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.