Monday, April 22, 2019
Sad Story of Shoeless Joe Jackson
Who Belongs In the Baseball Hall of Fame
This year of 2019 is the 100th anniversary of the “Black Sox” scandal. This article comes from the Frommer vault
On July 16, 1889, Joseph Jefferson Wofford Jackson was born into a poor family in Greenville, South Carolina. He never learned to read or write. By the time he was six years old, he worked as a cleanup boy in the cotton mills.
By age 13, he labored amidst the din and dust a dozen hours a day along with his father and brother. It was hard and back-breaking employment. Playing baseball on a grassy field was his way of escape. It was there where Joe’s natural ability stood out. Baseball was his game, and he loved it. The youth had such passion and skill that he was recruited to play for the mill team organized by the company.
One humid and hot summer day, Jackson was playing the outfield. His shoes pinched. He removed them and played in his stocking feet. An enterprising sportswriter gave him the nickname: "Shoeless Joe." Even though it was reported that was the only time Jackson ever played that way in a game—the “Shoeless” moniker stuck. He hated the name, feeling it cruelly referenced the fact that he could not read or write.
From the mill team, Jackson moved on to play with the Greenville, South Carolina Spinners. It was there in 1908 that a scout recommended him to Philadelphia Athletics owner/manager Connie Mack, who purchased his contract for $325.
The youngster made his Major League Baseball debut on August 25, 1908. The more he played the more his potential impressed everyone. An article in the Evening Times noted: “He has justified early predictions of his abilities. With experience and the coaching of Manager Mack, he should turn out to be…the find of the season.”
Sadly, Jackson was unable to read what the Philadelphia newspaper wrote about him. He could not even read menus. In restaurants, he usually ordered what another player did. Sadly, he did not fit in with his teammates or the big city. Homesick, he jumped the team and took a train back home.
Mack sent Jackson down to a minor league team in Georgia in 1909, where he won the batting title. In 1910, Mack called him up to the big league team but decided that Jackson lacked the disposition to play in a big city like Philly. In one of the worst trades in baseball history, the 6'1'', 190-pound Jackson was shipped to Cleveland for a player named Bris Lord (Bristol Robotham Lord, nicknamed "The Human Eyeball") and $6,000.
Shoeless Joe fit in quite nicely in Cleveland, where he batted .408 in 1911. In mid-season of 1915, after compiling a .375 career batting average with the Ohio team, Jackson was traded for three players and $15,000 to the White Sox.
It was in Chicago that Jackson made a point of wearing alligator and patent-leather shoes—the more expensive the better. It was as if he were announcing to the world, "I am not a Shoeless Joe. I do wear shoes. And they cost a lot of money!"
With the White Sox, Jackson became one of baseball’s storied stars. His defensive play was at such a remarkable level that his glove was called "the place where triples go to die."
On offense, he was one of the most feared hitters of his time. Babe Ruth copied his swing, claiming Jackson was the greatest hitter he ever saw.
Then along came 1919!
The 1919 Chicago White Sox were one of the greatest teams of their era. Paced by Jackson who batted .351, they won the American League pennant. They were 3-1 favorites to win the World Series as they prepared to face off against the Cincinnati Reds.
Prior to the series, betting odds started to shift to even money. The word on the street was that New York gambler Arnold Rothstein was behind the swing and that the series was fixed.
Hearing the rumor, the 31-year-old Jackson asked Chicago manager Kid Gleason and owner Charles Comiskey to bench him. But they insisted he play. They would have been crazy to put down their best player.
During the series, Jackson hit the only home run. He posted the highest batting average. He committed no errors. He established a new World Series record with 12 hits. Nevertheless, the Reds won the Fall Classic.
Edd Rousch, who played for the Reds, insisted that charges that the series was fixed was nonsense. "We were just the better team," he said.
"Maybe I'm a dope but everything seemed okay to me," said umpire Billy Evans, who worked the series.
