Shoeless Joe Jackson vs. Hugh Fullerton

One hundred years have passed since sportswriter Hugh Fullerton wrote about eight members of the Chicago White Sox who took money from organized gambler Arnold Rothstein to throw the 1919 World Series. It was a scandal that almost destroyed the game of baseball. Older White Sox fans, many of them still weary from the devastating effects of World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic that wiped out 30 million people world wide, could hardly process what the eight Black Sox players had done. Young White Sox fans took it even harder as they felt betrayed by their heroes. While the swift punishment handed down by newly minted baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis a year later helped ensure that the game did not meet its demise, the scandal still devastated baseball, and the country. The effect was so tremendous that F. Scott Fitzgerald referenced it in the American classic The Great Gatsby. “It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people–with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.”

Born out of that scandal was folk hero “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the eight playersfullerton3 who accepted money from gamblers to throw the series. He had a .375 batting average, 12 RBIs, and hit the series’ only home run in the World Series. These stats, along with making no errors, makes scholars and fans alike question whether he tried to throw the series. Regardless of how well he played, the fact remains that he did take the gamblers money. In fact,  during the 1919 World Series, he inquired on a daily basis about whether he’d get his entire share of the payoff. Despite these details, W.P. Kinsella romanticized Jackson in the novel Shoeless Joe, as well as the subsequent film, Field of Dreams. These forms of media appeal to the emotion of baseball fans who believe in Jackson’s innocence. “He continues to be Shoeless Joe,” says Charles Fountain, a professor of journalism and baseball writer who wrote The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball in 2015, “…the guy in the cornstalks.”

Why Do We Give Shoeless Joe Jackson a Pass?

While it’s easy to fall prey to these appeals for compassion, it’s just as easy to forget that Jackson was one of eight players who tainted the integrity of the game. So why do we give Shoeless Joe Jackson a pass? This question is as relevant today as it was in 1919. In fact, those who suspected that the World Series was fixed, like writer Hugh Fullerton, tried to tell people like White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, as well as other writers, only to be all but shunned from the game for the rest of his career. So why do fans today raise Cain about injustices against Jackson and ignore Fullerton? Why is Jackson seen as a hero and Fullerton seen as a villain?

Hugh Fullerton Blows the Whistle

Let’s rehash the details first. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox, Shoeless Joe Jackson included, accepted payment to throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Hugh Fullerton heard rumors of the fix and sat with New York Giants pitching legend Christy Mathewson in the press box during the World Series to discuss. Together they noted certain suspicious plays for which a White Sox player was charged with an error. They later scrutinized these plays and came to the conclusion that they weren’t honest errors. The White Sox lost the series and the season ended. In December of 1919, Fullerton’s writing blows the scandal wide open. In a story published in the New York World entitled “IS BIG LEAGUE BASEBALL BEING RUN FOR GAMBLERS, WITH BALLPLAYERS IN THE DEAL?” Fullerton demanded that baseball investigate its gambling problem. Jackson, along with the other seven players, stood trial for their crimes and all are acquitted despite their confessions. Landis, now commissioner of baseball, banned the eight players for life anyway. “Regardless of the verdict of juries,” Landis declared, “no player that throws a ballgame; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.” Jackson dies in 1951, having never played professional baseball again (unless you count Field of Dreams).

Myths and Legends Born Out of Falsities

Three years ago I sat down with Charles Fountain to discuss Jackson and the 1919 Black Sox legacy. Fountain’s book, The Betrayal, a nominee for the 2015 Casey Award, challenges many of the assumptions that baseball fans have about the 1919 World Series, most of which derive from Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out that for many years fans took for gospel. For example, Comiskey allegedly promised Eddie Cicotte, one of the eight players involved in the scandal, a $10,000 bonus if he won 30 games during the 1919 season. When Cicotte won his twenty-eighth game, Comiskey ordered Cicotte benched so he wouldn’t have to give him the bonus. Fountain alleges that this isn’t a true story. Not only did Cicotte consistently pitch throughout the season, but there is no evidence in his contract showing that he was ever going to receive a bonus. Then there’s the story that gamblers threatened Lefty Williams when he tried to renege on the deal. The problem with this story is that Williams wasn’t in Chicago at the time that this alleged threat happened. “Asimov was such a beautiful writer,” Fountain said about the famed author during our 2015 talk, “but was not concerned with fact but instead with story.”

