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July 20, 2001

by Bill Hogan



" Joe, Say it ain't so". The anniversary of the birth of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson passed this week (July 16, 1889) without notice. Any 'reel' baseball fan knows the legend of "Shoeless" Joe.

If you don't, get down to Blockbuster and rent "Eight Men Out". The 1988 film chronicles the actions of Jackson and his teammates through some of the darkest days of baseball.


The Chicago White Sox, one of the greatest teams to ever grace a baseball diamond, threw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Too many unsavory characters knew "the fix was in" and the eight players involved got caught.


"Shoeless" Joe was an unwitting participant. Probably because he listened to people he thought were smarter than he was. Jackson was a great ballplayer, but he wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer.

In 1921, the newly appointed commissioner of baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned Joe Jackson and the seven others from baseball - for life. For "Shoeless" Joe, baseball was his life. The banishment was tantamount to a death sentence.

Baseball lost one of its greatest players. For the record, Jackson, a "shoe-in" for the Hall of Fame, batted .375 in that tainted World Series and played the field flawlessly. Was he really part of the "conspiracy"?

Criminal charges were brought against the popular ball players. It took a jury of White Sox fans about two hours to acquit the eight stars. The jurors then hoisted the players on their shoulders and marched them out of the courtroom, cheering.

O.K., so it took me 267 words to make this point: Fans don't want to hear it! Here's a case where a real, honest to goodness scandal existed, and the people of Chicago were still one hundred percent behind their sports heroes.

At his final appearance in an All-Star game on July 10, Cal Ripken gave all the baseball fans in the world another reason to keep watching and rooting by hitting a first-pitch fastball over the left field wall.

Was that "feel-good" moment too good to be true? Many of the sports media thought so. And so was spawned the so-called "conspiracy theory".

Cal, who has 424 career home runs, couldn't possibly provide us with such drama on his own. He must have had some help. There must have been a "conspiracy". How else can you explain it?

Those sportswriters that saw the absurdity of such a theory have spent thousands of words disputing those claims with rational explanations - only fueling the fire.

I say, about the "theory" and its rebuttal, sportsfans don't want to hear it!

I read an article about this issue where the writer stated "The cynic has replaced the child in most of us". I say, speak for yourself! Maybe the cynic has replaced the child in most sportswriters. Maybe most sportswriters have become too close to the subjects they cover. Maybe most sportswriters have lost touch with the common fan.

The average Joe or Jane experiences enough stress in his/her day. Leisure time is at a premium. For some, escape from the grind is as simple as taking a bath. For others, like me, it's "take me out to the ball game". A six-dollar cup of beer, a couple of big foam fingers for the boys and I'm in heaven.

Cal's homerun was one of those feel-good moments in sports that helps most of us cope with the realities of life. Like Lance Armstrong battling back from cancer to win the Tour de France. Like Ray Bourque winning his first Stanley Cup after 22 all-star seasons. Like Dale, Jr. winning at Daytona in the first NASCAR race there since his father's death on the track in February.

Leave it alone. I don't want to feel good about such moments in sport only to be told by some sportswriter the next morning that I may have been duped.

The fact is the main attraction of sports is witnessing the extraordinary manner in which ordinary people perform.

I wasn't happy when I found out there is no Santa Claus, I don't want to know what the C.I.A. does to maintain national security, and a surely do not want the cloud of doubt cast over the heroics of our sports stars.

There is plenty of bad news to write about without concocting "conspiracy theories" about the great feel-good moments in sports. The sportswriter whose inner child has been kidnapped by cynicism should look for a beat covering the economy, or foreign affairs or, better still, politics (where cynicism is a virtue).

* * * * *

On July 6, 1933, the very first baseball All-Star game was played. It was hyped as the "Game of the Century".

In the third inning, Babe Ruth took a pitch from Wild Bill Hallahan and drove it over the right field wall into the stands at Comisky Park. The game's greatest home run hitter had just hit the first home run in the history of the midsummer classic.

Was it just one of many magical moments in the world of sports? Or was he served up a "cabbage" to help the game live up to the hype?

Say it ain't so, Babe. Say it ain't so.


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