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  • August 7th, 2017

RIGHTING WRONGS

By Joel M. Vance
Now that O.J. Simpson has sprinted back into the headlines and soon will be free to rob and kill again if he so chooses, perhaps it’s time to right a sports wrong that took place almost a century ago.
It’s way past time for the sport of baseball to grow up and induct Shoeless Joe Jackson into the Hall of Fame. Banned for life and prohibited from induction into the Hall forever, one of the greatest players in the history of the sport has been stuffed into history’s dustbin far too long.
Simpson may have spent years in jail for robbery, and escaped conviction for killing his ex-wife and her friend, but Jackson was convicted by society on dubious grounds and apparently will suffer eternal disgrace rather than a few years in prison before returning to the golf course.
And while the sports world is at it, how about recognizing Pete Rose’s unparalleled contribution to baseball as its alltime hit leader and also add him to the roster of Hall of Fame inductees?
Let’s look at Shoeless Joe first. He was accused of being one of the co-conspirators of the 1919 Chicago White Sox who conspired to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, forever after to be known as the Black Sox. There is no doubt that the Sox indeed did throw the series, for a few thousand dollars each from gamblers who presumably made many more thousands of dollars betting against the Sox, in the knowledge that there was no way they could lose.
But evidence suggests that Shoeless Joe was more a victim than he was a perpetrator. At worst, he failed to report the conspiracy among his teammates, but he himself could not have performed more valiantly for his team in the seven games of the series.
Shoeless Joe was one of the most dominant players in the early years of the modern era of baseball. He earned his nickname when he played one game in his stockings because a new pair of cleats hurt his feet. Joe Jackson was the illiterate son of a South Carolina sharecropper who started working 12 hours a day when he was six or seven years old. Professional baseball for him was salvation.
All evidence indicates, if not proves, that he had minimal involvement in the White Sox scandal. But he was banned for life from baseball by the flinty old autocrat, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and subsequent baseball commissioners and the fusty Baseball Writers of America have failed to make a wrong right. If Shoeless Joe Jackson did commit a sin it was one of omission not commission.
Shoeless Joe’s performance, not only for his entire major league career, but in the World Series where he was accused, is peerless and compared to all the rest of baseball, including those now enshrined in the Hall of Fame, he stands out. Consider this: Shoeless Joe Jackson still has the third highest lifetime batting average in major league history. For his 12 year major league career he batted .356 and had almost 1,800 hits. The Sporting News, the long time voice of major league baseball, ranks Shoeless Joe among the hundred top players of all time.
Shoeless Joe maintained his innocence from 1919 to his death in 1951. According to him and according to evidence, he refused the offered $5,000 bribe to throw the Series two different times. He tried to tell White Sox owner Charles Comiskey about the conspiracy but Comiskey, a notoriousy mean and grouchy old tyrant, refused to meet with him. Shoeless Joe couldn’t afford a lawyer so the team’s lawyer represented him in and allegedly got him drunk to admit his role in the plot. The other seven conspirators all said Jackson was not part of the plot and that they only used his name to give credibility to their scheme.
If Jackson did conspire to throw the series he didn’t do a very good job of it. He got 12 hits in the series a record that stood until 1964. He played errorless ball in left field and threw a man out at the plate. He was by far the outstanding player for either team in that infamous World Series.
Now, as to Pete Rose, the player known as Charlie Hustle, who starred for the Cincinnati Reds, ironically the team that played against the Black Sox in 1919.
There is no denying what Rose did on two counts. He got more hits than any major league player in the history of the game 4,258, eclipsing Ty Cobb’s 4,191 which had seemed destined to stand forever. But there also is no denying that Pete Rose bet on baseball games, thus earning the enmity of the baseball writers and slamming the door to the Hall of Fame against him if not forever, at least to this day. Rose’s defense was that he only bet on his own team to win, not to lose. But gambling whether on your own team or not, is, thanks to the black Sox, a fatal sin.
