On Sept. 28, 1920, Chicago White Sox star “Shoeless Joe” Jackson was supposedly leaving the Cook County Courthouse after he and seven Chicago White Sox teammates admitted to a grand jury that they had taken bribes and let the Cincinnati Reds win the 1919 World Series.
According to legend, as Jackson left the courthouse, a heartbroken young boy went up to him and said, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” To which Jackson supposedly replied, “Yes kid, I’m afraid it is.”
The incident came to be known as the “Black Sox Scandal,” and resulted in Jackson and seven teammates who admitted to taking bribes being banned from baseball for life.
For Jackson, this was especially painful because there’s no court record of him ever admitting he was involved in fixing games, and he always publicly denied it.
Jackson’s play in the 1919 World Series indicated he was playing to win. “Shoeless Joe” racked-up 12 hits, a World Series record that stood until 1964. His .375 batting average was the highest on either team, and he didn’t commit a single error.
Finally, Jackson’s teammates who admitted to being on the take said Jackson was never at or involved in any of the meetings that they had with gamblers.
Jackson’s career batting average of .3558 is the third highest in Major League history. He hit .401 in 1901, the record for a batting average in a season by a rookie, and he still holds the Indians and White Sox franchise records for triples in a season and career batting average. Yet, to this day, Joe Jackson is not enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
This past week, Major League Baseball released a nine-page report, detailing a technology driven cheating scheme employed by the Houston Astros at the Minute Maid Park during the team’s 2017 World Series run. The system had players stealing signs from the opposing team’s catcher on a video monitor, then relaying them to the hitter by banging on a dugout trash can.
In the report, then Astros bench coach Alex Cora and then designated hitter Carlos Beltran were mentioned prominently. Cora became the Manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2018, and funny enough, the Red Sox went on to win the World Series there, too.
Since that report, Houston General Manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were both fired an hour after MLB suspended them. Cora was fired the next day by the Red Sox, and Beltran, who had just been hired to Manage the New York Mets two months earlier, was let go before he ever managed his first game.
What’s really sad? Neither Cora or Beltran even tried to make a case for their innocence.
But, it may be even worse.
The Astros, who lost in this year’s World Series, may have advanced their method of cheating by having their players wear vibrating bandages to tip-off their hitters as to whether a fastball, or an off-speed pitch was being thrown.
MLB says their investigation couldn’t find any conclusive evidence, but social media is alive with innuendos. Posts by players from other teams seem to indicate there was some knowledge about the Astros cheating efforts. The most damning? The results produced by Houston’s players were so much better at home than on the road last season, which seems to indicate that some sort of “home cooking” had to be in place.
To this point, MLB fined the Astros $5 million, the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, as punishment. The Astros will also forfeit their next two first and second-round amateur draft picks. We’re still waiting to see what fate awaits the Boston Red Sox.
Some are saying the MLB’s punishment is not enough. Many people would like to see the Astros and Red Sox forced to vacate their titles. Asking Major League Baseball to go that far seems unlikely.
Whether it’s “spitballs” or performance enhancing drugs, baseball has a long history of cheating and an inconsistent history of rule enforcement. Asking baseball to take a hard line now just seems unrealistic, but either way, the damage is done.
What are the lessons to be learned here?
A moment of glory is meaningless if you didn’t earn the right to be there. You are worse than inauthentic, you are a cheater, and once exposed, you can never get back the only thing that really matters; your reputation.
Luhnow, Hinch, Cora and Beltran are all out of baseball, and their reputations are forever tainted. Ask them now if they could go back and do it all over again. What do you think they would say?
I’m guessing they’ve all accumulated a decent amount of money, but the championships they won will never have any real value. There will be no public celebrations on the anniversaries of their accomplishments, instead, they will become cautionary tales in a sad chapter of sports history.
“Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
“Yes kid, I’m afraid it is.”