Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Best of the Best: The Greatest Pitchers

Last week, in the beginning of a discussion of the greatest pitchers of all-time, I wrote about how few recent and current pitchers are among the leaders in (career) ERA and promised I would look at other categories this week. I mentioned that I would not use wins or strikeouts but I should have added that, for obvious reasons, I was not going to include complete games. 

In addition to not accumulating complete games, recent and current pitchers have a much poorer chance of getting shutouts because managers now go to the bullpen even when a guy is pitching a shutout if he reaches a certain number of pitches, has a sweaty brow, or scratches his groin more than twice in the same inning. Here are the pitchers who racked up 50 or more shutouts, there are no recent or current hurlers, but there are a few names that may surprise you.

  1  Walter Johnson  110 (pictured at right)
  2  Grover Cleveland (Pete) Alexander  90
  3  Christy Mathewson 79
  4  Cy Young  76
  5   Eddie Plank  69
  6  Warren Spahn  63
  7  Nolan Ryan  61
  7  Tom Seaver  61
  9  Bert Blyleven  60
10  Don Sutton  58
11  Pud Galvin  57
11  Ed Walsh  57
13  Bob Gibson  56
14  Mordecai Three-Finger Brown  55
14  Steve Carlton  55
16  Jim Palmer  53
16  Gaylord Perry  53
18  Juan Marichal  52
19  Rube Waddell  50
19  Vic Willis  50

(Don Drysdale, Fergie Jenkins, Luis Tiant, and Early Wynn all just missed the list with 49. It's really weird that Smoky Joe Wood didn't get 50, he had only 28.)

Let's look at another stat that may not preclude as many recent or current pitchers as shutouts and ERA do - career WHIP. Is it going be dominated by ancient (dead) guys too? I am leaving out guys who pitched in the 1880s and ’90s and include only newer guys toward the bottom. 

Career WHIP

  1  Addie Joss
  2  Mariano Rivera
  3  Ed Walsh
  4  John Montgomery Ward
  5  Pedro Martinez
  6  Christy Mathewson
  7  Trevor Hoffman
  8  Walter Johnson
  9  Three-Finger Brown (right)
13  Smoky Joe Wood
18  Juan Marichal
19  Rube Waddell
23  Sandy Koufax
32  Tom Seaver
33  Pete Alexander
35  Hoyt Wilhelm (right)
36  Cy Young
41  Johan Santana
44  Catfish Hunter
46  Curt Schilling
47  Cole Hamels
57  Jared Weaver
87  Roy Halladay
91  Matt Cain
100 Jake Peavy

Totals? There are 7 current players in the top 100, 7 from 101 to 200, 5 from 201 to 300, 3 from 301 to 400, and 8 from 401 to 500. That's 30 out of 500. Well, that's better than ERA at least.

Another criterion for evaluating and comparing pitchers that seeks to factor out the effect of the team behind them is Fielding Independent Pitching. The formula, if you're interested is (13*HR + 3*BB - 2*K)/IP, plus a constant that is usually around 3.2 to put it into a scale similar to ERA.

Here are the best. Rube Waddell  1.70     2  Cy Young   1.93   3  Ed Walsh   1.95
Addie Joss  2.04  Smoky Joe Wood  2.15  Christy Mathewson   2.16  Chief Bender  2.17

Leaving out several more old-timers, here are a few more modern types for comparison.
Sandy Koufax  2.69   Mariano Rivera  2.75   Babe Ruth   2.79   Bob Gibson  2.89
Pedro Martinez  2.91   Bruce Sutter  2.94   Rollie Fingers   2.96   Nolan Ryan  2.97
Clayton Kernshaw  3.01  Don Drysdale  3.02  Tom Seaver  3.04  Roger Clemens  3.06
Tim Lincecum   3.12   Steve Carlton  3.15   Randy Johnson  3.19   Mickey Lolich   3.23
Curt Schilling   3.26   Greg Maddux   3.26  Adam Wainright   3.31   Roy Halladay  3.33
Justin Verlander  3.41  David Price   3.48   C.C. Sabathia   3.50    Jared Weaver   3.65
Once again, the top pitchers from the early part of the 20th century dominate.

