Baseball Bets: Forget Rose, Wattabout Joe Jackson?


No! Not this Joe Jackson! Oh well, he’s alright too. The early stuff, at least.

Ol’ Pete Rose seems to work on a lunar calendar. Because like any holiday based on a lunar calendar — such as my favorite: Chinese/Lunar New Year — I seem to hear about him every year, at a different time each year, and sometimes twice a year, inexplicably. Oftentimes, he reminds me gently — like a lapping tide reminds the sand of rain, which the Mayans had no concept of 2013.

Anyway, I recently stumbled into a Rob Neyer column concerning said Pete Rose, wherein Neyer discusses the disgraced hitsman and the possibility that Bud Selig will reinstate him.

Frankly, I don’t care too much about Ol’ Rosey. Yeah, he leads the world in hits, but he certainly doesn’t lead the game in wOBA or wRC+ — in fact, depending on the plate appearances requirement, you might find him thereabouts of page 14 on that particular dispay (one sorted by wRC+, that is). To me, that screams empty batting average.

Maybe it’s because Rose is before my time; perchance I’m still just an embittered youth looking for awkward and oblique ways to rebel against moderately older individuals who hearken to the glory days of belled bottoms and video game arcades. Or maybe it’s because I’m a Chicago sports guy and Rose was a Cincinnati sports guy, or maybe it’s because Rose was unrepentant and untruthful for so long. Frankly, I don’t care too much about Rose and his absence from the MLB record book.

Look, Rose had nearly 100 WAR — that’s a career worth celebrating — but frankly, Gamblin’ Pete’s dilemma doesn’t rank in my little list of baseball injustices. A list that most days looks like this:

1. Racial segregation ruined the first 70 years of the MLB.

2. Ron Santo is not in the Hall of Fame.

3. Joe Jackson‘s career ended 10 years too soon.

Refer, if you will, to the aforewritten leaderboard, sorted by wRC+. Note Page No. 1. Topsies sits Baby Ruth, duh, followed by Ted Williams and Barry Bonds. These, baseball fans, are your Titans of Timber, your Savants of Slugging. Therein featured in yonder page: None other than Shoeless Joe Jackson. Nine down, by my count.

Here’s the deal:

Joe Jackson was an elite hitter. I’m talking elite with a bold elthreethreeseven. Also, according to contemporary scouting reports and our limited fielding data, Shoe-needer was also a strong defender. His career .356/.423/.517 slash and +11 defensive runs would make him a prize to even modern clubs.

Most tragic about Joe Jackson, a member of the infamous 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox, was that he might not have even been guilty of game fixing. Well, I mean, he and the other seven White Sox players were in fact declared not guilty (throwing games is not illegal in the eyes of US law) — but Jackson might have been more not guilty than the others.

Personally, I see Jackon’s .510 wOBA in the White Sox wins and cannot fault him for his .400 wOBA in Chicago’s losses. That, to me, doesn’t scream cheating. Yeah, his hits came in garbage time in Game 8, but that’s a hard argument to sustain. Hits come when they come, even when a player is trying their darnedest. Also, in Game 4 of the 1919 World Series, Jackson reached first on an error. That error only advanced the runner on second to third base. Could it be Joe was hustling on a grounder in a game he was supposed to be trying to lose?

Moreover, the tripled-to-left story-line lacks a heft of proof to me. Retrosheet only mentions one triple to left the whole series, and apparently contemporary newspapers did not mention them at all. If Jackson really were dogging it defensively, that would seem like the papers or the official scorer — someone, anyone! — would have given him an E, but no one did.

Don’t think, dear opinioned reader, that the matter of Jackson’s guilt is final. Some like to think Jackson accepted money, case closed. But there are power arguments for Joe’s honor. Also, and I’m not sure if Neyer has changed his opinion much in the 10 years since he penned this indictment on Jackson, but Neyer himself makes a strong counterargument to Jackson’s innocence.

Suffice to say: Jackson might have been guilty — taking the cash and dogging in parts of five out of three games; or he might have been innocent — taking the cash against his will, playing his heart out and succumbing to the team’s crooked lawyer. But there is one matter that cannot be debated: Jackson was historically awesome.

And baseball, it should be noted, lost something very special when it lost Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Jackson was an amazing strand, cut short; he was something special, like a holiday that appears only occasionally and when you least expect it:


Source: FanGraphsBarry Bonds, Joe Jackson, Stan Musial

Note: Jackson would be tit-for-tat with those other HoF-caliber left fielders had he not spent the heft of 1918 in a factory, helping the (World War I) war effort.




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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

37 Responses to “Baseball Bets: Forget Rose, Wattabout Joe Jackson?”

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  1. drewcorb says:

    Note: Ted Williams lost almost 5 seasons due to serving in the war, so I don’t think Joe Jackson would have been tit-for-tat with him if all things were equal. I think Stan Musial also lost a season (1945) due to wartime service, but I’m not positive that’s the reason he missed the year.

