In news that didn’t really shock anyone this morning, Commissioner Rob Manfred denied an appeal made on behalf of White Sox legend Shoeless Joe Jackson for reinstatement to the game of baseball. The appeal was made by Arlene Marcley, the president and curator of the Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, South Carolina in an attempt to lift the ban that has been in place since 1921 following the scandal of the 1919 World Series involving eight White Sox players.
Baseball fans know the story of the 1919 Black Sox by now. The team was a machine, dominating most every opponent that season on their way to an 88-52 record and an appearance in the World Series against the Reds in which they were heavily favored. Eight players led by pitcher Eddie Cicotte and first baseman Chick Gandil got involved in plans to fix the World Series result. The sport at the time was littered with rumors of these types of issues but, nothing concrete had ever come to light.
Joe Jackson’s place and involvement in the scandal has been the subject of much debate. Many believe he was basically tricked into participating by teammates he trusted. Regardless, when punishments were handed down, he got the same as the rest of the players involved; a lifetime ban.
This may seem extreme in the climate of today, where betting on sports has slowly moved out of the shadows and into the norm of every day life. However, this is the reason that baseball, unlike the other four professional sports leagues is so concerned about anyone associated with the game betting on its product. They saw the aftermath of what happened.
Shoeless Joe on statistics no doubt deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. In 13 professional seasons, he put up a .356/.423/.517 triple slash line with 168 homers despite playing in the deadball era. That’s astounding. But, the Commissioner, as those before him in Bart Giamatti and Fay Vincent, decided that Jackson’s crimes against the integrity of the game far outweigh the contributions that he made on the field.
It’s important to examine the reasoning for both the initial ban and the upholding of it that has been used by the game in the case of Shoeless Joe because it can give us an insight into how Pete Rose will be seen. Manfred responded with a letter (obtained by the Hall of Very Good blog) that gives a key insight that many of us forget to consider when looking at the Hall of Fame for players like Rose and Jackson. After asking his staff to research the historical context surrounding the scandal, Manfred wrote.
“The results of this work demonstrate to me that it is not possible now, over 95 years since those events took place and were considered by Commissioner Landis, to be certain enough of the truth to overrule Commissioner Landis’ determinations. Notwithstanding Mr. Jackson’s excellent career performance, I also note that, during the many decades he was eligible for election to the National Hall of Fame, he received only 4 votes. 2 out of 226 cast in 1936 and 2 out of 202 in 1946.”
The Commissioner goes on to state that he understands Jackson’s placement on the Ineligible List probably affected those votes, but nonetheless it’s that strong voicing of opinion from people that saw him play that played a part in convincing him not to re-open the case.
That last part is important to note, because when it comes to Jackson and Rose, we’re talking about two players that bet on baseball while still playing/managing the game. (Albeit it in different eras) When he was still on the ballot writers didn’t vote for Jackson. They could have stood up to the Commissioner and put in a man who statistically deserved his place among the greats but they didn’t. So who’s to say that the same sequence of events wouldn’t happen if Rose were to be reinstated?
That’s the question that gets lost in all of the talk of whether Rose deserves to be back in the game or in the Hall of Fame. Sure, statistically he does, he’s the game’s all-time hit leader and certainly should have a bust in the Hall based on that and his other accomplishments. But, with voters playing the role of gatekeeper and in many instances seemingly voting not just on numbers, but on moral judgment (i.e. any and every player accused or remotely connected to steroids). Do we really think that these two players would get any different treatment?
Call me skeptical or pessimistic but, I don’t think they would. “Shoeless” Joe’s denial of reinstatement almost certainly closes the door on Pete Rose and forever relegates the two of them to the sports world’s limbo. Good enough to be talked about and taught as part of the history of the game, but because of off-field reasons also excluded from the company of the greats in the Hall of Fame.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him. Agree/Disagree? Thoughts, comments, complaints? Email or tweet him.