I will now go to WAR, Wins Above Replacement that is. Here are the leaders. I have obviously omitted hitters, who dominate the list by the way — turns out guys like Willie Mays were hard to replace.

  2 Cy Young (they should name an award after that guy)
  4 Walter Johnson (Ty Cobb would always crowd the plate against him because he knew the Big Train wouldn't want to hit him with his fastball – unlike all the other pitchers Cobb faced)
16 Kid Nichols (okay he is a bit old for this list, he had seven 30 win seasons in the 1890s)
21 Tom Seaver (what if he'd played on stronger teams?)
25 Greg Maddux (what a starting three he and Glavine and Schmoltz made)
27 Lefty Grove (a great pitcher with an awesome bunch of hitters to help, Walter Johnson would have loved to have Foxx, Simmons, et al)
28 Christy Mathewson (nobody is as idolized as this true gentleman was in his day)
30 Randy Johnson (the most feared hurler of his day – 'til he got to the Yankees)
31 Warren Spahn (the greatest leftie of all-time, or what is Ed Plank, Rube Waddell or Sandy K?)
36 Phil Niekro (he and Wilbur Wood rivalled Hoyt Wilhem as great knuckleballers)
39 Burt Blyleven (what a curvevball that guy had!)
43 Bob Gibson (think he wouldn't throw inside on ya? Think again. Was he the greatest non-white pitcher of all time or was it Pedro Martinez?)
43 Ed Plank (he had a 2-5 World Series record in spite of a 1.32 ERA! Of course going against Christy Mathewson  didn't help; Plank had a habit of stalling on the mound to bug hitters. In his poem Lineup for Yesterday Ogden Nash included the stanza "P is for Plank / The arm of the A's/ When he tangled with Matty / Games lasted for days."  Nash sure wouldn't be too thrilled to sit through a game today!)
45 Steve Carlton (of the 18 main years of his career I was surprised to learn that he won 20 only five times)
46 Gaylord Perry (he had a rulebook in one pocket and a jar of vasoline in the other)
48 Tim Keefe (the first pitcher to effectively use a changeup; one of six Hall of Famers on the Giants in the late 1880s)

This has all been about dominant pitchers and I am going to be really arbitrary here in looking at - apart from their ERAs or strikeouts or anything – which guys have been truly dominant among their peers. Here are the pitchers who have been among the top 3 in baseball in WAR over the years. Again, top WAR lists tend to be dominated by hitters. It's tough for a pitcher to get into the top three, especially more than occasionally. 

Of late, here are the pitchers who have made it into the top three in baseball.
2012   Justin Verlander  (3rd)
2011   Cliff Lee (1st) and Roy Halladay (3rd)
2010   nobody
2009   Zack Greinke (1st)
2008   Tim Lincecum (3rd)

And here are the pitchers in each decade who have made it into the top three in WAR more than twice in those ten years.

2001 - 2010     nobody   
1991 - 2000     Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux
1981 - 1990     Roger Clemens
1971 - 1980     Tom Seaver
1961 - 1970     Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal
1951 - 1960     Robin Roberts
1941 - 1950     Bob Feller
1931 - 1940     Lefty Grove
1921 - 1930     nobody
1911 - 1920     Walter Johnson (first six times!)
1901 - 1910     Christy Mathewson and Rube Waddell

So, readers, you decide, so many great ones. As for me, I would really love to see how Roy Halladay would have done in 1905 and how Walter Johnson would do today.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Want to See Great Pitching? Hop into Your Time Machine

Do you think you are seeing some of the greatest pitchers ever when you watch Justin Verlander, or Roy Halladay, or C.C. Sabathia, or Jared Weaver? I'm not saying that they are not truly talented hurlers, but to see the very best you had to live a long time ago. There is one exception, but he's not a starter. Can you guess who that might be? See below. This is another two-parter for me – on accounta it's too long for one article, so I split it in two. Here goes part one.

