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Williams Hits For 'Shoeless Joe'

The voice of the man on the other end of the phone was very strong and familiar. "Is this Mister Regan?" he asked, I responded "Yes sir" knowing full well who it was. "This is Ted Williams" was the booming response.

Just mention the name "Shoeless Joe Jackson" and a passion is stirred inside the 81 year old Hall of Famer. "Out of baseball for life, he's served his sentence, he died while under that penalty."

"First time I said anything about Joe Jackson was 1936" recalled Williams. Then a teenager playing for the minor league San Diego Padres, Williams asked Eddie Collins who had played with Jackson if he was "in on the fix" Collins paused according to Williams and simply said "no."

"The fix" was the infamous Black Sox scandal where Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven other Chicago White Sox players were accused of taking money from gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.

Charged with cleaning up the game by owners who could not police themselves, Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis banned Shoeless Joe and the others from baseball for life.

In his first official act as commissioner, it took Judge Landis just 5 minutes to announce the fate of the Black Sox with these words.

"Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players or gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed, and does not promptly tell his club will ever play professional baseball".

I think I know how an opposing pitcher felt as the former Red Sox outfielder jumped on a question about the decision by Judge Landis with what must have been the intensity he used to his 521 career home runs.

There were "so many circumstances it wouldn't stand a chance in court today". was his reply.

Those "circumstances" include the fact that during the series, Jackson didn't play like someone who was in on the fix. Shoeless Joe hit .375, the highest average on both teams, had the only home run, scored all the way from first on a single, and committed no errors.

Jackson's average in all categories was higher than his season average, and higher than his 1917 World Series average.

Off the field, Jackson tried to tell his manager Kid Gleason that "something funny was going on" and tried to sit out the series but was told he had to play.

Joe Jackson did find five thousand dollars in his hotel room that had been left for him by teammate Claude Williams. He did not return it right away.

After Chicago was defeated five games to three, in one of the few best of nine game World Series, Jackson tried to tell White Sox owner Charles Cominsky about the series, and return the money but was told to go away.

Before they were kicked out of baseball, all eight players accused of throwing the seres were tried by a jury in Chicago in 1921.

The black sox were acquitted after their written confessions made to the police were "mysteriously" stolen.

There were no mysteries at the second trial held in Milwaukee in 1924. Shoeless Joe had filed suit to recover his World Series pay and have his conduct reviewed by a jury.

Newspaperman Hugh Fullerton a critic of Jackson admitted on the stand he could recall no instance where Joe did anything on the field to fix the series. Two players testified Jackson refused to take any money.

Perhaps more important was the fact that the jury itself was called upon to answer questions called "special interrogatories." The jurors said "no" when asked if "Shoeless Joe" had conspired or participated in a fix of the World Series.

So why after all these years is Ted Williams still championing Joe Jackson who received baseball's version of the Scarlet Letter after being cleared by two juries?

"I keep hearing more." Williams told me. "I'm reading books" he went on to say, "and there is never once any indication (of Jackson wrong doing) I don't know what you have to do."

Ted Williams is impressed with what one group is doing that has rallied to his cause. "Politicians are showing a lot more stuff (than baseball) and it ought to get done."

Republican Congressman Jim DeMint of South Carolina who represents the district where Jackson's hometown of Greenville is located is a big supporter of the effort to get Shoeless Joe into the Hall of Fame.

Urging passage of a non-binding resolution that called for Jackson to be honored for his baseball accomplishments, DeMint told his fellow house members, "It is worthy for this body to take a few minutes to stand for fairness and right an old wrong... No one who has lived that American dream and achieved so much should be stripped of his honor, his dignity, and his livelihood without due process."

The resolution passed and DeMint says he expects a decision from baseball commissioner Bud Selig sometime next month.

The Senate has gone to bat three times for Jackson, and have passed a resolution of their own. Backing the measure was a "murderers row" lineup of senators that included Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ernest Hollings, John McCain and Connie Mack.

