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The Greatest Player not in the Hall of Fame

by Ed Nixon

The following article was published in the Jan/Feb 1996 issue of THE VINTAGE AND CLASSIC BASEBALL COLLECTOR and appears courtesy of Ed Nixon.

In the long history of major league baseball, few men have inspired more controversy than Joseph Jefferson Jackson, otherwise known as "Shoeless Joe". Jackson was caught up in the middle of baseball's most infamous scandal, the 1919 World Series, or, as history recalls it, the "Black Sox" scandal. For seventy-six years, people in and out of baseball circles, have argued his guilt or innocence in the throwing of World Series games for money supplied by gamblers. As Jackson pointed out, he did his best to win, and his series record obviously bears out his claim: He batted .375, had 13 hits, (one of which was taken away by one of the scorers), threw out five baserunners, fielded 1000%, and, handled thirty chances in the OF with no errors. Such a performance tells this writer that Jackson did better than any player in that series.

In Jay Bennett's fine article in the AMERICAN STATISTICIAN: "DID SHOELESS JOE JACKSON THROW THE 1919 WORLD SERIES, Nov. 1993), Mr. Bennett proves that Joe Jackson contributed more towards winning than most players on both teams. Mr. Bennett maintains that Joe Jackson played to his full potential in the 1919 World Series, and, further, as a batter, contributed more towards winning than any player on both teams.

STATISTICS DO NOT LIE. Joe Jackson did nothing to throw any game in the 1919 World Series, he played his heart out in the game he loved! Some of Jackson's critics like to point out that he "slowed down" when going after certain balls hit to the outfield, or that he did not produce in the clutch. According to Donald Gropman, Jackson's biographer, Jackson did nothing amiss that would suggest he was throwing games, and further, one of the official scorers, Christy Mathewson, could see nothing dishonest with Jackson's playing.

Still, other critics maintain that Jackson confessed to taking part in the fix. I believe this was largely due to some tampering done by Alfred Austrian, Comiskey's lawyer. It was Austrian's job to protect his client, Comiskey, at all costs. Never mind the toll in human misery that Austrian and Comiskey were responsible for. It is my belief that Austrian told Jackson just what to say on the witness stand, or, go to jail. What choice then, did Jackson have? It is also interesting to note that Charles Comiskey denied Jackson's plea to bench him for the entire Series because "something was wrong" with the games to be played, and he, Jackson, did not want to be involved with a crooked series. Comiskey knew the Series was fixed, but he couldn't afford to lose many thousands of dollars if the Series was called off. Jackson even told Kid Gleason, the White Sox manager, that he did not want to play. Gleason ordered him to play. The rest, as they say, is history.

Of course, there was the famous Black Sox trial in which all eight of the Sox were aquitted for lack of evidence, (the confessions having been stolen or lost, nobody seemed to know for sure). There is some speculation that Arnold Rothstein, the gambler who financed the fix, paid big money to procure the "confessions", so his name would not be brought into the fix. Perhaps the trial was somewhat of a sham, but it was the legal system of the time regardless, and a not guilty verdict should not have been ignored by Kenesaw Landis, the newly appointed baseball Commissioner. Landis simply threw all the "Black Sox" out of organized baseball for life. Landis chose to overstep his authority and, I believe, should have been in contempt of court. Landis apparently thought he was above the law. In his zeal to "clean up" baseball, Landis handed down the stiffest penalty he could.....lifetime banishment.

Even though there was a conspiracy to throw the Series, I suggest a year or two suspension for the guilty players, and a fine, would have been more appropriate, although not in Jackson's case. He was innocent, regardless of what his critics may say. Don Gropman maintains in his biography of Joe Jackson was a dupe of his Black Sox teammates, and a victim of the insidious Charles Comiskey. As Bob Bavasi stated in a news paper article, "nobody could prove that Jackson did a thing to throw any of those games".

Major league baseball has turned a deaf ear to efforts to have Joe Jackson re-instated to the elligible list, and I have written numerous letters to Bud Selig asking him to intervene on behalf of Joe Jackson. Mr. Selig has told me all it would take is a meeting of the executive council and himself to take a vote to re-instate Jackson, or, keep him suspended. Why has this issue not been addressed? I guess Bud Selig is not interested in correcting an injustice that occurred seventy six years ago, and ended the most brilliant baseball career ever. As another writer has said: "Baseball owes a debt to Joe Jackson that can only be settled in Cooperstown".

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