But the rumor of a fix persisted as the 1920 season got underway. The White Sox were driving hard to their second straight pennant when a petty gambler in Philadelphia broke the news that a Cubs-Phillies game had been fixed in 1919.
That led to a gambling investigation—its focus the 1919 World Series. With only a couple of days left in the 1920 season, a Grand Jury was called to determine whether eight White Sox players should stand trial for allegedly throwing the 1919 World Series. Jackson was one of the eight players.
It took the jury a single ballot to acquit all eight accused players. Incredibly, the very next day, baseball's first commissioner—Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who came to power in the fall of 1920 with a lifetime contract and a mandate to clean up the game using whatever methods he saw fit—banned all eight players from baseball for life. The bigoted Landis was brought into organized baseball with a reputation of being a vindictive judge, a hanging judge.
He was all of that.
Was there a plan to throw the World Series in 1919? Was a plan carried out? If so, which games were dumped? What role did each banned player have? Why was there a total banning of the players?
Buck Weaver was banned not for dumping but for allegedly having guilty knowledge that there was a plot. Fred McMullen was banned, though he came to bat twice and got one hit. And Joe Jackson was banned, although his performance exceeded his own standards.
Most importantly, the eight players were found not guilty in a court of law. Yet, they were found guilty by a brand new baseball commissioner.
At the trial, Joe Jackson was asked under oath:
"Did you do anything to throw those games?"
"No sir," was his response.
"Any game in the series?"
"Not a one," was Jackson’s response. "I didn't have an error or make no misplay."
With the banning from baseball for life of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and the seven other White Sox players, it seemed the sport was saying: "Now we are clean. Now we have purged ourselves of the dishonest ways of the past in the national pastime." And if Jackson in the prime of his baseball career and the others were sacrificed, that was the way it had to be.
Shoeless Joe Jackson maintained that he had played all out in that World Series of 1919. Nevertheless, Major League Baseball was done with Jackson and his seven teammates. It was a miscarriage of justice, a field day for slander on parade. Powerless players were punished, scapegoated.
For a couple of decades, Jackson attempted to play the game that he loved, the game that he had learned so well back in the days of his youth. He made an effort to play with outlaw barnstormers, mill teams, semi-pro outfits. Aliases and disguises did him not much good; his unmistakable talent brought the spotlight to bear on him. Relentless, unforgiving, prejudiced Judge Landis, to keep Jackson from playing, threatened baseball team owners and league officials.
In 1932, Jackson applied for permission to manage a minor league team in his home town of Greenville, South Carolina. Landis denied the application.
In 1951, Joseph Jefferson Jackson died of a massive heart attack a week before he was to appear on the Ed Sullivan television show. He was scheduled to receive a trophy honoring him for being inducted into the Cleveland Indians Baseball Hall of Fame.
It is an old story.
The roster of Hall of Famers includes personalities with much shabbier credentials and far more soiled reputations. Attempts to get Joe Jackson into the Baseball Hall of Fame failed during and after his lifetime. Yet, Jackson's shoes are at Cooperstown. Yet, his life-sized photograph is there. So is a baseball bat he used, along with the jersey he wore in the 1919 World Series. So is the last Major League Baseball contract he signed.
Prominent attorneys like Alan Dershowitz and F. Lee Bailey have argued that Jackson should go into the Hall. There have been petitions, Congressional motions, letters sent to baseball Commissioners through the years—all to no avail.
Commissioner Bart Giammatti said:"I do not wish to play God with history. The Jackson case is best left to historical debate and analysis. I am not for reinstatement."
Commissioner Faye Vincent said, "I can't uncipher or decipher what took place back then. I have no intention of taking formal action."
Commissioner Bud Selig did not stand up for Joe Jackson even though he met with Ted Williams, who pushed for Jackson's admission to the Hall of Fame.
Four times Jackson batted over .370. His lifetime batting average was .356, topped only by Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby. Ruth, Cobb, and Casey Stengel all placed him on their all time, All-Star team.
