Harvey Frommer

Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball

(Taylor Publishing Company, 1993 Paperback;  ISBN: 0878338209)

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Oregon Department of Education

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Book Review: Shoeless Joe Jackson and Ragtime Baseball

by Jonathan Leshanski , March 14, 2003


No surprise what this book is about. Shoeless Joe Jackson is a legend of mythical proportions. Called by many including Cobb, Williams and Ruth the greatest natural hitter of all time, Jackson was thrown out of baseball as one of the Chicago Black Sox involved in the 1919 World Series fix.

Perhaps he is best remembered today as the player who was first to the field in the movie “Field of Dreams? adapted from W.P. Kinsella’s book “Shoeless Joe?(very soon to be reviewed on these pages - I’ve actually finished it, just haven’t gotten to the review). He is also a central figure in many other works of fiction and/or fact including “The Natural? “Eight Men Out?and many others.

Those works tend to portray Joe as a sympathetic character who was the dupe of teammates and gamblers. Perhaps he was, and most of us who’ve read about the character of “Shoeless Joe?feel that Jackson got a raw deal. It’s likely he was a dupe, and the statistics that Jackson put up in the series that year belie any accusation that he was trying to throw the series.

“Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball?is about Joe Jackson and the Black Sox, but mostly it’s about Jackson. It follows his career from childhood to the end of his life. It also chronicles the events going on about those times and how they affected baseball. Important in this work is the understanding one gets of White Sox owner Charles Comisky, American League President Ban Johnson, and the first commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

It was also important to understand the role of gamblers and gambling in and on Major League baseball. Baseball at that time was rife with corruption and many games were thrown. Even many players now enshrined in Cooperstown were involved. Some of them were caught with incontrovertible evidence, yet very few were really punished (In fact in Major League history only 36 men have been banished from the game, 28 for gambling).

The eight White Sox who were involved and later called Black Sox were uneducated men who were manipulated into testifying. There was little, if any, legal basis for their expulsion from the game. In a modern courtroom, the case would never have been heard. Even then, in a crooked and corrupt Chicago where influence peddling was common, the ballplayers were not convicted of wrongdoing. Nor were any of the gamblers who arranged the fix.

Were the games thrown? Yes, I think there is little doubt of that. Was there a conspiracy to lose the series? Yes, without question. Upon looking at the trial and reading the transcripts, there was plenty of evidence, although much of it illegally obtained. It shows that the fix happened and that Jackson knew of it.

The author is sympathetic to Jackson and there is a good deal of evidence that suggests Jackson actually took no part in the plan. Still his name was used, and he did get a payment, which he may or may not have used to try to expose the fix by taking it to Charles Comisky (who is rumored to be involved). According to Jackson he was rebuffed by Harry Grabiner (who was a GM in all but name), who blocked him from talking to Comisky and told him “Go home, Joe. We know what you want.? Even after Jackson showed him the money and explained, Grabiner allegedly told him to keep the money and go home to Savannah.

If that were true, then Jackson was either a hero trying to bring evidence to light or a conspirator with a guilty conscience. In either case, his grand jury testimony (included in its entirety in the book) clearly indicates that he knew of the conspiracy before and during the series. That “guilty knowledge?was enough for Judge Landis to ban Jackson for life, as well as another player, Joe Gedeon (a second baseman for the St. Louis Browns) who was at the meetings and knew of the fix, but never played in the game.

In this light the Jackson ban was responsible, though Joe may have been little more than an ignorant dupe who didn’t understand what was really happening. That is called into question because Joe was later a successful businessman (although he was illiterate and could barely write his name). Whether justice was truly carried out is questionable. In the 80+ years since the ban, his fans have tried to get him reinstated, and the South Carolina legislature has passed a number of resolutions to try to get baseball to rehear the case. The commissioners of baseball have refused to reconsider.

As far as “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball?goes,
make it required reading baseball.

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By WILLIAM N. WALLACE, NEW YORK TIMES-THE BOOKSHELF, April 20, 1992,

Author Extols Shoeless Joe Jackson

About 50 years ago, Ty Cobb and Grantland Rice drove north from Augusta, Ga., after the Masters golf tournament and stopped at a liquor store in Greenville, S.C.

