Sorry, Ted: Shoeless Joe Got What He Deserved
Rooting for the underdog is as American as baseball itself. When
we hear of an injustice, we demand it be corrected. In recent
years Ted Williams has joined a growing chorus calling for
reinstatement of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, banned from
baseball for his alleged role in the throwing of the 1919 World
Jackson’s supporters gather each year at the Field of
Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa to promote his cause. The site is more
appropriate than they knew. Like the novel and film Field of
Dreams, their story is a feel-good fantasy which should not be
confused with reality.
In his support, Jackson’s defenders note that he led the
White Sox with a .375 batting average during the 1919 Series, and
protest that he was banned from baseball even after a jury had
acquitted Jackson and the Black Sox of all charges against them.
The romantic image of Jackson, the naive man-child depicted in
Field of Dreams and the filmed version of Eight Men Out,
reinforces the perception of an innocent man exiled from the game
he loved without just cause.
For fifty years after the 1919 Series, no one doubted
Jackson’s guilt. Jackson not only signed a confession, but
testified before a grand jury investigating the incident:
Q. Did anybody pay you any money to help throw that series in
favor of Cincinnati?
A. They did.
Q. How much did they pay?
A. They promised me $20,000, and paid me five.
Q. Who paid you the $5,000?
A. Lefty Williams brought it in my room and threw it
Q. What did you say to Williams when he threw down the
A. I asked him what the hell had come off here.
Q. What did he say?
A. He said Gandil said we all got a screw through Abe Attell.
Gandil said that we got double crossed through Abe Attell, he got
the money and refused to turn it over to him. I don’t think
Gandil was crossed as much as he crossed us.
In this testimony Jackson sounds like a guilty man angry at the
gamblers who short-changed him. To his backers, though, Jackson
was a naive illiterate who never agreed to participate in the fix
and merely repeated the story he was instructed to tell. The real
villains in their version of the tale are the White Sox and their
attorney, who schemed to deflect blame from the club by pinning
it on Jackson.
But Jackson’s testimony, and his signed confession,
weren’t the only evidence against him. Pitcher Ed Cicotte,
whose confession broke the scandal wide open, identified Jackson
as one of his co-conspirators. Years later, so did ringleader
Chick Gandil. Even Jackson’s supporters admit that he kept
the $5,000 he received, money he knew came from gamblers who
bribed the Sox to throw the Series.
If Jackson was as innocent as his modern-day defenders claim, why
did Cicotte implicate him? Why did Chick Gandil, telling his
story for the first time more than 30 years later, identify
Jackson as one of the men he recruited to the scheme?
Jackson’s acquittal doesn’t help his case, either. He
wasn’t charged with throwing the World Series, because that
wasn’t a crime. He and the other Black Sox were charged
with throwing games with the intent to defraud the public. The
jury was instructed: “The State must prove that it was the
intent of the ballplayers and gamblers charged with conspiracy
through the throwing of the World Series, to defraud the public
and others, and not merely to throw ballgames.”
Since there was no evidence that the Black Sox were motivated by
anything but the desire to line their own pockets, Jackson would
have been acquitted even if he had admitted throwing the
Even before the grand jury, Jackson insisted that he had always
played to win – but his .375 batting average contains an
interesting split. In the four thrown games, Jackson hit .250
with one run scored and no RBI; in the other four, he batted .500
with four runs and six RBI. In each of the first two games
Jackson allowed a two-out, two-run triple to left field.
And even if the evidence that Jackson actually threw the Series
is ambiguous, the evidence that he was paid to do so is
Nearly all historians who have studied the Black Sox scandal
supported Jackson’s banishment. Bill James has described
Jackson’s supporters as “baseball’s answer to
those women who show up at murder trials wanting to marry the
cute murderer.” When the myth is stripped away, Shoeless
Joe stands exposed as a willing participant in baseball’s
Copyright © 1999 Doug Pappas. All rights
Originally published in the August 1999 issue of Boston
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