Joe Jackson was vilified through the decades by many who never knew or didn’t care to know the full story. His, however, is a story that just will not go away.
Monday, April 15, 2019
Remembering Robby (Part 3)
Major League Baseball rightfully celebrates Jackie Robinson Day every April 15, the day he broke the color barrier in 1947.
I met my all-time favorite player twice –once as a teenager and then as an adult. Both moments still stay with me.
HARVEY FROMMER: When school was out, I sometimes went around with my father in his taxi. One summer morning, we were driving in East Flatbush in Brooklyn down Snyder Avenue. My father pointed to a dark red brick house with a high porch.
“I think Jackie Robinson lives there,” my father said. He parked across the street and we got out of the cab, stood on the sidewalk and looked at the house. Suddenly, the front door opened. A black man in a short-sleeved shirt stepped out. I didn't believe it. Here we were on a quiet street on a summer morning with no one else around.
The man was not wearing the baggy, ice-cream-white-uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers that accentuated his blackness. He was dressed in regular clothes, coming out of a regular house in a regular Brooklyn neighborhood, a guy like anyone else going out for a bottle of milk and a newspaper.
Then, incredibly, he crossed the street and came right toward me. Seeing that unmistakable pigeon-toed walk, the rock of the shoulders and hips that I had seen so many times before on the baseball field, I had no doubt who it was.
“Hi Jackie, I'm one of your biggest fans," I said self-consciously. “Do you think the Dodgers are going to win the pennant this year?”
His handsome face looked sternly down at me. “We'll try our best,” he said.
“Good luck,” I said.”
“Thanks,” he replied.”
He put his big hand out, and I took it. We shook hands and I felt the strength and firmness of his grip. I was a nervy kid, but I didn't ask for an autograph or try to prolong the conversation. I just walked away down the street.
That was my first personal contact with Jackie Robinson. Years later I came across him in downtown Brooklyn in a Chock Full O Nuts coffee shop. He was the company’s vice president and director of personnel. Now he was heavier, gray-haired, slowed, sitting at the counter. We chatted a bit but the meeting was sadder, even poignant for me to see how this great athlete had been slowed by time and illness.
He did not remember our chance meeting that long ago summer day but I did. Ironically, that coffee shop on Montague Street was close by what had been the offices of the Brooklyn Dodgers where Robinson had his first meeting with Branch Rickey who helped him shatter baseball’s color line.
What follows is a short-hand version of some of the life and times of Jack Roosevelt Robinson. It is all memorable and moving.
To avoid racist behavior in spring training 1947, Branch Rickey wisely chose Havana as his site for both the Montreal Royals and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey wanted Brooklyn players to see what Robinson was like. They got an eyeful –in a seven game series at the Nacional Stadium between the two teams he batted an amazing. 625. Robinson very well could have spent a second season in Montreal; his spring training performance of 1947 paved the way for his promotion to the major leagues.
However, not everything was serene despite the best laid plans of Rickey. At the start some Dodgers were opposed to a black man being part of their team. Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher defended Jackie Robinson this way “I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fucking zebra. I'm the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What's more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded."
And for good measure “Leo the Lip” added: You want a guy who comes to play. But he doesn’t just come to play. He came to beat you. He came to stuff the damn bat right up your ass.”
With the blue number 42 on the back of his Brooklyn Dodger home uniform, Jackie Robinson, a grandson of a slave and a son of a sharecropper, took his place at first base at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947.
“Back in the thirties and forties, Joe Louis was the only hero that we ever had. When he won a fight, everybody in Harlem was up in heaven.” On that April day James Baldwin said, “The large contingent of blacks in the crowd had another hero to be “up in heaven” about, another hero to stand beside Joe Louis.”
Many of the 26,623 at that tiny ballpark on that chilly spring day were not even baseball fans, but they had come out to see “the one” who would break the sport’s age-old color line. Robinson’s wife, Rachel, was there along with the infant Jackie, Jr. Many in the crowd wore “I’m for Jackie” buttons and badges, and screamed each time the black pioneer came to bat or touched the ball.
