2004-02-26: Eight Men Out

Eight Men Out

The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series (1963)

Eliot Asinof (1919-2008)

Knowing hardly anything about the 1919 World Series, it was easy to feel sympathetic for Shoeless Joe, after the sentimental treatment in the book of that title. Knowing little, it was easy to feel sympathetic for Pete Rose, after the apparently over-harsh treatment he received. After reading this book, I am no longer sympathetic.

Asinof’s description of the moral atmosphere of the time is chilling. The attitudes of gamblers and con men, and of their lawyers, is understandable. It’s a shame that civilization must be infested with people like that, but there is no obvious solution to that problem. It’s also a shame that public officials, from police officers to judges, legislators, and elected executives, are corrupt. It’s a shame that men like Charles Comiskey treat their employees so badly that they feel they can never get paid their due by honest means. It’s a shame that men who want to earn a living playing a game in front of spectators should treat the fans who support them with such contempt.

It’s easy to feel empathy for men like Jackson, trapped in a system and utterly without control over their careers. It’s easy to feel empathy for Rose, too, for making a mistake; nobody is perfect. But baseball is an escapist pleasure for fans. It should have the kind of purity that Comiskey and others tried to pretend it had, with their ineffective investigations and coverups. If the threat of banishment from the game is what it takes, and everyone is to take it seriously, there can be no sympathy for those who try to defy the threat.

This book is unusual in that it shows a moral lesson, while at the same time showing that powerful men got away with immoral activity, while the powerless suffered for believing they could get away with it. A shortened version of this story could well be useful in schools.

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the poem Casey At The Bat. Only recently, I noticed the last line of the second stanza:

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought if only Casey could but get a whack at that–
We’d put up even money now with Casey at the bat.

This was published in 1888, 31 years before gambling was exposed in the World Series.


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