Another pitch for Shoeless Joe
October 25, 2005
Anyone who has been following the World Series knows by now that the Chicago White Sox are halfway home toward winning their first World Series since 1917.
And anyone who follows baseball history knows that last championship could well have been 1919 except for a small glitch that fans know as the Black Sox scandal – or “Say it ain’t so Joe!”
You’ve probably read Joe Jackson’s name in connection with the last White Sox team to win a championship and as a connection to the 1919 scandal. It’s a shame, too, because the man was too good to be remembered as a star who was banned from baseball for his alleged involvement with gamblers to fix the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds that year.
I’ve written a few Joe Jackson columns down through the years – I’ve seen “Eight Men Out, “Field of Dreams” and read books on the subject – and it’s a topic I never tire of hearing about. I also stand firm in my belief that Jackson deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
During a major league career that spanned 13 seasons with three clubs, Jackson used his fabled “Black Betsy” – a bat that measured 36 inches in length and weighed 48 ounces – to hit .356 with 54 home runs, a significant number in the “dead ball” era.
Besides hitting, Jackson was an all-around player who could run – he had 202 career stolen bases and reached double digits in triples nine of his last 10 seasons (he only played 17 games in 1918) – and who could play defense as well as any player of his era. In 1917, Jackson won a throwing contest with a distance measured at better than 396 feet. (In the book “Say It Ain’t So Joe! The Story of Shoeless Joe Jackson,” author Donald Gropman wrote that folks in his hometown of Brandon Mill, S.C., claimed that by 1917, time had taken something out of his arm).
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In 1919, Jackson hit .351 while playing in 139 of Chicago’s 140 games. The White Sox had dominated the American League with an 88-52 record to enter the best-of-nine World Series as a heavy favorite against a formidable Cincinnati club that had gone 96-44 to win the National League pennant by nine games.
The Reds won that Series in eight games amid rumors that a fix had been in place. When the conspiracy exploded nearly a full year later, eight Chicago players were banished: First baseman Charles A. “Chick” Gandil, third baseman George “Buck” Weaver, shortstop Charles “Swede” Risberg, utility player Fred McMullin, pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams, along with outfielders Oscar “Happy” Felsch and, of course, Joseph Jefferson Jackson.
Even though he was accused of being part of a fix, Jackson was the leading hitter in that Series with a .375 average – his 12 hits established a World Series record that stood for 45 years – and he played errorless in the field. Weaver was Chicago’s second leading hitter with a .324 average and he also played errorless ball at third.
Though the fix is known to be fact, the exact details of who did what, why and how remain unclear to this day.
Jackson said he went to White Sox owner Charles Comiskey before the first game and asked to be benched in order to avoid any implication. He also admitted to keeping an envelope containing $5,000 that was later left in his room. Until his death, however, Shoeless Joe insisted that he only played to win.
All eight players were cleared of wrongdoing in criminal and civil court in 1921, but newly appointed Commissioner of Baseball Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis issued lifetime bans on each one, based on their involvement and mere knowledge of the conspiracy.
According to Shoeless Joe Jackson, The Official Web Site (http://www.shoelessjoejackson.com/), he later said, “God knows I gave my best in baseball at all times and no man on earth can truthfully judge me otherwise.”
‘Nuff said. Baseball needed to take a hard stand against gambling 85 years ago and the stand needs to continue, however, a closer look needs to be taken at this case. Baseball needs to do the right thing and give Shoeless Joe Jackson the respect he properly deserves. He deserves to be remembered for what he did on the field, not as Black Sox trivia – or for “Say it ain’t so Joe!”
n Contact Dave Price at email@example.com or 881-1220
Name: Joseph Jefferson Jackson
Born: July 16, 1887 in Brandon Mills, South Carolina
Died: Dec. 5, 1951
Teams: 1908-09 Philadelphia, 1910-15 Cleveland, 1915-20 Chicago White Sox
Position: Outfield and First Base
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