How do you pick the best pitchers of all time? Well, you certainly can't base excellence on wins. What if a great pitcher played for a lousy team? You can’t base it on strikeouts because players stopped choking up on their bats and started swinging for the fences when home runs became popular. Can you imagine how many more strikeouts Walter Johnson would have had if he pitched in the 1950s or 1990s!

I am going to start with the other most obvious indicator of greatest, namely lifetime ERA and I am going to limit the analysis to the modern era, since 1900. So John Montgomery Ward with a 2.10 ERA from 1878 to 1884, and Jim Devlin with a 1.90 ERA from 1875 to 1877, and Albert Spalding with a 2.13 ERA from 1871 to 1878, and Tommy Bond with a 2.14 ERA from 1874 to 1884 are out of contention for greatest all time.

Here are the all-time top ten then. Ed Walsh 1.82, Addie Joss 1.89, Jack Pfiester 2.02, Smoky Joe Wood 2.03, Mordecai Three-Finger Brown 2.06, Christy Mathewson 2.13, Rube Waddell 2.16, Walter Johnson 2.17, Mariano Rivera, and Jake Weimer 2.13. Hard to believe those are career, not single season ERAs.

Ed Walsh  pitched exclusively for the Chicago White Sox. Here are his best years.
   1905    8 -  3    2.17            1906   17 -13   1.88      
   1907   24 - 18   1.60           1908  40 - 15   1.42        
   1909   15 - 11  1.41            1910   18 - 20   1.27    
If you are wondering how a guy could have an ERA of 1.27 and go 18-20 consider that the White Sox had been nicknamed the Hitless Wonders. Their best hitter (and manager) was Fielder (not Hitter) Jones. Too bad Walsh fizzed out before Eddie Collins and Shoeless Joe arrived. Sam Crawford, a pretty fair hitter for the Tigers, said, “I think Ed Walsh’s ball disintegrated on the way to the plate and the catcher put it back together. I swear when it went past the plate it was just spit went by.”

Addie Joss (right) pitched for the Cleveland Indians.

       1904    14 - 10  1.59           1905    20 - 12  2.01      
       1906    21 -  9   1.72           1907    27 - 11  1.83        
       1908    24 - 11  1.16           1909    14 - 13  1.71

Joss, who used a corkscrew delivery in which he completely turned his back to the hitter, had just two good hitters to get him runs, Nap Lajoie and Elmer Flick.

Jack  the Giant Killer Pfiester pitched for the Cubs and had this five-year stretch. 
   1906  20 -  8   1.51          1907  14 -  9    1.15        1908   12 - 10  2.00
   1909  17 -  6   2.43          1910    6 -  3    1.79 

Smoky Joe Wood pitched exclusively for the Boston Red Sox and had the following stretch.

1910  12 - 13    1.69       1911  23 - 17    2.02    
1912  34 -  5     1.91       1913  11 -  5     2.29    
1914   10 -   3   2.62       1915  15 -  5     1.49

Though the Red Sox were a very good team, and got another great hurler by the name of Babe Ruth (career ERA 2.26, 17th best) in 1914, they didn't have a whole lot of hitting outside of their outfielders, Tris Speaker, Harry Hooper, and Duffy Lewis.     

Okay, I hear what you’re thinking. These guys all pitched around the same time. Wasn’t it harder to score runs in the “dead ball” era? Well, sure it was, and the fact that the home run really hadn't been invented yet, and the ball was dark and slimy from spit made it easier to limit runs against. And, without the threat of a home run, top-notch starters like these guys could take it easy against the bottom of the order and then get the outs when they needed them.

Okay, so Mariano Rivera is the only modern pitcher to be among the best in ERA. But just how far down the list are other great, more modern pitchers like Sandy Koufax, and Jim Palmer, and Tom Seaver and current stars? A long way. Here are the rankings of other great hurlers.

