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Way past time to forgive Shoeless Joe ...

With all the talk about forgiveness that hovers around the sports world and its real-world counterpart of politics, it seemed like a good time to revisit the one guy that been most visibly left out of that circle for nearly 100 years: Joe Jackson.

Eight Men Out.jpg

Imagine that. More than a half century after his death, we still can’t bring ourselves around to cutting Shoeless Joe a bit of slack for whatever his misdeed entailed a full 91 years ago.

So while we ponder what do make of a dozen or more All-Star ballplayers from the steroid era – and 100 or so others whose names on a certain list have somehow miraculously avoided the light of day – we seemingly ignore a guy whose guilty role in the taint surrounding the 1919 World Series has never been all that clear cut.

Eventually the Hall of Fame is going to have to come to terms with the distorted statistics from a decade-plus of pharmacologically enhanced batting skills, so here’s hoping that whenever that happens, there might be an attendant push to revisit Jackson’s alleged malfeasance.

This all comes up because I am working on a feature story about Shoeless Joe for this week’s issue (March 19) of Sports Collectors Digest, plus he’s also in the news a bit these days thanks to Upper Deck. The Carlsbad, Calif.-based company will make cards of the baseball great, starting with its 2010 regular-issue product that also includes pasteboards of Pete Rose and Sarah Palin. Don’t ask.

Personally, I think the continued condemnation of Jackson’s hotly debated role in the 1919 World Series is nothing short of silly. I would call it malicious, except that Jackson’s been gone for so long that seems like a stretch. Still, I have no doubt there are descendants of the great ballplayer who would like see his rightful place in baseball history reconfigured a bit to account for the ambiguity surrounding the admittedly sordid maneuvering in 1919.

The only remotely rational explanation I can see for continuing Jackson’s “Permanently Ineligible” MLB status is for deterrence, and I think that would be a bit of overkill. A lifetime ban plus 50 years would likely be sufficiently scary to any ballplayers coming up today to keep them from being seduced by gambling interests.

And just to keep it all in perspective, who exactly is the preeminent gambling proponent in 21st century America? Why, that would be 39 or so of our beloved states, all promoting the various games of chance as a means of shoring up sagging state revenues.

We ought to re-examine Joe’s situation for no other reason than to avoid having our collective brains explode from the mind-numbing hypocrisy of having such finely honed moral outrage about activities so ardently embraced by our elected officials.