Hugh S. Fullerton, the Black Sox Scandal, and the Ethical Impulse in Sports Writing

Here’s the thing about primary source research: You get to be a kid again. You’re innocent. Everything is new. Everything is for the first time. You’re the first man on the moon. You’re Lewis. Or Clark. Your mission, if you’ll pardon the pop culture reference, is to go where no man — or woman — has gone before.

And here’s the thing about writing: You get to put your own mark on the research. For eternity, really, you become part of the subject you have researched and reassembled. 

I have lived with the subject of my research, Hugh Fullerton III, for a very long time, even though he died almost three years before I was born. To most people, Fullerton is the man who uncovered the fix of the 1919 World Series, remembered as the beginning of the Black Sox scandal. For more than a quarter century preceding that World Series, however, Fullerton was the best known and most read sports writer in America. Didn’t know that, did you?

Working out of Chicago between 1893 and 1920 before the City on the Lake ceded the center of the baseball — and therefore of the sports universe — to New York City, Fullerton had the guts to write about a subject most American journalists, especially sports writers, ignored: gambling. 

I always wondered why Fullerton pursued the story. What was his motivation? Why Fullerton and not Ring Lardner or Grantland Rice, sports writers better and longer remembered than the man who was mentor to the former and a role model for the later. A man who, if you know baseball in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, was a combination of Peter Gammons and Bill James. Why did Hugh Fullerton fade from most baseball fans’ collective memory?

So I started to research the subject. I learned that Hugh Fullerton I had been educated in the 1840s by William Holmes McGuffey, compiler of the famed McGuffey Readers of late 19th century Middle Border America. The very same schoolbooks that a young Hugh Fullerton III studied from and, my research revealed, returned to in later life. My research trail took me to, among other places, Miami (OH) University, and McGuffey Hall, a library and museum on Miami's campus. It was there that I discovered Fullerton's correspondence between 1936 and his death in late 1945 with Dr. Harvey C. Minnich, perhaps the foremost McGuffey scholar and president of the McGuffey Society. 

Finding those letters was like being a kid again.

And then I started to write and become, as my late friend and Black Sox scholar Gene Carney kindly called me in his book, “Burying the Black Sox," the leading authority on the life and motivation of Hugh Fullerton III.

Like most kids and researchers, I needed guidance in completing this project, which became the subject of my master’s thesis, “Hugh S. Fullerton, the Black Sox Scandal, and the Ethical Impulse in Sports Writing.” That support started at Michigan State University, where I began pursuit of a Master of Journalism degree in 1990, and concluded at George Mason University in 1997. Dr. Stephen Lacy, my friend and advisor, shepherded this lapsed academic and practicing sports writer through my coursework, research and writing every step of the way.

But between 1993 and 1996, the writing languished as my career took me from East Lansing to Northern Virginia and USA Today. I needed, to be frank, a good kick in the can, and I got it from the late Roy Rosenzweig, the founder and director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. How Roy found the time amazes me even today. But he was fascinated by my new research on the subject and the connection I had made between Fullerton and McGuffey. 

It is to the credit of these two men, professors Lacy and Rosenzweig, that my thesis and bibliographical essay exists. They encouraged my curiosity and interest in a heretofore obscure connection between Fullerton and McGuffey. Together, we all came to believe, as did Gene Carney, that the ethical impulse and motivation in Fullerton’s life and career resulted in a heroic act of journalism that, for almost a century, cost him his reputation.

Hopefully, my thesis helps restore that deserved reputation.

However, the past and future call for a re-evaluation of subject due to a wealth of new material. The Black Sox scandal never ceases to attract investigation and research. The past never changes, of course. But our understanding of it does. And the future? The year 2019 will mark the centennial of the 1919 World Series. My GMU colleagues at the Center for the Study of Sport and Leisure in Society, professors Chris Elzey and David Wiggins, have provided me with a home to further my own research and advance our understanding of 1919 World Series, the fix, the ensuing scandal, and the journalist who pursued the story. I hope to share my research here and, perhaps, advance the story and our understanding of it.

It’s a great whodunit — one of the greatest in the history of sport. I can’t think of better place to share it.

Steven M. Klein

Professor Emeritus/Journalism

George Mason University

November, 2017