Prior to his infamous involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, Chick Gandil was one of the most highly-regarded first basemen in the American League, both for his play on the field and his solid work ethic. In 1916, a Cleveland newspaper described Gandil as "a most likeable player, and one of excellent habits." From 1912 to 1915, the right-handed Gandil starred for the Washington Senators, leading the club in runs batted in three times and batting .293. In the field Gandil paced American League first sackers in fielding percentage four times and assists three times. He continued his strong work with the Chicago White Sox from 1917 to 1919, helping the club to two American League pennants before forever tarnishing his legacy by helping to fix the 1919 World Series. Yet Gandil may have been the only banished player who gained more than he lost from the fix. Following the 1919 Series, the first baseman retired from major league baseball, reportedly taking $35,000 in cash with him.
Arnold Gandil was born on January 19, 1887 in St. Paul, Minnesota, the only child of Christian and Louise Bechel Gandil. The family relocated to Berkeley, California, where Gandil was raised. As a youngster, Gandil loved baseball, splitting his time between pitcher, catcher, and the outfield. By all accounts he was a problem child, and after two years at Oakland High School Gandil left home to make it on his own.
After playing some semipro ball in Los Angeles, Fresno, and Amarillo, Texas, Gandil migrated in 1907 to Humboldt, Arizona, and became the catcher for a semipro team sponsored by the local copper smelter. The club experienced financial problems, however, and Gandil moved on to a team in Cananea, Mexico, 40 miles from the U.S. border. It was with Cananea that Gandil became a first baseman. In addition to his employment as a baseball player, Gandil worked as a boilermaker in the rugged copper mines. He also did a bit of professional boxing, reportedly receiving $150 per bout. The year before Gandil's arrival, the mine in which he worked had been the site of one of history's most famous labor battles, with the Mexican Army and Arizona Rangers bloodily suppressing a workers' uprising at the behest of the American-owned mining company -- an incident which many historians consider the first battle of the Mexican Revolution.
Gandil made his debut in organized baseball in 1908, the same year he married Laura Kelly. He spent the season with Shreveport (Louisiana) in the Texas League, batting a solid .269. After the season he was drafted by the St. Louis Browns, but failed to make the club the following year. The Browns ordered him back to Shreveport, but Gandil refused to report, instead joining the Fresno team in the outlaw California State League. Faced with being blacklisted by organized baseball, Gandil joined Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League for the 1909 season. He was soon arrested for absconding with $225 from the Fresno team coffers, but had good success in Sacramento, batting .282. Late in the season he was sold to the Chicago White Sox, but wasn't required to report until the following season.
Gandil's rookie season was by far the worst of his career. As a part-time performer, he appeared in 77 games, hitting an anemic .193. Reportedly, he had trouble hitting major league curveballs. In 1911 Gandil was sold to Montreal in the Eastern League, and he responded with a solid season, batting .304. Following the season several major league clubs wanted to draft him, but the rules at the time stated that only one player could be drafted from each team, so Gandil returned to Montreal to begin the 1912 season.
Gandil got off to a solid start with Montreal in 1912, batting .309 in 29 games, after which he was sold to the Washington Senators. This time the big first sacker was ready for the major leagues, and in 117 games with Washington he hit .305 and led American League first basemen in fielding percentage.
Gandil was highly regarded by Washington. In 1914 Senators manager Clark Griffith wrote, "He proved to be 'The Missing Link' needed to round out my infield. We won seventeen straight games after he joined the club, which shows that we must have been strengthened a good bit somewhere. I class Gandil ahead of McInnes [sic] as he has a greater range in scooping up throws to the bag and is just as good a batsman."
Gandil continued to perform well with Washington both at bat and in the field. In 1913 he hit for a career high average of .318. He was also tough and durable, averaging 143 games during his three full seasons with Washington, despite knee problems which haunted him throughout his career. When asked by a reporter after the 1912 season what was his greatest asset, he replied "plenty of grit." He reportedly used the heaviest lumber in the American League, as his bats weighed between 53 and 56 ounces.
Gandil was sold to Cleveland before the 1916 season for a reported price of $5,000. One of the main reasons for the sale was supposedly the fact that Gandil was a chain smoker, occasionally lighting up between innings, which annoyed Griffith. In any event, the Indians also picked up Tris Speaker for that season, and things were looking bright in Cleveland. Although the Indians only climbed from seventh place to sixth, the team won 20 more games than the previous season, reaching the .500 mark. Gandil was unspectacular, batting only .259.
