Playing for the Chicago White Sox in the 1919 World Series, Shoeless Joe Jackson was flawless in the field and he banged out 12 hits — a World Series record that stood until 1964. But after that World Series ended, Jackson and seven of his teammates were accused of conspiring to lose to the Cincinnati Reds. The eight players were banned from baseball for life — even though a jury found them innocent.
Ninety-four years later, Joe Jackson is still not eligible for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite having the third-highest career batting average in baseball history.
Arlene Marcley is the founder and president of the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library in Greenville, South Carolina. Marcley joins Bill Littlefield to discuss her effort to clear Jackson's name.
You can’t play in a World Series like he did in 1919 and be throwing a series. That’s just ridiculous. He said all his life he was innocent.Arlene Marcley, museum founder
BL: You have written to Major League Baseball’s commissioner Rob Manfred half-a-dozen times asking for Joe Jackson to be reinstated. What’s the argument that you’ve made to the commissioner?
AM: We’re saying that he does not have to determine whether Joe Jackson was guilty or innocent. He wasn’t banned in perpetuity. He’s been dead for 63 years. Joe has served his sentence, and all Mr. Manfred has to do is simply state that Major League Baseball no longer has jurisdiction over Joe Jackson and remove his name from the ineligible list.
BL: It’s been more than a month since the commissioner made it clear to you via a letter that he would not reinstate Joe Jackson. Why did you wait until this week to tell the world about that decision?
AM: I sent him an appeal letter. I’ve asked him to reconsider his decision, and I wanted to give him time to reply. By the 1st of September I had not heard from him. I just felt it was time to make it public.
BL: I understand that Commissioner Manfred referred to a lack of evidence for overruling his predecessors, but maybe you should have just begged for mercy on Jackson’s behalf?
AM: I’m not going to beg. I don’t think Joe Jackson would want me to beg. You can’t play in a World Series like he did in 1919 and be throwing a series. That’s just ridiculous. He said all his life he was innocent. On his deathbed — which the museum is in his home, and he actually passed away in that house. And he was on his deathbed and told his family, "I didn’t do anything to help to throw that Series." And you don’t lay on your deathbed and tell lies. That’s what I feel.
BL: How did Joe Jackson’s cause become important to you?
AM: Well, I think for the same reason most of the people come through the museum state to me: that it’s an injustice. The first six words I think it is from Commissioner Landis’ edict is "Regardless of the verdict of juries." Landis totally disregards the American justice system.
When I first got involved, which was around 2006 or 2007, I had never heard of Shoeless Joe. But some gentlemen came to my office and told me about a petition that was circulating from Philadelphia. Something inside of me said, "We’ve got to clear this man"
BL: Well, Arlene, you’ve got me convinced. So what do we do now? Wait for whoever succeeds Commissioner Manfred and start writing letters again?
AM: I don’t know what the next thing will be. I’ve done, I think, everything I know how to do. I really think it’s going to be up to the fans now. From all the response I’ve gotten over the past few days, I’ve just been overwhelmed, and that’s one reason I told you, my voice is a little gravelly today, because I’ve talked to so many people. But they’re all just stunned. They really thought he would do something for Joe. Petitions have been circulating for Joe Jackson since 1922. A gentleman in New York started one in 1922. And I actually got 16,000 signatures which I sent to Mr. Selig. Never got a reply. It’s disheartening. It really is.
[sidebar title="Manfred Halts Shoeless Joe's Run At The Hall" align="right"]Read Bill's commentary on the commissioner's decision to uphold Joe Jackson's ban from baseball.[/sidebar]
BL: I can understand your frustration regarding the letters and the petition, but suppose you could get, oh I don’t know, half an hour in commissioner Manfred’s office. What would you say about why Joe Jackson’s story is so important to you?
AM: Because he was one of the greatest ballplayers that ever played the game. When Manfred was first elected commissioner, when he took office in January, one of the first interviews he gave was about Alex Rodriguez. And I distinctly remember reading, he said, "When a man serves his sentence, he deserves another chance." And that’s what spurred me on. I thought, "Well, we’ve got somebody in office with a little bit of common sense."
The man served his sentence, which he didn’t deserve to get to begin with, but he served his sentence, and he deserves to have his name taken off that Major League Baseball list. The committee of the Hall of Fame can vote him in or keep him out. That’s not what we’re interested in. We want to make his name whole.
This segment aired on September 5, 2015.