On November 4, 1928, mobster Arnold Rothstein – gambler, racketeer, bootlegger and the man many believe was the mastermind who arranged for the Chicago White Sox to throw the 1919 World Series -- was shot at a New York hotel. He died two days later, at the Stuyvesant Polyclinic Hospital, in Manhattan, at the age of 46.
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Arnold Rothstein was born January 17, 1882, to Abraham Elijah Rothstein and the former Esther Rothschild. Abraham (who was to outlive his son by nine years) was a prosperous, American-born garment merchant, and a philanthropist who served as chairman of the board of New York’s Beth Israel Hospital.
While the family, which lived on the Upper West Side, was Orthodox in observance. Arnold - the second-oldest of six siblings - was, from a young age, interested mainly in gambling.
In 1921, in a rare moment of reflection, Rothstein, whom biographer Leo Katcher dubbed the “J.P. Morgan of the underworld,” told an interviewer: “Maybe I gambled just to show my father he couldn’t tell me what to do, but I don’t think so. I think I gambled because I loved the excitement. When I gambled, nothing else mattered.” Rothstein’s determination to win at gambling meant that he was not beyond manipulating the results to insure victory.
Pawned bride's jewels on their wedding night
By 1909, when Rothstein married showgirl Carolyn Green, the daughter of a Jewish father and Irish-Catholic mother, he owned a casino in New York and was part-owner of a Maryland racetrack. (In her 1934 memoir, Carolyn described how her husband, short on cash, pawned her jewelry on their wedding night.) During the following decade, he bought additional casinos, invested in racehorses and Broadway productions, and was a heroin wholesaler, bookmaker and real-estate tycoon.
Rothstein’s sophistication, regal living style and elegant manner of dress made him something of a mentor (or “rabbi,” as biographer Nick Toshches has put it) to many up-and-coming gangsters: Meyer Lansky, Dutch Schultz, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, among many others. In that regard, his depiction by actor Michael Stuhlbarg in the HBO TV series “Boardwalk Empire” is true to life.
Stuhlbarg’s Rothstein is well-mannered and cultivated, and calmly ruthless. He also was known as a fixer, someone who could – for a fee – help resolve labor, political and business disputes. Tosches, writing in Vanity Fair in 2005, quotes labor leader David Dubinsky as crediting Rothstein with resolving, at the request of his father, a 19-week strike by garment workers in 1926.
Rothstein was also the inspiration for the character Meyer Wolfsheim in “The Great Gatsby,” described by F. Scott Fitzgerald as a “small flat-nosed Jew” who wears cuff links made from human molars. When Gatsby tells narrator Nick Carraway that it was Wolfsheim who fixed the 1919 World Series, Nick muses to himself how “It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people —with the single mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.” Wolfsheim the Jew, that is, the nemesis of all that was good about America.
The truth about the Sox? Nobody knows
The truth is that so many people were involved in the machinations that led to members of the Chicago White Sox accepting bribes in order to deliberately lose the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, that it is impossible to determine who the mastermind was. Nick Tosches noted that “Given the way the fixing of the 1919 Series unfolded, there was no need for [Rothstein] to do a thing, except to profit from the mistakes of others.”
Although David Pietrusza’s 2003 biography of Rothstein is subtitled, “The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series,” he too writes that the plot was so complicated that Rothstein’s role in it was “uncertain.”
Eight players from the 1919 team that has ever since been referred to as the “Black Sox” were tried for the crime, and none of them was convicted – though all were banned for life from the Major Leagues. Rothstein took the stand at their trial, and acknowledged that he had been approached to participate in the scheme, but declared that “I was not in on it, would not have gone into it under any circumstances and did not bet a cent on the Series after I found out what was under way.”
Rothstein, in fact, was never convicted of any crime.
On Sunday, November 4, 1928, while ensconced at his regular hangout, Lindy’s restaurant, Rothstein received an invitation to a card game at the Park Central Hotel, on W. 56th Street. At the time, he still owed creditors more than $300,000 from a three-day card-playing spree more than a month earlier.
That November night, a short time after the game began, Rothstein was shot. A little before 11 that night, a hotel detective found him hobbling in a staircase. Rothstein hung on to life through the following day, but died on the morning of November 6.
When police asked him, before he expired, if he could identify the shooter, he reportedly told them, “You stick to your trade. I'll stick to mine,” although at another point, he told them that “me mudder did it.”
Another gambler, George “Hump” McManus, was arrested and tried for the murder, but he was eventually acquitted. The murder of Arnold Rothstein remains unsolved to this day.