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Film / Eight Men Out

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"Say it ain't so, Joe."

Eight Men Out is a 1988 Sports movie about the 1919 Baseball scandal involving the Chicago White Sox players who threw the World Series. Directed by John Sayles and starring John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, D.B. Sweeney, and Christopher Lloyd. The movie was adapted from the 1963 historical book by Eliot Asinof.

It's the early Golden Age of professional baseball, and one of the best teams of the era is the Chicago White Sox led by a great young home run hitter known as Shoeless Joe. However, all is not well: the players are treated horribly by their spendthrift team owners and paid meager salaries while they see millions of dollars being generated - not just by the owners but also the gamblers betting on their games - off of their work.

Outraged by a particular slight from their owner Comiskey before the start of the World Series, a number of White Sox players decide to listen to an offer from small-time gamblers on the idea of throwing the entire World Series - which the bookies are setting up as an easy Sox win - and then getting a cut of the action when those bets pay off. The problems quickly become apparent: More players have to be brought into the scheme to make it work, and the small-time gamblers need bigger financial backers - like say mob boss Arnold Rothstein - to pull off the big bets. Player Buck Weaver finds out and tries to talk his teammates into stopping the scheme before it gets worse. On top of all this, two intrepid reporters - Ring Lardner and Hugh Fullerton - grow suspicious about the rumors they're getting about skewed bets placed against the favored White Sox, and they start tracking questionable plays during the Series...

This movie contains examples of these tropes:

