James Isaminger

Legacy of Excellence

Baseball Hall of Fame sports writer

Baseball writer extraordinaire James Campbell “Jimmy” Isaminger was born in Hamilton, OH, in 1880 and began his journalism career with the Cincinnati Times-Star in 1895. In 1905, he was recommended by American League founder and president Ban Johnson and joined the staff of the Philadelphia North American. When the paper folded in 1925, Isaminger moved to the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he penned his well-known columns “Tips from the Sporting Ticker” and “Under the Spotlight.” But Jimmy Isaminger is best known for playing a leading role along with Hugh Fullerton and Ring Lardner in breaking the story of the Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series. In 1920, a grand jury was convened in Chicago to investigate gambling’s influences on baseball. Initially focused on the Chicago Cubs, evidence surfaced that gamblers had rigged a regular season game between the Cubs and the Phillies. Speculation soon turned to the previous year’s World Series between the winning Cincinnati Reds and the losing, heavily favored Chicago White Sox. These grand jury proceedings were not secret; in fact, newspapers reported on the testimonies. In late September 1920, boxer and former baseball player and gambler Billy Maharg decided to tell his story. And what a story it was. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey offered a $10,000 reward for evidence that his players participated in throwing the Series. Perhaps motivated by that reward, Philadelphia native Maharg met with Walter Schlichter, boxing writer at the Philadelphia North American and a fight manager who had included Maharg on several fight cards. Maharg told Schlichter that he was one of several principals who met with seven White Sox payers immediately before the 1919 World Series and arranged the fix. After hearing Maharg’s story, Schlichter told his North American colleague, sports editor James Isaminger. Isaminger interviewed Maharg on September 27, 1920. His story, detailing the involvement of Maharg and former pitcher “Sleepy” Bill Burns, headlined the North American’s front page the next day. Even though the eight White Sox (subsequently called the “Black Sox”) players admitted their involvement to the grand jury, they were all acquitted at their June 1921 trial after all the paper records relating to their grand jury confessions mysteriously vanished. All eight were banned from baseball for life, however, by Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner. From 1928 to 1939, Isaminger was the editor of the Reach Guide, one of two main annual baseball statistical reference books. The Reach Guide was originally published by A. J. Reach, reputed to be the first player to be paid a salary for playing baseball (as early as 1864). Reach founded the Phillies and served as team president as well. The Spalding Guide was the other reference book. A.G. Spalding was also a baseball player and team president of the Chicago Cubs. The two eventually merged and were then replaced by The Sporting News. Isaminger covered all sports during his 45-year career but primarily concentrated on baseball. He covered every World Series from 1905 to 1939 and was elected president of the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1934. Jimmy Isaminger filed his final article from Cleveland, covering the Philadelphia Athletics 4-3 win over the Indians. It appeared in the morning edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday September 18, 1940. Later that day, he suffered a stroke while attending the Senators-Indians double-header at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. He retired after the stroke. James Isaminger died on June 17, 1946, at his home in Fawn Grove, PA. Known for his wit and charm, James Isaminger was one of the most important sports writers of his era. His work helped to raise the standards of the profession and continues to influence how the media covers baseball is today. In 1974, Isaminger was posthumously honored with the Baseball Writers' Association of America Career Excellence Award (originally known as the J.G. Taylor Spink Award) for distinguished baseball writing. He is recognized in the “Writers Wing “of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. By Marc Kirsch

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