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Greatest Sports Scandal of Century: The 1919 Black Sox (Part II)

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 wears shoes."

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 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 application.

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. Players 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 reputations are.

So we are left with a baseball story that will not go away - the Greatest Sports Scandal of the 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 American history.


Harvey Frommer is the author of "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball" (Taylor Publishers).

November 28,1999

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch. 
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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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