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1919 White Sox scandal: Artist brings Black Sox back to life

An art show opening this weekend in Chicago presents a different view of the incident that rocked baseball.

“The Winning Run”
Courtesy of Thom Ross Art

All of the people involved in the White Sox fixing the 1919 World Series are long gone.

Though nearly 100 years have passed since one of the most infamous incidents in baseball history, a San Francisco native is looking to provide a new perspective on the characters involved.

Thom Ross, an artist and avid baseball fan, will be opening an exhibit from Sunday to July 21 at the Beverly Arts Center (2407 W. 111st St.) to tell the scandal’s story — through his paintings — of a World Series that earned the Sox the nickname “Black Sox” while trying to focus on the humanity of those involved.

”The stories are so good because they transcend baseball, they’re bigger than baseball,” Ross said. “They are about human frailty and human morality.”

Outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson, infielder Buck Weaver, pitcher Eddie Cicotte and owner Charles Comiskey are among those depicted in the artwork. To Ross, the 1919 Black Sox scandal has many similarities to tales from the wild west — exploring the theme of good vs. evil.

But he wanted to humanize the villains, specifically the Sox players who conspired to throw the Series and were banned from major-league baseball — though they were acquitted of all charges in court — and Comiskey, who has been blamed for forcing his players to go to such lengths because of his stinginess. This despite the fact that the 1919 White Sox’ payroll was third-highest in the American League behind the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

”Everyone always hates the boss,” Ross said. “When you blame Comiskey, it gives those eight guys a reason to get off the hook in a way we can all relate to. It’s a myth that was created to forgive those eight guys. I think that dumps on Comiskey and I don’t think he deserves that.”

“Betrayed - Kid Gleason”
Courtesy of Thom Ross Art

One of Ross’ favorite pieces from the 73 paintings is titled “Betrayal.” The painting shows Kid Gleason, the Sox’ manager from 1919-1923, sitting on the bench alone with his hands covering his face.

”Betrayal, if I’m your friend and I don’t kill you, but I betray you, that to me is a crime,” Ross said. “It’s one of the worst. It’s almost like Oedipus with the son betraying the father.”

While Ross isn’t trying to take the players off the hook for their roles in the incident, he doesn’t want to condemn their characters. He understands that the root of the scandal lies in human nature and natural sin, which he plans to display during the art show.

Ross plans to staple fake money to the ceiling, just out of the reach of the people who come to the show, whose natural impulse will be to reach for the cash even though they know it’s fake.

”Whatever impulse they have to do something that ridiculous is not far from most people in their daily lives,” Ross said. “It’s not about good guy vs. bad guy. All you have to do is look in the mirror and you’ll see Joe Jackson, you’ll see Buck Weaver and you’ll see Al Capone because we’re all human beings and we’re all capable of doing something just like that.”

Details:

  • Where: Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111st St., Chicago
  • When: Sunday through July 21
  • What: Exhibit of 73 Thom Ross paintings and 37 pieces of memorabilia from the 1919 World Series.
  • Website: https://www.thomrossart.com/black-sox-series/