By Steve Kallas
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Now that there should be at least a chance for Pete Rose to get into the Hall of Fame given the appointment of a new commissioner, Rob Manfred should allow Shoeless Joe Jackson to be considered for the Hall of Fame as well.
As many of you know, Joe Jackson — one of the greatest players ever — was banned for life after allegedly throwing the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds as a member of the Chicago White Sox.
Jackson’s candidacy was discussed by New York Times best-selling author Kostya Kennedy in his recent book, “Pete Rose: An American Dilemma.” Unfortunately, Kennedy seems to dismiss the notion by simply quoting some of Jackson’s grand-jury testimony.
Kennedy quotes a few questions and answers from that testimony, where Jackson admitted that he was supposed to receive $20,000 to throw the World Series but only received $5,000. Another question/answer quoted by Kennedy from Jackson’s testimony was:
Q: Then you went ahead and threw the second game … is that right?
A: We went ahead and threw the second game.
Interestingly, Jackson answered that last question with a “We” instead of an “I.”
Kennedy states in his book that “it remains hard to get past some of the things that Jackson said under oath to the grand jury in Cook County.”
WELL, IT’S NOT REALLY HARD AT ALL
Jackson’s 25-page grand jury testimony, given on September 29, 1920, is published in its entirety in the book entitled, “Shoeless Joe Jackson and Ragtime Baseball,” written by well-known baseball writer Harvey Frommer. There are a few other questions and answers that should be looked at as well.
Here are a few:
Q: (questions here referring to Game 4, which the White Sox lost) Did you make any intentional errors yourself that day?
A: No, sir, not during the whole series.
Q: Did you bat to win?
Q: And run the bases to win?
A: Yes, sir.
Q; And fielded the balls at the outfield to win?
A: I did.
Shortly thereafter, Jackson was asked questions about the entire World Series:
Q: Did you do anything to throw these games?
A: No, sir.
Q: Any game in the series?
A: Not a one. I didn’t have an error and make no misplay.
When you look at Jackson’s actual performance in the 1919 World Series, it doesn’t seem that there is any proof that he did anything wrong in terms of losing games. He hit .375, higher than any regular on BOTH teams. That average was 24 points higher than his 1919 regular-season average of .351.
That has to count for something, doesn’t it?
In addition, he led BOTH teams in hits (12), led his team in RBIs (six), hit the only home run (by either team) in the eight-game series and didn’t make an error in the field. His 12 hits were the most ever in a World Series, and it would have been 13 but one of his hits was later changed to an error.
That’s an awful lot of trying-his-best evidence.
This may not mean much, but in his only other World Series appearance (a 1917 victory), Jackson hit .304 and slugged .304, with an OPS of .658. In the series he supposedly threw two years later, Jackson hit .375 and slugged .563, with an OPS of .956. And, remember, 1919 was the last year of the dead-ball era.
WHAT DID SHOELESS JOE JACKSON REALLY DO?
Well, it says here that he cheated the cheaters. He double-crossed the double-crossers. If he was promised $20,000 and given $20,000, maybe he would have hit .230 and made three errors. That we will never know.
But since he was given one-quarter of what he was promised and he didn’t receive that until after Game 4 (according to his grand jury testimony), it seems pretty clear what he did: He played hard before he got the money and he played hard after he got the money. While some seem to think it’s meaningful testimony that Jackson said “I put it in my pocket” after he was asked what he did with the $5,000, that really doesn’t mean a thing.
In fact, there are reports that, the day after the final game of the World Series, Jackson tried to give the $5,000 to White Sox Owner Charles Comiskey, but Comiskey refused to see him. By the way, if Comiskey wasn’t such a cheap owner (depriving pitcher Ed Cicotte of a promised $10,000 bonus, for example), there probably never would have been a Black Sox scandal.
Jackson took the money, stiffed the gamblers and played his best.
NEED MORE EVIDENCE?
No problem. Eliot Asinof, in his 1963 book on the 1919 World Series entitled“Eight Men Out,” has about 150 pages on the actual playing of the 1919 World Series. A review of those 150 pages for the sole purpose of trying to figure out what, if anything, Jackson did to “throw” the series, only shows one reference that Jackson played too shallow in left field and a batter hit a double over his head.
If that’s the worst thing he did, then it’s hard to believe that anybody could seriously think he threw the series. In fact, that’s pretty good evidence that he did nothing of real substance (hitting poorly, fielding poorly, etc.). Backed with his statistics, nobody can make even a reasonable case that he threw the 1919 World Series.
What he did do is what many people do in many walks of life: agree to a shady deal, agree to an illegal deal and then just walk away from it. In this instance, that meant playing his best.
Just look at the numbers.
WHAT ABOUT THE FACT THAT HE KNEW ABOUT IT?
Yeah, he did. But he was acquitted at trial, and nevertheless was banned by Kenesaw Mountain Landis. That former commissioner, by the way, became a Hall of Famer despite keeping African Americans out of the game for almost a quarter of a century.
Landis in the Hall of Fame. Jackson not in the Hall of Fame. Yes — down is up, up is down.
Knowing about a possible fix and not participating in it isn’t grounds for a lifetime ban. In addition, under present-day rules, Shoeless Joe could have applied for reinstatement after a year.
Now that it’s been 95 years for something he didn’t do, it’s time to let Jackson into the Hall of Fame.
It’s certainly an incomplete Hall of Fame without Rose. but it’s an even bigger travesty and a disgrace of a Hall of Fame without Jackson.
Manfred has a chance to right two pretty bad wrongs. While few think he will, there is always a chance, a hope, that he will do the right thing.
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