From the Editor's Vault...: October 22, 2007
Our Editor Answers the Mail - Shoeless Joe Jackson: In His Own Words
We often receive letters regarding Shoeless Joe Jackson's participation, or lack of same, in the plot by the Chicago White Sox to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Today, Richard Lally, our editor-in-chief, answers one with the help of a crucial witness to the event, Shoeless Joe Jacksonhimself. And the answer Mr. Lally presents isn't any Jackson fan's field of dreams:
Dear Mr. Lally: I just started following baseball over the last few years and my dad has turned me on to several baseball movies, including "Eight Men Out" and "Field of Dreams," which I loved. I'm fascinatined by Joe Jackson and I know many people think he was innocent. I looked it up and I agree. Jackson did hit .375 in that Series, the best average of any of the participants, and didn't make any errors. Why doesn't baseball see that he played to win and put him in the Hall of Fame? jessieBBDog
Dear Jessie: There seems to be some confusion about why Mr. Jackson has been denied entry into the Hall of Fame. Mr. Jackson is permanently banned from baseball--a moot point since he's dead--and, by extension, from the Hall of Fame because he conspired to throw the 1919 World Series. Performance doesn't enter into this question. Jackson could have hit 1.000 and caught every single ball the Reds hit in that game and that, in and of itself, would not exonerate him from conspiracy charges. If he knew of the plot and signalled his agreement to participate, he's a conspirator plain and simple.
So the question before the jury remains, "Did Joe Jackson conspire with his teammates to throw the 1919 World Series?" To answer that question, I am going to call my only witness, one Joseph Jefferson Jackson, born July 16, 1888 in Pickens County, South Carolina. The following represents excerpts from Jackson's testimony before the Cook County grand jury on September 28, 1920. As the document indicates, the jury was charged with "...the Investigation of an Alleged Baseball Scandal." The original questioner, the Q in his "Q and A" was Hartley L. Replogle, the Assistant State (Illinois) Attorney. The A, of course, represents Shoeless Joe. My comments will appear in italics:
Q You played in the World Series between the Chicago Americans Baseball Club and the Cincinnati Baseball club, did you?
A I did.
Q What position did you play?
A Left field.
Q Were you present at a meeting at the Ansonia Hotel in New York about two or three weeks before ? a conference there with a number of ball players?
A I was not, no, sir.
Q Did anybody pay you any money to help throw that series in favor of Cincinnati?
A They did.
Q How much did they pay?
A They promised me $20,000 and paid me five.
Q Who promised you the twenty thousand?
A Chick Gandil.
Q Who is Chick Gandil?
A He was their first baseman on the White Sox club.
Q Who paid you the $5,000?
A Lefty Williams brought it in my room and threw it down.
Q Who is Lefty Williams?
A The pitcher on the White Sox club.
Q Where did he bring it, where is your room?
A At the time I was staying at the Lexington Hotel, I believe it is.
Q On 21st and Michigan?
A 22nd and Michigan, yes.
Q Who was in the room at the time?
A Lefty and myself, I was there, and he came in.
Q Where was Mrs. Jackson?
A Mrs. Jackson ? let me see ? I think she was in the bathroom. It was suite; yes, she was in the bathroom, I am pretty sure.
Q Does she know that you got $5,000 for helping throw these games?
A She did that night, yes.
Q You said you told Mrs. Jackson that evening?
A Did, yes.
Q What did she say about it?
Read that exchange again. Jackson admits that he took the money. Not only that, he admits that his wife made it clear that she disagreed with his actions. The moment Jackson accepted the cash, he was a conspirator and he can't claim he didn't realize he was doing wrong; his own wife had questioned his behavior. And as we read on, it gets worse:
A She said she thought it was an awful thing to do.
Q Were you at a conference of these men, these players on the Sox team, at the Warner Hotel sometime previous to then?
A No, sir, I was not present, but I knew they had the meeting, so I was told.
Q Who told you?
Q Who else talked to you about this besides Claude Williams?
A Claude didn't talk to me direct about it, he just told me things that had been said.
Q What did he tell you?
A He told me about this meeting in particular, he said the gang was there, and this fellow Attel, Abe Attel, I believe, and Bill Burns is the man that give him the double crossing, so Gandil told me.
Q You say Abe Attel and Bill Burns are the two people that Claude Williams told you gave you the double cross?
A Chick Gandil told me that.
