Sunday, January 11, 2004

Rose's confession reopens debate about 'Shoeless' Joe

If Rose allowed in Hall, where would Jackson's place be?

Florida Today

When Ted Williams died in July 2002, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson's chances of getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame seemingly went with him.

Williams had moved to the forefront of the crusade to get Jackson into the Baseball Hall of Fame late in life. Too late, it appeared.

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Indeed, if Jackson makes it to Cooperstown any time soon, it won't be because of one of baseball's most revered figures as much as it will be because of one of baseball's most disgraced figures.

Call Pete Rose's apology in his recently released book and a national TV interview disingenuous. Call it a transparent ploy to get reinstated by commissioner Bud Selig. But what some see as purely a selfish act might end up benefiting someone else.

The possibility that Rose's confession will get him into the Hall of Fame raises the hopes of Jackson supporters that "Shoeless" Joe, too, one day will receive baseball's highest honor. For if Rose, who admittedly gambled on baseball and lied about it for 14 years, makes the Hall, they argue, surely the player who was acquitted of the gambling charges that led to his banishment from baseball belongs, as well.

"If Bud Selig clears Rose, then the doors to the church of baseball will be blown clean off the hinges, and Joe will stride down center aisle and take his rightful place on the first pew," Mike Nola said.

Nola founded the Shoeless Joe Jackson Virtual Hall of Fame in 1996. He initially believed what others believe to this day: Jackson was guilty of gambling for the role he played in fixing the 1919 World Series. But extensive research turned the once-skeptical Nola into one of Jackson's biggest backers.

Nola is the first to admit that Jackson's acquittal of gambling charges doesn't exonerate him. He believes Jackson was a pawn in the scandal that rocked baseball, not a major player in it.

Longtime baseball writer Jerome Holtzman doesn't buy Jackson's innocence.

"If you let Pete Rose or anyone else in," Holtzman said, "you're saying 'Crime pays.' "

Rose ultimately might give the Jackson movement the push it needs.

"If you make an exception for Pete Rose's case, what does it do to the notion of the unforgivable sin that you cannot bet on baseball?" said Philadelphia Daily News writer Paul Hagan, the outgoing president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Whether the two cases are comparable is debatable. What is certain is that Jackson supporters will be waiting to see what Selig does in response to Rose's confession.

For if Rose becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame, surely Jackson deserves the chance to make it to Cooperstown.

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