Cy Young                                   59
Whitey Ford                                87
Sandy Koufax                             94
Bruce Sutter                              110
Jim Palmer                                121
Andy Messersmith                    123
Tom Seaver                              124
Sparky Lyle                              131
Juan Marichal (right)                 132
Rollie Fingers                            140
Don Drysdale                            154
Mel Stottlemyre                        160
Carl Hubbell                              165
Dizzy Dean                               174
Warren Spahn                           192
Gaylord Perry                           200
Roger Clemens                         212
Adam Wainwright                   228   (Finally a current player, say, wasn’t he the guy who struck out Carlos Beltran in Game Seven of the NLCS in 2006?) His ERA, by the way is 3.15, we passed 3.00 at Dizzy Dean.
Greg Maddux                           230
Sam McDowell                        234
Nolan Ryan                              244
Johan Santana                        245
Steve Carlton                           252
Feliz Hernandez                      254
Jared Seaver                           270
Catfish Hunter                           275
Matt Cain                                 286
Ron Guidry                               290
Roy Halladay                           305
Tim Lincecum                         309  
Justin Verlander                     354
Tim Hudson                            364
Mickey Lolich                           376
Dave Stieb                               376
C.C. Sabathia                          425

So how does it break down? In the top 100 there is one current-day pitcher. From 101 to 200 there are none. From 201 to 300 there are 6.  From 301 to 400 there are 6. And from 401 to 500 there are two.  That’s just fifteen current pitchers out of the top 500 run preventers in history.

Is it fair to go completely by ERA? No, but can you say that all the hitters in the early 1900s sucked? Ty Cobb seemed to do all right. So did Honus Wagner and Nap Lajoie. There are a disproportionate number of pitchers from that era, though. The spitball definitely contributed to pitchers’ success, which is why it was finally banned in 1920. But Walter Johnson didn’t need the spitball, nor did Rube Waddell and many others.

Next week we will see if we can get a few more recent, and current hurlers into any lists of the greatest pitchers of all time. For now, it ain't lookin’ too good.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Guest blogger, Jared Case

Late Innings fans, today we’re featuring our first guest blogger of the new year, Jared Case. I’ve know Jared for a number of years. He’s an interesting guy and excellent writer – also a major baseball fan like the rest of us here. Interestingly, living in Rochester, NY, you would expect him to be a Yankees fan. But then, too, you’d expect Will, having lived in or around Toronto all his life, to be a Blue Jays fan. With both Jared and Will, it is the opposite. Go figure...

So please put your hands together and welcome Jared in what I hope will be the first of many guest blogs to sport his byline on Late Innings.

Making the Switch

Among all the articles, opinions, features, and prognostications I’ve read over the past three months, there’s been something missing. There is a significant fact that has been overlooked (as far as I can tell) by everyone writing about the moves the Blue Jays have made this offseason, one that may be intrinsic to the Jays success this season. Shall I tell you what it is? All right, chew on this. All the significant bats that have been added this year are switch hitters. Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis can all hit from both sides of the plate. This may not, on the surface, seem important, until you realize this one thing: No matter who you put at second base, and no matter how you construct the lineup, the Jays will have three regular switch-hitters in their lineup. For the first time in 20 years.

That’s right, those World Champion Jays had the benefit of Robbie Alomar and Devon White for both years and featured Manny Lee at short in 1992 and Octavio “Tony” Fernandez at short in 1993. And although the Jays have had several switch-hitters in their lineups since – Orlando Hudson, Gregg Zaun, Jose Cruz Jr., Otis Nixon, and Fernandez (again) most notably – they have never regularly featured three in the lineup at the same time.

Why is this important? Well, the idea behind switch-hitters is that they are able to play off of both left- and right-handed pitching, that it is easier to both see and hit a ball coming toward you from the opposite plane, rather than the same side of the plate you’re standing on. It’s also easier to pull a ball than to slap or push it to the opposite side of the field. Some can do this with power. Most cannot. But to increase the ability to get good wood on a ball and pull it into the alleys between fielders is a great benefit.

Especially when you’re playing at the SkyDome. It may not be the same old green concrete it was back in the ’90s, but the field still plays fast. And if you can get a switch-hitter pulling to both sides on that fast turf, and if you add in the speed of Reyes, Cabrera and Bonifacio, I see a lot of doubles piling up against the opposing pitcher. And doubles are important, especially at the top of the order. They negate the traditional double play, and they automatically put someone in scoring position for the 3-4-5 guys. And with the potential to have a 9-1-2 of Bonifacio-Reyes-Cabrera, turning over the lineup is going to be very difficult to pitch around, with Bautista and EE coming up.