Many Fans Don’t Know the Real Details of the 1919 World Series

Most baseball fans aren’t aware of these new insights unless they’ve read Fountain’s book. It is difficult to say how much it would matter though if baseball fans better knew that information. We live in a time where people more readily accept perception over fact, a behavior fueled by impulsive reactions instead of tempered insight. For many baseball fans, Shoeless Joe Jackson represents an idea that one’s sins shouldn’t be held against them indefinitely, especially if their actions defy the very sins they’re accused of committing. For other baseball fans, Jackson is a cause they can rally around to feel good about themselves. Jackson is “sort of wrong victim,” Fountain explains “…and if you take that away you end the story, while it’s a happy resolution for the Jackson people, we then stop talking about it.” So if baseball fans feel that Jackson was slighted, then why don’t they feel the same way about Fullerton, who tried in vain to call attention to the fix? “…if Fullerton had grown disillusioned with the game,” Fountain wrote in The Betrayal, “the game had grown disillusioned with him too, as he was made to feel unwelcome by many who believed he had broken some sort of unspoken code by writing his December 1919 stories, that his fealty to the image of the game should have trumped his fealty to his readers and the truth.”

Fullerton’s Role and Contributions to the Story

Journalist Steven M. Klein wrote his master’s thesis on Hugh Fullerton at Michigan Statefullerton University focusing on a complex man of high morals. Klein details how Fullerton upbringing in Ohio and how McGuffey’s Readers guided his education. William H. McGuffey’s books reflected Protestant ideals that focused on morality, integrity, and education. These books profoundly impacted scientists and doctors because they encouraged critical thinking over rote memorization. Fullerton used these books as a basis for his own moral beliefs throughout his career. One of the ideas that the McGuffey books conveyed to its readers included components of integrity and honesty. Fullerton held these ideas in such high regard that one could argue that they influenced Fullerton to speak out about the 1919 Black Sox scandal. He believed that staying quiet about what he noticed about the 1919 World Series contradicted the beliefs he valued.

Gambling in America’s Victorian Era

Fullerton grew up towards the tale end of the Victorian Era in America and was working full time at the dawn of the 20th century. During this time gambling was becoming more and more rampant in baseball, as well as in general society, which challenged a Victorian-based belief system that valued integrity and honesty. Fullerton was a descendent of that era, and was likely one of the few still clinging to these ideas. So many others sports writers had become accustomed to American disillusionment in post-World War I America that it makes sense that they didn’t want to hear Fullerton’s ramblings about the disintegration of morality and honesty in baseball. As Klein writes, “The game needed to mirror America’ perception of itself as a foursquare land of equal opportunity and limitless possibilities.” Hugh Fullerton’s exposure of the 1919 Black Sox scandal exposed this idea as a falsity.

Hugh Fullerton Received No Recognition for his Role, Only Admonishment

Fullerton was later blackballed from the sports writing world because he had refused to look the other way with the 1919 Black Sox scandal. As a scientist and stats guy, he knew that what the eight White Sox players did was not only wrong, but a major insult to what we know recognize as sabermetrics. “The Black Sox scandal provided sports writers of the time with a unique challenge…but only one was up to it,” Klein writes, “What separated Fullerton, however, was his willingness to write about it while others remained silent.”

Why Doesn’t Anyone Remember or Recognize Hugh Fullerton?

So why don’t baseball fans recognize Fullerton’s contributions to the game, particularly his involvement in the Black Sox scandal? One possible explanation is that he kept people from relying on their willful ignorance; Hugh Fullerton ruined the “ignorance is bliss” excuse for fans, writers, and owners who didn’t want to hear anymore bad news in the wake of the decade’s devastating events. While some might find it hard to blame them, it brings unavoidable attention to the contradiction showing unwavering devotion to a self-admitted crook like Jackson. It also shows an intense resentment towards a man of integrity like Fullerton. Why though? Is it because Jackson’s story is one that gives baseball fans a modicum of hope that he wasn’t a crook rather than a great baseball player? An illiterate man exploited by gamblers? Do fans hope that their own sins may find forgiveness too? Or is it because films like Field of Dreams, a film that symbolizes a bond between father and son so strong that fans confuse its emotional bond with truth? Do fans point to Field of Dreams and say “How can you condemn Shoeless Joe Jackson when he was such an amazing character in the movie?” Regardless of how great of a baseball movie it is (I’ll admit that I love it too), it’s ridiculous to cite it as anything more than a fictitious feel-good movie. It’s not a basis of fact. Jackson willingly accepted Rothstein’s money. It doesn’t matter how well he played in the 1919 World Series.

Does Shoeless Joe Jackson Deserve Induction into the Hall of Fame?

