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Fighting to Clear Shoeless Joe’s Name With BC-BBO--Shoeless Joe

July 22, 1989

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) _ The Shoeless Joe Jackson Historical Society thinks its man has suffered enough.

″For 70 years, this has lingered and festered,″ said South Carolina Rep. Jim Mattos, D-Greenville, a member of the society, which is fighting to clear Jackson’s name. ″Now’s the time to make it right. I think the penalty’s been severe enough.″

Jackson, who died on Dec. 5, 1951, at 63 in his native South Carolina, and seven other Chicago White Sox players were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series to Cincinnati for money from gamblers.

A jury found the eight innocent of trying to ″defraud the public,″ but Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis issued a statement a few hours later in which he said: ″Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ball game ... will ever play professional baseball.″

But Jackson backers, who want to see their man in the Hall of Fame, said the ban was not justified given the facts.

″All everyone ever associated with Joe Jackson was the fact that he was one of the eight that threw the World Series,″ Mattos said in an interview. ″No one ever said anything about any of his stats, how he played or what he tried to do. Or that he was found not guilty in court.″

But that’s all changing, Mattos said, thanks to the release of two movies - ″Eight Men Out″ and ″Field of Dreams.″ The former focuses on the World Series itself and the players’ roles in the fix; the latter is a fantasy about Jackson that treats him as a resurrected hero.

″Before the movies, did anybody know what he did in the World Series he supposedly threw?″ Mattos said.

Even now, Mattos said, if a person who had not seen the movies was asked about Joe Jackson, the response would be predictable.

″If you asked them, ‘How about Joe Jackson? What do you know about him? What did he do in the World Series?’ They’d say, ‘Let’s see, he threw it,‴ Mattos said. ‴But how’d he play?’ They’d say, ‘I don’t know.’

″That’s been the problem all along. The facts are there.″

The facts are impressive. Jackson hit .375 with a record-tying 12 hits, including three doubles and the only home run in the eight-game World Series won by Cincinnati. Jackson also had 15 putouts in leftfield and did not make any errors.

What Jackson did or did not do off the field is not so clear. Some claim Jackson took $5,000; others say he found the money in his room and tried to return it to White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, who refused to speak to him.

Jackson added to the confusion by testifying before a grand jury that he refused the money. He later said he did take some money.

Lester Erwin, a distant cousin of Jackson’s and the co-founder of the society, said whether Jackson took the money ″doesn’t matter.″

″That’s no big deal to me,″ he said. ″The thing that’s the real proof to me is what he did on the field during the World Series. If they had that World Series this day and time, he’d be the most valuable player.″

Erwin and others in the society feel the time is right to have Jackson’s name cleared mainly because of the movies. But while the movies are recent, the movement to get Jackson cleared is not.

The society was formed about seven years ago by Erwin and Ray Allen, a teacher in Atlantic City, N.J., with the purpose of seeing Jackson’s name cleared and have him elected to the Hall of Fame.

The society does not collect dues, so there is no membership roll. But Allen said the society counts among its members several lawyers and untold number of grassroot supporters who call Allen about any Jackson-related article, broadcast or other tidbit.

″We want his story before the American public,″ Allen said. ″We know that when the whole story comes out from beginning to end that Joe Jackson is going to be vindicated. Not forgiven. Vindicated. There’s a big difference.″

The society would like to meet with baseball Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti and present the facts as it sees them, in hopes of persuading him to clear Jackson’s name.

There’s just one problem: Pete Rose. The society does not want to approach Giamatti until the swirl of allegations surrounding the Cincinnati manager is resolved.

″We don’t want to throw anything on Giamatti while he’s got this Rose case going on,″ said Joey Bartram, whose grandfather was Jackson’s brother. ″Number one, we don’t think it would be fair to him. Number two, we wouldn’t get the attention we deserve.″

Bartram and others in the society feel if Giamatti will listen with an open mind, they have a good chance of achieving their goals of having Jackson’s name cleared and having him elected to the Hall of Fame.

If that happens, Erwin is willing to give up one of his prized possessions - a bat used by Jackson that was willed to Erwin by Katie Jackson after her death more than seven years after her husband.

″It’s been out of my house only a couple of times,″ Erwin said. ″But I would give it up to the Hall of Fame. If they wanted it, I’d give it up to them.″

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