And it’s not just that they are switch-hitters. Reyes and Cabrera are proven hitters. They are the last two batting title winners in the NL. Reyes has averaged .296 with 33 doubles and 51 stolen bases over his last full six years. Cabrera has been a different hitter over the last two years, but he’s only 28, and may have found his mature stroke in addition to increasing his testosterone. So perhaps they are not exactly Alomar and White, especially on the defensive side, but I might argue that Carter and Winfield are no Bautista and Encarnacion, either. However the season turns out, I think adding proven switch-hitters to play at SkyDome was a shrewd move by Anthopoulos, and am looking forward to a very entertaining season, both in Toronto and Buffalo.


Jared Case has been a Blue Jays fan for over 25 years now, introduced to the team by his uncle. His greatest regret is missing a 1988 Reggie Jackson home run because his uncle said they had to leave Exhibition Stadium early to beat the traffic. During the day, he is the Head of Collection Information and Access for the Motion Picture Department of the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. He appeared on Turner Classic Movies as a guest host in December, 2011 and can be found at conferences and film festivals around the world talking about his love of film noir.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How True Was Eight Men Out?

Last week I promised to write about the veracity of Eight Men Out, an excellent book about the 1919 World Series. Let me begin by saying that I found the movie based on it to be one of the best ever made about baseball.

First because it was about actual ballplayers (obviously several baseball movies are about players who never existed, such as Ray Hobbs in The Natural or Crash Davis in Bull Durham. 8MO captured the time period extremely well and to me the casting was excellent - even though the actors bore little resemblance to the ball players they portrayed, with the exception of Michael Rooker (right) as Chick Gandil (left).

Charlie Sheen didn't look like Happy Felsch.                      


David Straithairn didn't look like Ed Cicotte. 


James Read is a lot better looking than Lefty Williams was. 

And John Cusack didn't look much like Buck Weaver. 

At least D. B. Sweeney bore a closer resemblance to Shoeless Joe Jackson than Ray Liotta did in A Field of Dreams. In fairness, there aren't many actors as homely as Jackson was.

Note that the producers of Moneyball did not go out of their way to ensure that Brad Pitt resembled Billy Beane. Nor does Phillip Seymour Hoffman resemble the very fit Art Howe. (But then Gary Cooper, who played Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees, was no where near as muscular as the Iron Horse.)

It didn't matter too much whether the actors looked like the gamblers they portrayed. Apart from "Sleepy" Burns and Billy Maharg who testified at the trial the public never saw Arnold Rothstein and Abe Attell, the big money men behind the fix. Unlike the players, who received only a fraction of what Rothstein and Attell won on the Series, the gamblers got immunity from prosecution and never had to appear in a court. 

The screenplay sticks very closely to the book though it could not go into anywhere near the same amount of detail, especially in the tracking of the machinations of the gamblers. The ballpark scenes were well staged and cleverly chronicled the sportswriters' suspicions over plays that looked to be less than all out efforts. Except that it was not really Hugh Fullerton and the legendary Ring Lardner who noticed purposely sloppy play - it was guest writer Christy Mathewson, the legendary and just retired Giant hurler.

A more obvious discrepancy in the movie 8MO is that D.B. Sweeney bats right and throws left while Joe Jackson batted left and threw with his right arm. There is a scene in which a young fan at the courthouse asks for Jackson's autograph. Why would anyone want an autograph from a man who could not write? Well Jackson didn't always sign with a X. One of Joe's team mates remembers once drinking four beers in a tavern while Jackson tried his best outside to sign his name for a fan. 

As for the book, Eliot Asinof wrote it (in 1963) like an historical novel as opposed to a simple history of the scandal. He used the omniscient point of view so he could place us inside every hotel room, dressing room, and pool hall. He was also able to read the characters' minds, as in the following passage. 

