Capone draws the most attention at Cubs-Sox exhibition in 1931

  • Mobster Al Capone gets an autograph from legendary Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett during a 1931 charity game between the Cubs and White Sox at Comiskey Park.

    Mobster Al Capone gets an autograph from legendary Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett during a 1931 charity game between the Cubs and White Sox at Comiskey Park. Associated Press

 
Updated 8/1/2021 12:38 PM

Three great Chicago pastimes -- baseball, politics and organized crime -- converged Sept. 9, 1931, at Comiskey Park.

The occasion was a charity game between the Cubs and the Sox.

 

The star attraction -- the city's Jazz Age king of the underworld, Al "Scarface" Capone -- wasn't on the diamond, but enjoying the game in a box seat.

Fellow spectators included Gov. Louis Emmerson, Mayor Anton Cermak, who tossed a baseball from his box at the start of the game, future Mayor Edward Kelly, and baseball Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

In the mayor's box sat Cook County State's Attorney's Office chief investigator Pat Roche, who just days before sought Capone's arrest in connection with arranging for the release of kidnapped gambling figure John Lynch.

Capone, known for his own feats with a baseball bat, had a formidable South Side team of his own, the Chicago Outfit, which he ran from the luxurious Lexington Hotel at Michigan Avenue and 22nd Street. (In the 1980s, its luster considerably dimmed, the Lexington had its last taste of glory when Geraldo Rivera dug into Capone's "hidden vaults.")

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Capone was the center of attention, sitting with his son Sonny and an entourage that included "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, famous for his involvement in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and state Rep. (and future congressman) Roland V. Libonati, whose name graces one of the city's honorary street signs.

Photographers snapped pictures of Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett signing a baseball for Sonny with Al -- the scar on his left cheek on full display -- smiling approvingly.

If "Scarface" craved a big stage, he couldn't have picked a better setting.

Nearly 35,000 fans piled into Comiskey, swelling gate receipts to nearly $45,000.

It was all for a good cause, benefiting the governor's unemployment relief fund.

This was the depths of the Great Depression, and Capone provided some relief to the hungry and unemployed by opening his own soup kitchen.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Both teams were coming off doubleheader losses. The Sox dropped two in Cleveland and the Cubs fell twice to St. Louis.

If the teams thought they had hit a bad stretch, it was nothing compared to Capone.

Just the day before, Federal Judge James H. Wilkerson set a court date of Oct. 6 for Capone to face charges of income tax evasion.

A journalist from the International News Service, James Kilgallen -- whose daughter Dorothy would gain fame as a columnist and TV game show panelist -- documented Capone's visit.

He wrote Capone occupied Box 29, the first row, his hat in his lap as he chatted with his son -- "Father and son seemed very happy.

"Persons craned their necks and there were murmurs of 'There's Al Capone.' Nobody paid much attention to the governor or the mayor or the dignitaries," Kilgallen continued.

The Cubs won 3-0, with starting pitcher Charley Root outdueling Sox starter Red Faber. Root also drove in all three runs with a single and a double.

Edward Burns, writing in the Tribune, reported, "Faber received the biggest hand during the early stages of the game," while Cubs manager and third baseman Rogers Hornsby "got the most Bronx cheers. Rogers got many lemons and a few straw hats, but didn't seem to mind much."

At the game's end, Kilgallen wrote, "People swarmed up close to get a look at the big fellow," referring to Capone. "He bowed repeatedly to cries of, 'Hello, Al!' One drunk rashly broke through and shook his hand."

Kilgallen followed Capone to his parking space in an attempt to snag an interview, but Capone stalled, arranging a meeting later at the Lexington, only to give Kilgallen the brushoff as Capone exited the hotel with two relatives and a bodyguard, claiming to be heading to the theater.

The next day, Hartnett received a telegram from Landis that said, "You are no longer allowed to have your picture taken with Al Capone."

Hartnett wired back, "OK, but if you don't want me to have my picture taken with Al Capone, you tell him."

On Oct. 26, 1931, baseball and crime were linked in time once again.

On the front page, there was news Capone's lawyers delayed Capone's trip to Leavenworth Penitentiary for 24 hours. Meanwhile, a report from Eagle River, Wis., informed readers of the death of White Sox owner Charles Comiskey.

The report said Comiskey succumbed to a long illness that "many of his friends declared had its real beginning back in 1919 over the famous 'Black Sox' scandals."

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