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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Chicago Proud
for Our Sox!

by George Bova

Shoeless, Weaver & Rose:
No Groveling in Baseball

by George Bova

News of Pete Rose confessing about betting on baseball immediately reminded me of this most poignant quote ever written about the Chicago White Sox and the game's greatest fall guy...

"Don't bring up Buck Weaver, or how he looked that last time you saw him.  
Begging a reporter six months out of high school to clear his name so he could play again.
'I'll play for nothing, tell 'em.  Just one season, tell em!'." 
 -- Nelson Algren

Algren is quite likely the greatest Chicago writer to have ever lived. He wrote City on the Make, perhaps the quintessential essay about America's Second City. Predictably, he was also a devoted fan of the White Sox. I have little doubt what Algren might have to say about the latest news about Pete Rose, because Algren knew injustice when he saw it and he never had a problem writing about hypocrisy either. And Lord knows there is plenty of injustice and plenty of hypocrisy surrounding today's Pete Rose, just as surely as there was plenty of injustice and hypocrisy surrounding the eight Sox ballplayers banned from baseball in Algren's time.

It's what makes Sox Fans like Nelson Algren completely different from everyone else. And it's why the Pete Rose story has such deep, visceral meaning for Sox Fans like me.

Some baseball fans just don't get it, and I'm quite certain the most hardheaded of them will never get it. Baseball's Hall of Fame exists for only one good reason: to glorify the achievements of the sport's greatest contributors! There is NO good purpose to having a hall of fame that doesn't meet this yardstick. Every sport has it figured out. Every hall of fame glorifies their greatest, even if they have to overlook a few transgressions of their inducted luminaries -- for example, Paul Hornung's gambling or any of Michael Jordan's multiple obsessions. Every sport knows the true purpose of its hall of fame except baseball. Only baseball's uses its hall of fame to denigrate, pull down, and otherwise pull apart its greatest. And only baseball could seriously think its hall of fame is better for denigrating its best.

In a sport where stardom equals success more than 3 out of 10 times, baseball's hall of fame struggles to reach the Mendoza Line.

Joe Jackson... Buck Weaver... and now Pete Rose, too. When will these poor bastards ever get a clue? There is no groveling in baseball.

Pete Rose is condemned today because he dared to grovel for the hall of fame. He changed his story, and thus in the narrow minds of his greatest detractors he is quite obviously guilty of whatever it was they cynically had already made up their minds up about him anyway. Pete just handed them the greatest favor their side ever received, the favor of saying, "I told you so."

And they think they've proven a point about Rose? Too funny... they only proved the point about themselves. False witness and kangaroo justice is all they ever needed to make up their minds. Who is kidding who?

Pete Rose has changed his story not because it was coaxed out of him. He changed his story because changing his story is the last desperate hope he clings to for entering the hall of fame before leaving this Earth. His old story wasn't going to work! His last attempt in 2004 failed. He said as much when he stated, "I really thought I was going to be reinstated. Something changed [Selig's] mind."

Whatever plea agreement Rose and Bart Giamatti agreed to was buried with the late commissioner. That plea agreement is a fact baseball investigator John Dowd has never come to terms with, nor those who slavishly believe his ongoing nonsense about the actual series of events, now fully 20 years old and still going strong. Reality was never commissioner Faye Vincent's strong suit either, so Rose's case was buried until Vincent was inevitably shown the door for crimes far worse than anything Rose ever committed: the crime of thinking the owners weren't in charge of Major League Baseball.

Vincent is out of baseball just as surely as John Dowd. Yes, the owners run baseball. The owners run all the other professional sports, too, and a couple dozen of the biggest commercial athletic combines (in places like South Bend, Indiana and Tuscaloosa, Alabama) run the NCAA. Eureka! There is no Santa Claus either.

Can we all start dealing in reality?

What Algren had no trouble noting about Weaver's situation was the injustice that a ballplayer who didn't squeal on his friends should receive a lifetime ban from baseball. The more he groveled, the more guilty he looked.

If Jackson attempted to return the money to Sox secretary Harry Grabiner-- a fact nobody seriously denies occurred -- and nothing can be found in his 1919 World Series play to suggest he was throwing games either in the field or the plate, what exactly has he done to deserve a lifetime ban?

Could the real problem here not be the actions (or motives) of either Jackson or Weaver, but the lack of justice underpinning what is being meted out?

And who's justice? Not the justice provided by the United States Constitution. Jackson and Weaver were acquitted in a court of law. Not the Magna Carta or English common law either. They provide the very rights which Weaver, Jackson and now Rose have exercised: the right of appeal.

No, the "justice" being served by their lifetime bans is that created wholly by Kennesaw Landis, the hand-picked arbiter of the owners. Not especially known for any level of reasonable jurisprudence on the bench (his most famous ruling, a $29 million fine against the Standard Oil trust, was set aside by another court), Landis gave us the "no gambling or lifetime banishment" rule. Later, he made Jackie Robinson the most significant ballplayer in the history of the sport -- precisely because it was Landis as commissioner who kept blacks out of the sport right through to his death. Quite a guy...

You can follow the tinhorn rules created by the likes of Kennesaw Landis. You can deny the game's greatest ballplayers from the hall of fame, too. It's your right. It's this very same right Bill James was claiming when he wrote this back in 1985...

My own opinion as to whether or not Joe Jackson should be put in the Hall of Fame is that of course he should; it is only a question of priorities.
I think there are other equally great players who should go first like Billy Williams... Ed McKean, Pete Browning... Al Rosen, Roy Sievers...
maybe Mrs. Babe Ruth and Mrs. Ruth Gehrig... and then, at last, when every honest ballplayer who has ever played the game, at any
level from Babe Ruth ball through the majors ... every coach, writer, umpire and organist... has been given his due,
then I think we should hold our noses and make room for Joe Jackson to join the Hall of Fame.
-- Bill James Historical Abstract (1985), p. 376

Maybe James thinks he was making a point about Jackson, but he only made the point about himself and those agreeing with him about Jackson. A hall of fame like the one James would have for baseball is a hall of fame not worth having. The nonsense he wrote here is the logical conclusion for which every single one of Rose's, Jackson's, and Weaver's detractors must ultimately defend. It's their logic, too!

I have no problem noting that Bill James made a first-class ass of himself when he wrote such nonsense. I wonder if those agreeing with James ever bothered to think it through? I'm guessing they haven't.

Rose doesn't deserve your hate. He deserves your sympathy -- sympathy for being reduced to such a pathetic level.

That's what Algren knew and wrote about over 50 years ago.

It is what this Sox Fan knows today, too.

George Bova is editor and founder of White Sox Interactive. You can write George at

More features from George Bova here!

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