In letter to the baseball commissioner, Senator Thurmond writes "there is significant interest here in the Senate to seeing the matter of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson resolved in an expeditious manner. As I have stated in my previous letters to you, I urge you to resolve this issue as soon as possible".

Another man who is glad to see " political muscle" stepping forward is Chicago attorney Lou Hegman.

"I was cross country skiing in Montana and checked my messages from a pay phone, I heard a very authoritative voice that sounded like John Wayne saying, "This is Ted Williams." The people in Cooperstown old me you know something about the Joe Jackson and the 1919 fix. Please call." I called him right back and he asked "will you help?"

Hegman's "answer" is a fifty-four page petition and two supporting memorandums that are sitting on the Commissioner's desk right now.

The petition makes what appears to be two simple requests:

  • First: "The commissioner of baseball is merely asked to acknowledge that Shoeless Joe Jackson has fully paid his debt to society and the game, that he satisfied the sentence of the first commissioner with dignity and humility and without rancor. Because he has fulfilled his sentence, Baseball has no further call or jurisdiction over Shoeless Joe."
  • Second: "The chairman of the baseball hall of fame is not asked to endorse the candidacy of Shoeless Joe. He is asked to acknowledge that jurisdiction has passed to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Committee on Veterans. That committee in accordance with the rules of the hall of fame (ie Rule 9), should be allowed to vote their collective conscience, and determine whether Shoeless Joe should in fact be admitted into the Hall of Fame."

    The petition also makes two major fairness issues:

  • First: "Major League Baseball and the National Baseball Hall of Fame have implemented a procedure which as a requisite to reinstatement requires the removal of Shoeless Joe's name from an ineligible list."

    "Petitioners do not believe that Shoeless Joe should be listed on any ineligible list, and would urge that any process involving purported removal of his name from any such list as part of a process of "reinstatement", merely becomes an ad hoc trial a half century after the player has died, and long after all witnesses and evidence have disappeared. More importantly, the process seems to embrace a curious form of due process wherein the trial is held long after the sentence is served in full."

  • Second: "The official historian appointed by the commissioner appears to have already made up his mind on key issues and is clearly biased: "The commissioner of baseball has appointed Jerome Holtzman, the official historian of Major League Baseball, to make factual determinations and file a report regarding the issues raised in the petition filed herein, It appears that Mr. Holtzman, has now filed his report."

    His conclusions however, appear to have been reached many years ago, and are reflected in past articles written while he was a columnist with the Chicago Tribune. These concerns as to fairness are raised with great hesitation, as the petitioners hold the Official Historian in great respect, and readily acknowledge his much deserved Hall of Fame status.

    The Official Historian has written on the Shoeless Joe Jackson issue for some period of time, and more importantly has written and commented negatively on issues raised in the very petition that he is now called upon to evaluate with objectivity. It is respectfully ubmitted that Mr. Holtzman in his present role of objective fact finder, cannot overcome prior statements made in his former role of advocate/columnist, and indeed has made a record that sows the seed for greater criticism of the Shoeless Joe matter in the future."

    In the end, the petition offers Major League Baseball "A dignified and reasonable means of releasing Shoeless Joe from what has become a baseball limbo."

  • 1. Major League Baseball can resolve at least part of the Shoeless Joe problem by making a simple declaration that Shoeless Joe has fully satisfied the requirements set down by Commissioner Landis , and having fully paid his debt , the national game, has no further jurisdiction over a deceased player, and makes no further call on Shoeless Joe Jackson.
  • 2. The National Baseball Hall of Fame can take official notice of the above contemplated declaration by Major League Baseball, and thereafter, allow the name of Shoeless Joe to be place before the "Court of Last Resort," The Committee on Veterans of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • 3. The Committee on Veterans, the voting body with the sole and proper jurisdiction over the fate of Shoeless Joe, will then be afforded the opportunity to vote up or down, according to its collective wisdom and experience, and based upon the guidelines set forth in Rule 9 of the National Baseball Hall of Fame:
  • Rule 9. Voting shall be based on the individual's record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contribution to the game.

