Say It Ain’t So

At 20:07 EST, the 108th World Series will begin, which is not a World Series at all. Rather, it’s a game that spans five days, and the only teams that even have a shot at making the series are those which spend millions upon millions every year, and all are American teams. Baseball has affectionally been called “America’s Past time,” but there has always been a question whether baseball was actually American at all. In 1903 a British sports writer argued that baseball was actually a game created from a British game called rounders. A commission was appointed, and in 1906 it was determined that baseball was, in fact, an American game created on American soil. Thirteen years after the commission made its determinate decision of baseball’s origins, its first major scandal erupted.

The movie Eight Men Out dramatised a period in American baseball that most people would like to forget: the Black Sox scandal of the 1919 World Series. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox conspired with a group of gamblers to intentionally throw the 1919 World Series. The background is unimportant, except to say that even in the months following the end of American involvement in Europe (mostly), money was already a massive motivator in the world of sports; and so, in retaliation of what they felt was inadequate pay, they threw the game. As a result, all eight men were punished with a lifetime ban, even though they were acquitted of any criminal wrong doing. Although the guilt of most of the eight men has been unchallenged, one member maintained his innocence until the day he died.

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s innocence was argued in the film A Field of Dream (which is based on the book Shoeless Joe). Jackson’s character eloquently argues that he had nothing to do with throwing the game, and all he ever wanted was a chance to play baseball again. The Iowa cornfield allows Jackson to, once again, live his dreams of baseball (the field, ironically, actually exists in a Iowa).

The evidence for Jackson’s innocence is far stronger than the evidence for his guilt, although the other seven members of the Black Sox were decidedly guilty. The irony is, the entire situation existed because players felt that they weren’t being paid enough, particularly after their spectacular season. Today, players are paid substantial amounts of money that would have been unheard of in 1919. To Jackson, and his 1919 White Sox team members, the baseball of today would be almost unrecognisable.

The World Series always has the potential to be a surprise, although less so now that baseball has become about profit, rather than talent… even the Black Sox Scandal of 1919 shows how unpredictable the outcome can be (even when it’s intentional). It’s amazing that a game that started in some form around 1790 is still played today, and has become one of the quintessential ideas of “American summers” (along with the 4th of July, and hotdogs), and continues to create dreams of the major leagues. But the World Series is not without its faults, and sometimes it ends up being tragic, rather than inspiring… and in the case of Shoeless Joe, it can end dreams before they’ve really begun.

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