Time again for the latest installment of the Hall of Fame. Remember this Hall attempts to determine what a Hall of Fame instituted in 1901 would look like and how it would differ from the current Hall of Fame. Here’s the newest class and the commentary that follows.
Sherwood “Sherry” Magee began play for the Philadelphia Nationals in 1904 and retired following the 1919 World Series, in which he played for the He stole home 23 times and racked up 44o total stolen bases over his career, second most in National League history. Winner of four RBI titles, he won the 1910 National League batting title as well as leading his league in doubles hits and runs once each while playing a superior left field.
And the commentary:
1. I have no problem adding Magee to the 1901 version of the Hall of Fame. He was well-known, particularly for his stolen bases. He was, in 1926 involved in umpiring and was thus able to keep his name in the public eye. Cooperstown has not seen fit to embrace him. For what it’s worth, he died in 1929 so in my world he’d get to make an acceptance speech.
2. But most of the 1926 discussion would be taken up by who isn’t listed above, the members of the 1919 Black Sox. One reason I held Magee for 1926 is so he, a member of the winning Reds in 1919, could go into my Hall of Fame in the same year the Black Sox players become eligible. It seemed like the kind of thing that might be done to rub salt into the wounds of the Black Sox. In fact, I deliberately held the class to one player in order to emphasize the damage done by the Black Sox. I’ll try to explain that below.
3. There are three Black Sox that might legitimately get some consideration for an 1926 Hall of Fame: Eddie Cicotte, Joe Jackson, and Buck Weaver (alphabetically). None of the others have the numbers or in some cases the 10 years of Major League play to gain consideration. But if you tried hard you might be able to make a case of Cicotte as a premier pitcher, for Weaver as a defensive specialist, and for Jackson because he was “Shoeless Joe.”
4. By 1926 the Sox were receding in the journals and digests of the day (at least those I could find to look over–God bless university libraries). But when they came up in the contemporary press they were almost universally reviled. They were “cheats” and “con men” and a number of other things that might shock the ears of those people who might read this. We’ve begun over the years to see the Black Sox, especially Joe Jackson, as at least semi-sympathetic players who perhaps should, after almost 100 years, be forgiven their sins and allowed back into the good graces of a sport that perhaps more than any other understands and cherishes its history. That ain’t so in 1926 (“ain’t so” being used deliberately). There is no forgiveness for these guys then and no chance any of them would get into a baseball Hall of Fame that existed in 1926. By limiting the class of 1926 to one player, especially a 1919 Reds player, it points out the lack of Black Sox players like Jackson and Cicotte who might otherwise be standing on a podium with Magee. Imagine this conversation: “Where’s Joe Jackson, Dad? Hasn’t he been gone five years?” “Jackson’s a crook, son, and he doesn’t deserve to stand there with a true Hall of Famer.”
5. As I left a “character clause” out of this Hall, it is possible that by now they, especially Jackson, might be given some sort of ticket into the Hall because there has been something of a movement to understand what happened in 1919 and not blame the players, at least not totally, for what occurred. There are lots of reasons for this. First, it’s been a long, long time (almost 100 years) and its tough for some to hold a grudge that long (although others seem to have no trouble). Second, Jackson’s illiteracy is seen as a mitigating factor in his defense. Of course that confuses unlettered with stupid and that needs to be pointed out. The Movie Eight Men Out places much of the blame on Charles Comiskey, the owner. Also the movie Field of Dreams was a huge hit and still well-loved and well liked. It makes Jackson (played well by Ray Liotta) a tragic figure who earns at least partial redemption by helping Ray Kinsella to reconcile with his father. Both make good theater, but none of that is around in 1926. Whatever my personal beliefs, and if you’ve read me much you know I think they should all be consigned to the lower reaches of hell (I’d rather put “Stonewall” Jackson in the Hall of Fame than “Shoeless” Joe Jackson–and as far as I know “Stonewall” had never even heard of baseball), it’s evident that there is simply no way any member of the 1919 Black Sox were getting into any Hall of Fame.
6. The Class of 1927 brings me up against another guy or two like Clark Griffith or Comiskey. Neither is a Hall of Famer (at least in my opinion) based on any single aspect of their career, but the totality of their contribution is such that I had to consider them. I’m running up against that again next month. Also 1926 saw the death of one of the earliest pioneering players and I want to see how much of an uptick there is in references to him. If he’s getting a lot of positive obit press then I’ll have to decide if it’s enough to get him a sympathy vote to a Hall. I’m surprised at how much of that there is in the real Hall of Fame. As it exists there, I claim the privilege of doing the same.
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