Fans seek happy return for Shoeless Joe's birthday


It's more than a sentimental journey, the vacation trip Mark Babiarz has planned with his 11-year-old daughter later this summer. It's part of a continuing campaign Mark has always felt pretty strong about before increased involvement turned it into a crusade for him.

A letter Babiarz dispatched to several newspapers, marking the occasion of the 106th anniversary of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson's birth (yesterday) helps to explain:

"It has been 75 long years since Joe Jackson was banned from the game of baseball . . . imagine how he felt after juries acquitted him twice of all charges of conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series only to be banned from baseball for life. The game's fans probably know all too well that feeling.

"As much as baseball is a part of our past, it is as much of our present and future. It is our mirror showing us who we are and, at times, a beacon to show us where we are going into the future.

"Without baseball, we have become disunited as a nation. For the hurt we felt without the 1994 World Series, our heart suffers a greater ache with our separation from the ballpark. The ballpark is our home. It is a place to set new visions, restore our hopes, and vitalize our spirits.

"America is about hope and renewal. Coincidentally, so is baseball. Without our presence at the ballpark, we are missing the mystery of the game and life itself. It is time to clear our differences. It is time to reinstate Shoeless Joe back into the game of baseball and acknowledge his accomplishments on the field.

"Our love of baseball will bring us back to the park. Just as baseball's love for Joe Jackson will one day bring him to Cooperstown."

Exceptionally strong but heartfelt sentiments Mark Babiarz admits, adding, "I think a perfect parallel can be drawn between the situation handed Jackson and the one we as fans face as a result of what's going on in the game today."

Mark, a Chicagoan, was born almost simultaneously with the White Sox winning the 1959 American League pennant and spent the first 19 years of his life there as a fierce Chisox (then Cubs) fan. His stories of going to old Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field with his dad as a kid are replays of what thousands of kids did and felt for years as the game became part of their lives.

"What happened last year with the World Series being wiped out and then the strike continuing on into the start of this season bothered me tremendously," he said. "It was so unfair, being robbed of my memories. I felt like a lot of my childhood was just flying out the window."

It was this feeling that re-dedicated Babiarz to the injustice dealt Joe Jackson so long ago. He has long been a proponent of Jackson's reinstatement to the game, but only passively until he met a man named Tom Malone, who had played the game well before an accident put him on the sideline and started him in coaching youth.

"First time I met him," said Babiarz, "he looked at me and said, 'If it's the last thing I do it'll be to get this guy [Jackson] into the Hall of Fame where he belongs."

At first, Mark was suspicious about the power public opinion could wield in a case like this. He soon changed his mind.

"The more people I talked to about Shoeless Joe, the more I came to realize how many people cared and how conversant they were on the subject," he continued. "First, it was just talk. Then loads of people said, 'Get a petition up and I'll sign it.' There's six or seven individuals [similar to Babiarz's Shoeless Joe Jackson Society] who spend a lot of time on this."

The movies "Field of Dreams" and "Eight Men Out" didn't hurt, either.

He related the story of a New Jersey man, Ray Allen, who has been talking up Jackson for years, passing out literature the day of Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in upstate New York last summer: "A couple of security guards approached Ray and he said he had misgivings about what was going to happen. When asked, he explained what he was doing and the guards said, 'Here, give us some of that stuff, we'll help you.' "

It wasn't too long ago that Barbiarz arranged for and conducted a two-hour interview with Billy Rogell, Detroit second baseman from the mid-'20s until World War II: "Rogell knew Ed Cicotte [one of the alleged ringleaders of the Black Sox Scandal] well and he said the pitcher told him Shoeless Joe was 'completely innocent of any wrongdoing.' "

And the crusade goes on. "I want my daughter [who, incidentally, was born on the same day as Joe Jackson, July 16] to experience the thrill of falling in love with baseball, as I did. We'll be at Comiskey Park every day and, while corresponding with the White Sox, they've said 'Keep up the good work on behalf of Shoeless Joe.' "

These aren't the only members of the Babiarz Clan involved. Mark's father, who still lives in Chicago, took a ride up to County Stadium in Milwaukee yesterday for the Brewers-White Sox contest, brandishing a "Reinstate Shoeless Joe" sign: "Dad went over to Cleveland with his sign when the White Sox were playing there, and he said he never had so much fun at a ballpark, people coming up and wanting to talk about Shoeless Joe.

"It's going to happen, Joe will be in the Hall of Fame someday," said Babiarz from his home in Florida. "Oh, and don't forget to wish him a happy birthday."

Done: Happy 106th, Joe, and many happy returns.

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