Pete Rose’s Hall of Fame credentials are unassailable. He won three World Series rings, three batting titles, was the most valuable player once, won two gold glove fielding awards, was the rookie of the year and made 17 All-Star appearances. He also had a lifetime batting average of .303. But.. He bet on baseball, an unpardonable sin since 1919. In 1991 the Hall of Fame voted to ban those who had been ruled permanently ineligible. Finally, in 2004, Rose admitted that he had bet on his team to win but not to lose (one investigator believes that Rose did bet against the Reds while managing them). Rose now is 75 years old and his Hall of Fame fate rests in the hands of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
The baseball Hall of Fame began in 1936 with the induction of five players, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. The Hall’s Museum opened in Cooperstown, New York, in 1939 where it is today. Of the original five, all of whom were notable for their excellence, both Cobb and Ruth have seen their signature accomplishments eclipsed— Cobb’s total career hits and Babe Ruth’s 60 home run season. Both record-setting performances were considered unbeatable forever, but it didn’t work out that way.
While we are writing the baseball Hall of Fame wrongs, let’s open that door to Roger Maris, who is more than a half century overdue for inclusion into the hall of immortals. What did he do? Well, according to the so-called baseball experts, he had the audacity to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record of 60 with 61 in 1961, a record that had stood for 37 years. He had a 12 year career in the major leagues, appeared in seven World Series and was a consecutive two time American League most valuable player and a seven-time All-Star as well as being a gold glove outfielder. He even has had a postage stamp issued in his honor. But he is not in the baseball Hall of Fame.
He committed two sins, according to the grumpy old baseball writers. He broke the Babe’s record, and he did it while playing with and vying for the top home run leadership with Mickey Mantle, who, along with Ruth and Joe DiMaggio constitutes the holy Trinity of Yankee baseball history. Forget the fact that Maris was a two-time American League most valuable player, that he played for two different World Series winning teams, one in each league, and that there are players with a lesser lifetime batting achievements who have made it into the hall.
What he got out of his historic achievement was abuse, even from Yankee fans who booed him the closer he got to breaking the home run record. What he got instead was an asterisk in the record book since it took him 162 games, as opposed to the 154 played in Ruth’s time. Maris’s sin was that he was not Ruth or Mickey Mantle. The more home runs he had, the closer he got to the Ruth record, the more withdrawn he became from the fans and, more importantly, the baseball writers who hold the key to the door of the Hall of Fame. He had 58 home runs within the Babe’s era 154 games, and 59 at the end of the 154 games, but it took until the final game of the extended season, number 162, to hit the last two home runs to reach the magic 61st.
There are two baseball statistics that likely will last into eternity. One is the 1941 streak of 56 games straight in which Joe DiMaggio hit safely. DiMaggio, rightly a Hall of Famer, was untouched by scandal, even if he was married briefly to Marilyn Monroe. The other notable statistic, likely to stand forever is the 31 games won by Denny McLain in 1968. McLain was 31-6 that year, and in today’s baseball where pitchers rarely go a complete-game much less win 20 or more games in a season, his 31 wins likely will endure forever. Not so his reputation which was marred by a conviction for racketeering, extortion, and drug possession for which he served time in prison. Ironically, the last batter McLain faced in his 11 year major league career was Pete Rose.
So, there you have it—the right and wrong of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Pete Rose is a coin flip as far as I’m concerned. His baseball career was unparalleled but he has been less than admirable in his personal life. Denny McLain is a no-no. He could have been the greatest pitcher in history but he booted it all away after one incredible season by unpardonable personal behavior. No place for him in the Hall of Fame.
But Roger Maris and Shoeless Joe Jackson are an entirely different story. Both are long overdue for admission, with apologies from the Baseball Writers of America, for their ill-treatment. But I don’t have a vote and no one among the members of the Writers Association cares one little bit about what I think.
All I have is an opinion.

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