Why the Black Sox?

On p. 39 of Freakonomics, we make a passing reference to the Chicago Black Sox, the name given to the Chicago White Sox after eight players were found to have colluded with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series. A reader recently wrote: “The 1919 white sox were not known as the black sox because they threw the world series. They were called that because their owner (whose name i do not have) was too stingy to have their uniforms cleaned regularly so that they frequently showed up on the diamond in dirty uniforms. You’re welcome.”

This was in fact the second reader to write with this same correction. We had asked the first reader for his source and that first reader said he thought he heard it once on ESPN, but couldn’t be sure. After receiving this second e-mail, I decided to investigate. Here is my reply to reader No. 2:

“I looked into the Black Sox thing. It is true that the Wikipedia entry says this: Although many believe the Black Sox name to be related to the dark and corrupt nature of the consipiracy, the term Black Sox had already existed before the fix was investigated. The name Black Sox was given because parsimonious owner Charles Comiskey refused to pay for the players’ uniforms to be laundered, instead insisting that the players themselves pay for the cleaning. The players refused, and the subsequent series of games saw the White Sox play in progressivly dirtier uniforms, as dust, sweat, and grime collected on the white, woollen uniforms until they took on a much darker shade. (does anyone have proof of this? sounds like urban legend to me)

Two things to say about this. 1) The parenthetical phrase at the end was just added — by me. 2) In other words, let’s remember that Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that anyone can contribute to. Whatever they want, whenever they want.

Here’s a more reliable source: Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series, by Eliot Asinof (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963). On p. 21, Asinof writes that White Sox owner Charles Comiskey was indeed cheap when it came to his players: ‘His generosity here [with reporters] was unmatched. Yet his great ball club might run out on the field in the filthiest uniforms the fans had ever seen: Comiskey had given orders to cut down on the cleaning bills.’

So is it possible that the White Sox were known, even slightly or colloquially, as the Black Sox before the 1919 scandal?

Sure, it’s possible, but Asinof makes no such insinuation throughout the book. In fact, once you get past the book’s opening pages, I didn’t find the words ”Black Sox’ until p. 197, where Asinof writes of the aftermath of the World Series scandal: ‘As the impact of the confessions sank in, the American people were at first shocked, then sickened. There was hardly a major newspaper that did not cry out its condemnation and despair. Henceforth, the ballplayers involved were called the Black Sox.’

Note the key word: henceforth. Is it possible that Asinof was wrong? Sure. But his book is a good one, commonly accepted as the definitive biography of the affair. I don’t feel compelled to check this out further until someone comes up with contrary evidence that’s more reliable than Wikipedia. But if you do, I’ll be happy to research further, or make a change in the paperback of Freakonomics.”

So please, dear blog readers: let us know if we’re right or wrong re the Black Sox. We’ll be a little sad to have been wrong, but a lot happy to correct the mistake in the paperback. A Freakonomics t-shirt goes to the first person who offers hard evidence of the dirty-socks theory.


The Dirty Sox story is in episode three of "Baseball" a film by Ken Burns, . So, send Mr. Burns (the filmmaker, not the cartoon industrialist.) the T-shirt.


<a href="http://www.1919blacksox.com/faqs.htm#startahttp://www.1919blacksox.com/faqs.htm#starta<br />http://www.blackbetsy.com/jjfaq.htm


mikek and gt are presenting assertions not evidence. No T-shirts. Just because Ken Burns claims it in a film, or some fan site asserts it, doesn't make it so.This leaves open an interesting question: what qualifies as evidence for the dirty socks => black sox theory? How about these?A citation using the phrase before the World Series.A well attributed citation quoting someone with reasonably direct knowledge of the events, reminescess of a player, sportswriter, or reliable fan.A considerable body of second-hand testimonies of people who heard directly from people in the previous list.Others?


Either way, they won today.


I don't remember ever reading that dirty uniforms were the cause for the Black Sox name. It doesn't make sense unless some reporter in 1919 had it in for Cominsky and wanted to embarass him in print. If that's the case, the reporter was probably a Cubs beat reporter. The two facts (dirty uniforms and World Series cheating) probably merged after it became known they threw the series. One headline probably sealed forever the Black Sox moniker. But maybe Kevin Kostner knows better.

