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Original Issue


In 1963 Holt, Rinehart and Winston published a book called Eight Men Out, by Eliot Asinof, about the fixing of the 1919 World Series by the Chicago White Sox. It was hailed by this magazine, among others, as a pioneer work; Asinof's persevering research in the face of considerable obstacles changed the public's perception of that tragic event. Among the difficulties Asinof overcame were the conspiracy of silence maintained by almost all of the principals until they died and the destruction of the state's evidence used at the trial, a turn of events that to this day has never really been investigated.

Now comes Hoopla, by Harry Stein (Alfred A. Knopf, $14.95), billed by the publisher as "a tapestry of fact and fiction"—a style that, deplorably, seems to be growing in popularity—which deals with the Black Sox scandal and other matters that led to "the end of an era of innocence." I've never been able to follow the thinking that prompts a later generation to look back smugly on a major tragedy—a war or, in this case, a grave betrayal—and proclaim it the end of innocence and the start of an era of great public enlightenment and sophistication. And it simply isn't true about the Black Sox and the Series fix. There will always be a small boy somewhere who will plead, "Say it ain't so, Joe" when his sports idol is caught in some kind of dirty business, but that isn't the end of even his innocence, let alone the rest of the nation's.

Stein, who formerly wrote the "Ethics" column in Esquire magazine, has chosen to tell his story in the words of two men, one a fictional newspaperman called Luther Pond and the other a real-life shortstop and third baseman for the 1919 Sox, George (Buck) Weaver. Pond writes a chapter, mixing fiction and fact, and then Weaver writes a chapter, presumably factual, but because he died in 1956 it's really what Stein thinks Weaver would have written and therefore is at least semifictional. Why Stein chose Weaver is difficult to understand. Weaver merely knew about the fix and, unlike seven of his teammates, never took part in it; he played to win. He had no dealings with the gamblers and never received any money from them. His version of the affair would be mostly hearsay, and his words in this book are secondhand hearsay because they are Stein's version of Weaver's version. Pond being fictitious, you are on your own for a description of what his version is.

One obvious problem with a book like this about an actual event is in trying to distinguish what is fact and what isn't. And when an item offered as fact turns out not to be true or to be in doubt, it casts suspicion on all the rest of the supposed facts in the book. In the first chapter—36 pages by Pond on the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries fight of 1910 (there's barely a mention of the Black Sox scandal until page 270 and then only four pages on the Series itself)—Pond says promoter Tex Rickard was so distressed at the racial disturbances the fight created that he never again promoted a fight between a black man and a white man. But he did. Rickard, more famous a promoter in his day than Don King is now, continued to put on fights for more than 20 years after that, both as an independent and as Madison Square Garden's promoter from 1920 to 1929. Many of the Garden bouts in that period were indeed between blacks and whites.

If Pond's career is, admittedly, fictional, his account of it strains credulity. In his own words, he comes across as a simp, if not a wimp. Why newspaper tycoons William Randolph Hearst and Joe Patterson would compete for his services is utterly baffling. After Pond's first, accidental meeting with Hearst, in which Pond sounded and behaved like an idiot, a real-life Hearst probably would have fired him instead of turning over the front page of his New York newspaper to him, which Hearst does in the book on a regular basis.

Knopf's advance promotion of the book asks, " and why did the eight Chicago White Sox players decide to throw the series? And how did it all come to light?" and then asserts, "Hoopla shows us how...." I don't believe it does. If you want all the answers—and I bet you don't have 'em (Did you know, just as an example, that at their trial all the players were acquitted?)—go to the library and get out Asinof's excellent book.