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  2. Yirmiyahu says:

    If you look at WAR per plate appearance (minimum 5000 PA’s), Shoeless Joe ranks 13th and Pete Rose ranks 353rd.

    Pete Rose’s WAR total is so high because he had 2000 more plate appearances than anyone else in baseball history.

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    • Which, of course, is still a credit to Rose. Staying healthy requires a lot of effort. People don’t just slouch into great physical conditioning.

      But yeah, Rose is a survivor, more a baseball’s cockroach, while Jackson was more of a Fourth of July grand finale — brilliant and amazing, but over suddenly.

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  3. Matt says:

    So Ron Santo not being in the hall of fame with his 125 wRC+ over 14 years, 9396 plate appearances, is your number 2 baseball injustice, yet Pete Rose with his 120 wRC+ over 23 years, 15861 plate appearances, screams empty batting average?

    I’m not saying Santo doesn’t belong in the hall of fame, just that Rose was more than an empty batting average. His rate numbers would probably look better if he didn’t insist on playing for so long, but that shouldn’t detract from his prime.

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    • Yes, that’s a fair assessment on Rose. In his prime, he was a 130 wRC+ player and pretty dang good.

      My issue about Santo is that (a) he did it all with diabetes before it was a very treatable disease and (b) he cemented himself into a city’s lore for his broadcasting career after the game.

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      • My echo and bunnymen says:

        I’m not trying to pick a fight or anything, but I’ve listened to him broadcast games and he’s a pretty bad broadcaster. Maybe, I heard him in his decline years, maybe it’s me aging to the point where I understand more about baseball, or it could just be I’m much smarter than he, but whatever the case I don’t believe his broadcasting career is much to celebrate.

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      • Oh, good Lord, Santo was the worst. But he was like that awesome uncle you always wanted to watch sports with because he felt everything. He wasn’t neutral, but he wasn’t mean. He just wished — like we, the listeners, wished — for Cubs success on every pitch and every swing.

        His broadcasting career endeared him to the city; it did not, however, really involve any great broadcasting.

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      • sox2727 says:

        It’s fun how people in Chicago can love Santo for being a baffoon on the mic yet they crucify Harrelson for being a baffoon, they’re really very similar.

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  4. Matt Z says:

    You probably mean “contemporaneous scouting reports,” not “contemporary scouting reports.” The former means scouting reports composed during Jackson’s day; the latter means scouting reports composed today. If you meant the latter, please ignore my nitpicking.

    Very interesting article. In both the cases of Jackson and Rose, I think it’s difficult for statistically-minded baseball fans to conceive of “honor” as correlative with performance. For me, ESPN and TV sports announcers make these unfortunate events into thought-terminating rhetoric. There’s no reason not to understand performance and off-the-field activities that may or may not affect performance as separate.

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    • My research shows contemporary and contemporaneous are synonyms. Plus, the first one is WAY easier to spell.

      As to your second point, I agree the cases of Rose and Jackson are difficult for us statisticians. One of our most basic assumptions is that Player A wants to beat Player B. When something undermines that, then the whole paradigm becomes twisted and unusable.

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    • Phrozen says:

      Contemporary can have two meanings, depending on context. In this case, the context is contemporary with Jackson, not the author.

      Contemporary and contemporaneous are indeed synonyms.

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      • Guest says:

        I’m not getting onto anyone here, but why is everyone a grammar monster. In what way do you improve anyone’s day by telling them they misspelled a word or used a word in the wrong way. It happens everywhere I go.

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  5. psychump says:

    “Maybe it’s because Rose is before my time” Sheesh. Santo also was before your time as well as Shoeless Joe not to mention “the first 70 years of the MLB”. You should also check out Joe Jackson’s later releases; Volume 4 (2003),Afterlife(2004) and the killer “Rain” 2008.

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  6. Dan M. says:

    I wonder if perhaps Johnny Damon becoming this generation’s Pete Rose. If he decides to hang on until he is 44 or 45 while pumping out 120-150 hits (which I happen to think he could do physically) he would end up with close to 3500 hits and and an underwhelming WRC+ of around 100. His career wOBA is also pretty comparable to Rose’s (.353 and .349, respectively). Knowing the BBWAA, I have a hard time believing Damon, a poor man’s Rose, would be kept out of the Hall of Fame.

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  7. mkd says:

    I always enjoy Shoeless Joe handwringing, but tend to side with the sentiment of Neyer’s indictment. People seem to forget this, but in the early part of the 1910s players throwing games was literally an existential threat to baseball. Jackson took money from gamblers who wanted to fix the World Series. That is simply unacceptable. (Plus just think how much less rich baseball mythology becomes without the Exile of Shoeless Joe Jackson story).

    Beyond that though, I really think you ought to broaden the scope of your perceived injustices. Racial segregations is a good number 1, but then number 2 is Ron Santo not getting into a silly club because silly people have silly voting habits? And number three is that same silly club beef for Joe Jackson?

