As the author of Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball, I
keep getting letters and e-mails from all over the world
from people on both sides of a baseball story that will not
go away. The book has gone through three editions with a
fourth pending. With the dawning of the 2014 baseball
season, it seems worthwhile to re-visit a long ago time.
The 1919 Chicago White Sox were one of the greatest teams of
their era. They won the American League pennant and faced
off against the Cincinnati Reds, favored 3-1, to win the
But as the series was about to get underway - the betting
odds started to shift to even money. The word on the street
was that New York gambler Arnold Rothstein was behind the
swing and that the series was fixed.
Hearing the rumor, White Sox outfielder "Shoeless Joe"
Jackson asked Chicago manager Kid Gleason and owner Charles
Comiskey to bench him. But they insisted he play. They would
have been crazy to put down their best player.
During the series Jackson hit the only home run, had the
highest batting average, committed no errors and established
a new World Series record with 12 hits. Nevertheless, the
Edd Rousch, who played for the Reds, dismissed the charges
that the series was fixed. "We were just the better team,"
he said. And umpire Billy Evans who worked the series said:
"Maybe I'm a dope but everything seemed okay to me."
But the rumor of a fix persisted. The 1920 season got
underway and the White Sox were driving hard to their second
straight pennant when a petty gambler in Philadelphia broke
the news that a Cubs-Phillies game had been fixed in 1919.
That led to a gambling investigation, with its focus being
the 1919 World Series. With only a couple of days left in
the 1920 season, a Grand Jury was called to determine
whether eight White Sox players should stand trial for
allegedly throwing the 1919 World Series. Jackson was one of
He was asked under oath: "Did you do anything to throw those
"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."
It took the jury a single ballot to acquit all eight accused
players. But the very next day, baseball's first
commissioner - Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who came to
power in the fall of 1920 with a lifetime contract and a
mandate to clean up the game using whatever methods he saw
fit - banned all eight players from baseball for life.
That was basically the end of the story of the greatest
sports scandal of the century. But it is a story that will
not go away.
Was there a plan to throw the World Series?
Was it carried out?
If so, which games were thrown?
What was the role of each banned player?
Why was there a blanket banning of the players? Buck Weaver
was banned not for dumping but for allegedly having guilty
knowledge that there was a plot. Fred McMullen was banned
though he came to bat twice and got one hit. Jackson was
banned although his performance exceeded his own records.
If the eight players were found not guilty in a court of
law, how could they have been found guilty by a baseball
Public pressure keeps increasing year-by-year to undo what
many believe was a terrible wrong. But the ban still
remains. 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."
There have been other sports scandals in the 20th century -
boxing matches that were fixed or allegedly fixed, the great
college basketball scandal of the 1950s in New York City,
rumors of other malfeasance in sports - but nothing holds a
candle to the 1919 Black Sox scandal.
And it just will not go away.
With the banning from baseball of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and
the other seven Chicago White Sox players, it was as if the
sport was saying: now we are clean and have purged ourselves
of the dishonest ways of the past. And if Jackson in the
prime of his baseball career and the others were sacrificed,
that was the way it had to be.
One of the greatest stars of that time, Jackson continued to
exert a strong public fascination even after his banning.
All kinds of folklore attached to him. One story had a
little boy greet the ballplayer on the courtyard steps with
the tearful line: "Say it ain't so, Joe."
The true story, according to Jackson, was that a big guy
came up to him and shouted: "I told you the son of a bitch
For nearly 20 years, Jackson tried to continue to play with
outlaw barnstormers, mill teams and in the semi-pros. He
played under aliases and with disguises, but his
unmistakable swing always gave him away. Judge Landis, the
bigoted, anti-union, anti-black, vindictive and relentless
first Commissioner of baseball, threatened team owners and
league officials to keep Jackson from playing.
Even when Jackson in 1932 applied for permission to manage a
minor league team in his home town of Greenville, South
Carolina, Landis was intransigent. He denied the
In 1951, the man they called "Shoeless Joe" died of a
massive heart attack just one week before he was scheduled
to appear on the Ed Sullivan television show to receive a
trophy in honor of his being inducted into the Cleveland
Indians Baseball Hall of Fame.
That much was accomplished. But all attempts during and
after Jackson's lifetime to get him into the Baseball Hall
of Fame in Cooperstown, New York have failed.
Prominent attorneys like Alan Dershowitz and F. Lee Bailey
have argued that Jackson should go into the Hall. Baseball
legends like like Ted Williams have taken up Jackson's
cause. There have been petitions, Congressional motions,
letters sent to baseball Commissioners through the years -
all to no avail.
This was a player who posted the third-highest lifetime
batting average. This was a player who four times batted
over .370. This was a player who was such a remarkable
fielder that his glove was dubbed "the place where triples
go to die."
Babe Ruth copied Jackson's swing and claimed "Shoeless Joe"
was the greatest hitter he ever saw. Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Casey
Stengel all placed him on their all-time, All-Star team.
Joe Jackson's shoes are in the Hall of Fame. His life-size
photograph is there. But he is not enshrined even though
others with far less credentials and far more soiled
So we are left with a baseball story that will not go away -
the Greatest Sports Scandal of the 20th Century.
It is still with us because of the lingering sense that
justice miscarried, that the ignorant were duped by the
clever, that the powerless suffered and the strong
prevailed, that Jackson and the others were scapegoats,
victims who were caught at a crossroads time in baseball and