Q Then you talked to Chick Gandil and Claude Williams both about this?
A Talked to Claude Williams about it, yes, and Gandil more so, because he is the man that promised me this stuff.
Q How much did he promise you?
A $20,000 if I would take part.
Q And you said you would?
A Yes, sir.
Q When did he promise you the $20,000?
A It was to be paid after each game.
Q How much?
A Split it up some way, I don't know just how much it amounts to, but during the series it would amount to $20,000. Finally Williams brought me this $5,000, threw it down.
No ambiguity exists here. Jackson not only took the money, he admits extensive knowledge of the plot and the details regarding payment, so it's not as if he thought someone was handing him $20,000, the equivalent of nearly $500,000 today, as a gift or a payment to endorse a new brand of soap suds. He knew about the conspiracy and agreed to take part. This, alone, makes him a conspirator.
And the moment he agreed, the conspirators had the last vital piece they needed to move forward. This is what Jackson's defenders miss. Had Jackson turned down the money and refused to participate, the plot probably would have disentegrated. Without the cooperation of their best player, the Sox couldn't guarantee a fix. Jackson's agreed participation was key to advancing the conspiracy. Would you like more? Read on:
Q What did you say to Williams when he threw down the $5,000?
A I asked him what the hell had come off here.
Q What did he say?
A He said Gandil said we all got a screw through Abe Attel. Gandill said that we got double crossed through Abe Attel, he got the money and refused toturn it over to him. I don?t think Gandil was crossed as much as he crossed us.
Q You think Gandil may have gotten the money and held it from you, is that right?
A That"s what I think, I think he kept the majority of it.
Q What did you do then?
A I went to him and asked him what was the matter. He said Abe Attel game him the jazzing. He said, "Take that or let it alone." As quick as the series was over I left town, I went right on out.
Do you get it, yet? When Lefty Williams handed Jackson the "short" payment, Joe didn't even use that as excuse to pull out of the plot. Instead, he was angry that he hadn't received all the money due him for throwing the games and he pursued Chick Gandil, the White Sox first baseman and a leader of the conspiracy, to get the rest of his money.
So Jackson not only knew about the conspiracy, he not only agreed to participate, he actively pursued the rest of his payment. Not only that, and this is most damning, he kept right on pursuing the money:
Q And you were to be paid $5,000 after each game, is that right?
A Well, Attel was supposed to give the $100,000. It was to be split up, paid to him, I believe, and $15,000 a day or something like that, after each game.
Q That is to Gandil?
Q At the end of the first game you didn't get any money, did you?
A No, I did not, no, sir.
Q Then you went ahead and throw the second game, thinking you would get it then, is that right?
A We went ahead and threw the second game, we went after him (Gandil)again. "I said to him What are you going to do?" "Everything is all right, he (Gandil) says, "What the hell is the matter?"
Q After the third game what did you say to him?
A After the third game I says, Somebody is getting a nice little jazz, everybody is crossed. He said, Well, Abe Attel and Bill Burns had crossed him, that is what he said to me.
Q He said Abe Attel and Bill Burns had crossed him?
A Yes, sir.
Enough. Based on the evidence of his own words, I think the ban of Jackson should stand and unless someone can prove Jackson didn't say this or can put a different, reasonable spin on the testimony, it will be difficult to change my mind. Jackson knew of the plot, agreed to participate, and accepted the money. If Jackson didn't want to particpate in the fix, he should have handed the money back to Gandil the moment he received it or at some point before the Series and announced that he was going to play to win. He didn't. That makes him a conspirator no matter how well he ultimately performed.
Jackson's supporters blind themselves to the facts of his testimony. They cite Jackson's later testimony in a civil trial in which Jackson tried to recoup back pay from the White Sox. According to Jackson, he warned the team about the conspiracy when he tried to turn over the money to the club's secretary, Harry Grabiner. But there is not a scintilla of evidence to support Jackson's claim, no spontaneous record of any meeting with Grabiner, no receipts for registered letters, nothing. Jackson's assertions are the hearsay evidence of a man who already had admitted his guilt and was trying to win a civil suit against his former employer.
I've heard Jackson's supporters say that Jackson shouldn't be considered a conspirator because he never attended any of the meetings in which the fix was discussed. They have a mistaken notion of what constitutes a conspiracy. You do not have to participate in the planning of a conspiracy to qualify as a conspirator. You don't have to meet with any of the co-conspirators. You merely have to agree to faciliate the conspiracy. In accepting the money, Joe Jackson did exactly that.
