Say It Ain't So, Joe!
By Donald Gropman
Citadel Press, $14.95
With due apologies to Pete Rose, the Baseball Hall of Fame's most renowned exile remains Shoeless Joe Jackson, an alleged conspirator in the infamous 1919 Black Sox World Series scandal. Jackson's sad story has been a favorite of fiction writers from James T. Farrell and Bernard Malamud to W.P. Kinsella, and it has been the subject, in one form or another, of movies and even a Broadway musical, Damn Yankees. The tearful and probably apocryphal plea from that little boy, "Say it ain't so, Joe," is now part of the national lexicon. Shoeless Joe has become, in the words of biographer Gropman, "a unique figure in popular American mythology."
Gropman first chronicled the life of Jackson some 20 years ago. Now, with the availability of new information about the World Series fix, he has reworked that first biography to argue much more convincingly in favor of Jackson's innocence. He has also bolstered the case with supporting arguments from legal scholar Alan Dershowitz and Baseball Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bob Feller.
According to Gropman, Shoeless Joe played no part in the Chicago White Sox' conspiracy to throw the '19 Series to the Cincinnati Reds. He led both teams with a .375 average, and his 12 hits in the eight-game series set a record that stood for 45 years. Jackson's detractors maintain, however, that he took money ($5,000) from the fixers and failed to report their treachery to the authorities. Gropman counters that Jackson twice rejected bribes and that he tried unsuccessfully to reveal them to Sox owner Charles Comiskey, who laughed at the idea of a fix because there were always such rumors circulating. He also said no to Joe's request to be benched. The best anyone has previously argued in Jackson's favor is that he was an illiterate country bumpkin easily duped by more sophisticated teammates. After being banned from the game he loved, his mythologizers say, he lived a lonely and destitute existence.
To the contrary, Gropman shows that Shoeless Joe was reasonably successful in his afterlife and that, quite happily, he played semipro baseball sporadically for the next nine years, until he was 45. Fame was never something he enjoyed; he just liked playing ball. He played it well enough (a .356 average for 13 seasons in the bigs) to be where he belongs—in the Hall of Fame.