Charles Fountain, “The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball”

Gambling and sports have been in the news lately in the US. Authorities in Nevada and New York have shut down the fantasy sports operators DraftKings and FanDuel in their states, judging that their daily fantasy games constitute illegal gambling. Both companies had already come under scrutiny this past October, when news broke that their employees were scoring among the top money-winners each week. Is fantasy fixed? Or do all players have a fair chance of winning? State officials across the U.S. are deliberating whether this new variety of sports-related betting represents contests of skill and research, like investing in promising stocks, or illegal games of chance.

Wagers have always been a part of modern sports. In fact, many aspects of what makes our games modern – uniform rules, standardized playing spaces and equipment, the authority of governing bodies – were developed in order to ensure a fair bet. As Charles Fountain shows in his book The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball (Oxford UP, 2015), gamblers were a constant presence around organized baseball from its start, so much so that a common term in baseball vernacular of the 1800s was “hippodroming,” a word used to describe a game whose results had been pre-arranged. Chuck points out that when rumors of a fix began to swirl around the 1919 World Series, it was nothing new or unusual. And when the rumors were revealed as true, it was thanks not so much to a principled effort to clean up the game but to the personal feud between White Sox owner Charles Comiskey and Ban Johnson, the president of the American League. But no matter how the news broke, the Black Sox scandal had a decisive influence on baseball and – as this new history shows – a lasting legacy in American popular culture.

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