Peter Sattler

Sherman Dorn

Unfortunately, the only paper I have easy access to an historical index for is the New York Times, whose terms would change much later than the Chicago papers. There was a New York Black Sox team playing as early as 1910, what I'm fairly sure was an African-American team (see the issues of June 24, 1910, p. 11; July 11, p. 8; September 2, p. 10; September 4, p. C7). So the term predates both the scandal and probably the claims about Comiskey's stinginess and uniforms.The first reference to the Chicago "Black Sox" in the Times is in the March 21, 1921, issue (p. 6), which mentions the postponement of the trial.


The best two ways to check out this story is:1 - find archived copies of The Sporting News for 19192 - find archived stories in Chicago newspapers of 1919.It is not important enough of an issue for me to do the work.Bob J

John N

I'd like to point out that the Wikipedia does usually get it right, or is always in the process of getting it right, partly through vigilance like yours and their "cite sources" and "no original research" principles. Maybe you're not a regular wikipedian, and so you think that since you caught this error, nobody else would have. This is possible. But wikipedia writers challenge each other to produce evidence for assertions all the time, and I suspect it would have been vetted eventually.What you should do is just go and delete that paragraph and say why on the discussion page. If someone finds proof, it can be restored.

John N

...and, Mike, the cartoon industrialist is "Montgomery Burns." (see how communal knowledge is produced? :-)


So tell me, Ray - have you seen the film? Granted, it's been a while since I've seen it, but he uses original sources. I'm wondering why a newspaper counts as authoritative, whereas a documentary filmmaker does not.


By all means, let's check the Tribune for that time period, because we all know how authoritative that newspaper is. Isn't that what we're getting at here, ladies?

the mtb investor

Straight off of the Chicago White Sox homepage...* Though cleared in a court of law of any wrongdoing, the eight players were banned from baseball for life in 1921 and the 1919 White Sox became forever known as the "Black Sox."http://chicago.whitesox.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/cws/history/cws_history_timeline_article.jsp?article=2It appears that the term "Black Sox" was coined after the trial. Not from the marketing ploy of some Chicago Dry Cleaner !Books on the Chicago Black Sox (at Amazon.com)& Chicago White "Black" Sox Gear (at Amazon.com)


Peter Sattler

Like folks higher in the list, I have been unable to find any evidence of the "laundry" theory of Chicago's "Black Sox."

Anyone searching for that term, however, will find references to various semi-pro and colored teams. These teams include an earlier Chicago Black Sox, the Calgary Black Sox (later reorganized as the Chicago Grey Sox!), and the Baltimore Black Sox. That last team in the list -- a colored team -- made numerous headlines across the country during the same period as the "Black Sox" scandal: "TRIPLE PLAY AS BLACK SOX SCORE” (The Washington Post, July 13, 1920, p. 12).

But for the filthy White Sox, I can find no reference earlier than Oct 4, 1920: "Harvey McClellan, who is taking 'Swede' Risberg's place as White Sox shortstop, declared tonight that he and Byrd Lynn saw the 'black' Sox throw away three games at Boston on the last trip east" ("Sox Player Charges Three Games Thrown in Boston," Chicago Tribune, p. 19). Clearly, though, the moniker predates this example.

From that point on -- especially in 1921 and beyond -- the references multiply.

Good searching,



No, I did not provide evidence, I did cite a source that might explain the vague memories folks have of having heard the Dirty Laundry story. This is why I suggest that a t-shirt be sent to him, not myself. I referred to Ken Burns as "Mr. Burns". Both Ken and Montgomery are Misters Burns thus the excuse for a cheeky clarification.


The first reference to the "black" Sox players in the Chicago Tribune is from October 4, 1920. Harvey McClellan said he and Byrd Lynn "saw the 'black' Sox throw away three games at Boston on last trip east."


D'oh--Peter Sattler wrote the same thing one hour earlier.


How about the Chicago Historical Society as a source?http://www.chicagohs.org/history/blacksox.html


Is the question, why are they called the Black Sox or what was the original source of the term Black Sox?Almost certainly, for the past 85 years, most people saying Black Sox were referring to the scandal. That's why I've called them the Black Sox -- I had never heard the uniform story.What's the meaning of the earliest uses of the term? Does it matter?


This article says the black sox are just the 8 players who threw the gamehttp://www.sportingnews.com/archives/worldseries/1919.html