Baseball Digest (March 2001 issue)
By: Greg Couch
Expulsion and alleged participation of baseball player in fixing of 1919 World Series Third baseman never threw any game in 1919 Series or accepted money from gamblers–his only mistake was knowing about the fix and not informing authorities about the scandal.
The thing to know is that he never took one penny. He never agreed to the plot. He never did anything but play his best through the World Series.
And while other White Sox players did take gamblers’ money to fix the 1919 Series, he, as one sports historian so delicately put it, “got screwed.”
Strom Thurmond and the U.S. House and Senate and Hollywood, and baseball legends have been demanding that major league baseball lift the lifetime ban on Shoeless Joe Jackson and clear his name.
Baseball is looking into it, and, it isn’t looking good for Jackson. Here is the reason the uproar isn’t working:
It is in support of the wrong player.
If any of the eight banned Sox players should be cleared, according to several sports historians, it is Buck Weaver.
“The case against Buck is that he didn’t talk. That’s all,” said Irving Stein, who wrote The Ginger Kid: The Buck Weaver Story. “He did attend a meeting with gamblers and he wasn’t sure who was in and who was out. “He was out. But he didn’t tell what he knew. So OK, suspend him. But why is his punishment equal to those who took the money and lost?” There were efforts for years, from Weaver and his fans, to get him reinstated. But Weaver died in 1956, and the fight and his memory have faded. But on reading a story about Jackson, Stein took up the effort again. He wrote to commissioner Bud Selig with a last push for Weaver. And Selig, Stein said, wrote back saying he would re-open the case and have Jerome Holtzman, baseball’s official historian, look into it as soon as he finishes his report on Jackson.
Holtzman, a former Chicago baseball writer, said he would be glad to research Weaver. And what is his initial thought on Stein’s belief that Weaver’s name should be cleared?
He’s probably right,” Holtzman said. “Buck Weaver was not a participant, but he knew the fix was on. He was in on the meetings and never told anybody about it. That’s why he was barred.”
It is the same story from several sports historians and Black Sox experts.
“The only one of those players who should be exonerated is Buck Weaver,” said Rich Lindberg, who wrote the White Sox Encyclopedia. “He just doesn’t have the national cache that Shoeless Joe has.
“If all these do-gooders really wanted to right a wrong here, it would not be in helping Shoeless Joe, who admitted to taking money from gamblers and throwing games. Buck’s never even been accused of taking money, and baseball officials always knew he turned the gamblers down.”
Eliot Asinof brought the scandal back into the spotlight with his book, and subsequent movie, Eight Men Out. Asinof made sympathetic characters of some of the players, including Weaver, who was played in the movie by Chicagoan John Cusack. Yet, Asinof told the Wall Street Journal in 1992 that all of the players deserved the lifetime punishment…
It is true that major league baseball officials never accused Weaver of taking money. But when Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s commissioner at the time, banned the players, he said no player who throws games or agrees to throw them or “sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed, and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.”
Weaver was the odd man in. And Landis never budged, responding to one of Weaver’s appeals by saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.”
Landis was made commissioner partly because baseball needed cleaning up. It was overrun by gamblers, and team owners couldn’t clear them from the parks. So Landis had to make an example Of the eight players by showing no leniency.
He also needed a strong statement, historians say, to let the owners know he was more powerful even than them.
But if Weaver was innocent, why didn’t he tell what he knew, rather than let the Series be thrown?
“That’s really about the differences between social classes,” said Gerald Gems, a Chicago sports historian at North Central College. “There were two different perspectives of what honorable was.
“The middle class learns right and wrong in church or in school. But in the working class, which Weaver came from, the system of honor is that you don’t rat on your buddies. For him, it would have been less honorable to turn the others in than it was not to.”
Weaver hit .324 in that Series, and didn’t make any errors. So he spent the rest of his life assuming that eventually, he would get back into baseball. In his late 30s, he played in a semipro league for a few years.
But his pleas were rejected repeatedly. He died of a heart attack in 1956 while walking down the street.
“In some respects, the rest of his life was kind of sad,” said Daniel A. Nathan, an assistant professor at Miami University in Ohio, who wrote a book on the scandal. “He coached a girls softball team. Worked in a parimutuel window at a racetrack.
“The guy was incredibly frustrated. Here he is and he didn’t do these things. He was acquitted in court with the rest of the players. Yet, he had the passion of his life taken away from him.”
The case, though, has been picked up in recent years for Jackson, who confessed to throwing games for money: “They promised $20,000, and paid me $5,000,” he said.
But the confession has been overlooked and Jackson portrayed as an innocent or at least a dupe, and used first by his teammates to take the money, then by lawyers of former Sox owner Charles Comiskey to confess.
The latest push for him started with the movie “Field of Dreams.” It has escalated until even the U.S. House and Senate passed resolutions asking to clear Jackson’s name. Baseball great Ted Williams is fighting for Jackson, too.
Why not Weaver? Likely because Jackson was more of a star.
Weaver was the best third baseman of his time, and Ty Cobb once said he was the best of all time. But with the suspension in the final week of the 1920 season, Weaver’s career lasted just nine years. His lifetime average was .272.
For the Hall of Fame, he likely would be one of those borderline players. But had he been able to keep playing, who knows? His numbers were improving every year.
In 1920, his final season, he reached career highs in batting average (.331), at-bats (629), hits (208), doubles (34) and runs (102) while driving in 74 runs at the age of 30.
“They could have said, `OK, Buck, you screwed up and you’re out for a month, suspended,'” said Steve Riess, sports historian at Northeastern Illinois. “That’s what they should have done. At least now, maybe they could look into the case and say `Listen, we apologize. You got a raw deal.'”
With facts not in dispute, Weaver’s chances likely will come down to Selig, and whether he feels the punishment was too tough. But with everyone dead and little hope for the Hall, why bother now?
“For the sake of doing the right thing.” Stein said. “It’s a question about justice.”
COPYRIGHT 2001 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group