Should Baseball Reinstate Buck Weaver and Shoeless Joe Jackson?
"I copied Jackson's style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen, the greatest natural hitter I ever saw. He's the guy who made me a hitter." -- Babe Ruth
As most sports fans know, in 1921 a Chicago jury acquitted Shoeless Joe Jackson and his seven White Sox teammates of wrongdoing in the Blacksox scandal of 1919 (they were accused of throwing the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, five games to three).
Nevertheless, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the newly appointed Commissioner of Baseball, banned all eight accused players for life, claiming baseball's need to clean up its image took precedence over legal judgments.
As a result, Jackson and his seven teammates never played major league baseball after the 1920 season. A lesser known player, Buck Weaver, was one of the eight players banned for life and the only one who never took any money.
Jackson and the remaining six players all took $5000.00 (except pitcher Eddie Ciotte who may have received $10,000) of the 20,000.00 they were promised.
Weaver batted .324 (11 hits) in the 1919 World Series, which was .28 above his .296 season average. An excellent fielder, he played errorless ball in the Series, lending credence to his lifelong claim that he had nothing to do with the fix.
Weaver was banned for having knowledge of the fix (supposedly he was at two of the meetings about the fix) and failing to tell team officials. This was lame since Charles Comiskey, owner of the Chicago White Sox, had learned of the fix before the World Series began from both Kid Gleason, Manager of the White Sox, and Hugh Fullerton, a reporter.
Weaver seems to be the easy one to judge: If everything I have read is true then it is obvious Weaver got shafted big time—a 10-game suspension to make a statement seems much fairer.
As for reinstatement, this seems like a no brainer although it does not appear that he was quite good enough to be voted to the Hall of Fame.
The same could not be said of Jackson, who was (is) a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. He was an excellent fielder (left fielder) and batted .356 lifetime (.408 in 1911), third highest all-time in MLB history. During the 1919 Series, Jackson had 12 hits and a .375 batting average (he batted .351 in 1919)—in both cases leading both teams.
He committed no errors and even threw out a runner at the plate.
However, Jackson did bat far worse in the five games that the White Sox lost, hitting .286, with no RBI until the final contest, Game Eight, when he hit a home run in the third inning and added two more RBI on a double in the eighth, when the White Sox were way behind.
In the field, some people feel Jackson's play was questionable, too. Triples are rarely hit to left field, yet in the 1919 World Series, three of Cincinnati's nine triples were hit to left field, where Jackson was stationed.
I remember seeing a highlight in Ken Burns movie "Baseball", where a ball is hit out to left field (I think it was game one -- a game they allegedly threw) and Jackson is clearly late getting to the ball. In addition, he admitted under oath that he took the $5000.00 and that he agreed to partake in the fix.
I think it is very unclear whether Jackson did participate in the fix, despite what the movie Field of Dreams wants you to believe (and what one of my friends thinks). Maybe he helped through game one (he had zero hits) and then changed his mind because another $5000.00 payment did not come as promised.
Or, because he was feeling guilty about his teammates and fans and/or his competitive juices took over. I do not know. But, both of those scenarios are possible and logically consistent.
Let's assume he did participate, at least somewhat—I do not think you should reinstate him if you want to uphold the integrity of the game. OK, now let's assume he did not participate in the fix at all (at least on the field).
Well he still took the $5000.00 (with the anticipation of receiving another 15,000.00) and at least initially, agreed to partake in the fix.
In addition, since he was the best player on the team, the fix might not have come about without his agreement to participate. I think I still have a problem with his reinstatement, but I am admittedly, somewhat on the fence because he did go through with it.
Perhaps Jackson's fans can convince me and more importantly, Bud Selig that he should be reinstated.
Take your best shot.
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