"Shoeless Joe" is certainly a good read; it's a well-crafted discussion of Jackson, the 1919 season and the era in general and baseball's role in it. However, Frommer does himself and the reader a great disservice by allowing his biases to show through so clearly.
Even those of us who believe that Jackson has no place in Cooperstown and no right to reinstatement empathise with the great hitter. It's hard not to - there is every indication Jackson: naif, illiterate and really not very bright - was taken for a ride by more sophisticated team-mates. However, when it comes down to it, there are statements in Jackson's grand jury testimony (which Frommer helpfully includes) that leave us in no doubt as to the probity of Judge Landis' decision to ban him, and Bartlett Giamatti's later upholding of that order. It is at moments like this where Frommer becomes positively disingenuous. He describes Jackson's receipt of the $5,000 dirty money as if it came from the clear blue sky. He paints a silly picture of Jackson wandering around with a stained envelope bulging with money, begging for Comiskey or anyone else to take it, to listen to him. This is sheer nonsense and Frommer knows it. Jackson admits in his testimony that he was expecting $20,000 and was cheated out of the remaining $15,000 by team-mates shiftier than he. His surprise and dismay at this fact Frommer twists into being disgust at being given any money at all!
Jackson was a sympathetic character, to be sure, but no saint. In his testimony, he freely admits to being told the Series was going to be thrown. He insists that he was effectively "forced" to be in on the fix, that he could "take it or leave it", that his name was included without his consent, that he was in and he might as well take the money. It is startling that Frommer believes that gamblers, Mafiosi and crooks operate to a moral code that involves tracking people down who want no involvement in their scam and begging them to accept large cash payments for not doing anything.
Then there is the statistical fudging. Jackson makes much of the fact that he hit well in the Series and made no errors, but outfielders are rarely charged with errors in any case. There were two triples hit to left field when Jackson was playing there - and a triple to left against a high-caliber left fielder is extremely unusual. As for Jackson's production with the bat, his 12 hits seem concentrated in meaningless situations, and his habit of striking out when it got really important is noticeable. One can't conclude for certain that Jackson himself threw games, but the matter is certainly not settled. In any event, given the circumstances, it is almost irrelevant - Jackson was tainted to an extent that made a further career baseball impossible.
Frommer uses another unsavory tactic popular with Jackson's boosters - a headlong attack on Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Landis has posthumously acquired a thoroughly undeserved image as the George Wallace of baseball based on a fishy tale told by Bill Veeck. Frommer minces no words, calling Landis "anti-woman, anti-minority, anti-nonwhite" and a few more antis, too. While personnel decisions for the teams. By attacking Landis in this manner, Frommer seeks to strengthen his case for Jackson. I believe he weakens it, and that the integration card is not one that he should try to play in defense of a hard-nosed white South Carolinian and friend of Ty Cobb.
It is clear that this disingenuity and dishonesty is born of fannish obsession rather than malice, as Frommer gives us the no-holds-barred "Field of Dreams" hero-worship view of Joe. However, it is disingenuous nonetheless. Near the end, Frommer gives us a list of unanswered questions, which are often unanswerable or irrelevant. "If the fix was in, how come Joe hit so well" sorts of things. The real question is:
* Why did Joe think that he was going to get $20,000?
What had he done to earn this money, what had he heard that made him think he was going to get it, what basis did he have for believing he would receive it? Joe testifies that he knew the Series was being fixed and he was expecting to receive $20,000 from those involved. Why? Are we expected to believe that he was sought out and forced to accept this money? Or is it not more likely that his version of events changed somewhat when he only received $5,000? Can you really make a credible defence of someone who knew there was a fix, and took money related to the fix, but then claimed not to be in on the fix and not to do anything to fix the Series?
Frommer includes a quote by Judge Landis which he clearly thinks is unreasonable, but which I think is a keystone of honest baseball:
"Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ball game; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball."
It is sad that the sweet swinging Joe Jackson will never have a plaque in Cooperstown, and that his sensational career was cut off in its prime, but those things are Jackson's fault, not Landis'. We sacrificed that plaque and that career to have clean baseball and it was worth it.