Put Shoeless Joe in Hall of Fame
January 9, 2014
One of the great sluggers in Chicago White Sox history was selected on Wednesday for induction into baseball's Hall of Fame.
No doubt, Frank Thomas deserves the Cooperstown recognition, just as pitching greats Greg Maddux (a Las Vegas product) and Tom Glavine deserve to be inducted together after all those seasons they had with the Atlanta Braves.
I just wish one other former White Sox slugger had been given consideration by the Baseball Writers' Association of America — "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.
I've written a few Shoeless Joe columns over the years — I've seen "Eight Men Out," "Field of Dreams" and read books on the subject — and I stand firm in my belief he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame despite the stigma of the 1919 Chicago "Black Sox" scandal.
Jackson played for three clubs in 13 seasons and 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. 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 could play defense as well as any player of his era.
In 1917, Jackson won a throwing contest at a distance of better than 396 feet. And 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 time had taken something out of his arm by then.
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In 1919, Jackson hit .351 while playing in 139 of Chicago's 140 games. The White Sox 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 went 96-44 and won the National League pennant by nine games.
After the Reds won the best-of-nine World Series in eight games, however, a conspiracy with gamblers to fix the games soon exploded in the news. A full year later, eight White Sox 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.
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 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 he only played to win.
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 defense.
A good case could also be made to clear Weaver, who was Chicago's second leading hitter with a .324 average and played errorless ball.
All eight players were cleared of wrongdoing in criminal and civil court in 1921, however, newly appointed Commissioner of Baseball Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis issued lifetime bans on each one, based on their involvement and 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."
Baseball needed to take a hard stand against gambling, however, a closer look needs to be taken at this case. Baseball needs to do the right thing and give Shoeless Joe 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!"
Dave Price is sports editor for The Record-Courier