  • Affably Evil: Most of the gamblers dealing with the players are like this, especially Burns, the former player who comes up with the idea, Sport Sullivan who is on friendly terms with Chick Gandil.
    • Subverted with Rothstein, who is aloof, cold-hearted and strictly business.
  • Artistic License – History: Both the movie and the book it is based on are riddled with inaccuracies. See here and here and here. A sampling follows.
    • The scene where the young fans confront Shoeless Joe outside the courtroom saying "Say it ain't so, Joe!" is based on an Urban Legend. In Real Life, Jackson and the other players admit that moment never happened.
    • The scene with the flat champagne really happened, but it occurred during the celebration for the 1917 World Series the White Sox won two years ago.
    • The movie itself ends on the Urban Legend that Shoeless Joe continued playing in small market semi-pro leagues under an assumed name until the 1930s. There's little evidence he did, and most accounts had him going back home to Greenville, South Carolina to various odd jobs before owning his own liquor store.
    • In the film, Charles Comiskey is shown holding out pitcher Eddie Cicotte from his last scheduled start so that he will miss out on an incentive clause in his contract. This never happened, and Cicotte was promised no such bonus. Cicotte in fact went for his 30th win in his last start of the 1919 season but lost the game, being yanked after pitching badly.
    • Some players are shown batting from the wrong side of the plate, such as Eddie Collins and Buck Weaver. Pitcher Dickey Kerr, a southpaw, is portrayed as a right-handed pitcher.
    • Shoeless Joe is shown being recruited into the fix by Swede Risburg. It was in fact Chick Gandil who did so.
    • Swede Risburg is shown as Chick Gandil's co-conspirator in the fix, recruiting several players to participate. He was indeed an enthusiastic participant, but did not serve either role. Eddie Cicotte was co-architect of the fix with Gandil. Also, the film portrays Gandil being approached by gamblers about the fix, when in fact it was Gandil who initiated the contact.
    • The movie portrays the fallout from the fix as occurring immediately after Game Eight of the World Series. In fact, rumors of the series fix were largely ignored until the following year, in part quashed by Comiskey and others in hopes the issue would go away. All the banned Black Sox players (except for Chick Gandil, who sat out the season hoping for a better contract) played a complete 1920 season. The Cook County grand jury did not even begin proceedings until September 22, 1920, nearly a year later.
    • Fix gamblers Bill Burns and Billy Maharg are shown getting into their seats at the first 1919 World Series game. They in fact did not attend.
    • Pitcher Lefty Williams is shown being threatened before the final game of the World Series by a hitman working for Arnold Rothstein. The character, "Harry F.," was fabricated by the author of the book the film is based on, per advice from the book's publisher to avoid copyright infringement. "Harry F." was simply carried over into the film version. In fact, the source for Williams being threatened came decades later from a questionable source, and is considered unlikely.
    • Manager Kid Gleason is shown removing starting pitcher Eddie Cicotte from the game after he gave up a triple to rival pitcher Dutch Ruether in the first game of the Series. Cicotte was in fact left in the game for several more batters after that.
    • Ban Johnson and John Heydler are listed in the closing cast credits list as team owners. In fact, they were respectively the Presidents of the American and National Leagues.
  • Bad Boss: Charles "The Old Roman" Comiskey. Penny-pinching to the extreme, keeping his players poorly paid, far worse than most other sports team owners at the time. His idea of a team bonus is to give his players only champagne instead of extra pay... and the champagne is flat. His mistreatment of pitcher Eddie Cicotte drives Eddie into scheming to throw the Series.
  • Banned from Argo: The fate of Shoeless Joe and the rest of the Black Sox. They stayed on Major League Baseball's officially banned list until recentlynote , and will remain forever ineligible for Baseball Hall of Fame induction.note 
  • Benevolent Boss: Team manager "Kid" Gleason. All of the players respect him, even though some of the Black Sox players are well aware that throwing the Series would hurt Kid's feelings.
  • The Cake Is a Lie: Eddie was promised a $10,000 bonus if he won the last season, and being denied it is why he joins the gamblers.
  • Cassandra Truth: Weaver finds out about the players trying to throw the whole Series. He tries talking the players out of it, and then tries warning his manager Kid Gleason who ignores him, not wanting to ruffle any feathers (and possibly incapable of believing his own players could betray him like that). Weaver, however, balks at taking his information to police because he doesn't want his buddies - especially Shoeless Joe - to get sent to jail.
    • After the movie came out, additional records and testimony showed up that suggested Weaver AND Jackson went to Comiskey to warn him about the gambling scheme. For whatever reason, Comiskey refused to hear them.
  • Deal with the Devil: The players quickly find out that in any deal with a devil like Rothstein, you are expected to stick to that deal...
  • Downer Ending: The eight players - especially the only honest one Buck Weaver, and likely innocent players Shoeless Joe and Eddie Cicotte (both of whom were in fact guilty) - are banned for life from their profession and their passion. The owners are able to rig the sport to where their hand-picked Commissioner can enforce draconian rules, keeping players underpaid for decades.
    • The movie itself ends with a bitter Weaver sitting the stands of a minor league game, watching his former teammate Shoeless Joe make incredible plays in the field, and forced to deny to other attendees that man on the field was once the greatest who ever played.
    Nah. Those fellas are all gone now.
  • The Dreaded: Rothstein. For good reason. In Real Life Rothstein was a major player in early 20th century organized crime, and mentored the likes of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky (who would go on to shape the Mafia as we know it today).
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: When the Sox players suddenly start winning, Rothstein can't understand why. He even talks about it with his bodyguard Abe Atell, a former boxing champion who can sympathize with the players' fate:
    Rothstein: Tell me, champ, all those years of pugging, how much money did you make?
    Atell: The honest fights or the ones I tanked?
    Rothstein: Altogether, I must've made ten times that amount betting on you and I never took a punch.
    Atell: Yeah, but I was champ. Featherweight Champeen of the World!
    Rothstein: Yesterday. That was yesterday.
    Atell: No A.R. You're wrong. I was champ, and can't nothing take that away.
    • Subverted in that Rothstein enforces the deal with the players at gunpoint.
  • Extreme Doormat: Shoeless Joe doesn't seem to want to go along with the fixing and only agrees to it (with an implied limited understanding) due to so many of the others doing it. And even then he doesn't really play any worse than usual.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: A sympathetic example occurs when Lefty's prepared to stop throwing the games until his wife is threatened.