    How about the Reserve Clause? How about the continued exploitation of Latin prospects? How about losing 5 years of Ted F’ing Williams to war? How about every game that ever turned on a bad call that could have easily been gotten right with a 2-second glance at the TV? How about collusion? How about pervasive PED hypocrisy? How about massive financial imbalances between teams? How about Fox holding the rights to broadcast the World Series?

    Guys not getting into a silly club should be pretty far down the list.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      There is a whole lot of evidence that Jackson participated, and his performance was… well, one I’d love to see form a left fielder if my team made the series.

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    • My echo and bunnymen says:

      Agreed, the Reserve Clause is a much bigger issue than Ron Santo. I love fangraphs, but this article was put together a little too fast.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      Roberto Clemente’s early death. Lou Gehrig’s early death. Curt Flood sacrificing his career for labor rights. Dick Allen being harassed, blackballed, and denied the HoF basically because he was an outspoken black guy. Sandy Koufax’s crippling arthritis. Adrian Beltre having to play at Safeco Field for 5 years.

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    • My echo and bunnymen says:

      Anti-semitism that Greenberg face

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    • When I said:

      A list that most days looks like this:

      I should have actually said: “A list that most days lately looks like this:”

      I did not intend it to be exhaustive, nor permanent. It’s more of an emotional list of the moment than a long-term list I’m requiring you to memorize and recite while staring at a picture of Kennesaw Mountain Landis.

      To me, it does not it matter that Jackson did not get into the Hall, so whutebz in that category. Santo wanted the Hall, so that’s why it matters to me. When he died, I was literally crushed — and still feel palpably crushed when I think about it.

      Santo was a good man who played exceptionally despite a powerful disease, yet he was denied the one thing that mattered most to him professionally because he clicked his heels once. The fact he wore a curved C on his hat matters to me also, so obviously I’m biased.

      And yes, there are other powerful issues in baseball — Ted Williams certainly being one of them (but 5 years of Williams ~ 10+ more years of Jackson in my mind). NOTE: I’m intrigued about the topic of Latin exploitation. I would like it if you could expand on the topic.

      Lastly, it’s my last anyway. Go make your own. :P

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    • Lyle Schweik says:

      The 5 years the Splendid Splinter lost (albeit serving his country) is the big one for me as well. And I couldn’t agree more re the pervasive PED hypocrisy.

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  8. LarryM says:

    Oh please. Whether or not he was trying his hardest in the series is irrelevant to his guilt. The most bend over backwards to be fair case in his favor – and significant aspects of that case strike me as incredibly implausible – still makes him a crook and fully deserving of his lifetime exclusion. The fact that he avoided going to jail (and of course the story of that trial doesn’t exactly help his case, if you know the facts) was an injustice. Electing him to the HOF would be a travesty that would turn the institution into a joke.

    I don’t have handy the relevant Bill James article on the subject, but the concluding paragraph says it best – I can’t recreate the elegant way that James stated it, but basically Jackson and his fellow crooks are the least deserving players in baseball history to belong in the hall. Johnny Lemaster (negative 5 WAR over almost 1000 games) is more deserving. Billie Queen struck out in his only 2 major league PA (in 1954 for the Braves) and HE is more deserving than Jackson. Heck, I played little league baseball – not well, I hit .050 one year – and I’M more deserving that Jackson.

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  9. John Houser says:

    I have always been on board for the argument for Santo to be in the Hall of Fame. A guy that is probably more important to Cubs fans of the last 40 years than any player. Is he a Hall of Fame player? Probably not. Is he a Hall of Fame announcer? Probably not as well. Is he more FAMOUS and important to Cubs fans than any other Cub? Quite possibly. I also pull for him because I hope it will open the door for a similar case that is near to my heart: Joe Nuxhall. So much more than a player or announcer. That the Hall does not recognize this is more offensive to me than any steroid guy cheating their way in.

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  10. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Shoeless Joe lost his career, that should be enough punishment. He should be in the HOF for what he did. They should put Pete Rose in the HOF one day after he dies so he can’t profit from it.

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  11. Hunter says:

    Pete Rose was a cockroach? Get real. Rose might not be as good as Bonds, or Williams or Musial. Who is? Based on his performance, he definitely deserves a HoF berth. Jackson may have deserved one as well, but dont see how that has much to do with Rose or his achievements.

    Just tired of the saber metric community talking about Rose as if he were a slightly better hitting David Eckstein.

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    • williams .482 says:

      He meant in terms of durability. He was not comparing him to an insect to say he was bad, merely that he stuck around roughly 300 million years longer than would have been reasonably expected.

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  12. BDF says:

    Even if Shoeless Joe played his guts out in the Series, and *even if he didn’t take the money* but knew that others did, he deserves the ban. An awareness of what mdk correctly calls an existential threat to baseball and failure to act is fully worthy of a lifetime ban.

    I see the steroid era the same way.

    *ducks head from rageful replies*

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    • Phrozen says:

      I agreem for the most part,

      I’m willing to give Shoeless a pass, on the grounds that he was illiterate and may not have understood exactly what was going on. At least, that’s what I’ve been led to believe.

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  13. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    I wholeheartedly agree!!!!!

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