SAY IT AIN'T SO, JOE! by Donald Gropman


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Joe Jackson didn't just grab for a baseball bat, he reached for ""Black Betsy""--made of white hickory and stained black with tobacco juice. He didn't hit line drives, but ""blue darters."" He was illiterate ""Shoeless Joe."" But instead of becoming a baseball folk hero, he has gone down as a ""natural"" who was a coward, a slacker in World War I, and one of the infamous Black Sox who fixed the 1919 World Series. Gropman revives Jackson's claim to the game's Hall of Fame by showing that the charges are the result of an unfair press that hailed him as the next Ty Cobb and blamed him for not making the grade. Gropman explains the pressures that caused the young farm boy to desert Connie Mack's A's and discredits Cobb's version of the 1911 batting race--to the effect that he unnerved Jackson in the final series of the season. They did not face each other in the final series, Gropman points out, because Cobb took himself out of the lineup to protect his average. In the last meeting between the two, Jackson hit better than Cobb. As for the war, Jackson, like many others, worked in a defense industry instead of serving. But most important is Gropman's new, amplified explanation of the Black Sox. The team owner, Comiskey, was detested by his players. Even after the Sox won the 1917 Series, Comiskey paid the lowest salaries in the league--and in 1919 ""an unhappier, more distressed team never won a pennant."" Although gambling was rife in baseball, Jackson refused the fix at first, asked to be benched, and tried to inform Comiskey. Gropman makes a convincing case that Jackson did not try to throw the series (he batted a record .375 and committed no errors). He was caught in a power struggle between Comiskey and the president of the league, Ban Johnson. ""Their battle was for the control of major league baseball. . . . But the public was led to believe that the only issue. . . was the corruption of a few players."" Thereafter Jackson was blacklisted and, moreover, reported to be destitute though he was making more money than before by playing exhibition games. Gropman does not give the usual wrap-up of Jackson's career, but he does give a good sense of the man and what baseball was like in his day.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Little, Brown