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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: October 18, 2021 1:01 am PDT
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Say it is So, Joe

Baseball fans will not be denied. They will find a way to support true baseball endeavors. And like the Montgomery Gentry song says, that is something to be proud of.

We could use more of it, more grass roots support for the passion of baseball.

That passion is being rewarded now at the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum & Baseball Library in Greenville, S.C., directly across from Fluor Field, home to the Greenville Drive, a High-A Red Sox affiliate.

Here at BallNine, we don’t forget and we follow up. We are invested in the game of baseballWe first told you about the museum a year ago. Back then it was closed. It had been moved and then there was a major renovation going on and it was only supposed to be closed for a bit.

But we all know how 2020 went.

The doors are wide open now and the museum, Joe and his wife Katie’s old home, is buzzing with excitement, especially this week. July 19th is the date Joe and Katie were married in 1908. And July 16th was the day Joe Jackson was born in Pickens County, S.C. In 1887, the day the greatest natural hitter came into this world.

“It’s been a pleasant surprise,’’ Dan Wallach, executive director of the museum told BallNine this week of the June 25th opening of the museum and subsequent fan reaction. “It’s been a challenging year, but we are finally open and we are finally seeing all the hard work paying off, so we are excited about that. We were supposed to be closed for five months and it turned into 19 months.

“We’re open every day from 11 am to 7 pm and then when the Greenville Drive are in town, we’ve stayed open through the end of the ballgame. We’ve been really busy during the games actually, which honestly, we weren’t quite expecting. We thought fans would come through after the game, but they’ve been wandering through during the game and it’s been really good.’’

“I’ve never said Joe was innocent because when you have money that is tainted, you are guilty. I concede that fact, but I don’t think he threw games.”

That is a wonderful reminder to MLB that fans love the history of the game.

When I asked Wallach what kind of reaction he is getting from those fans, his answer should send a shiver down the spine of all those in the MLB offices in New York. “Clearly,’’ he said, “you don’t walk in our doors unless you love baseball but so many people have been like: ‘I haven’t  watched a game like in five years or in 15 years, or I used to love baseball but I don’t watch it anymore, I don’t love it anymore.’ They are here. They are standing in my room talking to me here. There is a love for the sport, baseball has just gone down this weird path the past 15 or 20 years and I’m not sure a lot of people love it.’’

Weird is right. Who can love the way the game is now: strikeout, home run or walk, not many baseballs put into play. This is a different game and fans and former players are speaking up: Where is the hustle, the hit and runs, the bunts to move a runner over, it’s called a sacrifice for a reason, where is all that? Where did all that go?

Fans have a longing for the game the way it used to be and may never be again. Those fans will find a way to express their love, perhaps going to a minor league game or going to a museum or doing both in the same day.

“I can’t believe how many people have told me they come in expecting to be in and out in 20 minutes and they stay for over an hour,’’ Wallach said. “I think they are surprised of the stories about Joe that they hear, they think they know the truth because they have seen Eight Men Out or they have seen Field of Dreams and they are like, ‘Okay, I know what the story is’ and then we teach them what really happened and they kind of have a new appreciation, a new understanding of him.

UNDATED: ``Shoeless`` Joe Jackson of the Chicago White Sox catches a ball circa 1915-20. (Photo by National Baseball Hall of Fame Library/MLB via Getty Images)

“We’ve got displays all over the museum with quotes from Ty Cobb and quotes from Babe Ruth and they are undoubtedly the two best hitters who ever lived from the time that Joe was playing, the best hitter and the best slugger, without question and they both thought Joe Jackson was the best hitter who ever lived,’’ Wallach said.

“Then we hit them with the fact that Walter Johnson said he was the hardest batter to pitch against and Cy Young said, ‘If there is a ball that Jackson can’t hit I haven’t found it yet.’ Joe is getting the praise from the guys who are on the Mount Rushmore of baseball. If that’s a guy who doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, I’m not sure what the museum is there for.’’

All that speaks volumes about Joe Jackson, who built a lifetime .356 average over his 13-year major league career and 5,697 plate appearances. That is third best in major league history. The only better career averages in major league history were Cobb’s .366 and Rogers Hornsby’s .358.

Just a thought here but that lifetime average could have grown for Jackson if he were not banned after the 1920 season. Why?

Because the ball changed and we all know what happens when the baseball is made livelier. The Deadball Era came to an end after the 1919 season. In 1920, the Liveball Era began and it has been rolling ever since. In 1920 at the age of 32, Jackson’s final year in the major leagues, he hit .382 with the new baseball, 31 points higher than the previous season. He laced 20 triples to lead the American League that season as well and his home run total jumped from seven to 12.

A livelier ball was to Shoeless Joe Jackson’s liking. One other statistic: Jackson accumulated 1,772 hits over his career. He struck out 233 times. That’s it. In 1911 with Cleveland, Jackson hit .408.

Yes, I’m still waiting for Joe Jackson to get a plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. Joe Jackson is a big part of the game.

