“Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
It is one of the most gut-wrenching lines to ever be uttered in baseball lore. The line that made fans in Chicago hope that one of their heroes did not do the unthinkable, bet on baseball and throw away the 1919 World Series.
The “Black Sox” Scandal. “Shoeless’ Joe Jackson was deemed to be a part of it, and was banned from baseball for life, along with 7 other members of the team, by then Major League Baseball Commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis.
Generations have passed, and time and time again, “Shoeless” Joe’s name has been brought up for reinstatement in debate as well as to other commissioners, and time and time again, reinstatement has been denied.
For those who missed it, the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, S.C., had once again appealed to major league baseball to have Jackson reinstated to good standing.
Jackson repeatedly has been portrayed in a sympathetic light through the years, especially in the 1989 Kevin Costner classic, “Field of Dreams”, where he is brought back to life by an Iowa farmer. The movie site near Dyersville has become a shrine for baseball worshipers and has subtly fueled support for Jackson’s reinstatement.
The museum folks down in Greenville apparently felt they had a chance this time as they planned to unveil Manfred’s decision on their Facebook page Tuesday morning.
Unfortunately, the final nail in the coffin was hammered down, as current commissioner Rob Manfred denied reinstatement and would not reverse the decisions of predecessors such as Kenesaw Mountain Landis and A. Bartlett Giamatti. . And to be honest, it’s really the only thing Manfred could have possibly done.
Manfred even referenced Giamatti’s 1989 response to a pro-Jackson appeal, stating “I agree with that determination and conclude that it would not be appropriate for me to reopen this matter.”
There is no question Jackson was a Hall of Fame-caliber player. Ty Cobb called him “the finest natural hitter in the history of the game.” Legend has it that Babe Ruth copied his swing. He was perhaps baseball’s first legitimate five-tool player. He could run, field, throw, hit and hit with power. As someone succinctly wisecracked in the film, Eight Men Out, “If he could read, he’d be perfect.’’
Jackson was illiterate and apparently not smart enough or scrupulous enough to understand that if he sat in meetings with gamblers and took money from gamblers that it didn’t really matter if he didn’t lose on purpose.
Jackson set a record with 12 hits in that 1919 Series and made a couple of great defensive plays. But he also allegedly took $5,000 from the gamblers who sought to guarantee the outcome of the games. He knew about it, and he benefited from it. Enough said. Evidence that he didn’t do anything to help the fix is window dressing.
Now, if Manfred reversed course and decided to go about reinstating Jackson, it would open a gigantic can of worms too slippery for baseball to handle.
If Manfred did this, he also would need to reinstate Buck Weaver, the third baseman on that White Sox team who also did nothing to throw the Series and did not take any money. Weaver’s only crime was keeping his mouth shut. He’s a marginal Hall of Fame candidate at best, but baseball would at least have to afford him the opportunity.
Reversing the Jackson decision also would throw open the doors for Pete Rose. If you’re going to pardon one person banished for gambling connections, you probably need to do it for all of them.
Perhaps, too, then we need to forgive all the players who have inflated their statistics in the modern era through the use of performance-enhancing substances.
There has been no new evidence presented about Jackson’s case since Giamatti’s decision or Landis’ original verdict, for that matter. Nothing has changed. So if Manfred relented now he would be thumbing his nose at his predecessors.
He obviously knows that. That’s why the doors to Cooperstown are going to remain locked to Jackson. And after this, one would have to say forever.