Fans that advocate for Jackson’s removal from baseball’s lifetime ban list should askfullerton2 themselves whether they want him removed for the right reasons. Do they want him removed because of his ban, or so they can feel better about themselves? If it’s the former, then they must also recognize Hugh Fullerton, for he was the writer who tried to preserve the integrity that Jackson’s supporters argue Landis took from him. Does Jackson deserve induction into the Hall of Fame? Probably. But that can’t happen without simultaneously recognizing Fullerton too. For some fans though, that might not be a compromise they want, as it would mean recognizing the sins they’re trying to excuse.

Rick Porcello Almost Threw a Perfect Game

Rick Porcello almost threw a perfect game against the New York Yankees on August 3rd. For some reason though no one seemed to notice. I know that “almost” doesn’t translate into “he did.” But people do not realize how rare it is to see a perfect game. Look at it this way. Baseball as we know it has been around since the 1880s. According to Sean Forman of baseball-reference.com, there have been over 210,000 major league games played over the last 140 years. Guess how many of them were perfect games? Only 23. The fact that Porcello came within striking distance of a perfect game is in itself no small feat and one that should be recognized.

A perfect game by today’s standards is when a pitcher retires all twenty-seven batters in arick porcello almost row. Nine innings multiplied by three outs an inning equals twenty-seven. It’s a feat so rare that baseball didn’t see one between 1923 and 1955. It’s something so difficult to achieve that its very name denotes the standard that a pitcher has to meet in order to join the exclusive club. In fact, baseballism.com has a deal where they’ll take 40% off all their baseball merchandise for 24 hours following a perfect game this season. THAT’S how rare it is to see a perfect game.

Rick Porcello Almost Joined An Exclusive Club

Back to Rick Porcello almost throwing a perfect game. The game itself was Porcello’s most masterful game so far in his career. The fact that he retired 21 Yankee batters in a row is in itself a rarity for anyone. The only thing you read about in the sports section the next day though was how Porcello pitched a one-hitter. It wasn’t a shutout, and it wasn’t a no-hitter. The one hit he gave up was a home run that destroyed Porcello’s chance at a perfect game. If it hadn’t been for that one home run Porcello likely would have become the 24th pitcher EVER to throw a perfect game. Just one hit…

Rick Porcello Almost Cost Jordan Furniture $100,000,000

You read that right. Jordan’s Furniture’s Eliot Tatelman told WBZ TV Boston Sports Director Steve Burton that “Rick Porcello’s one-hitter last night would have been free furniture to 45,000 families, over $100,000,000.00. One pitch made the difference.” That makes you wonder if the CEO of baseballism.com was just as nervous.

Gimmicks aside, most pitchers will tell you that they value a win over personal gain. I think that’s true in Porcello’s case. It was another victory that further secured the Red Sox’s first-place standing. Given how well the Red Sox are playing this season though, Rich Porcello’s almost perfect game won’t be the team’s last chance at achieving greatness this season.

Does Barry Bonds Deserve Hall of Fame Induction?

The 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame inductions took place over the last weekend in July in Cooperstown, NY. These inductions often spark debate over who continues to be left out. Names like Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds often come up. Bonds is struggling to get inducted despite being the home run king, as he holds the season and career home run records. Despite his connections to PED usage, and his reputation as a moody guy, does Barry Bonds deserve induction into the Hall of Fame?

This writer says no for reasons that I’ll expand on later in this article. First, though, IBonds deserves recognize the fact that Bonds is the home run king. With or without PEDs, it takes a high level of skill to make contact with a 90+ MPH fastball. As of today, Bonds is only one of three players ever to hit more than 700 home runs in his career. He’s one of two players to ever hit 70 home runs in a season. On top of that, he accumulated multiple MVP awards, batting titles, and Gold Gloves. So no one can say he’s not qualified for the Hall of Fame. That doesn’t mean he belongs there though.

Does Bonds Deserve More Consideration? His Past Says No.

Here’s my beef with Bonds. While it’s quite the feat that he hit 762 home runs in his career, the question I keep asking is “So what?” Were his home runs more significant than Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron’s? Ruth’s home runs brought people back to the ballpark in the wake of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Aaron showed a tremendous amount of perseverance in the fact of racial adversity while he chased Ruth’s record. What did Bonds’ home run chase do? You can argue that he broke Aaron’s record in the face of mounting criticism of his used of PEDs, but Bonds brought that criticism on himself. In my opinion, numbers aside, the inability to answer that question leaves a gaping hole in the argument to induct Bonds into the Hall of Fame.