Jackie Robinson grounded out to short his first time up. He flied out to left field in his second at bat. He got on base on an error in the seventh inning. He grounded into a double play in his final at bat of the day.
The Dodgers won the game, 5–3, nipping Johnny Sain and the Boston Braves. For Robinson it was not the performance he had sought, but the first of his 1,382 major league games was in the record books—and he had broken baseball’s color line forever.
“I was nervous on my first day in my first game at Ebbets Field,” Robinson told reporters later. “But nothing has bothered me since.”
Part sociological phenomenon, part entertainment spectacle, part revolution, part media event—the narrative of Jackie Robinson played out its poignant, dramatic and historic scenes through that 1947 season.
Famed sports columnist Jimmy Cannon called Jackie Robinson “the loneliest man I have ever seen in sports." That comment was only partly true. Toward the end of the 1947 season, a Jackie Robinson Day was staged at Ebbets Field. He was not a lonely man. Robinson was now a major drawing card rivaling Bob Feller and Ted Williams in the American League.
“I thank you all.” Number 42 said over the microphone in that high-pitched voice. He was presented with gifts which included a new car, a television and radio set and an electric broiler.
The famed tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson stood next to Jackie Robinson: “I am 69 years old. But I never thought I would live to see the day when I would stand face to face with Ty Cobb in Technicolor.”
What Jackie Robinson accomplished on the baseball field had never been accomplished in the same way. He had a flash, a flame, a fire that prompted Dodger manager Chuck Dressen who had replaced Leo Durocher, who had moved on to the New York Giants, to say: "Give me five players like Robinson and a pitcher and I'll beat any nine-man team in baseball."
At season’s end, playing in 151 of the team’s 154 games, Robinson put up impressive stats and won the Rookie of the Year award.
During his time as Dodger Robinson became close friends with Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians, the first black baseball player in the American League. Their bond was the shattering of the color barrier in baseball in the same year. The duo talked baseball on the phone and shared experiences about racism.
The motivations of Branch Rickey, the man they called “the Mahatma,” have always been questioned subject to debate. Why did he sign Jackie Robinson? How much of what he did came from a moral conviction that the color line must go? How much came from a desire to make money and field a winning team?
MONTE IRVIN: Regardless of the motives, Rickey had the conviction to pursue and to follow through.
Breaking baseball’s color line enabled Branch Rickey to tap into a gold mine, but he elected not to monopolize that gold mine of talent in the Negro Leagues. Monte Irvin cold have been a Brooklyn Dodger, so could other Negro League greats like Larry Doby, Sam Jethroe, and Satchel Paige and more.
But Rickey had Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Joe Black, Jim Gilliam and more. He was very much in favor of other teams integrating, too.
Prejudiced major league club owners who had called Rickey complaining, “You’re gonna kill baseball bringing that nigger,” were now asking, “Branch, do you know where I can get a couple of colored boys as good as Jackie and Campy and Newk?”
Jackie Robinson took the abuse: the cut signs by players near their throats, the verbal curses, the spiking attempts, the cold shouldering, and the death threats that came in the mail.
On and off the field that rookie season of 1947, Jackie Robinson made his point and kept making his point. He had come to play. He had come to stay the distance no matter what. At season’s end, playing in 151 of the team’s 154 games, Robinson put up impressive stats and won the Rookie of the Year award.
By 1949, Jackie Robinson was in his third season as a Brooklyn Dodger and was no longer the lone black man on the baseball diamond. Branch Rickey told him he could now let it all hang out. Dodger fans were elated.
“I sat back happily,” Rickey recalled, “knowing that with the restraints removed, Robinson was going to show the National League a thing or two.”