Joe has been dead since 1951 when he passed at the age of 64, and remember it was a lifetime ban handed down by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Jackson was one of eight Chicago White Sox players who received a lifetime ban by Landis after allegedly fixing the 1919 World Series

The Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum is open for business.

There are a lot of characters in the Hall of Fame already. And again, Joe was banned for life. Not banned forever. Joe Jackson’s story is intertwined with Pete Rose, who remains banned, while Mr. Hustle lives large in Las Vegas.

And isn’t it something that gambling is such a big part of baseball now? The MLB Network is constantly feeding viewers betting lines and betting updates during the game. The crawl on the bottom of the screen used to be about starting pitchers, score updates, batting averages, OPS, injury updates and such, now it’s about Money Lines.

I am not judging. Baseball is a business and there are different revenue streams to be had but if you are going to be selling gambling at every turn, and just wait until ballparks become working casinos – you can’t be a hypocrite with Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. You can’t keep Pete Rose and Joe Jackson out of the Hall of Fame because of gambling. It’s really that simple. And Joe Jackson is celebrated in other ways by baseball. The Field of Dreams game in Iowa is coming up between the first place White Sox and Yankees after being canceled in 2020 when the Cardinals and White Sox were supposed to play. Shoeless Joe came out of the cornfield in the 1989 movie and book by Ray Kinsella. Is this heaven?

The 1988 film Eight Man Out cast Joe Jackson in a certain light, but Wallach wants everyone to understand the complete story.

“Whatever the case may be, he did end up with money somehow,” Wallach said. “I’ve never said Joe was innocent because when you have money that is tainted you are guilty. I concede that fact, but I don’t think he threw games. He had the highest batting average (.375) on either team in that World Series. He hit the only home run for either team, which by the way was the last home run ever hit in the Deadball Era – because 1920 started the Live Ball Era. He didn’t commit any errors in the field. I don’t think he tried to actively throw games but when you have money in your hands that came from gamblers, that’s pretty damning evidence. He was banned for life and his lifetime is over so the ban should be over.”

Seems reasonable, doesn’t it?

The Joe Jackson Museum looks at events in a chronological order. Betting and baseball went hand in hand.

“As far back as 1871 there was a major league team busted in Louisville for gambling,’’ Wallach noted. “It was just a part of the sport for 50 years. The players in 1919 thought they really weren’t doing anything bad because players had been doing it for 50 years prior. They got caught (in Louisville), most of them didn’t, it was kind of just the way things were back then. And again, not to say they didn’t do anything wrong, we all know that they did, but there is a lot more to the story than what people think they know.

“We’ve done a lot of work with SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, specifically with Jacob Pomrenke and the Black Sox Scandal Research Committee and one of the biggest is dedicated to the ‘Eight Myths Out Project’ that they did in 2019, where they bust the top eight myths that are associated with the Black Sox scandal – and with Joe Jackson in particular – and No. 1 on that list is that Charles Comiskey was a cheap skate. We have thoroughly debunked that myth,’’ Wallach said.

“That display in particular is what people come away with learning the most when they walk out of our museum is that all of the things they thought they knew are either not true or were sensationalized or explicitly made up.’’

That is such a fascinating subject and here we are 100 years after Joe Jackson has been banned by baseball and we are still fascinated by his life.

“That’s our job as a museum,’’ Wallach added, “we are grateful for movies like Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams because it gets people familiar with the story and gets people in our doors, but once they walk through it is our job to teach them what really happened, and I think a lot of people have been surprised with what they learn once they have been here.’’

To follow the museum on Twitter, go to @Shoelessmuseum or go to their website www.shoelessJoeJackson.org

Joe Jackson is such an intricate part of baseball life and lore. He constantly appears in different unique ways and author and playwright Gary Morgenstein offered such an example in his recent dystopian science fiction baseball novel A Mound Over Hell.

The book has been called 1984 Meets Shoeless Joe, and for good reason.

Here is how Morgenstein describes his novel, Book 1 of the Dark Depth Series.

“A Mound Over Hell begins in 2098 after America has lost World War III, the country’s run by The Family and baseball – synonymous with treason for representing the once great America – faces its final season ever in crumbling Amazon Stadium (once Yankee Stadium.) Holograms run the bases for out of shape players under the eyes of robot umps. Then baseball historian Puppy Nedick is miraculously joined by legends Mickey Mantle and Ty Cobb (and the female Mooshie Lopez from the 2050s-60s era) who lead a baseball renaissance. But the game slowly becomes a pawn between those who want peace and those who want another world war.’’

You have to wonder what Shoeless Joe would think of the series and that brand of baseball.

And you thought Rob Manfred’s Fake Runner was a huge change in the game.

Joe Jackson and Katie purchased the house in 1941 that was located at 119 Wilburn Avenue in Greenville, the home that became this museum. He proved himself to be a strong businessman as well, owning a liquor store and doing much to help his community but his heart was forever left on the baseball field.

“God knows I gave my best in baseball at all times,’’ Jackson once said, “and no man on earth can truthfully judge me otherwise.’’

In Joe and Katie’s old home, baseball fans have found a place to once again love the game.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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