Charles Fountain’s colorful new take on the 1919 Black Sox

b_kirtzBy Bill Kirtz

Print the legend?

Charles Fountain doesn’t.

Meticulously researched and colorfully written, his new book, “The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball” (Oxford University Press, 290 pages, $27.95), offers a host of new information about the often-told 1919 Chicago Black Sox saga.

He’s unearthed a ton of fresh material, including the papers of American League founder Ban Johnson and the files of cover-up maestro Alfred Austrian.

Fountain, a long-time Northeastern University School of Journalism friend and colleague, sorts through the myriad versions of how and why the World Series was fixed, never resorting to easy conclusions. He separates what’s ain’t from what’s so. When the facts are murky, he’s content to present — not pontificate.

This tapestry of baseball and social history encompasses 19th-century game-throwing, the 1920s melange of politics, sports and gambling, and colorful portraits of legendary lawyers and sportswriters.

61zSPKXvyGL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_We learn that “hippodroming” — game-fixing — is as old as organized baseball itself, as supposed amateurs took “sporting men”’s money to drop flies and strike out. And we see the machinations of White Sox owner Charles Comiskey and baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis as they try to contain and manipulate the burgeoning Black Sox scandal.

Fountain, the author of two well-received sports books (on famed scribe Grantland Rice and on the history of spring training), is especially good on tracing the incestuous relationships between writers and their subjects — and on the wink-and-nod clubbiness and vicious newspaper competition that prevented the biggest baseball story of the (or perhaps any) era from leaking earlier.

“The Betrayal” is a treasure trove of bizarre incidents, including Keystone Kops detective efforts fueled with Scotch, fishing trips and apartment-sharing with a conspirator’s paramour. There are vignettes galore about larger-than-life characters like lawyer-jury rigger William Fallon and criminal mastermind Arnold Rothstein.  Fountain even manages to bring in “Jazz Age siren” Peggy Hopkins Joyce for a cameo.

Fountain also offers a reporting primer. The criminal trial of seven players and four gamblers began in torrid heat. How hot? Ninety-four degrees. (Fountain looked up that day’s weather report.)

From Attell (Abe: boxer, bagman and one of the saga’s host of double-crossers) to Zork (Carl: gambler and plotter), “The Betrayal” is a richly detailed page-turner.

There’s only one real rattlesnake here but plenty of two-legged ones in executive offices and judicial robes — as well as in dugouts.

“The Betrayal” is a must-read for anyone interested in American sports, morality and justice — and how they occasionally mesh.

Bill Kirtz is an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University.

The life and times of George Frazier

George Frazier, the legendary columnist for the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, was a little before my time. My sole memory of him was watching him do commentaries on one of the Boston television stations when I was in high school. But I certainly know of him, and the main reason I do is because of my Northeastern colleague Charles Fountain, the author of “Another Man’s Poison,” Fountain’s biography of Frazier.

Fountain had a splendid tribute to Frazier in Sunday’s Boston Globe on the occasion of what would have been his 100th birthday, writing:

Immortality in a business as ephemeral as daily journalism is nigh-on impossible, but every city has a newspaper guy who will be forever identified with that city. H.L. Mencken in Baltimore, Jimmy Breslin in New York, Mike Royko in Chicago, Herb Caen in San Francisco. Frazier, born in Southie 100 years ago last week, is that guy for Boston.

The column was accompanied by some choice Frazier excerpts. The Globe’s Mark Feeney wrote a nice tribute to Frazier as well.

And isn’t it time someone published a Frazier anthology? Given his wide range — newspaper columns, magazine pieces, jazz criticism for the likes of Down Beat, liner notes — there’s little doubt that it would stand up among the best writing produced in Boston.