"Comiskey, [the White Sox owner] at the moment was less grieved than angry. He seemed torn apart by his confusions over the reasons for what had happened. Though he could not begin to explain it at all, to Fullerton it seemed he had a desperate need to try." 

There is certainly no way that Asinof could have known the thoughts of Comiskey, Fullerton, Cicotte, Jackson, or anyone else alive in 1919. His notes, which are in the Chicago History Museum, contain no record of any conversations with Comiskey, Cicotte, or Jackson. Asinof claimed to have talked to a great many people when researching 8MO. He wrote the thoughts of White Sox Secretary Harry Grabiner as though he had just finished speaking with him. Asinof began his research in 1960. Grabiner died in 1948.

But it certainly lends an intriguing air of insight and inside knowledge of the actions and motives of all those involved, even if - unfortunately - it's mostly made up. As well written as the book is, the reader needs to remind himself that he is not reading a history book - you won't find any footnotes in Eight Men Out. Even as I write this I am tempted to say that certain scenes - such as catcher Ray Shalk and manager Kid Gleason being outraged at Ed Cicotte - really happened, I have to remind myself I only 'know' that from reading Eight Men Out. It is that convincing.

Asinof admitted to using newspaper accounts of the 1920 Grand Jury proceedings instead of the transcripts - even though he was told where he could get them. The press wasn't allowed into the proceedings so anything they wrote would have been second or third hand. And relying too heavily on the yellow and exaggerated journalism of that era might not have been wise if one were trying to be accurate rather than sensational and entertaining.

Asinof provides details of a meeting in which Gandil claimed that Jackson told him he wanted $20,000 for his participation in the fix. But Asinof admitted "when it came to talking about the 1919 World Series, Gandil had nothing to contribute." No notes of conversations between Gandil and Asinof (who died in 2008) have been found. The next most important person Asinof could have spoken with is Ed Cicotte, but in spite of the author's promise to portray the pitcher and loser of two games in the Series in a positive manner, Cicotte declined. 

Shoeless Joe, whom Asinof claimed threw the Series, died nine years before Asinof began his research. He states that Jackson was at meetings of the Sox who were throwing the Series. But Lefty Williams said Jackson was not and that the fixers simply used the big star's name to bargain for more money. In his two days of testimony Jackson (who wasn't clever enough to lie like the gamblers, team officials, and lawyers did) said he "had not made any intentional errors and had batted, fielded the balls, and run the bases to win". Significantly, Jackson did not receive any money until after the Series was over. 

Here are the Series numbers for Joe Jackson. 
Game One: scored the Sox only run
Game Two: 3 hits
Game Three: 2 hits
Game Four: had one of the Sox three hits
Game Five: had none of theSox three hits
Game Six: 2 hits, 1 run, 1 RBI
Game Seven: 2 hits, 2 RBI
Game Eight: 2 hits, 2 runs, 3 RBI

Top Cincinnati Red:  Greasy Neale .357

Sox Averages
The team  .224
Eddie Collins (clean)     .226
Shano Collins (clean)    .250
Ray Shalk (clean)         .304
Nemo Leibold (clean)    .056
Buck Weaver (clean though banned for listening)  .324
Gandil (chief fixer)        .233
Felsch (a fixer)             .192
Risberg (a fixer)            .086  plus 4 errors
Jackson (a fixer ???)     .375, committed no errors, had the most runs and the most hits for Chicago

Probably the most memorable scene in the film is the one in which a young boy outside the courtroom says to Jackson, "Say it ain't so Joe, say it ain't so!" In a 1948 interview Jackson absolutely denied that any such conversation ever took place.

Joe told the interviewer that during the Series he had tried to report his suspicions to Comiskey (who refused to see his star player), that he had never met any of the gamblers (even Asinof doesn't suggest that he did), and that he never agreed to throw the Series. Asinof alluded to the interview in 8MO but he chose not to quote Jackson.

How much can we believe of what Asinof wrote? Here is something to consider. During an interview he admitted to making up at least one, and perhaps two characters. In a crucial scene in the movie an underworld figure from the East called Harry F. threatens Lefty Williams and his wife. Williams understandably throws the next game even though only Cicotte had been paid what he was promised. Asinof made Harry F. up. There was no Harry F. So, no such scene ever took place. What other scene or scenes were added if he invented a second fictional character?

