Shoeless Joe Got a Bit of Redemption in 1951
Vince Guerrieri | On 21, Feb 2018
Redemption for Shoeless Joe Jackson was on the agenda this week in 1951. The legislature in his home state of South Carolina asked Major League Baseball to reinstate Jackson, who was one of eight players banned in the wake of allegations that he and some White Sox teammates conspired to throw the 1919 World Series.
On its face, the reinstatement would have been no good to Jackson. He was well past his playing days at that point, and a heart attack three years earlier had forced him to give up playing semi-pro ball. And it wasn’t at his behest, either. He’d asked for reinstatement in 1931, but it was denied by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis – the man who’d banned him in the first place.
The South Carolina effort went for naught, but later that year, his greatness was recognized – by fans – and he got into a hall of fame.
The Indians were starting a team Hall of Fame, and the editors of the three newspapers in town – the Plain Dealer, the News, and the Press – put the candidates to a vote. Plain Dealer Sports Editor Gordon Cobbledick explained later that there was no way they felt Jackson, then as now the only .400 hitter in Indians history, could be excluded, and noted that he was one of the people who believed that Shoeless Joe didn’t participate in the fix. He pointed out that Jackson hit .375 in that Fall Classic; Eddie Collins, one of the honest members of the team, hit .229.
Jackson ended up being one of the first 10 players inducted that year, along with Earl Averill, Tris Speaker, Steve O’Neil, Mel Harder, Joe Sewell, Cy Young, Ken Keltner, Hal Trosky and Napoleon Lajoie – a complete lineup with two pitchers. (Speaker was the leading vote-getter, with 3,744.)
Jackson had to RSVP regrets for the ceremony in September, but made plans to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show on December 16. At that point, he’d be presented by former teammate Jack Graney and Indians owner Ellis Ryan with a gold mantel clock in honor of his election to the Indians Hall of Fame.
But on December 5, he suffered a fatal heart attack. As is the case in death, the plaudits came for Jackson – and the case against him softened a little bit.
No less an authority than Ty Cobb – whose .367 career average then as now is the highest in major league history – said Jackson was the greatest natural hitter he’d ever seen. “I used my brain to become a great hitter,” Cobb was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “I studied the art scientifically. Jackson just swung. If he had my knowledge, his averages would have been phenomenal.”
The same article, which came out after Jackson’s death, gave Shoeless Joe the benefit of the doubt over the 1919 fix, saying “So immense were the Shoeless One’s talents and so overpowering were his baseball instincts that it was a physical impossibility for him to make deliberate misplays.”