Around the time the Philadelphia Phillies wrap up their Thursday afternoon matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees will be getting set for the “MLB Field of Dreams Game” in Dyersville, Iowa at the site of the filming of the 1989 classic.
The Academy Award-nominated movie portrays the purity and authenticity of America’s pastime. Its characterization of the special aura surrounding the game of baseball makes it one of the greatest sports movies of all time. The major-league game played in the same cornfields of Iowa will evoke the same sense of nostalgia for baseball fans.
The featured MLB legend of the film is “Shoeless” Joe Jackson – played by Ray Liotta – who was banished by MLB officials following accusations of his involvement in the fixing of the 1919 World Series, known as the “Black Sox” scandal, when eight Chicago White Sox players were accused of being paid to lose the fall classic.
When the players were found not guilty in court, MLB’s newly-appointed first-ever commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, issued them lifetime bans from organized baseball. Despite statistical evidence and petitions, Landis remained firm. Over a century later, the eight men remain out.
‘Field of Dreams’ recaps this part of Jackson’s life in moderate detail, but did you know that there are two long-forgotten connections between the city of Philadelphia, the scandal, and Jackson himself?
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson- Up-and-coming Philadelphia Legend?
Jackson began his Hall of Fame-caliber big league career as a member of the former Philadelphia Athletics during the tenure of the legendary Connie Mack. He saw limited action during the 1909 and 1910 seasons but never made the jump from a promising prospect to a standout major-leaguer.
A native of rural South Carolina, he had trouble adjusting to life in a big city like Philadelphia. His teammates teased him about being illiterate, and Mack “reluctantly decided that Joe would never succeed in Philadelphia.”
Jackson was dealt away in July 1910 to the Cleveland Naps for Bris Lord and $6,000. He finished his short-lived A’s career with only six hits in 40 at-bats. The change of scenery benefited him, as he hit .387 over 20 games in 1910. In his first full season in the big leagues in 1911, he hit .408 for Cleveland and led all of MLB with a .468 OBP. The next two years, he led everyone in hits, as well as a slew of other offensive categories. He finished in the top nine in MVP voting four years in a row beginning in 1911.
It is also worth noting – aside from the obvious mess that ended his major league career with Chicago – that Shoeless Joe’s move from Cleveland to the White Sox was also due to an unideal fit. However, he can be considered the first of many star athletes who failed to find proper footing in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Phillies and the Revelation of the Black Sox Scandal
The Phillies limped to a 47-90-1 finish in 1919. They couldn’t sniff the success of the White Sox or the Cincinnati Reds, the National League representatives in the World Series. However, the scandal might never have been fully revealed if it weren’t for a suspicious situation surrounding a Phillies-Cubs game in August 1920.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, whispers of the Black Sox scandal were unsubstantiated leading up to another supposed fix. Having received cautionary tips of unusually large amounts of money being placed on the Phillies in a regular-season game that was hardly a spotlight matchup, the Cubs scratched their starting pitcher in an attempt to avoid a potential catastrophe. The Phillies still won 3-0, with two key runs coming off a sloppy Chicago error.
Although no solid evidence ever fully materialized, the Cubs released all seven of the players rumored to be involved following the 1920 season.
The Inquirer connected the “political and public pressure ramping up” in response to the rumored Phillies-Cubs fix to the main rationale used to convene the Illinois grand jury that eventually investigated the fixing of the World Series the previous year.
Bill Maharg, a former lightweight boxer from North Philadelphia, was allegedly integral in the first steps of initiating the 1919 fix. When the grand jury was formed, he fed key information to a Philadelphia sportswriter.
The grand jury, even with Maharg as a witness, never fully proved that the White Sox threw the World Series. Jackson’s own stats from the series indicate that he did not aid his teammates in throwing the fall classic. However, public exposure and legal pursuit of the greatest scandal in sports history might’ve never come to fruition without revelations following a seemingly trivial late-season Phillies game in 1920.