Bock’s Score: The Case For Shoeless Joe

For all the old school folks who believe in the significance of batting average and slugging percentage instead of the current analytic obsession with esoteric statistics like WAR and OPS, we offer some mighty impressive numbers to think about.

Lifetime batting average: .356, third highest in history.

Lifetime slugging percentage: .517.

Lifetime World Series batting average: .345

Had three 200-hit seasons.

Led the American League in triples three times.

Batted a record .408, highest ever for a rookie.

Those numbers belong to Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the greatest natural hitters in baseball history. Born to poverty, Jackson never learned to read or write. But mercy, the man could hit.

The two men directly in front of him in lifetime batting average are Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby. Both are in the Hall of Fame. Shoeless Joe is not because of his alleged involvement in the 1919 Black Sox World Series scandal.

Shoeless Joe batted a Series-leading .375 that year and played errorless ball in the field. He had 12 hits, six runs batted in and hit the only home run of the Series. This is a mighty strange way to fix ball games which leads a lot of people to believe that Shoeless Joe was a victim of circumstances, banned from baseball in commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ zealous drive to clean up the game. Some baseball historians believe that Jackson didn’t need to be cleaned up because he was never dirty in the first place.

This has made Jackson the subject of some fascination over the years with countless articles and books studying his life and times. Now, a new stage production by playwright Dan Doyle about Shoeless Joe will debut Sept. 9 at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Mass. The play considers more than just baseball, examining race, illiteracy, labor and the criminal justice system. It includes eight songs written and recorded by Doyle and is the centerpiece of a day devoted to baseball at the Berkshire town with two panels preceding the performance.

Shoeless Joe would have loved having his life celebrated in song and dance. He certainly deserves all the attention. He earned it on the field and his punishment from Landis seems far over the top when you consider his performance in that World Series. Others may have been dumping games. Shoeless Joe, however, was probably not. Keeping the player with the third highest lifetime batting average in baseball history out of the Hall of Fame seems excessive. But then the folks in Cooperstown often do some strange things, like welcoming cartoon character Homer Simpson into the shrine and keeping some of the game’s greatest players out.

Most prominent in that category, of course, is Pete Rose, who has spent 28 years in baseball purgatory for betting on baseball. This at a time when baseball owners have embraced fantasy sports sites, which are nothing more than sophisticated gambling on the game. Rose’s  sentence, however, is nothing compared to the one Shoeless Joe Jackson has endured. He is closing in on a century worth of punishment.

That leads us to a question. If Judge Landis nailed Shoeless Joe with a lifetime ban from baseball, shouldn’t the ban have ended when Joe Jackson’s lifetime did, back in 1951?

Just askin’.

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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