Major League Baseball has shifted its view of deceased players who have been banned for life, a group that includes “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and the seven other Chicago White Sox players prohibited from playing professional baseball in 1921 for fixing the 1919 World Series.
A senior MLB source told ESPN that the league has no hold on banned players after they die because the ineligible list bars players from privileges that include a job with a major league club.
“From our perspective, the purpose of the ineligible list is a practical matter,” the source told ESPN. “It’s used to prevent someone from working in the game. When a person on the ineligible list passes away, he’s unable to work in the game. And so for all practical purposes, we don’t consider a review of the status of anyone who has passed away.”
The previously unreported change is potentially significant when it comes to the consideration of Jackson’s eligibility for the Hall of Fame. He has not been considered for decades despite numerous public and petition-writing campaigns to get him removed from baseball’s ineligible list.
In 1991, the Hall of Fame passed a rule declaring that any player ruled ineligible by Major League Baseball could not appear on a Hall of Fame ballot. This became known as the “Pete Rose rule,” because it closely followed the indefinite banning of Rose, MLB’s all-time hits leader, by commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti in 1989.
Rose has never appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot, and his application for reinstatement was rejected by Commissioner Rob Manfred in December 2015.
The change in baseball’s thinking about deceased players on its ineligible list will be a part of ESPN’s docuseries Backstory, which debuts Sunday on ESPN (3 p.m. ET).
The shift in MLB’s view raises the question of whether the Hall of Fame’s Early Baseball committee would consider Jackson, Buck Weaver and Eddie Cicotte, all of whom were banned from playing professional baseball by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis in 1921 despite being acquitted by a Chicago jury of fixing the 1919 World Series. A subcommittee will decide the 10 individuals who played or were involved in the game prior to 1950 who will appear on this year’s ballot, to be considered by the full Early Baseball committee this December.
A spokesman for the Hall of Fame declined to comment. Manfred also declined to comment through a league spokesman.
“We’re agnostic about a player’s eligibility for the Hall of Fame, whether they’re dead or alive,” an MLB source told ESPN.
The shift in thinking has been pushed for years by some baseball historians, including John Thorn, the official historian of MLB who first argued that the ineligible list ends with an individual’s death in an essay in February 2016. He made the case again in an op-ed in The New York Times last October upon the 100th anniversary of the fixed World Series between the White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds.
“Major League Baseball removes players from the ineligible list when they die, and because the Baseball Hall of Fame aligns its balloting procedures with Major League policy, theoretically there is no barrier to Jackson’s induction,” wrote Thorn, who declined to comment for this story.
Baseball insiders said Manfred did not necessarily agree with Thorn’s view, but an MLB source told ESPN this week that Major League Baseball does agree with it — and has for some time — but chose not to make it public.
Backstory with Don Van Natta Jr. premieres at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday (re-air at 9 p.m. ET) on ESPN. The show is also available to watch anytime on the ESPN app.