I suppose it was about 25 years ago that my then-wife and I were actively circulating petitions to try to get Shoeless Joe Jackson’s lifetime ban lifted. This was a few years before the movie “Field of Dreams” that gave Jackson perhaps his biggest boost of mainstream public recognition.
When Susan and I were carting petitions around the University of Delaware and asking strangers to sign, it’s possible that some of those Blue Hen undergrads may have thought they were really taking up the cause of fighting apartheid, but I swear we never did anything deceptive. Ultimately, I think we rounded up about 400 signatures, which we turned into the sponsoring organization, which was planning to present them to the South Carolina state legislature, which I think crafted a resolution urging that the ban be lifted.
Over the years I haven’t lost any of my enthusiasm for the idea, but aside from the jump in Joe Jackson interest in 1989 with the release of the film, Joe hasn’t fared that well in the mainstream.
Over that same span, he came into his own in our hobby, however. Even without the official blessing of the Hall of Fame, hobbyists have treated Jackson like an immortal all along, and just over the last decade the highest-graded examples of his “rookies” and Cracker Jack cards have soared to the stratosphere, to say nothing of the handful of game-used bats out there.
For much of that time I’ve hoped that Joe would get a boost from the public’s interest in Pete Rose (shown in artwork by Arthur K. Miller; www.artofthegame.com), but I may have misjudged the utility of that phenomenon, if in fact it ever existed. Almost from the start of Pete’s, uh, difficulties, he proclaimed there should be no link between Jackson and himself, though admittedly that was when he was insisting that he hadn’t actually bet on baseball.
As much as I cling to a kind of benighted cynicism, I still hold out hope that someday Major League Baseball will lift the ban on both of them, if for no other reason than sound public relations. In a nation that so proudly congratulates itself on its capacity for forgiveness, one would think there has to come a point when it’s fair to say that both of them have been adequately penalized for their respective transgressions.