Eight men still out.
No, it’s not particularly surprising that Commissioner Rob Manfred won’t be taking a truly serious look at the case for Buck Weaver’s reinstatement, nearly a century after Weaver and the seven other Black Sox were permanently suspended.
I might have done exactly the same th— Actually, no. I wouldn’t have. I would have taken a serious look at Weaver’s case, because I consider it a serious matter. What’s been disappointing about Commissioner Rob’s tenure, to this point, isn’t that he doesn’t consider things, but rather that he seems unwilling to consider them seriously. When he’s asked about the ever-rising strikeout rates and the ever-dropping run production, he seems to be completely unaware that there a lot of really smart people in his office who actually have data bearing upon the matter. Instead, he just sort of waves his hand in the air and says these things are "cyclical" or "have a way of correcting themselves."
Which brings me to Buck Weaver. Weaver’s family, and in particular a niece who was essentially raised like Weaver’s daughter, have been working for many years to clear his name. Their argument, as I understand it, is that while Weaver did know about the World Series fix, he played his best and received no money from the gamblers. Which can’t legitimately be said about any of the other Black Sox (sorry, not even Shoeless Joe). Also, Weaver had a bit of an Everyman quality. You know, like John Cusack.
In declining to reopen the Weaver case, Manfred was gracious enough to send a polite two-page letter to David Fletcher, founder of the Chicago Baseball Museum, and Fletcher was gracious enough to share that letter with me.
What’s most striking to me is that Manfred essentially begins with an account of a pre-Series meeting, as recounted by Chick Gandil in 1956:
They all were interested and thought we should reconnoiter to see if the dough would really be put on the line. Weaver suggested we get paid in advance; then if things got too hot, then we could double-cross the gambler, keep the cash and take the big end of the Series by beating the Reds. We agreed this was a hell of a brainy plan.
I’m reminded of a Chinese proverb: "The palest ink is better than the best memory" … and I doubt if acknowledged crook Chick Gandil’s 37-year-old memory was close to the best. So when Manfred begins his letter with a nearly worthless statement from Gandil, it’s hard to place much faith in whatever might follow.
What does follow? Well, essentially Manfred credits the severe punishment meted out to all eight Black Sox for tiny number of gambling scandals in Major League Baseball since 1920, and suggests that it’s far too late to second-guess the decision made by Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Baseball’s first commissioner.
"It seems to me," Manfred writes, "that it is nearly impossible to accurately recreate the sense of threat to the integrity of Major League Baseball posed by the events of 1919 as it was understood by Commissioner Landis in 1920."
Pardon me for asking, but who cares? The question shouldnt be whether or not Weaver’s actions seemed a threat in 1920, but whether they were a significant threat and, more to the point, what those actions actually were.
A brigade of researchers have uncovered all sorts of evidence in recent years that Landis didn’t have. Evidence he probably would have ignored anyway, since he wasn’t all that interested in justice.
It might reasonably be argued that the future of professional baseball was well-served by Landis’s decision, and if the price was a small bit of fairness … well, so be it. But while many crimes do come with a legal statute of limitations, justice should not. And Manfred’s casual dismissal of new evidence while relying on ancient and shaky "history" is, at the very least, beneath his high office.