Baseball Bets: Forget Rose, Wattabout Joe Jackson?

No! Not this Joe Jackson! Oh well, he’s alright too. The early stuff, at least.

Ol’ Pete Rose seems to work on a lunar calendar. Because like any holiday based on a lunar calendar — such as my favorite: Chinese/Lunar New Year — I seem to hear about him every year, at a different time each year, and sometimes twice a year, inexplicably. Oftentimes, he reminds me gently — like a lapping tide reminds the sand of rain, which the Mayans had no concept of 2013.

Anyway, I recently stumbled into a Rob Neyer column concerning said Pete Rose, wherein Neyer discusses the disgraced hitsman and the possibility that Bud Selig will reinstate him.

Frankly, I don’t care too much about Ol’ Rosey. Yeah, he leads the world in hits, but he certainly doesn’t lead the game in wOBA or wRC+ — in fact, depending on the plate appearances requirement, you might find him thereabouts of page 14 on that particular dispay (one sorted by wRC+, that is). To me, that screams empty batting average.

Maybe it’s because Rose is before my time; perchance I’m still just an embittered youth looking for awkward and oblique ways to rebel against moderately older individuals who hearken to the glory days of belled bottoms and video game arcades. Or maybe it’s because I’m a Chicago sports guy and Rose was a Cincinnati sports guy, or maybe it’s because Rose was unrepentant and untruthful for so long. Frankly, I don’t care too much about Rose and his absence from the MLB record book.

Look, Rose had nearly 100 WAR — that’s a career worth celebrating — but frankly, Gamblin’ Pete’s dilemma doesn’t rank in my little list of baseball injustices. A list that most days looks like this:

1. Racial segregation ruined the first 70 years of the MLB.

2. Ron Santo is not in the Hall of Fame.

3. Joe Jackson’s career ended 10 years too soon.

Refer, if you will, to the aforewritten leaderboard, sorted by wRC+. Note Page No. 1. Topsies sits Baby Ruth, duh, followed by Ted Williams and Barry Bonds. These, baseball fans, are your Titans of Timber, your Savants of Slugging. Therein featured in yonder page: None other than Shoeless Joe Jackson. Nine down, by my count.

Here’s the deal:

Joe Jackson was an elite hitter. I’m talking elite with a bold elthreethreeseven. Also, according to contemporary scouting reports and our limited fielding data, Shoe-needer was also a strong defender. His career .356/.423/.517 slash and +11 defensive runs would make him a prize to even modern clubs.

Most tragic about Joe Jackson, a member of the infamous 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox, was that he might not have even been guilty of game fixing. Well, I mean, he and the other seven White Sox players were in fact declared not guilty (throwing games is not illegal in the eyes of US law) — but Jackson might have been more not guilty than the others.

Personally, I see Jackon’s .510 wOBA in the White Sox wins and cannot fault him for his .400 wOBA in Chicago’s losses. That, to me, doesn’t scream cheating. Yeah, his hits came in garbage time in Game 8, but that’s a hard argument to sustain. Hits come when they come, even when a player is trying their darnedest. Also, in Game 4 of the 1919 World Series, Jackson reached first on an error. That error only advanced the runner on second to third base. Could it be Joe was hustling on a grounder in a game he was supposed to be trying to lose?

Moreover, the tripled-to-left story-line lacks a heft of proof to me. Retrosheet only mentions one triple to left the whole series, and apparently contemporary newspapers did not mention them at all. If Jackson really were dogging it defensively, that would seem like the papers or the official scorer — someone, anyone! — would have given him an E, but no one did.

Don’t think, dear opinioned reader, that the matter of Jackson’s guilt is final. Some like to think Jackson accepted money, case closed. But there are power arguments for Joe’s honor. Also, and I’m not sure if Neyer has changed his opinion much in the 10 years since he penned this indictment on Jackson, but Neyer himself makes a strong counterargument to Jackson’s innocence.

Suffice to say: Jackson might have been guilty — taking the cash and dogging in parts of five out of three games; or he might have been innocent — taking the cash against his will, playing his heart out and succumbing to the team’s crooked lawyer. But there is one matter that cannot be debated: Jackson was historically awesome.

And baseball, it should be noted, lost something very special when it lost Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Jackson was an amazing strand, cut short; he was something special, like a holiday that appears only occasionally and when you least expect it:

Source: FanGraphsBarry Bonds, Joe Jackson, Stan Musial

Note: Jackson would be tit-for-tat with those other HoF-caliber left fielders had he not spent the heft of 1918 in a factory, helping the (World War I) war effort.

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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

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Note: Ted Williams lost almost 5 seasons due to serving in the war, so I don’t think Joe Jackson would have been tit-for-tat with him if all things were equal. I think Stan Musial also lost a season (1945) due to wartime service, but I’m not positive that’s the reason he missed the year.


Musial was in the Navy in 1945 (but was assigned to noncombat duty).