Baseball

Shoeless Joe Jackson For The Hall Of Fame

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A surefire way to start a debate is to state that Shoeless Joe Jackson should be in the Hall of Fame. With the success of the Field of Dreams game between the White Sox and the Yankees, many fans have been exposed to the legacy of Shoeless Joe. Perhaps, though, a good number of fans are not familiar with his story. It is a story of a baseball player who was one of the most talented players to ever play the game.

Shoeless Joe Jackson played in the majors from 1908 through 1920. He spent the first half of his career with the Philadelphia A’s and the Cleveland Indians. He spent the latter years of his career with the Chicago White Sox. It was during his tenure with the South Siders that Shoeless Joe made a name for himself, albeit in a rather negative way.

Shoeless Joe Jackson And The 1919 World Series

The most famous portion of Shoeless Joe’s career undoubtedly centers on the 1919 World Series. That was a series that will certainly live in infamy in the hearts of many baseball fans. As most, if not all fans know, the Chicago White Sox entered the series against the Cincinnati Reds as heavy favorites. However, prior to the series, eight White Sox players were approached by professional gamblers and agreed to let the Reds win the series. Joe Jackson was one of the eight players, who were immortalized in two movies, Field of Dreams, and Eight Men Out

The series began with the Reds blowing out the favored White Sox 9-1, then winning game two by a 4-2 score. The White Sox won game three, with the Reds taking games four and five. For some reason, though, the 1919 World Series was a best-of-9, as opposed to the usual best-of-7. So, even though the Reds had won four games, they needed five to claim the championship. Legend has it that the Sox, in an effort to make the games look legitimate, took games six and seven, to draw close at 4-3. However, the Reds won game eight and took home the title.

So, how did Shoeless Joe perform in the 1919 World Series? In the eight games, Jackson hit .375, with an OPS of .956. He had one home run and six RBIs while striking out only twice in eight games. According to some, he may have lightened up at times, but the history is fuzzy there. Did he relax when the games were out-of-hand? Do we know if his relaxing contributed directly to a Reds win? According to the box scores, he did not commit any errors, although outfielders’ blunders do not always show up in the box score. All we know for sure is that he hit well in the Series and was not charged with any errors.

Shoeless Joe Banned For Life

In 1920, after an in-depth investigation, eight White Sox players were acquitted of criminal charges in the gambling scandal. In spite of the acquittals, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis instituted a permanent ban on all eight players. All eight were barred from Major League Baseball for life, including Shoeless Joe. Additionally, they would be ineligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Their careers ended in shame and humiliation.

Fans Rally Behind Shoeless Joe

To this day, Shoeless Joe remains a very popular figure among South Side baseball fans. He is seen as a hero and martyr by many who feel that he did not get injustice from MLB. Sox fans have rallied behind an effort to get Shoeless Joe reinstated so that he would be eligible for the Hall of Fame. There is a website dedicated to this singular cause, and people have worked tirelessly to try to get their hero reinstated. The effort has only intensified with the attention drawn by this year’s Field of Dreams game (which the White Sox won, walking off the hated Yankees). The movement to get Shoeless Joe reinstated shows no sign of letting up any time soon.

The Hall Of Fame Case For Shoeless Joe Jackson

So, when all is said and done, the debate about Shoeless Joe is likely to go on as long as serious fans discuss baseball. There are strong arguments against Jackson, to be sure. After all, he took money from gamblers and admitted to as much. There is no doubt that, in a quid pro quo, Jackson would then help to “throw ” the series to the underdog Reds. Even though Jackson lead his team in hitting, he associated with gamblers, and gambling is the one unforgivable sin in baseball. Yes, players have always known that gambling was strictly taboo, with no exceptions. So, the case against Shoeless Joe is strong, to be sure.

However, we have the advantage of time and experience, the ability to look at things through a more contemporary lens. Taking a step back, there are some points that would attempt to make the case for Jackson’s reinstatement, and open the doors to Cooperstown for him.

While Jackson took the money, his play was anything but compromised. Unlike some of his teammates, Jackson played well, as he was the leading hitter in the Series. If anything, he may be guilty of double-crossing the gambling mob. That may or may not have been a wise move, but he did not play like a guy trying to throw the series.

On a human level, when one looks back at the 1919 Black Sox, there is no doubt that Shoeless Joe was put into a rather difficult situation. While we are not justifying his actions, if we put ourselves into his shoes, we can understand the dilemma he faced. He knew that some teammates were taking money and probably rolling over for the Reds. Knowing that his options were limited. Common sense would suggest that he could have done one of two things.

He could have gone to the commissioner and spilled the beans, which would have certainly thrown the whole series into chaos. Or, he could keep his mouth shut, and play as hard personally as he could. Looking back, his decision to keep quiet may have been made out of fear for his life or the lives of others, as a ruthless mob would surely look to exact revenge. His decision was not as easy as it may appear to us, 100 years later. We are a nation that believes in forgiveness, after all.

The final point, which admittedly has some problems, is the hypocrisy involving MLB and gambling. Both have come a long way since 1919, to the point that MLB endorses gambling. In fact, at least one MLB team, the Chicago Cubs, are actively pursuing a partnership with DraftKings to provide a sportsbook in the Wrigleyville area. One of the stated goals of this partnership is to “make gambling an integral part of game day at the Friendly Confines.” MLB is partnering with gamblers simply as a way to create new revenue streams.

In other words, follow the money. Yes, it is true that no gambling deal would encourage or allow current players to place bets on MLB games. Still, this seems hypocritical on multiple levels, sending the message that MLB has no issues with gambling on baseball. It does not exonerate Shoeless Joe but raises questions about the connection between baseball and gambling. In fact, it would be understandable if current players questioned that connection, and whether MLB is employing a double standard.

All that said, we believe that Shoeless Joe Jackson should have the opportunity to be eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame. We realize that this is unpopular with many; however, we believe that he has served his time – a 100-year sentence. Though he has long since passed away, he should receive consideration for the Hall. As baseball embraces gambling, it at least owes one of its outstanding players a chance. Should his plaque explain his gambling on the World Series? By all means, it should, as fans should know the whole story. Still, we believe that the time has come to reinstate Shoeless Joe, if only for the opportunity to have his name on that plaque.

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Mike Fisk is a lifelong baseball fan. For him, there is nothing like being at a baseball game, with the sights, the sounds, the smells. Writing about baseball is a bonus!