The other issue I have with Bonds is his inability to be a team player. According to ESPN, during his time on the baseball team at Arizona State, Bonds was so despised by his teammates that all but two voted to kick him off the team after numerous altercations. Then there’s the arrogance Bonds displayed during his years with the Pittsburg Pirates and San Francisco Giants where fans, media, and even his teammates harbored a strong dislike for him. In my view, it reflects his inability to appreciate all those who contribute to the game. For Bonds, it was all about him.

Does Bonds Deserve To Be In The Hall? No, But Not Because Of PEDs

Bonds’ alleged PED use doesn’t turn me off to Bonds. In fact, last year I wrote an article arguing that Roger Clemens should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. As many know, Clemens allegedly used PEDs. Clemens was a fierce competitor too.

It is the idea that Bonds played in a world separate from one that contributes significance and meaning to the game that makes me argue against his induction. In Bonds’ world, all he cared about was accumulating as many homers as possible. It’s as if he cared about nothing other than personal gain. And for what? It’s clear he didn’t care about being a team player. So what was Bonds trying to accomplish?

For me, Bonds’ numbers aren’t enough to merit induction. To me, it’s not about the numbers, it’s about how the numbers impacted and contributed to the game. In my view, Bonds’ numbers were nothing more than self-serving efforts to quell his inner demons.

Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron are worth their weight in gold. In my view, Bonds is worth his weight in monopoly money. Bonds might have the numbers, but it’s not enough to buy his way into the Hall.

All You Need to Know For Baseball Hall of Fame Weekend

The National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend is coming up quickly. Six former players will be enshrined in Cooperstown on July 29th: Alan Trammel, Jack Morris, Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman. Whether you’re a regular attendee or a first timer, here’s a few things you should know about visiting Cooperstown during Hall of Fame Weekend.

Hotels and Parking During Hall of Fame Weekend

First thing’s first. If you haven’t booked a hotel room by now then you’re not going to get afame weekend room anywhere within a fifty mile radius of Cooperstown. At this point your best bet is either Utica, or Albany, NY. Hotels sell out months in advance, usually the month after the induction weekend, for the following year. Keep in mind there’s only 1,800 people in Cooperstown so hotels are limited. Since 40,000-50,000 people show up for the inductions it’s no wonder the hotels sell out fast. If you’re coming from out of town just for the day you can find parking along most side streets. Residents usually rent out their lawns for parking at $10-20 a day depending on how far away the events are. Be mindful though of where you can and can’t park as the town won’t hesitate to tow you!

Getting Autographs During Hall of Fame Weekend

Tons of Hall of Famers and former All-Stars come to Cooperstown each summer to see their former teammates get inducted, and celebrate the weekend. Many of them participate in autograph shows taking place throughout Cooperstown. The biggest autograph show is at Tunnicliff Inn on Pioneer Street. You can find a full lineup of who will be signing when and how much they charge at this website. Players like Ozzie Smith and Lou Whitaker will be at Seventh Inning Stretch on Main Street. You can find their information here. Then there’s Jack Berke Sports. He usually gets players like Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage (Jack is also a good guy!) You can find his information here. Of course, you can get lucky and run into former players throughout the town but in many cases they’ll be too busy to sign.

The ones you really should try and seek out are the former Negro League players, as well as the women who played in the All-American Girls Professional League (A League of Their Own). They usually show up too and charge very little for their autograph. You can find them set up along Main Street. They’re also a part of history that’s quickly disappearing, so make a point to talk to them!

Food and Attractions During Hall of Fame Weekend

You’ll have a lot of options for places to eat in Cooperstown during Hall of Fame Weekend.  Doubleday Cafe on Main Street is a great place to get a burger and their desserts are amazing (and huge!). Sal’s Pizzeria in Main Street is also good, and so is “Hey Getcha Hot Dog” on Pioneer Street. If you pop in to one of these places you won’t be disappointed, but keep in mind they’re busy and want to get people in and out. Don’t loiter in there, and don’t use their bathrooms without buying something. That’s just rude. If you like whiskey then check out Cooperstown Distillery on Main Street. If you love books as much as I do then you’re not only probably single like me, but you’ll love checking out Willis Monie Books on Main Street. They have a great assortment of baseball books. Finally, shoot on over to Milford and drink a few at Cooperstown Brewery!

Hall of Fame Inductions!

50-60 Hall of Famers show up to Cooperstown for the inductions each year. On Saturday night around 6 pm there’s a parade down Main Street in Cooperstown that includes most of Hall of Famers. Here you’ll get to see Frank Robinson, Greg Maddux, Rickey Henderson, and Cal Ripken Jr. You can waive to them and take their picture! As for the actual inductions, the Baseball Hall of Fame website states that “The Class of 2018 will be formally inducted and deliver speeches during the event beginning at 1:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday, July 29 at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown.”

