There’s a lot in ESPN’s coverage on cheating today that’s worth noting, but I wanted to particularly mention Wright Thompson’s article on Shoeless Joe Jackson (“The fight goes on to clear Shoeless Joe’s name“). It’s a sentimental little piece about how people in South Carolina carry a torch for Joe.
The article doesn’t deal with the actual charges against Jackson, glossing them over in passing (“they point to his batting average during the World Series…”) as if they have merit, and there’s a good reason for him to do this: baseball historians who look at the 1919 White Sox evenly, who delve into the evidence and what happened when, and why — people who wrote books like Eight Men Out, Shoeless Joe, the list goes on and on — find that Joe at the very least entered willingly into a conspiracy to throw the series for money, and that his performances in the World Series followed the conspiracy’s motivation at the time, including poor offensive and suspicious defensive failings.
And that’s really just the start of it.
I sympathize with those who want to think the best of the dead, and the desire to believe in the innocence of someone you’re personally connected to. I can even sympathize with Jackson himself, who at the time thought it was no big deal to take the money in a sport overrun with corruption. But none of that changes what he did, and it’s a disservice to write a wistful story about believing in innocence without acknowledging the guilt that lies at the heart of the scandal.