October 19th is not a dull day in world history. On this day, Columbus officially discovered the New World in 1492. Years later, in 1781, that very same New World would never be the same; the United States won the Revolutionary War at Yorktown, after forcing General Cornwallis to surrender (sweet name, bro). In 1966, Bobby Orr, the greatest defensemen in the history of hockey, made his Bruins debut against the Red Wings. In 2005, Saddam Hussein went on trial for crimes against humanity. And hey, just to throw him a bone, one of my best friend’s younger brother was born (he reads the blog frequently enough, and helped develop a following, he deserves that much).
What I want to focus in on, however, goes way back to 1919, when the landscape of baseball history would forever be changed. The Chicago White Sox had just been bested by the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series, five games to three. The Series itself isn’t what is remembered, however. Rather, the fallout that would follow in the years following is what lives in baseball infamy. Eight men on the White Sox had decided to throw the World Series. The ‘Black Sox Scandal’, as it is now known, has been portrayed in several movies and books since the trial ended in 1921.
As it goes with most scandals, it was about money. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey was hated. The players thought he was a cheap bastard, and they were pissed. Though they were watched closely, they managed to lose the championship on purpose. Some of the more notable ‘performances’ include pitcher Claude “Lefty” Williams, who lost 3 games (a Series record) and shortstop Charles “Swede” Risberg, who hit .040 in 8 games.
The most famous of the eight men is “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, a generational player who surely would’ve been a Hall of Famer. His involvement is disputed, due to his performance. Jackson hit .375 with the only home run in the entire series, while playing flawlessly in the field. Other players reported themselves that Jackson had only been ‘in’ because his family was threatened. Not to mention, he was illiterate (like seriously, he couldn’t read or write) and didn’t understand the scandal. His guilt is disputed. Nonetheless, he remains on baseball’s ineligible list with the seven other players.
This was a big moment in baseball history. It was the biggest black mark against pro baseball until the steroid era. It is the indirect reason that Pete Rose isn’t allowed in Cooperstown. When Kenesaw Mountain Landis (yup, that’s seriously what his name was. There’s lots of good ones in this post) took over as baseball’s first commissioner, he was given the task of cleaning up the game. Gambling had become rampant, and had tainted the game. His strong and strict stance showed that Major League Baseball wasn’t playing around. Fixing games and players involved with gambling wasn’t a thing.
I have lots of sympathy for Shoeless Joe, and I know that TJ feels the same. He was a top five player in his generation, and he should live in immortality. But instead, he lives in infamy; and the worst thing is that Landis might’ve gotten it wrong with him.