This week in baseball: ‘Shoeless Joe’

Andy Zides

“Field of Dreams” might be the best baseball movie of all time. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson might have the greatest baseball nickname of all time. Neither are sufficient reasons why he should have his name cleared and be elected into the Hall of Fame.
Believe me, even the most polished, cold and egotistical owner or baseball executive in the game today would like deep down in their heart to see “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in the Hall of Fame, but there are several issues to remedy before his name be cleared.
First, there were eight Black Sox banned from baseball for life by Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Of the eight, only one did not take a penny of the gambler’s money. Shoeless Joe? No. Buck Weaver.
If any of the Black Sox should have their name cleared, it is Buck Weaver. Weaver, who was found guilty by association, knew about the plot to throw the World Series, but didn’t have the heart to rat out his teammates. Thus, it would be the World Series if Shoeless Joe’s name was cleared before Buck Weaver’s.
Let’s rephrase this so that everyone truly understands. Buck Weaver was the only Black Sox to not take any money. Does that mean “Shoeless Joe” actually took money from gamblers? Yes, he took $5,000.
There are those who will say, “But Jackson hit .375 in the World Series and hit the only Series homerun.” .375 was a typical “Shoeless Joe” batting average, so it wasn’t as if he performed much better at the plate, being proof he wasn’t guilty. His home run, the only in the entire 1919 World Series, came in the final innings of the final game, well after the game had already been conceded to the Reds. His homerun therefore was meaningless.
Now lets go to bat for Shoeless Joe and the other Black Sox. Their owner, Charles Comiskey, was awful. He was known throughout the game as the most cheap owner, when all the owners were terribly cheap with players salaries.
One examples of Comiskey’s terrible practices was his charging the White Sox money for the laundering of their uniforms. The White Sox rebelled against this and refused to launder their uniforms, so that even before the 1919 World Series, their nickname was the Black Sox. Comiskey got even with his players by not giving them any World Series bonus money.
Another example of Comiskey’s wickedness was when he ordered White Sox manager, Kid Gleason, to bench Eddie Cicotte. Cicotte was the team’s star pitcher and finished with a record of 29-7. If Cicotte won 30 games, it was in his contract that he receive a $10,000 bonus. Once the AL Pennant was clearly going to Chicago, the White Sox could afford not having their ace on the mound. Cicotte was benched for two weeks in August 1919 for the crime of winning too many games.
Finally, as if the White Sox’s terrible owner and their terrible salary were not enough, America at the time was crazy about gambling. Everyone gambled. The three biggest sports in the country were baseball, boxing and horse racing. As playwright John Sayles put it, “the atmosphere was too good for it (the throwing of the World Series) not to happen.”
The 1919 World Series was fixed. It was thrown or lost intentionally by members of the White Sox for money. Charles Comiskey and the gambling atmosphere in America were certainly factors in crime. Ignorance and selfishness on some of the player’s part were also factors in the crime.
Ironically, Charles Comiskey is a member of the Hall of Fame as an executive, when it was partly due to his cruel actions as an executive that the Black Sox scandal even happened.
So what did we as baseball fans do with “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and the Black Sox? More then 50 years since his death, the mystic of “Shoeless Joe” has not gone away, it has increased. In the generations to come no doubt more fans will call for the re-instatement of “Shoeless Joe” and for his election into the Hall of Fame. I offer a compromise:
Buck Weaver died in 1956 knowing that his name had not been cleared and that he was going to be forever labeled one of the Black Sox. His name should have been cleared then. Since Weaver was the only true “Clean” Sox, not taking any money and playing exceptionally well in the Series, let’s clear his name right now. What harm will come from it? Weaver is dead, he is not going to try to make a comeback and play Major League Baseball again.
Finally, because Comiskey was so terrible and the atmosphere was so potent, and most of the rest of the players were coaxed into the fix, let’s pardon six of the remaining seven Black Sox.
On the 100th anniversary of their banishment, Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Happy Felsch, Fred McMullin, Swede Risberg and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, will have their names cleared. The only remaining Black Sox, Chick Gandil, will remain ineligible because he was the buffer between the gamblers and the players and coaxed the others to join in on the fix.