Chicago Black Sox Scandal
This article appeared freely on the Internet at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Rothstein on June 26, 1998 and is archived here only for research, scholarship, education, and personal use for those previously requesting to study it in accordance with the “fair use” provision of the U.S. Copyright Law Title 17 Section 107.
Owner of Chicago Black Sox
Arnold Rothstein (January 17, 1882 – November 4, 1928) was a New York businessman and gambler chiefly famous for his role as a kingpin of organized crime. He is also widely reputed to have been behind baseball’s Black Sox scandal in which the 1919 World Series was fixed. His notoriety inspired several fictional characters based on his life, including “Meyer Wolfsheim” in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, and “Nathan Detroit” in the Damon Runyon novel “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown”, which was made into the musical Guys and Dolls.
Early life and successes
Born in New York City to a respectable Jewish businessman, Abraham Rothstein, Arnold was skilled at mathematics and developed an early interest in illegitimate business, whereas his older brother studied to become a rabbi. By 1910 Arnold had moved to the Tenderloin section of Manhattan where he established an important gambling casino, and during Prohibition purchased a portion of a number of speakeasies. He also invested in a horse racing track at Havre de Grace, Maryland, and it was widely reputed that he “fixed” many of the races that he won. Rothstein had a wide network of informants and very deep pockets when it came to paying for good information, regardless of how unscrupulous the sources were. His successes made him a millionaire by age thirty.
1919 World Series
In 1919, Rothstein’s agents allegedly paid members of the Chicago White Sox to lose the World Series, enabling him to make a significant sum betting against Chicago.
Summoned to Chicago to testify before the Grand Jury investigation, he stated that he was an innocent businessman intent on clearing his name and his reputation. No evidence could verify his connection to the affair, and he was never indicted. Rothstein’s testimony is worth quoting. “The whole thing started when (Abe) Attell and some other cheap gamblers decided to frame the Series and make a killing. The world knows I was asked in on the deal and my friends know how I turned it down flat. I don’t doubt that Attell used my name to put it over. That’s been done by smarter men than Abe. But I was not in on it, would not have gone into it under any circumstances and did not bet a cent on the Series after I found out what was underway.”  The Grand Jury believed him, but the truth was a lot more complicated, and Rothstein was a lot less innocent. One version has Rothstein turning down the proposal relayed by Attel, but in fact this had been the second “fix” he’d refused to bankroll. A gambler called Joseph “Sport” Sullivan had earlier approached him with the same idea. Now he reasoned he could afford to reconsider that first offer. The field was becoming so crowded with would be fixers, he could risk getting involved and still cover his tracks. As he described it to Sullivan “If a girl goes to bed with nine guys, who’s going to believe her when she says the tenth one’s the father?”. Another version has him working with both ends of the fix, both with Sullivan and Attell.
Prohibition and organized crime
The advent of Prohibition enabled Rothstein to diversify into bootlegging and narcotics, and his criminal organization included such underworld luminaries as Meyer Lansky, Legs Diamond, Lucky Luciano, and Dutch Schultz. His various nicknames were Mr. Big, The Fixer, The Man Uptown, The Big Bankroll and The Brain. Rothstein mediated differences between New York gangs and often reputedly charged a hefty fee for his services. His favorite “office” was Lindy’s Restaurant, at Broadway and 49th Street, where he would stand on the corner surrounded by his bodyguards and do business on the street. He made bets and collected debts from those who had lost the previous day.
Rothstein was shot and mortally wounded at Manhattan’s Park-Central Hotel in November 1928 following a spectacular three-day poker game in Manhattan the previous September. He died the next day at Polyclinic Hospital. At the end of the game Rothstein owed $320,000 and refused to pay, claiming the game had been fixed. Gambler George “Hump” McManus was arrested for murder but later acquitted for lack of evidence. While his murder was attributed to McManus, even Rothstein himself refused to identify the shooter. Rothstein was buried in at Union Field Cemetery, Queens in an orthodox ceremony.
Another theory about Rothstein’s death which has endured is the one offered by crime reporter Paul Sann in his book “Kill the Dutchman,” that Dutch Schultz had Rothstein murdered in retailiation for the murder of his friend Joey Noe by Rothstein’s protege, Jack Diamond.
Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and Rothstein’s other associates inherited Rothstein’s various “enterprises” after his death. Rothstein’s death was related to the fall of the corrupt Democratic political machine known as Tammany Hall, and contributed to the rise of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
Arnold Rothstein’s estate was finally declared bankrupt ten years after his death by his only surviving brother, but he left a legacy of shaping the form of American organized crime in the 20th century.
F. Scott Fitzgerald based the character Meyer Wolfsheim, Jay Gatsby’s crooked associate in The Great Gatsby, on Rothstein, and Gatsby mentions to narrator Nick Carraway, “that’s the man who fixed the 1919 World Series”.
Rothstein’s legendary pool playing marathon, against a Philadelphia shark called Jack Conway shipped in by his enemies to humiliate him, took place over two days and nights in 1911, at McGraw’s Billiard Parlor, off Herald Square. Rothstein just kept playing and betting till in the end Conway’s backers were reputedly down $10,000. Eventually John McGraw stepped in and shut the hall, saying “That’s it. If I let you go on I’ll have one o’ youse dead on my hands.” This was the real life inspiration for the opening contest between “Minnesota Fats” (Jackie Gleason) and Paul Newman’s character in the 1961 film “The Hustler.” Rothstein’s patronage of floating crap games also provided the model for gambler Nathan Detroit in the musical Guys and Dolls.
The character of Hyman Roth from the film The Godfather, Part II mentions Rothstein as his inspiration and modeled his surname after Rothstein’s in honor of his part in the Black Sox Scandal.
Rothstein was portrayed in motion pictures. F. Murray Abraham in the 1991 film Mobsters. David Janssen in the 1961 film King of the Roaring 20’s – The Story of Arnold Rothstein. And Michael Lerner in the 1988 movie about the Black Sox Scandal, Eight Men Out.
Donald Henderson Clarke, In the Reign of Rothstein, New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1929.
Leo Katcher, The Big Bankroll, New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1959.
David Pietrusza, Rothstein: The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, New York: Carroll & Graf, 2003.
Carolyn Rothstein (with Donald Henderson Clarke), Now I’ll Tell, New York: Vantage Press, 1934.
Nick Tosches King of the Jews: The Arnold Rothstein Story, 2005.
Rich Cohen Tough Jews, 1998.