Originally created 01/31/98

'Splendid Splinter' goes to bat for Shoeless Joe



BOSTON -- Ty Cobb called him "the greatest natural hitter I ever saw." Babe Ruth copied his swing.

But baseball threw Shoeless Joe Jackson out for his alleged role in tanking the 1919 World Series. As a result, he also has been barred from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Now, Ted Williams says it's time to let him in.

"He served his sentence," Williams, baseball's last .400 hitter, said from his Florida home. "How severely does a person have to be punished?"

Williams and fellow Hall of Famer Bob Feller have petitioned the baseball commissioner's office to clear Jackson's name and make him eligible for entry into the Hall. Jackson died in 1951.

"The Splendid Splinter," who hit .406 in 1941, and Feller, who threw three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters, want Jackson's candidacy to be submitted to the Veteran's Committee, of which Williams is a voting member.

Williams also used the occasion of his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1966 to lobby for opening the Hall's doors to black players. And he went out of his way to welcome Larry Doby, the first black to play in the American League.

The case for Jackson is simple, he said.

"It was a lifetime ban," he said. "His life is over."

Williams said there's little if any proof that Jackson tried to throw any of the Series games. "He had no errors, he batted .375, and he got 12 hits, which was a series record," Williams said.

Baseball doesn't seem to know what to do with the petition.

"It's more like a legal brief," Rich Levin, a spokesman for the commissioner's office, said. "Our lawyers are looking at it. The subject has come up before, but this time the tack is different."

Williams argues that Jackson should have his name cleared, not because he's innocent but because he's served his time.

"You're going to find some of the top people in the game, who have a special feeling about this," Williams said. "A lot of people feel that he suffered the most."

Williams never met Jackson, but has seen the movies and read the books about the "Black Sox" scandal that ended the career of the player whose .356 average over 13 seasons is third highest in the history of the majors.

Williams' sharpest image of Jackson developed from a conversation he had decades ago with Eddie Collins, a White Sox teammate in 1919 who was not accused in the scandal.

"When I asked Eddie Collins what kind of a player was Joe Jackson, he closed his eyes and dropped his head, and he looked skyward, and said, `Boy, what a player he was.' Anybody who ever saw him felt that way about Joe Jackson," Williams said.

Williams is convinced that Jackson was led astray by "some sharpies" on the team.

Eight White Sox players were acquitted of criminal charges, after court transcripts of testimony by Jackson and pitcher Eddie Cicotte mysteriously disappeared. The day after the court case ended, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banished all eight players from the game for life.

"Landis was out there with a special mission," Williams said. "He was trying to get baseball cleaned up, and he was given a great deal of discretion."

Last year, more than 90,000 people from Jackson's hometown of Greenville, S.C., where they have named a highway after him, also signed a petition asking baseball to let him into Cooperstown. The state Legislature also has made a pitch.

Cooperstown is waiting for a sign. "We're a third party at this point," Baseball Hall of Fame spokesman John Ralph said. "Joe Jackson, having been suspended, is ineligible for election to the Hall of Fame. As long as baseball deems him ineligible, according to our rules, he cannot be considered. If they say he is eligible, he can be."