Joe Jackson: Do the Stats Free or Convict Him?

Now that we’ve all had time to look over Joe Jackson’s batting statistics for the 1919 World Series, it’s time to ask what do they mean? Well, they mean a lot of things and the single most important thing they mean is that you cannot use Jackson’s World Series stats to prove he either was or wasn’t “throwing” the Series.  Had Jackson gone 0 for 21 in the games the White Sox lost, it would still not prove he was tanking. Players have bad games. Eddie Collins had a miserable Series in 1919 and no one believes he was trying to “throw” the Series.  Had Jackson gone 21 for 21 in the same games it would not prove he was playing on the up and up (the type of hits and their results would have to be factored in).  In fact, Jackson’s 1919 World Series stats are a perfect example of why a sole reliance on statistics is an awful way to research baseball. So if you expect me to say that these statistics prove definitely that Jackson was an angel or a slug you’re going to be wasting your time. Having said all that, there are some things we can note about the stats.

1. Let’s start with three small stats: walks, strikeouts, stolen bases. And I emphasize these are small stats (a total of four occurences). Jackson walks once in the Series, in a game the Sox win. It’s game six and he leads off the inning and does not score. For the season he walks 60 times (about 12% of his at bats–and, yes I know a walk doesn’t count as an at bat). That’s not much but is third on the team. The stolen base attempt comes in game 3 after a lead off single. He’s thrown out at second and the stolen base is unsuccessful. By this point in his career Jackson was no longer a prolific base stealer, having stolen only nine all season. For the entire regular season Jackson strikes out 10 times in 516 at bats. He strikes out twice, both in games the Sox lose (once looking, once swinging). The first is the sixth inning of game 2 against Slim Sallee who struck out 24 men all season. This is the one looking. The swinging strikeout is in the eighth inning of game 5 against Jimmy Ring who struck out 61 all season. Both strikeouts in losing efforts. The stolen base attempt, however, is in a winning game and is the only evidence of aggression on the base paths Jackson shows all Series. But it’s a failure. But it’s a failure in a game the Sox were trying to win so maybe we shouldn’t make too much of it one way or the other. The strikeouts worry me more. In point of fact are the only one of these three stats that do worry me. In 516 at bats Jackson strikes out 10 times during the season (as stated above). In 21 at bats in five games he strikeouts twice. And it’s not like Walter Johnson is gunning him down. Sallee and Ring were not major strikeout artists of the era, especially Sallee. Had the strikeouts come against Reds pitcher Hod Eller they might be more expected. Eller struck out 137 men during the season, second in the National League. Is this evidence of “throwing” games? No, but when you equal 20% of your yearly strikeouts in five games, people should notice. But it’s also a very small sample and that fact should not be ignored.

2. Jackson has four extra base hits (3 doubles, one home run), all in games the Sox lose. On first glance that sounds like evidence Jackson was playing it straight in the games Chicago lost. Let’s look at the hits one by one.  The first occurs in game one when he leads off the second inning with a double. He does not score. Well, with the next three batters in the line up being in on the “fix” (Happy Felsch, Chick  Gandil, Swede Risberg in order) he’s fairly safe leading off with a double knowing that there are three outs directly behind him. In fact, Jackson is in a perfect place to do well while “throwing” a game. He hits just in front of three consecutive players actively trying to “fix” the game. He can get on base, knowing the other three guys won’t let you score, at least not very often.  The second double occurs in exactly the same circumstances in game 4. This time he’s bunted to third (a fairly safe play that moves a runner up but doesn’t score him) then two consecutive outs ends the threat. The other double and the home run occur in game 8, the final game. With the score already 5-0, Jackson hits his home run with no one on base. The final double occurs in the eighth inning with an out and men on. The hit scores two runs, but the score when Jackson comes to bat is already 10-1. So here are four extra base hits, but they are reasonably unproductive hits, two leading off an inning with three acknowledged conspirators following in the inning and two coming when the final game is already out of hand. Do these prove Jackson was “throwing” games? As I said above, the stats alone can never prove that, but they worry me a lot, a whole lot.

3. Jackson has three runs and three RBIs in games the team loses, which isn’t a bad number in five games. There are a couple of problems with this theory, however. All three of the RBIs and two of the runs occur in game 8. If you look above at the comment on the extra base hits in reference to game 8 you’ll see how they played out. The only run not in the game 8 blowout was in game 1 and in that circumstance he reached base on a two base error, hardly an endorsement for those claiming he wasn’t throwing games.

So I’ll remind you once again that the statistical record for the 1919 World Series cannot free Jackson of guilt in trying to “throw” the World Series. They also cannot convict Jackson of “throwing” the World Series. They are at best ambivalent. Much more damning are the confession and the money. The confession, without reference to how it disappeared, is at best tainted by the way in which it was obtained. They money is different. There’s no question he took it. Do I think Jackson participated in “fixing” the 1919 World Series? Yes, I do. Do the statistics prove it? No, they don’t, but they also don’t disprove it.

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3 Responses to “Joe Jackson: Do the Stats Free or Convict Him?”

  1. Kevin G Says:

    V, nice series of posts. I’ve always been on the fence regarding Joe Jackson. As you say, the stats don’t settle his guilt or innocence. But, the fact that he took the money, only points to his guilt. He could have very easily given the money to Cicotte, or Williams, and told them to stick it, but he didn’t.
    The guy I feel bad for is Buck Weaver. He shouldn’t be linked with the other 7.
    With all that being said, Pete Rose can continue to rot outside the Hall of Fame. He deserves his banishment 100%.(I always enjoy bashing Pete Rose, it’s very cathartic!!!)

    Kevin

  2. sportsphd Says:

    I agree that the stats are nebulous on Jackson. The World Series is the epitome of small sample size, so you can’t draw firm conclusions from the stats alone. If you wanted, you could argue that anyone who didn’t hit as well as Billy Hatcher in 1990 was throwing the series, but that would be foolish. All sorts of weird things happen in a short series, from mediocre pitchers throwing perfect games to Hall of Famers going 1 for 22 in 1981. The story of Jackson turns on everything we know outside the games. I think the key take away from this series is that the stats don’t get him off. I think there is plenty of information from outside the stats to leave him well and truly convicted.

    • verdun2 Says:

      Agreed. Too often Jackson’s stats are quoted as proof he didn’t participate in any “fix” of the World Series in 1919. Frankly, they just don’t do that.
      v

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