  • Historical Domain Character: Arnold Rothstein appears as the discrete financial backer for the gamblers. While the stories about his involvement are rife to the point of Pop Culture Osmosis, he carefully kept himself disconnected from much of the actual betting and avoided legal trouble.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Along with the film Field of Dreams, this movie and the book that inspired it have been instrumental in sparking attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of Shoeless Joe Jackson. The film presents Jackson as a misunderstood and tortured soul with regard to the 1919 Black Sox scandal. This whitewashing ignores several facts, which get conveniently ignored. First, Jackson admitted via grand jury testimony (dated September 29, 1920) under oath that he accepted money to throw the Series, something court transcripts delineate plainly; he also changed his story regarding level of involvement with some frequency. Some observers point to Jackson's glowingly good stats in that World Series as proof that he wasn't actually participating in throwing games — but this ignores that he only played well in games that were "on the level" (not every game in the 1919 Series was fixed) or in fixed games after a loss was assured. Inning-by-inning analysis of thrown games and perusal of "clean" games shows this clearly. See this link for details.
  • Honor Among Thieves: The players quickly find out the gamblers they're dealing with won't pay them any money after the first two games are thrown. The gamblers all tell them "all the money's out on bets" even as the players can clearly see the gamblers counting out stacks of money on their beds. The players win the third game out of spite, warning the gamblers to pay up or lose those bets.
    • The players bicker among themselves about the size of the cuts they're expecting, while the gamblers argue over the same thing between their own.
  • Hope Spot: The players, frustrated by the lack of payments from the gamblers, rebel and start winning games during the Series, and they suddenly get the fire back in their bellies to compete to win. Subverted in that Rothstein sends gunmen to threaten the players' wives to follow through on their deal...
  • Idiot Ball: When the players suddenly think they can win the World Series and not get any retaliation from the gamblers they had made deals with. This only leads to Rothstein sending a gunman to threaten Lefty Williams' wife before the eighth game.
  • Kangaroo Court: The Black Sox trial. Weaver is angry that he's getting punished for having knowledge about the scandal even though he tried warning people about it and didn't throw any games or take moneynote .
    • The trial itself becomes a farce when key documents - Jackson and Cicotte's grand jury confessions - disappear.note 
    • And even when the trial ends without convictions, Landis uses his new powers as Commissioner to ban all eight players for life without any chance of appeal.note 
  • Karma Houdini: The baseball owners. They avoid being held accountable for their poor treatment - and poor pay - for their teams, while installing a harsh Commissioner's Office that can punish any player who crosses them. Because of this, players' rights to fair pay and treatment would be put on hold until the 1970s (and thanks to Commissioner Landis' racism, Blacks won't be allowed to play in the major leagues until 1947).
    • In Real Life (not shown in the movie), Comiskey later revealed during a separate lawsuit deposition that his lawyers were in possession of the grand jury testimonies from Jackson and Cicotte. He never answered for meddling in the Black Sox trial for that. The White Sox ballpark would be later named in his "Honor."
    • Most of the gamblers involved avoid jail time, especially mob boss Rothstein who remained untouchable even though a lot of people knew he was in on the scheme. Though in real life he did suffer a Karmic Death nine years later, murdered for refusing to pay up after a massive poker game he insisted was rigged against him.
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: Not just Shoeless Joe, but the eight players who become known as the "Black Sox" due to the scandal. In Real Life, the Sox players were called Black Sox years earlier when Comiskey refused to pay for cleaning their uniforms the way other teams did, so the players protested by wearing dirty uniforms.
  • Mirroring Factions: The owners and the gamblers are both abusing the ball players to earn obscene amounts of money. There is almost no difference between a mob boss like Rothstein and a team owner like Comiskey.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Lardner and Fullerton. They reported the scandal not to expose the players but to reveal how greedy owners were driving their players to consort with gamblers. Instead, the owners pull off a backroom deal with Judge Landis and get the Black Sox players banned for life.
    Lardner (disgusted): If Landis wants to clean up the game, he should start with those birdsnote  on the steps with him!
  • "Number of Objects" Title: A reference to the eight players that are involved in the game fixing.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Pitcher Eddie Cicotte. He early and often confronts Comiskey about a contract violation where Cicotte was due a sizable bonus if he won 30 games that season. Instead, when Cicotte won his 29th game he was inexplicably sent to the benches and denied a chance to win his 30th with more than two weeks to go.note  While Comiskey was a bastard towards his entire team, Cicotte was the one with the legitimate gripe to punch back...
  • Schemer: Chick Gandil. He's the one who's friendly with the gamblers, making it easy for him to be the go-between.
  • Serial Escalation: The idea of throwing the entire World Series. Before this, most players knew about (and even went along with) throwing individual games to earn a little extra (the owners knew too, but didn't want to do anything about it lest they were forced to do something like pay the players better). The idea of fixing a championship series - back then a best-of-nine series meaning throwing five games - was a scale never before tried.
  • Smug Snake: Judge Landis. When the owners come to him offering the position of "Commissioner" in order to wriggle their way out of their legal troubles, he starts offering a list of incredible demands knowing full well he's got them by the short hairs.
    Landis: Lifetime contract
    One of the Owners: Lifetime?
    Landis: A man worried about his job is bound to play favorites. Now you gentlemen don't want that do you?
    Comiskey: Well, a lifetime contract sounds a little...
    Landis: (thwaps desk with flyswatter) I'm due back in the courtroom in five minutes gentlemen. Let's talk salary!
  • Spiritual Predecessor: To Field of Dreams.
  • That Man Is Dead: Referenced in a forlorn kind of way at the end when Buck watches Joe play in a minor league team and denies another fan's claim that he's one of the Black Sox, saying none of them are around any more.
  • Those Two Guys: Lardener and Fullerton the sports reporters. Also gamblers Sleepy Bill Burns and Bill Maharg.
  • Throwing the Fight: The example in American sports. This is the one everyone remembers. There's a reason why F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about it shattering "the faith of fifty million."
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Landis, a well-known Hanging Judge getting himself made the lifetime baseball commissioner, he then proceeds to come unfairly down hard on all of the players (even the ones who aren't guilty). His real-life counterpart was also a fierce opponent of integrating professional baseball (although there are those who argue that his actions cleaned up corruption in the sport and restored public confidence in it).
  • Urban Legend: Stories abounded after the scandal that Shoeless Joe kept playing ball in the semi-pros and small market teams (before the major teams set up their Farm Systems) under assumed names. In Real Life, Jackson went back home and worked a liquor store he owned with his wife.
  • What Could Have Been: In-universe, the career of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. He was one of the best hitters of his time and also one of the best outfielders to ever play.