It takes a helluva lot of talent, and/or smarts, to allegedly pull one of the greatest sports fixes of all time. However, it takes even more oomph to never get caught.
Ever heard of the 1919 Chicago White Sox? Yeah, I figured you had. But in case you haven't, go do a little research (or at least watch "Eight Men Out"). The team was part of perhaps the greatest sports scandal of all time. You can still view rare footage of the "Black Sox" throwing the 1919 World Series. Plenty of folks went down for the caper. Eight players were eventually banned from professional baseball for life.
Many of the top figures in America's gambling world at the time were allegedly connected with the fix. Regardless, only one individual will forever be referred to as The Brain -- Arnold Rothstein.
"Arnold who?" you may ask. Well, for those not in the know, Arnold Rothstein was the alpha dog in the Jewish Mafia throughout the 1920s. Born to a prominent and wealthy business man, Rothstein began gambling as a youngster. By the time he was thirty, Rothstein was a millionaire from the profits he made off his gambling parlor and other rackets. But, just like any clamorous criminal, Rothstein didn't cap his illegal ambitions.
Rothstein kept his gambling operations as his baseline while he ventured into smuggling fine liquor into the United States during prohibition. From there, he moved on to importing narcotics into the States. Like any good business man, Rothstein understood the value of surrounding himself with like-minded individuals who could help promote his brand. Celebrity thugs such as Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello served as his henchmen and ambassadors of crime.
Multiple historians argue that the money paid to the White Sox players ultimately came from Arnold Rothstein. However, Rothstein was so good at what he did that he even survived a grand jury inquisition in which he testified to his knowledge, or lack thereof, regarding the plan to pay players to throw the World Series. Still to this day, many individuals (including Eliot Asinof, author of the original "Eight Men Out," and historian Harold Seymour, among others) contend that Rothstein was the "Big Bankroll" behind the fix. Others disagree, but it's hard to imagine a man with his hands in so many aspects of the criminal underground keeping his fingers out of the potential payday. Still, Rothstein was never indicted or convicted for any involvement with the World Series scandal -- but what kind of crime boss would be?
So, was Arnold Rothstein a true mastermind? The legacy of any great criminal must ultimately be measured by his or her lasting effect on society as a whole. As far as I'm concerned, we've got three categories to consider:
- The flash in the pan
- The kingpin
- The game-changer
Now, there's really no credible argument that Rothstein was little more than a "flash in the pan" -- after all, even if Rothstein was not intimately involved in funding the World Series scandal, he was at least prominent enough to receive a subpoena to testify regarding the allegations. You've also got to consider that Rothstein's stronghold on the criminal underworld lasted at least two decades.
Moreover, while one could certainly argue that Rothstein was the "kingpin" of the Jewish Mafia, his impact can't stop there. Rothstein didn't just bankroll American crime throughout the early 20th century; he was arguably its master of strategy as well. According to author and historian Robert Rockaway, by 1926 Rothstein was allegedly the "overlord of the foreign narcotics trade in America."
That's what we in the biz call criminal clout.
Arnold Rothstein was, by all accounts, a "game-changer" (pun intended) if there ever was one. The Brain built a criminal empire which was able to buy off damn near everyone, all the while controlling the distribution of vices throughout the United States and stealing the integrity of America's pastime.
And speaking of empires, Rothstein's lasting effect is still clear as day for anyone familiar with the television series "Boardwalk Empire," where Rothstein emerged as a major player in the first season. Hell, even fictional gangsters give Rothstein his props; if you've ever seen "The Godfather Part II," then you've surely heard Hyman Roth announce that he's "loved baseball ever since Arnold Rothstein fixed the World Series in 1919."
As Christian Red noted for the New York Daily News, the 1919 scandal and the literary and cinematic accounts of the event, are still relevant today considering all of the current corruption and "cheating" that has been exposed in professional baseball. However, hardly anyone in the media mentions the situation in the same breath as the name "Arnold Rothstein" or even draws the analogy.
Why? Well, the easy answer would be that Rothstein really had nothing to do with fixing the World Series. However, the alternative explanation is that he was just too good to get caught. Not too good to get shot (eventually) -- just too good to get caught.
That, my friends, is the mark of a mastermind.
This blog post is part of the Masterminds series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with NBC's The Blacklist. To see all the other posts in the series, click here.