Perhaps there’s a place for “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in baseball’s Hall of Fame, after all.
Efforts to have the late and legendary player with a .356 career batting average included in baseball immortality may intensify after a recent revelation by Major League Baseball that acknowledges that a deceased player is no longer bound by the constraints of a lifetime banishment from the game.
Jackson was among eight Chicago White Sox players who received a lifetime ban from baseball in 1921 by Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis after allegedly fixing the 1919 World Series. The ban placed them on the “ineligible list” for the Hall of Fame.
In essence, the ban expires upon death. Jackson died in 1951.
“You’re only on the ineligible list if you’re living,” said Don Van Natta Jr., a senior writer for ESPN. “Joe has been dead for 70 years, which puts the ball in the Hall of Fame’s court. It’s a very interesting question and gives fresh hope.
“It’s significant. It’s something that Major League Baseball is finally saying in a way they had not before. They claim they have felt this way for some time, but we didn’t know.”
This latest revelation comes on the heels of Van Natta’s recent completion of a documentary featuring the stories of both Jackson and Pete Rose, who received a similar banishment in 1989 for betting on baseball.
“Banned for Life” is the second episode of Backstory, an ESPN documentary series featuring the investigative reporting of Van Natta Jr. It will premier Sunday at 3 p.m. on ESPN, with a prime time airing at 9 p.m.
“Greenville (South Carolina) was one of the first places we knew we had to go,” Van Natta Jr. said of Jackson’s hometown. “And we had a great time there.”
The investigation certainly is timely for multiple reasons, including:
- Elections to the Hall of Fame for 2020 are set to be announced on Tuesday;
- A subcommittee of the Hall of Fame’s Early Baseball committee soon will determine 10 individuals who played or were involved in the game before 1950 who will appear on this year’s ballot;
- The inaugural “Field of Dreams” baseball game will be played on August 13 in Dyersville, Iowa — the setting for the beloved 1989 movie that featured Jackson.
“Shoeless Joe may have an honest chance with that subcommittee,” Van Natta Jr. said. “With the Field of Dreams game in August, maybe they would make an announcement then.”
Jackson’s involvement in the Black Sox Scandal of 1919 has been the subject of much debate. Jackson batted .375 in the World Series loss to the Cincinnati Reds and his 12 hits in the series remained a World Series record for 45 years.
“They were acquitted by a Chicago jury, but Landis ignored that fact and threw the book at them anyway,” Van Natta Jr. said. “In December of 1951, when Shoeless Joe died, you’d think it would have ended then, but it didn’t.
“The goal of this series is to look at sports scandals, whether a century old or a year old, and give new insight into these stories.”