The past week has brought about a big ballyhoo about this being the 25th anniversary of the movie “Field of Dreams.”
Everyone knows, of course, the movie was filmed in a farm field near Dyersville, about 30 miles west of Dubuque and just north of Highway 20. While much of the film dealt with star Kevin Costner’s love of baseball, which eventually resulted in a scene of old-time ball players emerging from a corn field to play a game.
That’s probably not a very good, certainly not in depth, synopsis of the movie, but it’s not really the movie that interested me in the first place. I’m not a big fan of movies and seldom attend one.
But, I am a big baseball fan and one of the characters portrayed was a man I feel has been wrongly shunned for 95 years. I’m talking, naturally, about “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, so named because he played one game in the minor leagues without wearing shoes.
“Shoeless” Joe was also portrayed in the movie, “Eight Men Out,” which re-told the story of the infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox. Eight members of that team were tossed out of baseball for life for their alleged roles in “throwing” that series. Some of those players were stars of the White Sox, while others were marginal stars.
Of the eight players involved, pitcher Eddie Cicotte and Jackson both confessed to their parts on the scandal. After and investigation, all eight players went on trial in October of 1920. All were acquitted by the jury.
During the interim between the 1919 World Series and that 1920 trial, Major League baseball owners had named Judge “Kenesaw Mountain” Landis as the new baseball commissioner. Landis was a no-nonsense judge whose job it was to restore baseball to its squeaky-clean image, damaged quite naturally when news of the 1919 bribery came to light.
Landis had no desire to allow a jury of peers dictate to baseball. He issued the following statement: “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.”
That ended the matter, at least as far as baseball was concerned.
Joe Jackson was a poor illiterate man from the Carolina’s who could neither read nor write. To me, at least, and many others baseball fans, I don’t think “Shoeless Joe” got a fair shake. It’s pretty well established – at least in my mind – that he didn’t understand much of what was going on around him. I don’t think he understood what was going on.
It was well known that White Sox owner Charles Comiskey was tight with his money – even bordering on miserly. His players were paid very little.
If Joe Jackson actually had any part on the White Sox “throwing” the 1919 World Series to Cincinnati, he had a weird way of showing it. In that series, Jackson had 12 hits (a Series record) and a .375 batting average—leading individual statistics for both teams. He committed no errors and threw out a runner at the plate. In 1911, he hit for a .408 average, still among all-time season leaders.
But Jackson was still banned from baseball for life. Even that, however, hasn’t stopped his hometown of Greenville, S.C., for honoring one of their own. In 2006 Jackson’s original home was moved to a location adjacent to Flour Field in downtown Greenville. The home was restored and opened in 2008 as the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum. The address is 356 Field Street, in honor of his lifetime batting average.
There’s little chance that Jackson’s lifetime ban will ever be lifted. There are those of us who think it should.