DiscoverLaw on FilmEight Men Out (1988) (Guests: Robert Boland and Brett Kaufman) (episode 23)
Eight Men Out (1988) (Guests: Robert Boland and Brett Kaufman) (episode 23)

Eight Men Out (1988) (Guests: Robert Boland and Brett Kaufman) (episode 23)

Update: 2024-03-28


Eight Men Out (1988) is a dramatization of professional baseball’s infamous Black Sox scandal, in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers to intentionally lose the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. The film, which was directed by John Sayles, is based on Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book, Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series. It recounts how a group of White Sox players conspired with an array of gamblers, including notorious underworld financier Arnold Rothstein (a/k/a “The Big Bankroll”), to throw the series in return for cash. After the Sox, who some consider one of the greatest baseball teams of all time, lose the series, suspicions grow that there had been a fix based on rumors and the nature of some players’ poor performances. Eight players are charged with conspiracy and tried in Chicago in 1921. Although the players are all acquitted, baseball’s new commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banishes them all for life from baseball, a bold move that some believe saved the game of baseball, which was still in its relative infancy, and enabled it to become “America’s pastime.” Debates around the events continue to this day, including over the level of involvement of some players and the draconian nature of the punishment. With me to discuss this movie are Robert Boland and Brett Max Kaufman.  


0:00       Introduction
4:19       Baseball circa 1919
10:30   Betting and game fixing in baseball
17:43   The reserve clause 
20:17   Unpacking the verdict at the Black Sox trial
22:48   Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis: Baseball’s first commissioner
31:35   The treatment of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and the Black Sox
35:35   Sportswriters  
40:18   The reemergence of sports gambling
50:32   A memorable John Sayles film
53:34   Class and culture in baseball
55:18   The lasting impact of the Black Sox scandal

Further reading:

Asinof, Eliot, Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series (1963)

Lamb, William F., Black Sox in the Courtroom: The Grand Jury, Criminal Trial, and Civil Litigation (2013)

Linder, Douglas, The Black Sox Trial: An Account (2007)
Pachman, Matthew B, “Limits on Discretionary Powers of Professional Sports Commissioners: A Historical and Legal Analysis of Issues Raised by the Pete Rose Controversy,”  76 Va. L. Rev. 1309 (1990)

Pollack, Jason M., “Take My Arbitrator, Please: Commissioner ‘Best Interests’ Disciplinary Authority in Professional Sports,” 67 Fordham L. Rev. 1645 (1999)

Law on Film is created and produced by Jonathan Hafetz. Jonathan is a professor at Seton Hall Law School. He has written many books and articles about the law. He has litigated important cases to protect civil liberties and human rights while working at the ACLU and other organizations. Jonathan is a huge film buff and has been watching, studying, and talking about movies for as long as he can remember.
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Eight Men Out (1988) (Guests: Robert Boland and Brett Kaufman) (episode 23)

Eight Men Out (1988) (Guests: Robert Boland and Brett Kaufman) (episode 23)

Jonathan Hafetz