those more involved with the fix made. To me, one of the saddest parts of the story is how clueless coach Kid Gleason (John Mahoney) was during all of it. He was helpless to stop Comisky’s penny pinching and most likely felt betrayed by his boys after defending them to the press.
Eight Men Out is a very engaging telling of one of the darkest events in baseball history. You really want to reach into the screen and stop them from ruining their lives, but you can’t and it’s a sad reminder that you there is no changing the past.