Since I am a writer of history, not historical fiction, I shall tell you that much of the above information about Asinof's notes and writing come from an article by Daniel J. Voelker and Paul A. Duffy, two Chicago lawyers and researchers.

I hope you've enjoyed these two articles on Jackson and the 1919 World Series and I encourage you to read the book and to watch the movie if you haven't. They're really entertaining, you can't believe everything in them but they're a heck of a lot closer to the truth than most Hollywood movies. In the meantime, like I said, let's get Shoeless Joe into the Hall of Fame already.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Is It Time to Let Shoeless Joe in?

I enjoyed reading John's post on whether the steroid stars should be voted into the Hall and want to take a moment to argue for Shoeless Joe Jackson to be inducted. He has been on baseball's ineligible list since his banishment from the game of course. Until his death he claimed he was not involved in the fix of the 1919 World Series. A Chicago Grand Jury exonerated Joe Jackson in 1920. Is it time for Baseball's Hall of Fame to do likewise?

Let's suspend discussion of whether Jackson threw ballgames during the Series for a moment. Should he be in the Hall of Fame? Well, if you're letting Pete Rose in, I think ya gotta let Shoeless Joe in. Rose was a terrific player who had a lot of hits – partly because he played a lot of games. But he was nowhere near as talented or productive as Jackson.

After leading the Carolina League in hitting and making numerous amazing throws from the outfield, Jackson struggled for Connie Mack in Philadelphia. As an illiterate rural Southerner he was relentlessly teased by team mates but, more important, Philadelphia was just too big for him. Mack reluctantly sent him to Cleveland, which was smaller and had more players from the South. In the final month of the 1910 season Jackson hit .387. He really blossomed in 1911, his rookie year with 233 hits, 45 doubles, 19 triples, and a .408 average (still a record for rookies obviously). His Cleveland records for hits, average, and outfield assists (32) still stand.

With his big black bat ("Black Betsy") Jackson hit the ball harder than anyone except Babe Ruth, who said he fashioned his swing after Jackson's, claiming it was 'the perfectest' in baseball. Players said the ball sounded different coming off Jackson's bat. In 1912 Jackson hit .395 with 121 runs, 226 hits, 26 triples (which tied with Sam Crawford for the most ever), and had 30 outfield assists. In 1913 he led the league in hits and doubles and hit one ball off the right field roof of the Polo Grounds. It travelled over 500 feet.

In 1914 Jackson suffered a broken leg and hit just .338. In one of the stupider interventions of all time in 1915 the Cleveland owner ordered the manager to play Jackson at first base?!!! He then traded his cleanup hitter to Chicago in the biggest money exchange to date, with $31,000 going to Chicago and players that Charles Comiskey had paid $34,000 to buy going to Cleveland – a whopping $65,000!

After leading the AL in triples and hitting .341 in 1916. To avoid being sent overseas Shoeless Joe then worked in a Deleware shipyard that supplied armaments. Suddenly stacked with ball players, the factories hurriedly assembled a league – the Bethlehem Steel League. Guess what. Jackson led the league with a .371 average.

In 1919 Jackson hit .351 with 202 hits and 96 RBIs. Not bad. But in his last year in the majors, 1920, Jackson proved he was still an amazing hitter – .382, 218 hits, 42 doubles, 20 triples, 121 RBIs, and a 1.033 OPS. And then at 32 years old he was done – banished for life by Mountain Kenesaw Landis.

I don't know how anyone could possibly argue that any player who is not in the Hall had skills or a career, though shortened, like Jackson's. Had it not been for two contemporaries who overshadowed even him Jackson would have have been thought of as a truly great player. Ty Cobb hit .420 when Jackson hit .408, and .409 when Jackson hit .395, and .390 when Joe hit .373. In 1921 Babe Ruth had a year that simply made everyone else seem like mere mortals. Pick your favourite star of all time ... Mays, Mattingly, Schmidt, Rose, whoever ... it doesn't matter, can you imagine how he would have paled by comparison if he had played at the same time as Ruth and Cobb! Walter Johnson, who played with Ruth, Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Napoleon Lajoie, said Johnson was the greatest natural ball player he ever saw.

