On the 100th anniversary of the Black Sox Scandal, GRANVILLE WYCHE BURGESS declares: Shoeless Joe Was Innocent
Granville Wyche Burgess is an Emmy-nominated playwright and novelist. He is the author of The Last At-Bat of Shoeless Joe, a novel about Shoeless Joe Jackson, published by Chickadee Prince, and which is available on Kindle, and in paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local bookstore.
What inspired you to write his story and why now?
When I played baseball as a youth in 1950’s Greenville, SC, nobody ever mentioned that Joe Jackson, whom some considered the “greatest natural hitter of all time,” lived in my hometown! Such was animus towards Shoeless Joe because of the Black Sox scandal. I think Joe himself wanted to keep a low profile. Years later, when I read about the scandal, I became convinced of Joe’s innocence and wanted to put the truth, as I saw it, out into the world. An added plus: I love baseball, I think it’s a great game! As to why now, what better way to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Black Sox scandal than to publish a novel about it?
You believe that Shoeless Joe is innocent in the Black Sox Scandal. What makes you draw this conclusion?
First of all, we have Joe’s word, and there is nothing I have read about this Christian man that would lead me to believe he is a liar. Joe went to his grave believing “The Supreme Being will be my judge.” He says he told Comiskey about the fix and Comiskey ignored him—and plenty of what I have read about Comiskey would lead me to believe he was primarily interested in protecting his reputation and his money. As someone who could neither read nor write, I believe Comiskey’s lawyer, Alfred Austrian, tricked Joe into testifying the way he did. He certainly got him to sign a waiver of immunity that he could not read. What many people do not remember is that in a 1924 trial where Joe sued Comiskey for back pay, a jury believed him and awarded him the money. Then the judge, noting discrepancies in Joe’s 1920 testimony and his 1924 testimony, overturned the decision. What is indisputable is that Joe Jackson played his heart out in that World Series: no errors, the only home run, a .375 batting average, and 12 hits, which stood as the record until 1964.
Growing up in times of segregation, what draws you to stories about injustice, specifically this one?
Growing up, I saw the injustice of segregation all around me, from Whites Only drinking fountains to the squalid housing of what was euphemistically called “Nickletown.” Also, I was familiar with the ethos of the people who, like Joe, worked in a textile mill: they worked hard hours, loved their families and their communities, and were very religious. I was drawn to this story not only because I think Joe is innocent, but also because I think his hometown should celebrate, not ignore, this iconic baseball player. Happily, they now have. There is a Shoeless Joe statue in downtown Greenville and a Joe Jackson museum across from the minor-league ballpark.
What are some similarities and differences you find between writing plays and novels?
For me, the main similarity between writing plays and writing novels is story, story, story! I love a good story and try to write something that has people constantly wondering “What happens next?” As a playwright, I tell the whole story in dialogue, and dialogue is an important part of my novel-writing. I believe it is harder to depict character in playwriting because action is the best means of depicting character, and action in the theatre is limited. I can’t have a baseball game onstage—or at least only in a very limited way. I can’t do a scene sliding down a rocky river, as I do in the novel. Finally, the sheer number of words you can use writing a novel makes it a form in which one can more easily expand upon ideas and where one can spend time describing scenes and, especially, the inner emotional life of a character than one can in playwriting. I find the restrictions inherent in dramatic writing make it a much more difficult genre, for me, than narrative fiction, where I can let the words more easily flow.