If there is one thing that Major League Baseball has figured out, it is a respect for deference. For it is rarer than seeing a successful Chicago Cubs team, wire-to-wire. But if this summer is proving anything to be true, that even the accursed North Siders can do some work to reverse their set path, so it should not be beyond comprehension to think that perhaps the new head honcho over at MLB headquarters, Commissioner Rob Manfred, could look to do the same in a few areas.
And to be fair, this is not an effort to shovel dirt on a grave that has no business being dug. Manfred has done a fine job thus far of both replacing the best commissioner in the history of baseball in Bud Selig, as well as asserting himself into some distinctly necessary issues that have shadowed his game. He has not shied away from bringing up the issues at hand with performance enhancing drug reform, reorganizing the MLB Draft and even not treating Pete Rose as ‘persona non grata’ in regards to reinstatement possibilities (regardless of Rose’s immediate sabotage of that endeavor).
Yet, when presented with an opportunity to readdress another dubious part of MLB history — the Black Sox scandal and the subsequent suspension of Shoeless Joe Jackson — Manfred reacted in a manner out of his early character. On Tuesday morning it was announced that he would not revisit the idea of reviewing Jackson’s ban from baseball, which was initially handed down by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis in 1920 as one of his first acts in the role. This is a decision that will thus extend Jackson’s ineligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame, and prolong yet another long-time oversight in the Hall’s increasingly revisionist-based effort at commemorating the sport’s history.
So for the new commish, why not at least take the time to review the information with a fresh set of eyes and intentions? Manfred stated that his reasons for not further reviewing the request for reinstatement for Jackson, spearheaded by the museum dedicated to Jackson’s legacy in his native South Carolina, were based in the precedent set by his predecessors. He referenced Bart Giamatti’s 1989 review as still being relevant to the case, as was Landis’ original judgment in 1921.
In a final nail in the heart of the point, Manfred even recused himself of being properly knowledgeable to address the matter, stating that it is “now best given to historical analysis and debate as opposed to present-day review with an eye to reinstatement”. When the Commissioner of the game deems himself to not be in proper position to hand down a judgment, you know the issue’s resolution is likely as dead as the man indicated in it.
If this is the tone that future issues for recall or newly-committed missteps are judged by, essentially it states that time forgives nothing under his watch, and that any review that is contrary to what has already been decided will be ignored. Future and past MLBers alike, be careful what bed you buy, because you be sleeping in it for a long, long time it appears.
It has long been disputed to what was Jackson’s true extent of being in on the actual conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series. While the infamous “Eight Men Out,” consisting most noticeably of Lefty Williams, Eddie Chicotte, Happy Felsch, Chick Gandil and Buck Weaver, were clearly those in on the orchestration of the scandal, it has been increasingly clear that Jackson was likely more of a pawn in the scenario and in the wrong place at the wrong time. During the Series, Jackson carried a .375 average and World Series-record 12 hits during the disgraced Series, and reportedly refused direct bribes on a regular basis. Add in that he profusely fought the ban for the rest of his life before he died in 1951, and it more than reasons that he is more a victim of a frame job than a push to be made inaccurately innocent.
Regardless of this, Jackson has remained on the MLB’s ineligible list for 94 years now. Since then he has been named a finalist for the MLB’s All-Century Team, as well as coming in within the top 40 players of all-time on The Sporting News’ ranking of the top 100 players in MLB history in 1999. Jackson’s legacy has been solidified, despite remaining tarnished in officially capacity by both the MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame — which are distinctly separately entities, might I add, although essentially joined at the political hip.
So in a time when there are clearly complicit actions against the integrity of the game on a regular basis, it would truly behoove the new commissioner to clean up the game’s closet some. Jackson has been dead for 64 years and the crime that he was associated with completed for nearly a century. It is time for someone of actual power and position (such as, I don’t know, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball) to act on their own individual accord and truly evaluate the claims against him in light of what has been proven to be not only a disputable charge, but more than likely a heavy-handed one from the onset.
Landis’ track record shows that he was a hardline judge (by professional trait) that would be just as adept to prove a point as he was to make a measured and timeless verdict. This is the same man that fought to uphold the color barrier and essentially put the reserve clause into hardline effect. And no introduction is needed to showcase how far the benefits of repealing those procedures have benefitted not only the game, but the culture of sports as a whole.
But alas, here we still sit with yet another Commissioner deciding that during his watch, it would be inappropriate for him to revisit the situation. And considering he is not yet a full year into his term and is a quite young 56 years old, this could be a stance that stays in place for quite a long time for Jackson. Hopefully, this is not a precedent that will be set during Manfred’s reign over the game. His positioning was stated to be forward working and pull the game into the next generation.
Well, perhaps the best way to do that would be to clear up everything that is still clinging to it from generations past first.
I’m a firm believer that the closest I’ve gotten to Heaven is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. In the meantime til we cross paths again, I’ll pass along the gospel of the Field of Dreams here, Cheap.Seats.Please, I70 Baseball, and ‘Live From The Cheap Seats’.