Was Shoeless Joe innocent?

Eliot Asinof’s notes for his signature baseball book, Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series, were released to the public recently, and some folks have gone through them. Some Chicago lawyers, actually. And a subsequent article in the Chicago Lawyer Magazine (now, there’s one magazine I never thought to read) raises the question of whether Asinof really knew enough to write such an authoritative book.

It turns out that he didn’t have copies of the transcript from the Black Sox grand jury proceedings. He never spoke to Shoeless Joe Jackson, Chick Gandil or Eddie Cicotte, and his book was primarily based on media accounts of the day. A couple of the figures in the book were actually fictional.

As anyone who saw the movie Field of Dreams knows, Jackson played very well during the Series and his participation in the fix has always been in question. Perhaps only baseball historians care about this issue, but it would be a shame if Jackson’s historical reputation was primarily influenced by a book with questionable references.


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Brad Williams
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Brad Williams

The strongest criticism of Shoeless Joe’s innocence that I’ve seen stems from his performance in White Sox wins vs. losses in that World Series.

But, then again, I would expect that a team’s star player performing poorly in his team’s losses isn’t terribly uncommon.  I’m glad that people far smarter than me are doing the research. grin

Brian
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Brian

One simple question: Did he get the money? Or even agree to get it? If so, he is guilty.

It is easy to throw a game and still hit well. A little less on a throw here, don’t dive for a catch there, maybe miss a cutoff man, don’t take this extra base, get thrown out stretching that one.

Also, Landis established (rather questionably) in the Buck Weaver case that simply knowing about it is enough to establish guilt.

Scott
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Scott

From what I’ve read (including my friend the late Gene Carney’s “Burying The Black Sox”), Jackson did exactly as he was supposed to—he went straight to Mr. Comiskey and tried to report it. And Comiskey ignored him. His “signed confession” is a weak piece of evidence – Jackson couldn’t read, and was clearly being railroaded. The whole thing stinks of a cover-up, with Jackson and Weaver the saddest victims.

Andrew
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Andrew

A few years ago, I went through a contmeporary play-by-play account of the 1919 World Series, highlighting any plays involving Jackson that could be viewed as suspicious.  Then I read his grand jury testimony to find out what he said happened, and when.  After finishing this exercise, there was no doubt in my mind that he took money, promised to try to lose the Series, and then kept his promise.  The man was guilty.

Thomas J. Comer
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Thomas J. Comer

I don’t think we’ll ever really know definitively what happened during the 1919 World Series, but I agree with Scott that Shoeless Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver are the ones who deserve some sympathy.

Thomas J. Comer

Silver King
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Silver King

I remember (I think it was Rob Neyer) a piece that dissected how he played during the series in connection to how the games were going at the time and what the plan seemed to be for that game.

It was damning.  While it could have happened by chance, the odds seem tiny, and certainly there was no room for the argument that he played well and so he must be at least somewhat innocent.

I didn’t know the savvy-fellow stuff that ‘Tedly’ mentions.

tedly
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tedly
he admitted his guilt in front of a grand jury, which is hardly the act of a man being railroaded.  he complained about getting five thousand as a payoff, when he was expecting more…again, not exactly what one would expect to hear from an innocent man who was being railroaded. he couldn’t read.  that doesn’t mean he was stupid, or an innocent country bumpkin…jackson was one of the biggest stars of his day, and had sold his name to endorse numerous products from the minute he hit the bigs to stay.  he negotiated favorable contracts, with perks such as a… Read more »
tedly
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tedly
the ‘savvy fellow’ stuff can be found in a few of the books about joe. in my opinion, the best book about joe is the david fleitz book, ‘the life and times of joe jackson.’  reason being, it’s the clearest, least sentimentalized look at the man, his life, and his career. the most popular biographical book, generally, is the donald gropman bio, ‘say it ain’t so, joe – the true story of shoeless joe jackson.’  there’s a lot of good information in it, but the reader has to keep in mind that gropman’s dad’s favorite player was the legendary shoeless… Read more »
awayish
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awayish
people tend to view this issue primarily from the perspective that it is a game, but doing so ignores the concrete economic situation of the time. as far as the players are concerned, they were trying to earn a living, and get proper return on their talent. sure, there was a honor code of competition itself, but unlike fans who only care about things that happen on the field, the players are insane to not see what they do as a line of work. would someone in the same situation as shoeless joe not absolutely laugh at the farce that… Read more »
tedly
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tedly
sure. the bill james historical abstract makes the point that there were a lot of gambling/throwing games things going on at the time.  that’s the context you have to understand when you think back and try to make up your mind about what or what didn’t happen, and why. the pip craig hit about the lawyers slamming eight men out…well, sure, comiskey was paying his guys pretty well, considering… well.  what is it you’re considering? what is it you have to understand? first…regarding joe and his illiteracy:  not being able to read wasn’t unusual in that time and place.  the… Read more »
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