Monday, May 28, 2012

29/50x2: Eight Men Out

I had heard about this scandal for years, and it is sort of depicted in a small way in Field of Dreams but here we get an entire movie about it.

Warning: Filled with spoilers, obviously.

In 1919 the Chicago White Sox were quite possibly the greatest baseball team ever assembled, especially at that point in time. Eight Men Out shows that some of the players on the team agree to fix the World Series of that year and allow the Cincinnati Reds to win in order to make extra money.

The team is owned by Charles Comiskey (Clifton James), who is notoriously cheap when it comes to his players and rewarding them for their strong play. A few gambling men, Arnold Rothstein (Michael Lerner) and Bill Burns (Christopher Lloyd), agree to pay a few of the players more than they would make if they won the World Series to throw it - and thus the fix was in.

Star, but aging, pitcher Eddie Cicotte (David Stratharn) agrees to the fix and, although he had won 29 games during the year, loses his first two starts of the World Series. Other players like Lefty Williams (James Read), Swede Risberg (Don Harvey), Hap Felsch (Charlie Sheen) and Chick Gandil (Michael Rooker) are also along with the fix.

Cicotte's mind was easily made up after he was benched for rest the final two weeks of the season upon winning his 29th game. Cicotte had a clause in his contract that would have awarded him $10,000 if he won 30 games, but Comiskey ordered him to sit and thus allowing him not to pay Cicotte the bonus.

But, eight men in all are said to be included in the scam, including Buck Weaver (John Cusack) and Shoeless Joe Jackson (D.B. Sweeney). The White Sox lose the series to the Reds, five game to three, and at the conclusion the newspaper reveals that the series may not have been played on the level - thus beginning a search of the team and an eventual trial.

Players Williams and Cicotte sign confessions, and Jackson signs one as well despite not knowing what he was signing due to his inability to read. Weaver, however, maintains that he was never in on the fix and all of the players fight the accusations.

Though found not guilty the eight players are banned from ever playing professional baseball again. Weaver, though, continued to fight for his reinstatement up to his death in 1956.

This was an interesting telling of the story, one that obviously has many different points and sides to it. This story points to Comiskey as the villain - and we all know that despite their large salaries the real money makers in professional sports continue to be the owners.

The story mostly focuses on Weaver and Cicotte with a bit of Jackson and his homelife thrown in as well. The others that are part of the scandal are mostly window dressing, though we see players like Gandil being one of the main ringleaders.

I am not 100 percent sure how accurate the portrayals are of the athletes, but I found it interesting that Jackson was unable to read and really played up to be a simple person who really just loved playing baseball and that was all that he knew - and because of that was taken advantage of in situations.

It was a very fascinating depiction, though we don't really get an answer to the tale - but that isn't the filmmakers fault, because honestly there is no true answer. We do know that some of the players were in on the fix, but how many and who will always be a mystery.


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