'Say it ain't so, Joe.'
Those plaintive words were reportedly uttered by a young baseball fan outside a courthouse in Chicago to which 'Shoeless Joe' Jackson is said to have replied, 'It's so kid. It's so.'
Even though that conversation never took place, it summed up the national disbelief that the Chicago White Sox – the best team in baseball – conspired to lose the 1919 World Series to benefit professional gamblers and themselves. As a result of the 'Chicago Black Sox Scandal' eight players including Jackson were banned for life from Major League Baseball.
Did he do it?
The reason Jackson is remembered when the names of the other seven banned members of his team are forgotten is because he seems to have been a victim of the scandal. He was featured prominently in the films Eight Men Out and in Kevin Costner's Field of Dreams.
He was also one of the greatest players of his era and once refused to sit on the bench even though his feet were injured - he simply played without shoes.
An innocent victim?
His performance against the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series was stellar, making it unlikely that he was playing to lose. In fact, Jackson had more hits (12) than any player on either team, setting a World Series record. He scored five runs and drove in six. His batting average was .375 during the series. In the field, 30 balls came to Jackson and he committed no errors.
The seven other players admitted to throwing the games while Jackson never did. The players also testified in court that Jackson was not involved in the scheme other than knowing that it was taking place.
Team owner Charles Comiskey was notoriously cheap. His Chicago White Sox team was the best in baseball at the time and yet was one of the worst paid. His frugality even extended to laundry services and his players often played in dirty uniforms which is how they originally developed the nickname 'Black Sox'. At the same time, he treated sports reporters covering his team to expensive dinners so they only reported what he wanted them to.
So when gamblers approached pitcher Ed Cicotte and first baseman Arnold 'Chick' Gandil with an offer of more than a year's pay if they would help fix the World Series, they found a receptive audience.
The players realized it would take more than just two of them to ensure a proper fix, and, after speaking to a few of their teammates, added six more to their ranks: pitcher Claude 'Lefty' Williams, centerfielder Oscar 'Happy' Felsch, shortstop Swede Risberg, third baseman George 'Buck' Weaver, utilityman Fred McMullin, and leftfielder 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson.
All but Jackson agreed to go along with the plan, but that didn't stop the gamblers from using his name as one of the players involved in the fix. On the morning of the World Series opening game, Jackson bumped into one of the gamblers in a hotel lobby. Assuming Jackson was 'bought', the gambler told him details of the fix and who was involved.
Jackson then went to Comiskey as asked to be benched for the Series fearing that he would be implicated in the scandal. Nobody knows exactly what transpired in that meeting, but it has been speculated that Jackson told Comiskey everything and was ignored.
Despite the rumours of gamblers' involvement with White Sox players, the World Series went ahead as scheduled.
The 1919 World Series
Game One - Reds 9, White Sox 1
Ed Cicotte's second pitch of the game struck Cincinnati's lead-off hitter - a signal to the gamblers that the fix was on. By the fourth inning he had given the Reds up so many hits and runs that he was taken out of the game. The gamblers didn't pay off that night but promised to give the players their money the following night. And, the gamblers advised Williams to not be too obvious in throwing the next game.
Game Two - Reds 4, White Sox 2
The next day Williams made it look good, only losing by two runs, but by that time the fix was well known. The team manager, Kid Gleason, tried to strangle Gandil, and the catcher attacked Williams for ignoring his signals. The gamblers paid $10,000 and instructed them to win the next game, so that the odds would once again increase against the Reds.
Game Three - White Sox 3, Reds 0
Rookie pitcher Dickey Kerr, untouched by the scandal, only allowed the Cincinnati three hits enroute to his shut-out win in game three.
Even though the players had followed directions, the gamblers again failed to pay. No longer sure they would receive the money they were promised, the players called the deal off.
Game Four - Reds 2, White Sox 0
The gamblers came through with cash before the fourth game and the promise of more before the fifth. Cicotte made two errors in the fifth inning of this game which led to Cincinnati's two runs.
Game Five - Reds 5, White Sox 0
In recording Cincinnati's fourth win, Hod Eller struck out six consecutive White Sox batters and the usually potent Chicago line-up was shut-out for the second game in a row.
Game Six - White Sox 5, Reds 4
In game six Kerr pitched, and although there were three errors by Chicago, Gandil and Weaver helped them come back and win 5-4 in extra innings.
Game Seven - White Sox 4, Reds 1
Cicotte was scheduled to pitch again and this time he was brilliant, winning the game 4-1 and allowing just seven hits. By now the gamblers were getting nervous and threatened Lefty Williams and his family if he didn't lose the next one.
Game Eight - Reds 10, White Sox 5
Williams must have taken the threats seriously, giving up four runs in the first inning enroute to a 10-5 loss.
World Series Statistics
The White Sox hitters batted a paltry .224 with 30 strikeouts. Their pitchers allowed 64 hits and struck-out 22 while walking 25. As mentioned earlier, Jackson had the highest batting average of players on either team and he hit the only White Sox home run of the Series.
The night after the final game of the World Series, Williams came into Jackson's hotel room with an envelope containing $5000 for the use of his name in convincing other players to go along with the fix. The next morning, Jackson took the money and went to see Comiskey.
However, he could not get past Comiskey's secretary who said it was understood why Jackson was there, but he should take the $5000 and go home. As it turned out, Comiskey was too busy trying to cover up his own knowledge of the fix to be bothered with Jackson.
Despite their best efforts to conceal it, it was obvious that the World Series had been fixed and the nation was outraged. A grand jury was empanelled in Chicago in 1920.Eight players, including Jackson, were indicted but when their trial date began in 1921, most of the records from the grand jury including the records of the players' testimony had 'disappeared'. The trial lasted for several weeks, but the jury eventually found all eight not guilty.
However baseball owners fearing that the scandal would tarnish the game's integrity hired a commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, to investigate and deal with the problem. Though the players were not the first to fix a game and even though the evidence suggested that all eight were not involved, he banned them all from playing professional baseball. Landis' verdict was tough, but it solved baseball's problems with gambling.
"...any player that throws a game, no player that entertains propositions or promises to throw a game, no player who sits in on a conference with a bunch of gamblers in which ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball."
- Judge Landis
Jackson returned to his native Southern United States, working odd jobs to pay his bills. Through the years, Jackson played ball whenever he had the chance. He accepted many offers to play semi-pro and exhibition games. He finally stopped playing baseball in 1933, at the age of 45, 12 years after he was banned from the game.
He died in 1951. And though he holds one of the highest batting averages of all time, he will never be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York until his is reinstated as a player.
'Shoeless' Joe Jackson Career Statistics
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