I've heard Jackson's supporters point to the outfielder's outstanding offensive performance during the 1919 World Series as further proof of his innocence. But in making the case for Joe Jackson in another BBL blog, Gene Carney has written that the conspirators decided to play to win after the gamblers who had fixed the Series failed to pay them the rest of their money. Gene believes the White Sox played to win from Game Two on. If that's true, or even if they started to play legitimately from Game Three on, Jackson's performance is rendered moot as a defense. That Jackson and his teammates played to win after they didn't get the rest of their swag doesn't exonerate them for the fix they had attempted to perpetrate, it merely underscores their greed.
I'm surprised that Jackson's supporters don't realize - or don't want to realize - that Jackson could hit with impunity throughout the Series, since Happy Felsch, Chick Gandil and Swede Risberg - three fellow conspirators - followed him in the lineup and could undo any damage Jackson did with his bat. In fact, it behooved the plotters for their best hitter to perform reasonably well, provided he didn't threaten the outcome of games they were trying to lose. What was Jackson supposed to do, make out every time up?
I have heard the excuses Jackson's supporters have made for his grand jury performance, including the assertion that he was drunk, or half-drunk, when he took the stand and didn't know what he was saying. However, to my knowledge, there isn't a single contemporaneous report that describes Jackson as being anything but sober and lucid at the time of his testimony. The only newspaper accounts I've seen that mention the possibility that Jackson took the stand inebriated were later stories that were based on Jackson's own claims. I've yet to hear of one credible witness who supports that version of events.
I've heard supporters claim that Jackson's testimony was unclear and contradictory. While it is true that Jackson later made statements that contradicted his grand jury testimony, I can't find any contradictions within the grand jury testimony itself. Far from unclear or rambling, his testimony is lucid and compelling. Jackson continually names places and participants and attaches a timeline to events. He never once asks his inquisitor to repeat a question, only occasionally asks for a clarification and rarely fumbles for an answer.
I've heard Jackson's supporters point to his 11-1 court victory in his suit against the White Sox. It has no bearing here. That was a civil suit and did not not require the same evidentiary standards as a criminal trial. Jackson did not repeat his admissions for that jury and, by then, was making largely unstantiated claims to mitigate or recant part of his original testimony. Absent the evidence of his words, the jury found for Jackson, just as another jury found for O.J. Simpson. Had Jackson taken the stand during the civil proceedings and repeated his grand jury testimony, I doubt the jury would have found in his favor.
Finally, I've heard Jackson's supporters claim that the outfielder was "slow-witted" and possibly "emotionally disabled," and that he simply didn't understand what had agreed to do by accepting the payoff from Gandil. There is no evidence to support this contention. Jackson was illiterate, but that only made him ignorant, not stupid. He couldn't read or write because no one ever taught him how to, but he was bright enough to run two successful business after he left baseball and he managed several semi-pro baseball teams. Jackson's grand jury testimony reveals a competent grasp of the English language and an average vocabulary.
When you look closely at the evidence Jackson's supporters present, it stacks up to a tall pile of nothing, primarily consisting of statements and claims Jackson later made in an attempt to mitigate his grand jury testimony. His performance in the World Series has no relevance since merely accepting the money made him a conspirator. He could have hit 1.000 in the Series and he still would have been culpable.
I don't like writing that. I would prefer that someone prove Joe Jackson innocent and that the doors of the Hall of Fame finally swing open to admit him. There are indications that he was an otherwise honest, likeable man who made a terrible error in judgment. However, unless Jackson's supporters can produce something more substantial than they have to this date, it's reasonable to conclude that he was guilty - damned by his own testimony before the grand jury - and I doubt major league baseball or the executives at the Hall of Fame will ever see it differently. Nor should it. The Black Sox didn't conspire to fix some exhibition game in Altoona; they agreed to throw the World Series. To preserve its integrity, baseball should keep the conspirators, including Joe Jackson, on the ineligible list as a warning to all players that the price for fixing ballgames is eternal damnation. Protecting the integrity of the game requires a strong deterrent. As a former Catholic, I can tell you that the thought of hell can provide a powerful incentive.
(To hear Shoeless Joe Jackson's side of the argument, click this link: Case for Jackson)