We all get warm and fuzzy watching Field of Dreams, and for good reason. It’s a terrific film that simply suggests to viewers to dream, to have heroes, to believe. To forgive, even. While it’s a little silly to believe in “the baseball men,” as the youngest character calls the corn-field eight and their comrades in the movie, perhaps Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred should take heed of the film’s messages and forgive and believe in George Daniel “Buck” Weaver.
Weaver was the third baseman (he also played shortstop) on that infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox team, which many tagged as the best team ever assembled as they entered the World Series versus the Cincinnati Reds that year as heavy favorites, they later were tabbed the ‘Black Sox’ due to the scandal. What transpired, in simple terms, is a group of players were approached by some gamblers to throws games in the series in exchange for some big dollars. If you’ve seen the movie Eight Men Out, you’ve seen the suggestion that owner Charles Comiskey was cheap. By most or all accounts, that was true, and maybe served as motivation for players to consider going on the take to make some real money.
In the end, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned for life eight of the White Sox for throwing the series, even after a lack of evidence resulted in the courts ruling in their favor. Weaver never admitted to even accepting any payments from the gamblers and spent the rest of his life trying to clear his name. Weaver passed away in 1956, but this isn’t over, nor should it be.
In everyday life in America — and in 1919, yet it never was embraced by Landis or Major League Baseball — one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, at least in a court of law. Baseball isn’t a court of law, but even present-day MLB officials want legitimate, indisputable evidence of wrong-doing before suspending a player for anything. If the same was used in Weaver’s case in 1921 by Landis, he would have played beyond age 30 and not banned for life via some sort of guilty-by-association approach, or for not tattling on his teammates.
You get out there, and the stands are full and everybody’s cheerin’. It’s like everybody in the world come to see you. And inside of that there’s the players, they’re yakkin’ it up. The pitcher throws and you look for that pill… suddenly there’s nothing else in the ballpark but you and it. Sometimes, when you feel right, there’s a groove there, and the bat just eases into it and meets that ball. When the bat meets that ball and you feel that ball just give, you know it’s going to go a long way. Damn, if you don’t feel like you’re going to live forever. — Buck Weaver | Eight Men Out
Not only is there a lack of any evidence Weaver took any money, Weaver, like Shoeless Joe Jackson (who most believe did take the cash), was terrific in the series, batting .324 with five extra-base hits and numerous putouts in the field without an error. Greg Couch of Vice Sports penned this piece last summer about the situation and the idea of reinstating Weaver.
Rose bet on baseball, he eventually admitted so. Weaver, in today’s terms, is Jim Lett, Rose’s bench coach in Cincinnati in the late-80s. Lett was not suspended, banned or punished in any manner. Why? Because there’s no evidence linking him to anything inappropriate, including Rose’s gambling. In other words, because there’s no bloody reason to do so.
How is Weaver any different than the 100-percent innocent Lett?
Truth is, he’s not. By all accounts and measures, Weaver is as innocent of taking money from gamblers and throwing the 1919 World Series as you, me, Dupree and even Steven Earnest Sandmeyer, who admits to legal gambling on occasion.
In Couch’s piece, it’s noted that then-Senator of Illinois Barrack Obama wrote a letter to then-commisioner Bud Selig about investigating Weaver’s unjust treatment.
Many others believe in the reinstatement of Buck Weaver, including Dr. David Fletcher of the Chicago Baseball Museum, and Jerome Holtzman, who was Major League Baseball’s official historian from 1999-2008. Just about all that have investigated the Black Sox Scandal over the past 96-plus years have come to the conclusion that seven of the eight banned should remain banned. Weaver being the one exception. He also was the only one of the eight to march to Comiskey’s office and declare his innocence the moment he received his suspension letter. Weaver also was promised by Comiskey that he’d be the only one reinstated after the trial, a trial of which he requested to be separated from the rest of his teammates, but was denied.
Judge Hugo Friend, who presided over the 1921 trial in Cook County, Illinois, told reporters he wouldn’t allow a conviction of Weaver to stand even if the jury ruled that way.
Evidence of Landis and Major League Baseball doing a full investigation are difficult by which to come. The day after the verdict — all eight were acquitted — Landis released the statement that included: “Regardless of the verdicts of juries, no player who entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player who sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed and does not promptly tell the club about it will ever play professional baseball.”
Clearly, the last part was aimed at Weaver, who knew but didn’t snitch. But there’s a lot of evidence that coaches, managers, other teammates outside the eight, and even other clubs and their team personnel, knew about it, too. None of them were suspended, banned or punished in any manner.
Not only that, but at the time there was no regulation or ruling that snitching was required in such circumstances, nor anything about the punishment for not doing so could lead to life banishment from Major League Baseball.
In July, Couch wrote: “Let me be blunt: MLB decided to screw over Weaver. At first, it was for public relations purposes. Now, it’s just to keep from messing with the time tapestry.
Fletcher was quoted as saying “Selig,” when approached about investigating and perhaps reinstating Weaver, “didn’t want to overturn a previous commissioner. He said he didn’t want to set that precedent.”
What the HOLY EFF kind of approach is that?
Now there’s a new commissioner, though, and while we have no idea whether or not Rob Manfred might have a different take on this than did Selig, his mentor and predecessor, remains to be seen. But it appears Weaver is as innocent as Rose is guilty.
This subject does not get enough play, through the media, its fans or anywhere. Weaver, who was heartbroken for 35 years over Landis’ decision, has been gone for 60 years, but his legacy and family still suffer from an absurd decision by Landis that no commissioner since has had the balls to overturn.
It’s been more than 96 years. Show some balls, grow some balls or at least pretend you have a pair, Mr. Manfred. Free Buck Weaver.
A joyous boy, all heart and hard-trying. A territorial animal…who guarded the spiked sand around third like his life… — Nelson Algren on Weaver
A boy of 20 years who has more grit than any other player…arrived (in camp) without mentioning the death of his mother to Manager Callahan, he got into his baseball suit and started after the job as shortstop for Comiskey’s team. Not a man on the squad displayed as much enthusiasm in his work… — Sam Weller | Chicago Tribune on Weaver
Though they are hopeless and heartless, the White Sox have a hero. He is George Weaver, who plays and fights at third base. Day after day Weaver has done his work and smiled. In spite of the certain fate that closed about the hopes of the Sox, Weaver smiled and scrapped. One by one his mates gave up. Weaver continued to grin and fought harder….Weaver’s smile never faded. His spirit never waned….The Reds have beaten the spirit out of the Sox all but Weaver. Buck’s spirit is untouched. He was ready to die fighting. Buck is Chicago’s one big hero; long may he fight and smile. — Ross Tenney | Cincinnati Post: October 10, 1919
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.
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