I’ve seen many fans go out to Clark Sports Center on the Friday before the inductions and place lawn chairs on the grass to mark their spots. It sounds strange, but it’s an honor system that seems to work! So if you feel brave enough, take your lawn chairs out to the Clark Sports Center and leave it as close as you can to the stage where the speeches take. Trust me when I say it fills up VERY quickly. If you wait too long you’ll be almost a mile away from the stage and you won’t see much.

Have fun!

Sandy Koufax Was The Greatest Pitcher Ever

The debate over who the greatest pitcher ever was is as old as the game itself. Some say it’s Cy Young because of his 511 wins. Others say it’s Nolan Ryan because of his longevity. But while he’s well known to many, Sandy Koufax doesn’t get the full credit he deserves. That’s partly because he only had six strong seasons. But I argue that those were the greatest six seasons any pitcher has enjoyed in the game of baseball. That makes Koufax the greatest pitcher ever.

Let’s start with just a few of Koufax’s accolades. He was a six-time All-Star. The mangreatest pitcher ever threw FOUR no-hitters, including a perfect game. He was a two-time World Series MVP. He was the 1963 National League MVP when he pitched 11 shutouts. That’s just for starters. Let’s take a look at his actual numbers.

Koufax had 2,396 career strikeouts in just twelve seasons. After twelve years in the majors, Nolan Ryan had 2,686. That’s just 290 more than Koufax had after twelve years. So imagine if Koufax had played for twenty-seven seasons like Ryan did. In fact, while Ryan holds the single-season strikeout record with 383, that’s just ONE more than Koufax’s original record. In other words, only a pitcher like Nolan Ryan could top Koufax, and that’s just barely. While many will argue that Ryan is better, Ryan played twenty-seven seasons in the majors, longer than anyone else. Ryan also never won a Cy Young Award while Koufax won three. So if you put their best years side by side with each other, Koufax edges out Ryan not just quantitatively, but through sheer dominance in the regular and postseasons.

Koufax Was The Greatest Pitcher Ever

According to ESPN, Koufax would have finished a longer career with 334 wins, 4,377 strikeouts, and a 2.76 ERA. And that’s only if he’d played another eleven seasons. It’s hard to tell what he would have done if he’d gotten Tommy John surgery and continued to play (it wasn’t around yet).

There are those who say Koufax’s first six years keep him from standing as the greatest pitcher ever. They have a worthy argument. Koufax only won 36 games in his first six seasons, an average of six wins a season. He was wild on the mound during those first six years too. But how many pitchers can anyone point to and cite the dramatic turnaround Koufax had between 1960 and 1961?

Through strikeouts, dependability, and sheer dominance, Koufax was the greatest pitcher ever.

Louis Sockalexis: Baseball’s First Native American

Everyone knows that Jackie Robinson integrated the MLB in 1947. The film 42, as well as Ken Burns’ documentaries about Robinson, clearly illustrate the struggles that he endured in the face of white adversity. But few people know the story of Louis Sockalexis, baseball’s first Native American baseball player.

Sockalexis only played in 94 games with 395 plate appearances over thee seasons. Hissockalexis first season saw him hit .338 with three home runs, quite a feat at the time. Unfortunately, he succumbed to the dangers of alcoholism and his career quickly declined.

Sockalexis is often identified as the first Native American to play Major League Baseball. Others, however, credit Jim Toy, a catcher in the early American Association, as the first.  Chief Yellow Horse, who played in the 1920s, is also often cited as the first Native American to play professional baseball. So why does Sockalexis get the credit? Probably because of his role in another legend about the Cleveland Indians. Can you guess that connection?

Sockalexis’ Impact Lives On In Indians’ Name

In 1915 the Cleveland Naps got a new owner who wanted to change the team’s name. Cleveland baseball writer settled on the name “Indians” in tribute to Louis, who had died two years earlier of complications from alcoholism. While he only played a few years in the majors, his legacy lives in with the Tribe.

Only the biggest of baseball fans would have any idea of who Louis Sockalexis was. In some ways that’s understandable. He didn’t have to endure what Jackie Robinson did in 1947. He also didn’t play long enough to have any lasting impact. But some fans might argue that Louis’ impact on the games does live in through baseball.

If the Cleveland Indians make it to the World Series again anytime soon (and they just might), readers of this article should reflect on Sockalexis’ legacy.