I copied my swing after Joe Jackson’s. His is the perfectist. -Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth was not skimpy when it came to praise of a man he attempted to pattern his swing after. Joe Jackson, in fact, was considered by most who saw him play to possess the most pure baseball swing the game had seen up to that time. Most discussions of Shoeless Joe, however, begin and end with the Black Sox scandal.
When Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis came down hard on the eight players implicated in the 1919 World Series scandal, it may have been necessary. Baseball was on the verge of becoming a big business, but the game had a shady relationship with gamblers that went back to its beginnings. In order for the game, or any game, to fully capture the interest of mainstream America it would need to have a cleaner image.
The World Series fix of 1919 was a high profile event and an opportunity for the owners to distance themselves from the gambling element. Thus, though the eight players were acquitted of wrongdoing by a jury of their peers, it was announced shortly thereafter that all eight were banned from baseball for life.
There may be a compelling argument in defense of the ban. There is an equally compelling argument that Shoeless Joe shouldn’t have been among the players banned.
Jackson’s World Series statistics are often used as evidence that he was not a part of the fix. It is the defense that was made famous by Kevin Costner as he plowed under his corn at great risk of foreclosure. It is also a defense that is incomplete. Jackson did have a good World Series in 1919, but that doesn’t prove non-involvement in the fix itself.
The testimony of the other seven players involved was a different story. The stories lined up: Shoeless Joe never attended any of the meetings in which the fix was discussed. Jackson’s roomate, Lefty Williams, went further to say that Jackson had no knowledge of the fix – that the seven had used his star power as a hook to get investment from the gamblers; that without the name “Shoeless Joe”, there wouldn’t have been funding.
When Joe did get wind of the conspiracy, as the story goes, he tried to warn Sox owner Charles Comiskey and asked that he be benched for the series in order to avoid the appearance of being a part of any fix.
Even if one buys that a total ban was necessary for the players involved in the scandal, the historical evidence seems to suggest that Jackson was, at worst, attempting to distance himself from a fix which he heard about second hand.
Will Joe Jackson ever be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame? It doesn’t seem likely with the fervor with which the current crop of Hall voters sees themselves as morality judges and gate keepers of the integrity of the baseball. No matter, though. He is now a member of the Half-Baked Hall.