Was Shoeless Joe innocent after all?


My recent posts about Pete Rose led a lot of you to bring up Joe Jackson, either (a) in support of keeping Rose banned (“Rose shouldn’t be let in as long as Shoeless Joe is banned!”) or (b) as a second guy, in addition to Rose, who should be let in (“the Hall of fame is worthless without Shoeless Joe and Rose!”).

I’ll admit that, like most folks, I’ve been unimpressed by calls to reinstate Jackson, simply because the evidence himself seemed damning.  That evidence, however, has come almost exclusively from Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book, “Eight Men Out,” and the subsequent John Sayles movie of the same name, each of which places Jackson squarely within the conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series. Now, however, comes an article which levels a pretty hefty barrage at Asinof’s research, and suggests that we’re very wrong to rely so much on “Eight Men Out” for our information:

There is nothing new in Asinof’s notes and research of the writing
of “8MO” that can directly implicate Jackson or any other player in
contributing to the White Sox loss of the 1919 World Series.

The primary support for Asinof’s claim that they deliberately threw
games is in contemporaneous press accounts of the grand jury
proceedings, which were based on second- or third-hand, and, in some
cases, clearly false information.

Asinof, who writes in great detail about the gambler-fixers, may
have, himself, been playing the ultimate bluff. He did not release his
research during his lifetime and also suggested in “8MO” that his story
was based upon exclusive, never-before-seen evidence.

In reality, the lack of any solid, direct evidence in his notes, as
well as the lack of a single footnote in “8MO,” strongly suggests that
his story was largely fiction.

Most troubling in my mind was the fact that a key character in the book and movie was almost certainly fictional.  This could be defensible given Asinof’s desire to make “Eight Men Out” a narrative piece rather than straight-up history (i.e. the character could be based on a real person who was alive at the time of his writing and who could have caused some trouble for him).  That, however, combined with some of the other research deficiencies in the article gives me more than a little pause.

I do think the authors of the article overstate their case, however, in exonerating Jackson.  This piece, while certainly representing an excellent start to an effective cross-examination of the previous indictment of Shoeless Joe, does not make an affirmative case for Jackson’s innocence.  Sure, everybody’s  innocent until proven guilty and all of that, but this is history now, not a criminal trial, and we’re entitled to total information if at all possible.  It’s one thing to take down one guy’s research, but I’d rather see some competing scholarship on the matter, as opposed to just criticisms of existing work, before I come to rest on the matter.  More importantly, I think Major League Baseball would too.

But this piece is certainly a good place to start, and it’ll prompt anyone interested in the subject to want to read more.

MVP or not, Mike Trout’s place in history is secure

Mike Trout
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Mike Trout may not win another MVP award, because Josh Donaldson of the Blue Jays had a great season and voters seem to be leaning his way, but the Angels center fielder just completed his fourth MVP-caliber campaign in four full seasons as a major leaguer.

Trout has now either won the MVP or (presumably) finished runner-up at age 20, age 21, age 22, and age 23. And there were certainly cases to be made that he was deserving of all four MVP awards. It’s been an incredible start to a career. But how incredible?

Here are the all-time leaders in Wins Above Replacement through age 23:

37.6 – Mike Trout
36.0 – Ty Cobb
34.2 – Ted Williams
31.4 – Mel Ott
30.1 – Ken Griffey Jr.
29.7 – Mickey Mantle
27.7 – Alex Rodriguez
27.5 – Al Kaline
26.7 – Arky Vaughan
26.5 – Rogers Hornsby

I mean, just look at the 10 names on that list. Ridiculous, and Trout sits atop all of them.

Trout has been the subject of intense MVP-related debates in three of his four seasons, but regardless of which side of that coin you favor don’t let it obscure the fact that we’re witnessing something truly special here. There’s certainly room to quibble with the exact rankings–WAR is merely one prominent and easy way to do such things–but however you slice it Trout has been one of the best handful of players in the history of baseball through age 23.

Orioles say re-signing Chris Davis is “a top priority”

Chris Davis
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Last week impending free agent Chris Davis expressed frustration that the Orioles had not approached him about a contract extension during the season, pointing out that the team had previously locked up other players like J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones mid-season.

Now that the season is over and Davis had another monster year Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette told Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun that re-signing Davis is “a top priority” and added:

He’s had a great year and he’s been a great player for us, so obviously, we’d like to have him back. Whether we can do that in the market, that remains to be seen, but we’re going to try.

Davis is 29 years old, has some defensive versatility, and has led the league in homers in two of the past three seasons while posting an .891 OPS during that time. He’s going to get plenty of huge multi-year offers and based on some of Duquette’s other quotes within Encina’s article it sure sounds like the Orioles are preparing for life without him.