Cobb greeted the man behind the counter. "I know you," he said. "You're Shoeless Joe Jackson." For 10 seasons, 1910-1919, Cobb and Jackson had been the dominant hitters in the American League, Cobb with the Detroit Tigers, Jackson with the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox.

Cobb asked Jackson for an autograph. "Come back tomorrow," said Jackson.

Jackson could not sign his name; he was illiterate. His wife, Katie, signed his autographs and she was not there. Cobb and Rice moved on.

That vignette begins a new book by HARVEY FROMMER, "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball" (Taylor Publishing).

This biography of Jackson goes beyond the 1963 classic, "Eight Men Out," by ELIOT ASINOF about the members of the 1919 "Black Sox" -- including Jackson -- who were banned from major league baseball for their involvement in the plot to make certain that the Cincinnati Reds won the World Series that year.

Frommer is the first to include in a book Jackson's testimony before a grand jury in 1920, and he makes a case for Shoeless Joe's inclusion in Baseball's Hall of Fame. If PETE ROSE has reasons for election, suggests the author, then Jackson's cause is even stronger.

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THE STATE, Columbia, SC

"He was the greatest ball player ever from South Carolina. His lifetime batting average was .356, topped only by Ty Cobb and Rogers Honrsby.But Shoeless Joe had to leave the game in disgrace, one of the members of the "Black Sox" accused of throwing the 1919 World Series. Author Frommer argues that Jackson got a raw deal and deserves reinstatement and enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Frommer's book is something of a biography and partly the story of baseball in the first two decades of this century. He sees Jackson as symbolizing the game's more innocent era, and he calls Jackson a 'folk hero, the representative of a collective nostalgic yearning for an agrarian past."

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KIRKUS REVIEWS

"Another peek at baseball's good old days--or, in this case, bad old days--by veteran sports-historian Frommer (Growing Up at Bat, 1989, etc.). Frommer's protagonist in this tale of tragedy and deceit is Shoeless Joe Jackson, whose reputation is undergoing a mini- renaissance thanks to Field of Dreams (1989), although probably not enough of one to propel him into the Hall of Fame (Jackson is widely considered to be the greatest player excluded from the Hall). Frommer paints Shoeless Joe as a baseball natural (``Joe Jackson hit the ball harder than any man ever to play baseball''-- Ty Cobb), an illiterate hick (his table utensils consisted of knife and fingers), and an innocent man snared by the greatest scandal in baseball history. The facts as laid out by Frommer (and many before him) convince: While seven teammates on the 1919 Chicago White Sox threw the World Series, Jackson played errorless ball and hit a spectacular .375. Nonetheless, Commission of Baseball Judge Landis, whom Frommer dislikes (``always one to have his own way, always one to go out of his way to make an extra dollar''), banned Jackson from the game for life. The man who batted .408 in his rookie year ended up playing pseudonymously in pick-up leagues throughout the South. A riveting appendix presents in toto Jackson's testimony before a grand jury investigating the ``Black Sox'' scandal. This biography-cum-history offers many small pleasures (among them, the fact that Jackson's autograph sold in 1990 for $23,100, the highest price of any 19th- or 20th-century signature)."

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THE NEWS, Southbridge, MA

"Thanks to 'Field of Dreams' and 'Eight men Out,' most of the baseball public can identify Joe Jackson, and they'll be immeasurably aided by the prolific Harvey Frommer's 'Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball' in which the author hopes to evoke those bygone years of the teens and early '20s. To a large extent he succeeds. What Frommer gives us is a pretty complete biography of Jackson illuminated by many references to the popular culture of the time."

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BOOK BEAT, Knoxville, TN

"For the first time ever Joe Jackson's complete grand jury testimony is printed in its entirety. The facts, as they are presented, allow the reader to see both sides of this controversial story. Whether or not you think Shoeless Joe belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame is irrelevant...Harvey Frommer's SHOELESS JOE AND RAGTIME BASEBALL is excellent reading plain and simple."

