Thursday, August 9, 2018

Are They Letting Me Fix the History of Shoeless Joe?

OK, two baseball columns in a row.  I can't help it, I really want to update previous columns when the circumstances warrant.  And this is only somewhat about baseball anyway.  OK, "mostly."

Long-time readers will remember that a long time back I did a piece on the case of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, the remarkable baseball player who was on a Hall-of-Fame track until 99 years ago, when he was, at minimum, a peripheral part of the conspiracy of eight players that threw the 1919 World Series with his Chicago White Sox to the Cincinnati Redlegs.

While the original piece -- and please read the link; it is plot material -- covered the plot somewhat, the point was not really so much about the scandal itself, as it was about the way it was recorded in Wikipedia, the "people's encyclopedia" that lets most anyone write most anything and call it factual.

OK, that's a bit pejorative -- Wikipedia is a wonderfully helpful tool.  But in this case, that of old Shoeless Joe, the site was tightly monitored by a guy in Arizona who was keeping in content that argued for Jackson's innocence, and purging out anything that suggested he was actually a part of the plot and worthy of suspension.

As I wrote, I had addressed a particular issue in that Wikipedia page.  The Series was best-of-nine that year, and it went eight games.  Jackson's White Sox only won three games -- two which were pitched by Dickie Kerr, who was not in on the plot, and the seventh game, when the conspiring players, upset at late, low and missing payments from the gamblers, really played hard.  They won the game, shafting many of those gamblers who were still leveraging their knowledge of the plot to try to win big.

The argument by the Jackson apologists was that he "tried hard" throughout the Series, pointing to his .375 batting average that led all players.  So I put in a well-crafted edit, noting that his hitting was much better in the three not-thrown games -- half his 12 hits in the Series were in just those three games. In other words, the record suggested that he might not have tried quite so hard when the other conspirators weren't either.

I checked back the next day and my edit had been removed.  I did a few tests, putting it back, and discovered that it would be removed in minutes after updating, even though the remover was doing so at like six in the morning in Arizona.  That was in 2015.

So for jollies, I recently tried to edit the section again, this past week.  I noticed that there were some additional sentences in there in the intervening couple three years, all of which were in support of Jackson's "innocence."

I put in three changes.  The latest version, since 2015, had a note that Jackson had been accused of poor fielding in the thrown games, noting that it had been reported that there had been an unusual number of Cincinnati triples to left (where Jackson played) but that "contemporary newspaper accounts did not report any triples to left."

So I added a line that Baseball Register, the fairly definitive historical site, had at least two triples shown as going to left or left-center, both in thrown games.  The left-center one was notorious, as it was noted at the time that Jackson and the center fielder had looked at each other as the ball rolled between them.

I also noted that the article, after reporting on $5,000 being paid to Jackson, now stated that pitcher Lefty Williams, one of the conspirators, had later said that Jackson was "not at any of the meetings" and his name was only added to give the plot more persuasiveness (presumably to the gamblers).  So I added a parenthetical note that it made no sense for the plotters to give Jackson $5,000, an enormous amount of money in 1919, or anything else, if he wasn't part of the plot.

Finally, I put back in the reference to Jackson's hit compilation in the "clean" games, that had been taken out back in 2015 every time I put it in.

Son of a gun.  My changes are still there as I write this.  Of course, I also decided to set up a login to identify myself when editing Wikipedia, not that I do it very often.  The article is here, if you want to check.

I got a lot of feedback after I wrote the original piece, so I figured those readers who were interested might want to know that things had seemingly changed.

Unfortunately, this sordid history has not.  Shoeless Joe was rightly banned.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton

No comments:

Post a Comment