Was Jackson in on the fix in the 1919 World Series? In my next article I will talk about how seriously we should take Eliot Asinof's thoroughly entertaining book (and the movie) Eight Men Out. It undoubtedly convinced many people that Jackson was indeed in on the fix of the World Series in 1919. We can say with absolute certainty that we cannot be certain that Shoeless Joe tried to lose games to the Cincinnati Reds. Did he try his best in every game though?

Jackson hit .368 in the Series and led both teams in hits with twelve. Asinov points out that in the first five games, when the White Sox should have displayed their supposed dominance and forged ahead in the best-of-nine series, Jackson knocked in no runs. What Asimov does not point out is that none of the Chicago stars were hitting well in those games. In the games the White Sox apparently threw (if we can be sure – the fans and sportswriters at the time were not) he went 4-for-16.

Jury. Joe didn't know any lawyers. He was represented by Charles Comiskey's lawyer, who had been ordered to get Jackson to admit his guilt. He apparently did so by getting Jackson drunk late one night and then having him sign a confession the ballplayer could not possibly have read or understood. Jackson tried desperately to hide his illiteracy, though where he grew up in the late 1890s a man would have been considered an oddball if he could read or write. When Joe went to a restaurant (and could obviously not read the menu) he would wait until everyone had ordered and then repeat what one of them had said.

IF Jackson was in on the fix, was he justified in doing what he did? John argues that the steroid stars faced enormous pressure to go on the juice because without out it they would have struggled to stay among the game's best players and would have seen their salaries dwindle along with their careers. Well, Jackson and the other Black Sox were seeing their livelihood threatened too – by miserly club owner Charles Comiskey.

Though fans now assume the "Black Sox" got their name from the fix and scandal it was actually from having dirty uniforms. Comiskey, who had a reputation for being generous to everybody but his players, made the players pay to have their uniforms cleaned, which they refused to do.

Players on other teams got $4 a day for meals, the White Sox got $3. (A steak cost 50 cents then.) Comiskey had promised the players a bonus if they won the 1917 pennant. When they did, they did get a bonus. Comiskey had a case of cheap champagne delivered to the team.

Lefty Williams, Jackson's best friend on the team, led the majors in complete games in 1919 and went 23-11. He made $3,000. Shoeless Joe – one of the game's best hitters and a terrific fielder – made $6,000. By contrast, on the Reds (a weaker team in a poorer market), Edd Roush, who led the National League but hit 50 points lower than Jackson, made $10,000. First baseman Jack Daubert made $9,000.

Here is one more illustration of just how miserly Comiskey was to his terrific players. Eddie Cicotte had been promised a bonus if he won 30 games in 1919. After he won his 29th win Comiskey pitched him a lot less.

Allow me to take a second to clear up the controversy over whether Cicotte was actually benched. (It has been argued both ways.) You decide for yourself.

Here is Cicotte's record in late 1919:
  • August 7       Won 2-1
  • August 10     Won 1-0
  • August 14     Lost 6-15
  • August 15     Won  6-5
  • August 20     Won 10-3
  • August 23     Won 10-2
  • August 25     Won  4-3
  • August 29     Won 3-2
  • September 1  Won 5-1
  • September 5  Won  9-1
  • September 19 (notice the gap)  Won 3-2   

He got his one last chance Sept. 24 when he went seven innings but gave up five runs.(He also started and pitched two innings and gave up one run in the last game of the season.)

Cicotte probably would have thought he had been held back over the last few weeks of the season and been in the mood to stick it to Comiskey? Were the White Sox any less justified in taking a big one time pay day than the steroid users were in doing what they did? If you admit Bonds et al, and I'm not convinced you should, surely you have to look back at the banished Black Sox.

Come back here next week for an analysis of the authenticity of Eight Men Out.

In the meantime, if you would like to subscribe to the organization dedicated to getting Shoeless Joe into the Hall of Fame visit blackbetsy.com.