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.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.

White Sox reportedly considering Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.

After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.

Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.

Mariano Rivera to get his plaque in Monument Park on August 14

Mariano Rivera
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The greatest closer in history is going to get the ultimate honor the New York Yankees bestow on August 14. That’s when Mariano Rivera will get his plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium before a game against the Rays.

There was some chatter in the last year or two about whether the Yankees were somehow lowering their standards out there, what with guys like Tino Martinez getting honored. But if that’s something you care about it won’t matter in this instance. Rivera would’ve been worthy even if the old snobby ways had held and only inner-circle types got a plaque, what with him being a key member of five World Series-winning teams and his status as the all-time saves leader in the regular season and the postseason.

The Yankees retired Rivera’s No. 42 in 2013. He’ll get his plaque in August. Then, on the first ballot for which he is eligible, he’ll be voted into the Hall of Fame, likely with a percentage in the mid-to-high 90s.