“I told Mr. Rickey that if a pitcher hits me intentionally with a fastball, his ass belongs to me,” explained Jackie Robinson. “And if a second baseman strikes me intentionally, his ass belongs to me. Apparently the warning was passed down the line. So the word got down the league. They called me names, but I expected those. But nobody hit me intentionally”
RACHEL ROBINSON: It was hard for a man as assertive as Jack to contain his own rage, yet he felt that the end goal was so critical that there was no question that he would do it. And he knew he could do it even better if he could ventilate, express himself, use his own style.
And what a style it was!
Here's the real story of Babe Ruth's 587-foot Tampa home run
Babe Ruth has hit a lot of home runs. He's called them, he hit one into a pond of hungry alligators in Arkansas, he hit one clear out of a prison yard in upstate New York. But when you Google search "Babe Ruth's longest home run," there's one that pops up before all of the others: The Red Sox slugger's mammoth blast at Tampa, Fla.'s Plant Field -- exactly 100 years ago today.
Friday, April 12, 2019
REMEMBERING “ROBBY” (Part II)
Wonderful reactions to Part I, so here as we approach “Jackie Robinson Day” in Major League Baseball is Part II. Enjoy.
Growing up Years
Jerry and Mallie Robinson were impoverished sharecroppers who lived in Cairo, Georgia. Jerry deserted the family six months after Jackie was born in 1919. Mallie, strong, religious, family oriented moved her children by rail to Pasadena, California in 1920 when Jackie was fourteen-months old.
Working as a domestic, the leftovers from the kitchens of families she worked for often made up their daily diet. By 1922, aided by a local welfare agency and a light-skinned black man who play-acted as if he were buying the house, the Robinsons moved into the a clapboard dwelling at 121 Pepper Street in a predominantly white and restricted Pasadena neighborhood.
Mallie had her dream house - the family called it "The Big House," a four-bedroom structure where she would raise five children on her own. And she had no intention of ever leaving it no matter what. Neighbors immediately petitioned to get rid of the newcomers, even offering to buy them out. They also threatened to burn them out.
But Mallie and her kids stayed there with a porch hemmed with fieldstone and bougainvillea. And they paid a price. The family was insulted and picked on. The Robinson boys often had to fight to defend themselves, and young Jackie was involved in scrapes with white youths and had some run-ins with authorities.
Sports dominated the lives of the Robinson brothers. Each older brother taught a younger brother and Jackie learned from them. It was outside the house on Pepper Street where Jackie learned how to run, to leap, to throw oranges from neighbors' trees. It was where he first fired a baseball and swung a bat under the watchful eyes of his three older brothers. He was a natural.
One day a week he along with other minority children swam in the Brookside pool. They knew that afterwards drained the pool for white people. At John Muir High School the young Robinson starred in four sports. At Pasadena Junior College he continued his stellar athletic accomplishments, the lone black athlete on his teams.
Passing on offers to other colleges, Robinson decided to stay close to home and wound up at UCLA in 1939 on a full scholarship. Very few black players played Division I football. The situation at UCLA was also almost all white. Few blacks attended the college when Robinson enrolled, and there were no black instructors.
The first UCLA athlete to earn varsity letters in four different sports, Robinson won the NCAA Men's Outdoor Track and Field Championship in the Long Jump. Baseball ironically was his least successful sport.
In his senior year, needing just a few credits to graduate, his mother needing financial help, Robinson dropped out of UCLA to help support his family. He then played semi-professional football for several teams including the Honolulu Bears in the fall of 1941. Already a drawer and a hero in the black community, his top billing was as "the sensational all-American halfback.”
After an exhibition game in Pearl Harbor on December 5, 1941, he headed back aboard the Lurline to California. The date was December 7, 1941. Members of the crew were painting the ship’s portholes and windows black. Soon there was an announcement from the captain. “The Japanese have just attacked Pearl Harbor. We are heading to California with all deliberate speed. All passengers should put their life jackets on . . . just in case.”
On April 3, 1942, Jackie Robinson was drafted into the U.S. Army. While Jackie was in training, Rachel, to whom Jackie was engaged, was a nursing student by day and a riveter at night at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.
