The scandal of the Chicago White Sox and the 1919 World Series is now nearly one hundred years old, but it hasn’t left the collective subconscious of America. People still write and talk about the eight players who conspired to throw the World Series for financial gain. It’s a story of terrific resonance, played out by heroes and villains; people with good and bad intentions and, most significantly, those caught in between. At the center the story is Shoeless Joe Jackson, a person who, over the years, has garnered more sympathy than scorn.
And for good reason. Jackson’s lifetime batting average was 356, the third best in Major League history. Some consider him the greatest all-around player of all time. For sports fans, the fact that Jackson was banned from baseball at the height of his career and has never been (and probably will never be) admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame is tragedy enough. For everyone else—those not interested in baseball or sports in general—Joe Jackson’s downfall still resonates because, regardless of what he did for a living, his story is all too human.
We all make mistakes. Sometimes we own up to them. Often times we are forgiven by those we’ve offended. But very few of us err under the intense spotlight of the world stage. Jackson was born and raised in South Carolina, and he was uneducated, essentially illiterate. When he came to Chicago to play for the Sox, he was unfamiliar with the ways of the big city, unaccustomed to conmen and swindlers. Some of these came in the guise of Front Office reps, who manipulated Joe into signing contracts against his interests. Others were simply grifters and gamblers who had a habit of hanging around marks with too much money on their hands. Still others, unfortunately, were his Jackson’s teammates.
Joe trusted his friends. In general, he trusted too much. And this was his flaw. In most instances, faith in friends is a virtue, but in the tall weeds of American Commerce and Industry, it can be deadly. And for Joe it was. Though he lived till 64, he might as well have died the day he was banned from baseball. After he stopped playing, he was relegated to a life managing a small country store in South Carolina, an occupation far removed from his God given talents and life’s purpose. He so loved baseball, in fact, anything else must have felt to him like the equivalent of purgatory.
And so in this rendering of the Chicago “Black Sox” scandal, we mourn Joe Jackson. In this opera — a consummate, singular and American expression brilliantly conceived by composer Joel Puckett — The Fix is not so much an accounting of a salacious scandal, but an elegy that elicits our sympathies, and rouses the pangs that remind us our heroes are not as different from the rest of us.