Shoeless Joe Jackson
“God knows I gave my best in baseball at all times, and no man on earth can truthfully judge me otherwise.” – Shoeless Joe Jackson
I got up this morning, flipped on the TV, and discovered−happily−that Field of Dreams had just started.
Field of Dreams has to be one of my all time favorite movies. It’s about listening to that voice inside, following your gut, and discovering that the dreams you dream are often found in places and forms you least expect.
The movie centers on a family who lives on a farm in Iowa. The man−Ray−plows under a huge portion of his land and turns it into a baseball field. He goes all the way, with flood lights and bleachers. His extended family and the town community are skeptical, they say he’s lost his mind. But his wife, Annie, and his daughter, Karin, stand by him.
Ball players who’ve passed away show up on Ray’s field. But the only people who can see them are Ray, his wife Annie, and daughter Karin. The ball players are invisible to the cynics. Which only reinforces their contempt for the whole set up.
One of the ball players who shows up on Ray’s field is Shoeless Joe Jackson. That jogged my memory, and I started thinking; I knew there’d been a scandal that forced Shoeless Joe out of baseball, but what was it? What did Joe do?
So I read up on what’s called, “the Black Sox Scandal.” Joseph Jefferson “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and seven teammates on the Chicago White Sox were accused of conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.
But here’s where it gets interesting: Joe claimed that his teammates gave his name to the gamblers even though he never agreed to participate. And the teammates admitted that Joe never attended the meetings where the fix was discussed and arranged.
There’s no debate that, during the games in question, Shoeless Joe played his ass off−throwing nothing, and hitting everything.
Joe and his teammates were acquitted following a jury trial in 1921, but newly appointed baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis barred them all from professional baseball, for life.
Jackson always claimed his innocence. He contended that teammates got him to sign a document of confession he didn’t fully understand.
That is very likely; Shoeless Joe could not read or write.
Ever since the 1921 ruling, folks have continued to fight to restore Shoeless Joe’s name.
People who knew Joe were clear: he couldn’t be guilty. Joe was the kind of guy everybody wanted as a friend. He was an honest man with a huge heart, and his love of kids was even bigger.
Today I was told that an appeal sits on the Commissioner’s desk right now, to clear Shoeless Joe Jackson from the lifetime ban. This would allow Jackson to take his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Many fans are waiting for word on the decision, eager to see the ban removed, and to gather in Cooperstown to at long last celebrate Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Shoeless Joe died on December 5, 1951. So he will not be present for any induction. But he lived his life, and died, knowing the truth about himself. I trust that gave him some comfort in the dark moments.
So I’m watching this amazing movie, wiping my eyes when Ray meets his departed dad, John, and thinking of my own situation.
I feel passionately for Shoeless Joe Jackson, in part because I know what it’s like to be falsely and publicly accused. And I know how, even after being declared innocent, the stain of accusation remains.
Many people you once knew as close friends look at you through that distant lens of “guilty even though proven innocent.” It is a buckling burden; a yoke I’m still getting used to.
I remind myself that the wheel turns slowly, but it does turn. Sometimes it seems like it doesn’t. But it really does.
In the movie I hear Ray’s dad, John, ask Ray,
“Is this heaven?” Ray says,
“It’s Iowa. Is there a heaven?”
“Oh, yeah. It’s where dreams come true.” Ray responds,
“Maybe this is heaven.”
I muffle a sob, and remind myself that it all evens out in the end.
And if Shoeless Joe could bear up under all that till he finally reached his own Field of Dreams − I will, too.