“Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

July 28, 2009



There has been a story circulating this week to the effect that Bud Selig, to whom some refer as the commissioner of baseball, may be softening the Major Leagues’ position regarding Pete Rose. At present, Rose, who has admitted gambling on baseball when he was a player and a manager, is barred from having anything to do with baseball beyond buying a ticket as do the rest of the hoi poloi. The Major League ban also means that Rose can’t be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.

This last is understandable. If you go to Cooperstown and take the time to read the plaques that record the accomplishments of the 202 men inducted so far, you’ll find that by a singular coincidence there wasn’t an SOB among them. Or, at least, you will get that impression. It’s akin to reading the sanitized biographies of the presidents on the White House web site.



One of the men you can read about at Cooperstown is Adrian “Cap” Anson who played 27 straight seasons in the Major Leagues in the 18th century and was the first player to accumulate 3,000 base hits. His plaque briefly summarizes his accomplishments, but it really doesn’t give him enough credit for his influence. Anson was the first real “superstar” in baseball, and he carried a lot of weight. Using his clout, he played a decisive public role in banning black players from Major League baseball, an injustice that lasted from 1888 until 1947, destroying the hopes of thousands of potential big league players.

While you will find Cap Anson represented in the Hall of Fame, you will not find Joe Jackson.



Jackson was banned from baseball along with seven other Chicago White Sox players who were accused of participating in a scheme to throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. There are conflicting reports about how culpable Jackson was in the scheme; he himself admitted to taking a $5,000 bribe though there is no documented evidence that he did anything to give the series to Cincinnati. In fact, he had a fine series at the plate. A criminal jury acquitted Jackson and the others, but Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the first baseball commissioner, banned them from the game. There is a perenniel campaign to permit election of Jackson to the Hall of Fame, both because of the perception of many that he was a hapless dupe, and because he was one of the greatest players in the history of the game — a man with a .356 lifetime batting average and a .408 season to his credit.

What does it mean to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame — that a man was Prince Charming or that he was a good ballplayer? Pete Rose is an obnoxious character but, on balance, Cap Anson did a lot more harm to baseball. Jackson, so far as anyone can show, did none.

Selig said just ten years ago that Jackson’s case was under review. I hope Rose isn’t holding his breath.


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