In March of 1917, Gandil was sold to his original major league team, the Chicago White Sox. A headline in the Chicago Tribune prophetically announced: "GET YOUR SEAT FOR '17 SERIES! WHITE SOX PURCHASE GANDIL." Manager Pants Rowland pushed Sox owner Charles Comiskey to make the deal, and Tribune writer John Alcock described Gandil as "the ideal type of athlete--a fighter on the field, a player who never quits under the most discouraging circumstances, and so game that he is one of the most dangerous batters in the league when a hit means a ball game."
Gandil appeared in 149 games for the 1917 World Champion White Sox, batting .273 with little power. He then hit .261 in the Series win over New York, leading the team with 5 RBI. Exempt from the draft because he had a wife and daughter, Gandil had a similar year in the war-shortened 1918 season, as the White Sox slumped to sixth place.
In 1919 the owners, fearing a continued slump in attendance, cut back on costs whereever possible, especially salaries. Given that Comiskey was miserly with his players under the best of circumstances, and that the Chicago team was rife with internal dissension, the atmosphere in the clubhouse was far from happy. Meanwhile, attendance was booming, and the players asked manager Kid Gleason to demand raises from Comiskey. The tight-fisted owner refused to even discuss the subject, and the players grew more discontented.
No one knows the full story of the Black Sox scandal--few of the participants were willing to talk, and the whole plot was confused and poorly managed. But by all accounts Gandil, furious with Comiskey's miserly ways, was one of the ringleaders. Most accounts agree that it was Gandil who approached gambler Sport Sullivan with the idea of fixing the Series, and that he also served as the players' liaison with a second gambling syndicate that included Bill Burns (a former teammate of Gandil's) and Abe Attell. Chick was also the go-between for all payments, and reportedly kept the lion's share of the money. Though none of the other fixers took home more than $10,000 from the gamblers, Gandil reportedly pocketed $35,000 in payoffs.
Interestingly, Gandil had a reasonably good Series. Although he hit only .233, that was the fourth best average among Sox regulars. He was second on the team with five RBI, and he had one game-winning hit. However, he made several suspicious plays in the field, and all but one of his seven hits came in games the fixers were trying to win, or in which they were already losing comfortably. Rumors of a Series fix began to circulate, with Gandil's name prominently mentioned.
The next spring Gandil demanded a raise to $10,000 per year. When Comiskey balked, Gandil and his wife decided to remain in California. Flush with his financial windfall from the Series, Gandil announced his retirement from the majors, instead spending the season with outlaw teams in St. Anthony, Idaho, and Bakersfield, California. Thus Gandil was far away from the scene as investigations into the 1919 World Series began during the fall of 1920.
Following the players' acquittal on conspiracy charges in August, 1921, Gandil said, "I guess that'll learn Ban Johnson he can't frame an honest bunch of ball players." However, the players' joy was short lived, as Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis announced that the eight Black Sox were permanently expelled from baseball.
Gandil, who had retired from the major leagues anyway, continued to play baseball after his expulsion. A month after the trial he was in contact with Joe Gedeon, Swede Risberg, Joe Jackson and Fred McMullin, attempting to put together a team in Southern California. In 1925 Gandil played with Hal Chase and other banished players in the Frontier League in Douglas, Arizona. In 1926 and '27 he ended his playing career with semipro clubs in the copper mining towns of Bayard and Hurley, New Mexico.
In 1952, Gandil and his wife moved to Calistoga, California, in the Napa Valley, where he worked as a plumber. He had carbuncles, and the town's mud baths and mineral springs aided his health. To the end of his life, Gandil denied any role in fixing the 1919 World Series. In a 1956 Sports Illustrated article, he told writer Mel Durslag that the players had planned to fix the Series, but abandoned the scheme when rumors began to circulate. In an interview with Dwight Chapin, published in the Los Angeles Times on August 14, 1969, Gandil again denied that he threw the Series, stating, "I'm going to my grave with a clear conscience."
Chick Gandil died at age 83 in Calistoga on December 13, 1970, and was buried in St. Helena Cemetery in the nearby town of the same name. The cause of death was listed as cardiac failure. People in town had no idea of his fame, and his death only reached the sports wires due to the efforts of SABR co-founder Tom Hufford.
This biography originally appeared in David Jones, ed., Deadball Stars of the American League (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, Inc., 2006).