Before he became the key figure in the Black Sox scandal, Arnold “Chick” Gandil played a leading role in lifting the Washington Senators to respectability in the American League. While Walter Johnson’s pitching is rightly seen as the most important element of Washington’s rise, Gandil’s bat and glove can’t be overlooked.
From 1912 to 1915, Gandil was the regular first baseman for the Washington Senators, coinciding with the start of Clark Griffith’s tenure as manager and part owner. Gandil hit over .300 his first two seasons and .293 over his four years in Washington. He led the team in RBIs in three of those seasons. Along with slick fielders George McBride at shortstop and Eddie Foster at third, Gandil gave the Nats one of the most sure-handed infields in the A.L. Gandil had the highest fielding percentage among first baseman and led the league in assists at his position three times while with Washington.
When Griffith persuaded team president Thomas Noyes to give Montreal’s minor league team $12,000 along with two fringe players for its first baseman, “the effect of Gandil’s presence with the Senators was magical,” Shirley Povich wrote in his 1954 team history. Griffith put Gandil in the lineup for a May 29 doubleheader in Boston. Although he was 3-for-8 with three RBIs, Boston scored 33 runs and swept. But in the second game of another doubleheader the next day, Gandil was 2-for-3 with a stolen base to back up Walter Johnson’s five-hit shutout. That win started a record 17-game winning streak for the Senators.
Although Gandil wasn’t a power hitter – he hit just two homers in 1912 in the dead-ball era — his 81 RBIs led Washington, which won 91 games and finished second. The Senators finished second again with 90 wins in 1913, when Gandil had his best season at the plate: a .318 average with a career-high 25 doubles and a .363 on-base percentage. Gandil swung one of the league’s heaviest bats, weighing between 53 and 56 ounces.
Gandil first had a salary dispute with White Sox owner Charles Comiskey when he was sent to the minors 10 days before the end of the 1910 season. He and another player argued that they were entitled to their full major-league salary, but their appeal was denied. When he was traded back to Chicago after the 1916 season and helped the Sox win pennants in 1917 and 1919, he was angered when a month was cut off the 1919 season, reducing his $4,000 salary to less than $3,500. According to most accounts (except his own), this led Gandil to recruit several similarly disgruntled teammates to plot with gamblers to throw the World Series.
Before the investigation into the Black Sox scandal had concluded, Comiskey refused to meet Gandil’s salary demand, so Gandil retired rather than leave his California home. After he was banned from organized baseball, he played in an outlaw league in towns along the Mexican-California border. He went to his grave denying he had any part in the World Series plot, although he supposedly received as much as $35,000 for his participation in it.