Saturday, September 05, 2009

Lawyers cast doubt on groundbreaking Black Sox book

Urban "Red" Faber in 1917

An extensive article in Chicago Lawyer challenges the account of the Black Sox Scandal as presented in the 1960s by the late Eliot Asinof in "Eight Men Out."

The article is making the case that Shoeless Joe Jackson was innocent in the 1919 World Series fix and should be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

It's an interesting article, but I'm not convinced.

That Red Faber was an Asinof source was affirmed when the late author's notes were reviewed. No surprise there.

However, the authors took issue with Faber as a source, apparently, because Faber did not actually pitch in the 1919 Series. They made it seem that Faber was laid up with the Spanish Flu, which had reached pandemic levels in 1918, and not in a position to observe.

That someone did not play does not mean he was not present. Faber was on the Sox roster for the Series, but after being ineffective or inactive for much of the last half of the 1919 season -- after-effects of the flu earlier in the year caused weight loss and no doubt contributed to his ineffectiveness -- he was not used. He attended each of the eight games of the series.

Further, the article does not address Asinof's contention that the Black Sox figures continued to lose some games in 1920. Faber himself told Asinof about it -- and Red was a victim of indifferent and bonehead play by the Black Sox figures, including Jackson.

Jackson's defenders point out that Shoeless Joe played errorless defense and hit the only home run of the 1919 Series. True. However, defenders can hurt their team without being charged with an error. A throw a little late to a base. Or thrown to a wrong base. Or missing a cutoff man. And the home run? It came in the third inning of the final game, when the Sox already trailed 5-0. Hardly a game-changing moment, but a homer nonetheless. Does that prove that Jackson played his best throughout the series? No one alive will ever know for sure.

Asinof is not necessary the last word in Black Sox research -- the recently deceased Gene Carney was a contemporary expert, and he expanded upon, affirmed and clarified Asinof's findings. I don't consider myself an expert. But after researching Faber and Ray Schalk, I am not ready to go along with the magazine article's authors, who focus on Asinof, overlook questionable events in 1920 games, disregard that Faber was present during the 1919 Series and ignore subsequent research and findings about the Black Sox.

Did Shoeless Joe get a raw deal? Let the debate continue.

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