For the first time since 1996, the BBWAA chose to not elect anyone to Cooperstown. Craig Biggio came closest, garnering 388 votes (68.2%) on his first attempt to achieve immortality. Curt Schilling, who was the hero of two World Series (while also helping to end 86 years of pain for the Red Sox) only picked up 221 votes (38.8%). None of that mattered to most fans and pundits. The names they concerned themselves with were Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa. Clemens topped the bunch accused of PED usage with 214 votes (37.6%), and this caused considerable outrage across Twitter and other sites. Arguments were once again made that all of them should be allowed in. Myself, I don’t much care that none of them made it in, in particular Bonds and Sosa, both of whom failed tests for PEDs (Clemens, despite accusations never failed a test that has been reported, at least.) I would have liked to see Biggio get in, but given voters’ predilection for exerting the power they possess to hold up a players’ admission, it’s not surprising that he’ll have to wait at least one more year.
The player who has yet to take up residence at Cooperstown that I am most interested in once said these words:
Because-I wanted to get in there and beat some National League club to death, that’s what I wanted to do.
The man who uttered those words was one Joseph Jefferson Jackson on the afternoon of September 28, 1920, as he sat in a court of law in Chicago giving testimony with regard to his involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal. When the prosecutor followed up questioning whether or not he had wanted to as badly in 1919 he answered ‘Well, down in my heart I did, yes.’
I remember the first time I read Shoeless Joe’s grand jury testimony at the end of Harvey Frommer’s Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball. It was a very uneven read for a young fan who had watched Field of Dreams dozens of times and had hero worshipped Joe Jackson some seven plus decades after he had played his last game. I knew his stats like the back of my hand, and listed him as my favorite player of all time, even ahead of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and all the other great players I spent my childhood reading about and and the current players I spent my days and nights watching on television.
When I got to the portion of his testimony where he confessed that he had told Chick Gandil and Claude Williams that he would take part in the fix for the $20,000 they offered him, I would say that I likely put the book down at that moment, and stopped to consider Kevin Costner’s line about how Jackson had played the entire series without making an error, and hit the only home run in the Series to boot (points that Jackson would make in his testimony as well.) Still, the ensuing 16 pages were heart wrenching, as I tried to decipher whether or not Jackson was guilty of the crime he had been charged with. Jackson’s words that he wanted to beat some National League club to death quickly restored my faith in him as a player, and an icon of the game. He had been terribly wronged, and someone needed to fix it.
No less of a legend than Ted Williams himself made a case for Shoeless Joe’s eligibility for Cooperstown. In a letter to Paul White, then the editor of Baseball Weekly (now Sports Weekly), Williams built his case around the fact that Jackson had been given a ‘lifetime ban’, and as he had died, his punishment had been paid. He argued that his death should allow him to gain entry to the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately for Jackson, the Hall has not taken Williams’ literal take of Jackson’s punishment all that seriously, nor has MLB. So the man whose glove was said to be “the place where triples went to die”, the man whom had the 3rd highest batting average of all-time (.356), and was said to hit the ball harder than anyone, even Babe Ruth, finds himself still on the outside looking in.
When Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis issued his edict that the 8 accused players were banned from the game forever, the mythology of Cooperstown had not even been invented yet. What Landis faced was the reality that gambling was a growing problem in MLB, and that if he didn’t take control of the situation, the league may eventually fold. So what concern would it have been to him to punish anyone whose name had even casually been associated with the fix, even if they had been found ‘not guilty’ in a court of law?
In that way, there’s a tenuous link between Jackson and Clemens, at least. Both men were accused of cheating, both men denied the charges, and both men were found ‘not guilty’ when prosecuted in a court of law. After his first bid to gain entry in to Cooperstown, Clemens finds himself linked to Jackson in one more way: still on the outside looking in. There’s still time for him, voter’s minds may be changed in the coming years. For Jackson, however, it’ll take a miracle at this juncture. If the words of Ted Williams weren’t enough to persuade those in charge that Jackson deserves to be in the Hall, I don’t know what it will take. Perhaps a Presidential directive.
What I do know is that until Jackson is in the Hall of Fame, I’m not going to concern myself too much with players who earned tens of millions of dollars while knowingly taking PEDs. They’ll have to find another shoulder to cry on.