Was Shoeless Joe innocent after all?

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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.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.