Assigned to a segregated Army unit at Ft. Riley, Kansas, Robinson became friends with boxing champion and legend Joe Louis who was also stationed there. The “Brown Bomber” used his influence to protest delayed entry of black soldiers to Office Candidate School (OCS). That paved the way for Robinson becoming a second lieutenant.
A highly publicized incident saw Robinson refusing to move to the back of a military bus. He was subsequently court-martialed for insubordination and didn't ship out to Europe with his unit.
The incident provides insight into Robinson’s strength of character, his never backing up, never backing down. Later that “steel” would serve him well in breaking baseball’s color line.
Assigned to Camp Breckinridge in Kentucky, Robinson served as an Army athletics coach until his honorable discharge in 1944. It was at Breckinridge that he was informed about the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League. He was encouraged to try out for the team.
Kansas City Monarchs, 1945
The world of baseball that Jackie Robinson knew featured the all-white National League and the all-white American League and hundreds of teams in the minor leagues with only white players. The only place black players were accepted was in the Negro Leagues in existence since 1900.
Since his playing Major League Baseball was not even a possibility, Jackie Robinson settled for joining the Kansas City Monarchs and playing shortstop for $400 a month. The Monarchs, the oldest franchise in the Negro Leagues were owned by J. L. Wilkinson, a white man. The Monarchs would eventually wind up sending more players to the Major Leagues than any other Negro League team.
Robinson was chosen to play in the Negro League All-Star Game that season of 1945. A vital member of the Monarchs, whose roster included the legendary Satchel Paige, Robinson led his team in batting with a .375 average.
During his time as a player for KC, Robinson found time to participate in tryouts for the Major League teams orchestrated by celebrated African-American sportswriter Wendell Smith.
One of the most prolific and respected sports journalists and oral historians in
the United States, author of the autobiographies of legends Nolan Ryan ,Tony
Dorsett, and Red Holzman, Dr.Harvey Frommer, a professor for more than two
decades in the MALS program at Dartmouth College, was dubbed “Dartmouth’s
Mr. Baseball” by their alumni magazine. He’s also the founder
of www.HarveyFrommerSports.com and has written extensively about Jackie
Sunday, April 7, 2019
There will be a lot of hype and hoopla, praise and stock taking this year of 2019 which marks, the 100th anniversary of Jack Roosevelt Robinson’s birth. April 15 is a marker day in baseball – the dramatic day he broke baseball’s color line in 1947.
I have written about so many illustrious sports figures. But my all-time favorite is the man Brooklyn fans like me called “Robby.”
This is the first of several pieces about him I will share with you.
First always in being his own man, Jackie Robinson not only was “the first” to shatter Major League Baseball’s color line, he also racked up many other firsts in his lifetime.
First on television to openly attack General Manager George Weiss of the Yankees the for lack of black players on the team , he was also first publicly to urge restaurants and hotels to accommodate black people and to end their segregationist policies.
In 1959, he became the first major athlete with a nationally syndicated newspaper column, using it to discuss Civil Rights issues.
Not a figurehead but a man with power, he was the first black vice president of an American corporation - Chock Full o’Nuts. He was also the first black baseball analyst as a member of ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week, a position Howard Cosell secured for him.
He was the first black player to have his uniform number retired. In 1972, the Dodgers retired Number 42. In 1997, another first -- Major League Baseball retired his uniform number across all major league teams. He became the first professional athlete in any sport to be honored that way.
Another “first” happened on April 15, 2004, Major League Baseball adopted a new annual tradition, “Jackie Robinson Day.” Every player in MLB wears number 42.
Pioneer, role model, symbol, outspoken, he not only re-made the face of professional baseball in America, he changed how many Americans thought about a black man in ways profound, subtle and at the same time obvious.
Whether others liked it or not, Robinson was arguably the first in print to come out against the national anthem in his book I Never Had It Made:
“There I was the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps it was, but then again perhaps the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment.
Today as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.