CHICAGO — The White Sox haven’t exactly come at the 100th anniversary of their 1919 American League pennant head-on.
Given the fact — and, more importantly, the reason — they’re not celebrating a ’19 World Series title, that’s understandable.
So, give the White Sox credit for showing “Field of Dreams” at Guaranteed Rate Field after Friday’s game against the Athletics.
Between the screening and Major League Baseball’s announcement Thursday that the Sox will give up a 2020 home game to host the Yankees next to the diamond carved out of an Iowa cornfield for the 1989 movie, this is as close to a commemoration of the so-called Black Sox as anyone can rightly expect.
Folded into the film’s themes about baseball, reconciling with the past and healing psychic wounds, “Field of Dreams” presents a sympathetic portrait of Shoeless Joe Jackson and his seven Sox teammates damned forever to be outcasts by baseball following the plot to throw the ’19 Series they had been favored to win against the Reds.
The decision to align itself with the film and the way it encourages a reconsideration of Shoeless Joe may not be a conscious one for the ballclub, which says the two “Field of Dreams” tie-ins are unrelated.
But any link to the 1919 Black Sox is hard to ignore, no matter how tangential.
To date this season, the team has included an article on what Chicago was like in 1919 in its annual yearbook. A story on Black Sox scandal myths written by a Society for American Baseball Research expert is set to appear in the game program sold at the ballpark beginning Aug 22.
There will be no Black Sox night, no game in which the team wears 1919 uniforms and, while the 40th anniversary of the club’s Disco Demolition forfeit was marked earlier this season with a T-shirt, no commemorative 1919-themed giveaway.
Banning the eight players tied to the Black Sox scandal all those years ago probably saved baseball, which had been dealing with gamblers fixing games back to the mid-19th century and needed the practice to end.
But, as “Field of Dreams” gets at, not all the players were equally culpable.
The recitation of Jackson’s 1919 World Series stats by a post-”Bull Durham” Kevin Costner to his young daughter in the film makes a decent case for the ballplayer played by a pre-”Goodfellas” Ray Liotta.
It’s not as quotable as the “If you build it, he will come” line that inspires Costner’s character to defy common sense and build a baseball field on his farm.
It’s not as beloved and evocative as James Earl Jones’ lyrical “people will come” soliloquy.
Some of the film is over-the-top, to be honest.
The numbers, however, don’t lie.
“I mean, if he was supposed to be throwing it, how do you explain the fact he hit .375 for the series and didn’t commit one error? Huh?” Costner says. “Twelve hits, including the Series’ only home run — and they said he was trying to lose!”
While the movie is gaga over Jackson, talking about how Babe Ruth mimicked his swing and Ty Cobb called him the greatest left fielder of all time, it also conceded he accepted money from gamblers.
In real life, teammate Buck Weaver was even less involved in the fix. Weaver’s great mistake was knowing of a potential conspiracy and not blowing a whistle on his teammates.
Despite all eight players being acquitted in court, some — such as Chick Gandil and Eddie Cicotte, who actually hatched the scheme and approached gamblers, contrary to how the legend has been passed down — deserved the eternal ban from baseball they received.
Not all, however, and their story is worth remembering, even if only as a cautionary tale at the start of a new era in the relationship between sports and gambling.
The Sox are not so flush with championships that they can afford to all but ignore their 1919 American League pennant. Nor should they.
So, hooray for Hollywood for keeping the memory alive and for the White Sox for attaching themselves to “Field of Dreams.”
As Jones’ character says: “Baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: It’s a part of our past.”
©2019 Chicago Tribune
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