Joe' Remains a Scapegoat (9/2/99) by Harvey Frommer, with permissions.
At the 1999 All-Star
game, 98 of the 100 players on the ballot for the All-Century Baseball
team were honored with banners hanging at Fenway Park. However,
Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, two of the best players in the
history of the game, were not.
"Charlie Hustle" and "Shoeless Joe" are becoming baseball's odd
couple - - both ineligible for the Hall of Fame because of a lifetime
ban, two of just 15 ever issued by the commissioner of baseball.
No person ever permanently banned has ever been reinstated.
Most sports fans know a lot about Pete Rose: however, their knowledge
about Jackson is sketchy, sometimes inaccurate. So for the record
- the facts.
Joseph Jefferson Wofford Jackson was born to a poor family on
July 16, 1889 in Greenville, South Carolina. School was never a
part of his life for at the age of six he was already working in
the cotton mills as a cleanup boy.
By the time he was 13 he was laboring a dozen hours a day along
with his father and brother. His sole escape from the back-breaking
work, the din and dust of the mill, took place out in the grassy
fields playing baseball. He was a natural right from the start,
good enough to be noticed and recruited to play for the mill team
organized by the company.
One hot summer day Jackson played the outfield wearing a new pair
of shoes. They pinched his feet, so he took them off and played
in his stocking feet. A sportswriter who saw what he did dubbed
him "Shoeless Joe." The name stuck even though that was the only
time Jackson is reported to have played 'shoeless.'
He despised the name for he felt it reinforced his country-bumpkin
origins, the fact that he could not read nor write.
Perhaps that was why when he played for the Chicago White Sox
after stints with the Philadelphia Athletics and Cleveland Indians,
he wore alligator and patent leather shoes - the more expensive
the better. It was if he was announcing to the world: "I am not
a Shoeless Joe. I do wear shoes. And they cost a lot of money!"
He was the greatest ball player ever from South Carolina, one
of the top players of all time. His lifetime batting average was
.356, topped only by Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.
Four times he batted over .370. Babe Ruth copied his swing claiming
Jackson was the greatest hitter he ever saw. Ruth, Cobb, and Casey
Stengel all placed him on their all-time, all star team. He was
such a remarkable fielder that his glove was called "the place where
triples go to die."
In the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown one can find
Jackson's shoes. His life size photograph is there. But he is not
there even though others with far less credentials and far more
soiled reputations are. Shoeless Joe had to leave the game in disgrace,
one of the members of the "Black Sox" accused of throwing the 1919
He was asked
under oath at trial:
"Did you do anything to throw those games?"
"No sir," was his response.
"Any game in the series?"
"Not a one," Jackson answered. "I didn't have an error
or make no misplay."
In fact, Shoeless Joe was under-stating his accomplishments which
included the only series home run, the highest batting average,
the collecting of a record dozen hits, while committing no errors.
It took the jury a single ballot to acquit all eight accused players
of the charges against them. But the very next day baseball's first
commissioner - Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis - issued a verdict
of his own. He banned all eight players from baseball for life.
Landis was brought into organized baseball in the fall of 1920
with a lifetime contract and a mandate to clean up the game using
whatever methods he saw fit. He had the reputation of being a vindictive
judge, a hanging judge - and he was all of that.
Every baseball commissioner since Landis has refused to act on
"Shoeless Joe's behalf."
Commissioner Faye Vincent said: "I can't
uncipher or decipher what took place back then. I have no intention
of taking formal action."
Commissioner Bart Giammatti said: "I do not wish to play God with
history. The Jackson case is best left to historical debate and
analysis. I am not for re-instatement."
Public pressure keeps increasing year by year. But the ban still
remains. It is a story that won't go away, like a riddle inside
a jigsaw puzzle inside an enigma. It is a story about a great baseball
injustice - - - a talented player caught at a crossroad in American
history who became a victim, a scapegoat so that the sport of baseball
could offer up a cleaner image.
N O N - F I C T I O N
Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series by Eliot Asinof,
1963, Henry Holt and Company, Current Production Run: Movie Tie
Edition, Paperback, 302 pages, Published by Henry Holt (Paper),
Publication date: August 1, 1988, ISBN: 0805003460.
The Great Baseball Mystery -- The 1919 World Series
by Victor Luhrs, New York, 1966.
Baseball: An Illustrated History by Geoffrey
C. Ward and Ken Burns, Published by Knopf, September 1, 1994, ISBN:
Shoeless Joe Jackson by Jack Kavanaugh, c1995
Chelsea House Publishers. Reading Level: Ages 9-12, Library Binding,
64 pages, Publication date: October 1, 1994, ISBN: 079102170X .
Growing Up With "Shoeless Joe" by
Joe Thompson, c1997, published in cooperation with Burgess International,
Greenville, SC by Joe Thompson, Incorporated, ISBN 0-9662531-0-8.
It Ain't So, Joe! -- The True Story Of Shoeless Joe Jackson
by Donald Gropman, First Edition c1979, Revised, Updated with New
Information 1992, Carol Publishing Group, A Citadel Press Book,
Joe and Ragtime Baseball by Harvey Frommer 1992, Taylor Publishing
Company, Current Production Run: Paperback, Publication date: March
1, 1993, ISBN: 0878338209.
F I C T I O N
Joe by W.P. Kinsella, Current Production Run: Paperback, Published
by Ballantine Books (Trd Pap), Publication date: August 1, 1996,
Of Interest: Visit the Field
of Dreams Movie Site
by Harry Stein, Paperback, 464 pages. Published by Dell Books, Publication
date: June 1, 1997, ISBN: 0440221307.