    If Jackson has indeed served his sentence, then it seems his career should ensure a welcome into baseball's "Field of Dreams" in Cooperstown.

    Joe Jackson "earned" his famous nickname during a game for the Greenville Spinners in 1908. He was breaking in a new pair of spikes and got some bad blisters. The next day, his team was so short of players that he had to play. Up to the plate stepped Jackson in his stocking feet. He ripped a triple, and a fan is credited with yelling "you shoeless son of a gun." Well, a sportswriter heard it and hung the "Shoeless" nickname on the young player.

    "Shoeless Joe" went on to be the kind of player of player who is supposed to have a nickname. In 1911, his first full season in the majors, Jackson hit .408 and didn't win the batting title! Ty Cobb hit 420. For the next nine seasons, Jackson hit over .300 including a .382 average in 1920 his final season in the big leagues. His lifetime batting average of .356 is third all time behind Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby. Jackson still holds a share of the single season record for triples with 26 in 1912.

    Jackson wasn't just one of the best hitters the game has ever seen. He could also play the outfield. His glove was described as a place "where triples go to die."

    After his banishment from the big leagues, Jackson played semi-pro ball in the 20's, then became a businessman in his hometown. He maintained his innocence right uuntil his death in 1951.

    The next time you see Babe Ruth hitting a home run in one of those old films you're watching a bit of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson. The "sultan of swat" stated that he copied Jackson's stance and swing.

    The legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice once wrote: "Ted Williams reminds one more of Shoeless Joe Jackson than anyone I can recall. Jackson, like Williams was on the tall, loose and lean side. (Ty) Cobb, (Babe) Ruth, and (Tris) Speaker have called the Carolina entry the greatest natural hitter that ever played."

    Now Williams is the only one of the three left to "pinch hit" for Jackson. Buzz Hamon former director of the Ted Williams Museum, and Hitters Hall of Fame says his old friend has had a hard time getting the Commissioner to meet with him.

    He told Ted at the All Star game he would meet with him in a couple of weeks. Then two weeks later we were at the Hall of Fame inductions, I talked to (Bud) Selig and asked when he was going to get with Ted because he was very sincere and (Jackson) was very important to Ted. The commissioner said I've got a couple of "emergencies" on my hands and I realized he was talking about the umpires situation and he said he would get with Ted as soon as they were cleared up. That never happened.

    Ted had me call the commissioner a couple of days before the World Series started. Bud (Selig) called him back and convinced him to travel to Atlanta for second game and the presentation of the All Century team. Ted was not going to go because it's so difficult traveling.

    Ted agreed to go because he thought there would be some discussion with the commissioner about Joe Jackson or an announcement but we were late arriving and that never happened. Since then we have had no contact with his office.

    Hamon went on to say "if Selig says something before the end of the year it would be a nice Christmas present for Ted."

    That "present" doesn't sound like it's going to be under William's tree. Buzz Hamon says he was told by Major League Baseball spokesman Rich Levin that "Bud (Commissioner Selig) can't meet with Ted until after the first of the yearÂ… "that's the best we can do."

    So far, all Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is saying is that he has agreed to review Shoeless Joe Jackson's case, and his eligibility for admission into the Hall of Fame.

    Levin, says Jerome Holtzman's report on the Jackson petition is "not done" and there is "no deadline."

    Several sources indicate that Holtzman informed a number of people at the Hall of Fame inductions in Cooperstown his report was done and filed in July.

    But on December 13th, Ted Williams got a phone call from Jerome Holtzman. They spoke for about 10 minutes, and he said he was just finishing his report. Williams described the phone call as "very positive toward the petition."

    If the commissioner would acknowledge that Major League Baseball has no more control over Shoeess Joe Jackson then Williams says "we could have something pretty pertinent (to discuss) in February" at the Hall of Fame Veteran's committee meeting he plans on attending.

    In his final game for the Red Sox in 1960, Ted Williams hit a home run in last at bat. Now he's hoping he can do the same for Shoeless Joe Jackson.

    Written By Rick Regan

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