The 1919 Black Sox Scandal



Baseball became an increasingly integral part of the American landscape in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century. Growth of the sport occurred in conjunction with the rapid industrialization of the United States, the rise of big business, the expansion of the working class, frequent disputes over labor practices and the Progressive reform era, which sought ways to address the challenges of a modern America.

Professional baseball in many ways mirrored the economic and social changes that marked these years. The expansion of the sport, the control leagues gained over destructive competition, and labor issues paralleled the problematic national economy. By the turn of the century, despite considerable complications, baseball had become the sport that symbolized the best of America, just as the Progressives reformers of that era exemplified the country's potential for improvement. The major league players, among the most talented in their craft, emulated the sense of fairness, justice, and hope that permeated the early decades of the twentieth century. Many great baseball players achieved hero status, and few inspired the American spirit more than these stars. It is no surprise that the accusations against certain members of the Chicago White Sox team in 1920s shook the country at its core.


  • Students will examine primary documents and secondary sources to analyze baseball during the second half of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth century.
  • Students will be able to identify the major social and economic trends of the second half of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth century.
  • Students will be able to examine the effects of industrialization and urbanization on popular culture.
  • Students will be engaged in historical research and the critical analysis of the significant social and economic events of this era.

Activity One: Create the Historical Setting

Have the class research the history of baseball. The class will need to understand the following:

  • A brief history of baseball from its origin in the nineteenth century through the 1920s
  • Amateur status
  • Professional status
  • Reserve clause
  • Territorial rights
  • White Sox team

The following sources will be useful for research:

Activity Two: Mock Trial

The historical background and the transcript of the real trial will provide basic information for a reenactment of the 1921 trial.

Divide the following tasks in preparation of the simulation:

The following sites provide background information, the indictment, and the transcript of the trial and analysis of the trial:

Hold a mock trial of the 1921 Black Sox.

Extension Activity: Panel Discussion

Assign topics for the panel discussion to selected students:

  • Implications of the "reserve clause" on professional baseball
  • Implications of "territorial rights" on professional baseball
  • Effects of the rise of monopolies in the last half of the nineteenth century on baseball
  • Effects of the Progressive Era on professional baseball

Have the remainder of the class ask questions following the presentations of the panel.


To what extent does popular culture help us to understand the Progressive era?