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GREAT DATA, ESPN RADIO

"Harvey Frommer wrote THE BOOK on Shoeless Joe Jackson. There are tremendous insights and information here."

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DALLAS MORNING NEWS

"Absolutely essential reading. Enlightening text. A vivid biography."

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LARRY KING

"An extraordinary publication. Terrific read. What a book."
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USA TODAY

"A fresh look at the Black Sox scandal."

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VILLAGE VOICE

"Fresh perspectives. Deserves a place on your shelf right next to Eight men Out."

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HOUSTON POST

"New insight into baseball's greatest disgrace."

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WWE, CLEVELAND, August 17, 2000

A great read. One of the best books on the subject. It reads like a lovie. Addd this to your sports bookshelf.

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ABOUT.COM, August 5, 2000

 

This book takes its reader deep into the Black Sox scandal and the life of Joe Jackson.

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SOCIETY FOR AMERICAN BASEBALL RESEARCH, July 9, 2000

"Belongs in Essential Baseball Library"

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MANCHESTER GUARDIAN, England, June 9, 2000

"Harvey Frommer wrote a good book about the Joe Jackson scandal, Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball, in which he gives the central character a sympathetic treatment."

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NINE, Journal of Baseball History, University of Calgary, Edmonton, Canada, July 3, 1999

"Harvey Frommer has attempted to dissolve the mystique that surrounds what is commonly called the Black Sox scandal - - the "throwing" of the 1919 World Series by the Chicago White Sox. Frommer has done an excellent job of presenting the facts of the case including the complete grand jury testimony of Joe Jackson. He then lets the readers make their own judgments. For those who are knowledgable of this affair, Frommer's book will fill in some gaps and buttress previous readings. Is Joe Jackson, arguably one of the best players of all time, being unfairly kept from entering the Hall of Fame? Harvey Frommer's book, as it illuminates history, will help settle these questions."

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ARNOLD DEAN SHOW / Hartford, CT, June 30, 1999

"Compelling. The best Harvey Frommer has ever done and that includes NEW YORK CITY BASEBALL."

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FIELD OF DREAMS

"Harvey Frommer's protagonist in this tale of tragedy and deceit is "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, whose reputation is undergoing a mini-renaissance thanks to Field of Dreams. (Jackson is widely considered to be the greatest player excluded from the Hall)."

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THE CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER 

Further and quite provocative analysis of the Black Sox scandal that centered on Joe Jackson. Contains a chapter about Jackson's years in Cleveland.

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THE ASSOCIATED PRESS  

Baseball is the summer game, and there are plenty of new titles to keep baseball fans in touch with their favorite sport during off days and rainouts.  In "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball" (Taylor), Harvey Frommer makes his case for Joe Jackson's innocence in the Black Sox scandal and argues for his reinstatement and Hall of Fame eligibility. Readers can use the pre-addressed postcard included with the book to make their feelings on the matter known to baseball commissioner Fay Vincent.

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THE ATLANTA JOURNAL AND CONSTITUTION

SHOELESS, NOT VOTELESS: Writer Harvey Frommer has written a book, "Shoeless Joe And Ragtime Baseball," about Shoeless Joe Jackson and his banishment from baseball in 1919 and consequent ban from Baseball's Hall of Fame. With every copy of the book, Taylor Publishing has enclosed a postcard with the address of baseball commissioner Fay Vincent for fans to vote if they think Jackson should be reinstated and made eligible for the Hall of Fame.

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NOTES FROM THE SHADOWS OF COOPERSTOWN, Gene Carney

"A tremendous account ... I must refer anyone who has any interest in the Black Sox Scandal to Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball. There is a shiny gold sticker on the jacket of Frommer's book, by the way, announcing that it contains "Never before published -- Joe Jackson's complete Grand Jury Testimony." ... The testimony is worth reading. Frommer quotes Joe Jackson: "I never said anything about it [the plot to throw the Series] until the night before the Series started. I went to see Mr Comiskey and begged him to take me out of the lineup .... If there was something going on I knew the bench was the safest place, but he wouldn't listen to me ..." I would love to fill about ten pages with excerpts from Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball, but will not. Get the book. It's a fascinating and fast read."

 

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