"The voice of conscience is so delicate," Madame de Stael once said, "that it is easy to stifle it, but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake it." The truth of this observation comes across vividly in Eight Men Out, a film written and directed by John Sayles (Matewan). It is based on Eliot Asinof's 1963 bestseller about eight members of the Chicago White Sox who arranged with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. The engaging drama revolves around the deals made with two sets of gamblers, the enlistment of players, the rift between those involved in the scandal and their teammates, the series' games and the response of the press, the grand jury indictment, and the 1921 trial.
Sayles draws out fine performances from a cast that includes John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn, James Read, Michael Rooker, and D. B. Sweeney. Studs Terkel appears as a sportswriter who smells something fishy in the poor play of the White Sox, and Sayles himself is at his best as Ring Lardner, who serenades the team with "I'm forever blowing ballgames."
Eight Men Out is a bit too long, but this serious movie puts some points on the scoreboard with its messages about amoral baseball team owners, gamblers who corrupt the sport, and players who drag the game through the mud with their greed. The still, small voice of conscience was stifled in the 1919 World Series. Money counted more than morals then and, in many ways, the same is true today.