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Sports in Kentucky

Beard was a victim in points scandal



Country boys Beard and Shoeless Joe were robbed of their dreams by men in black suits.

“Eight Men Out,” a 1988 motion picture detailing the 1919 Chicago Black Sox in the World Series, still makes the rounds on cable.

Shoeless Joe Jackson, played by D.B. Sweeney, always reminds me of Ralph Beard.

Shoeless Joe and Ralph, pair of bumpkins doing what they loved, playing ball. Couple of decent and innocent kids arriving at manhood with a ball in their hands and empty pockets. Then, in black suits, the money showed up and it all got complicated.

Jackson took the money but denied having a part in fixing games in the ’19 World Series.

Beard took the money too and denied shaving points in 1949.

For a few dollars, sinister men in black suits destroyed their dreams. Beard and Jackson were banned from their sport forever, and Halls of Fame. In a final scene from “Eight Men Out,” Buck Weaver (John Cusack), sat on a bush league bleacher looked to center field at Shoeless Joe and shook his head. His expression told us, “there’s the best there ever was.”

In many ways, Ralph Beard too. A small thing, a sentence fragment in The Associated Press’s first report of Beard’s passing last week was startling.”… key figure in college basketball’s biggest betting scandal,” the AP said.

Historically correct perhaps, but ill-chosen for a lead on the last day of a man’s life.

Beard’s mistake as a kid de- served a place far down the chronicle of an 80-year-old man’s life. A man who, despite having a professional basketball career taken away, tendered variations of these sentences all his life, “I made a mistake. I make no excuse. I’m sorry.”

Pete Rose, Barry Bonds and a host of others could’ve learned about putting truth before pride.

Athletic accolades aside and for the thousands of dollars the NBA ban cost him, Beard was respected, appreciated, revered by Kentuckians all his days. I believe the reason was this: Despite his passion to play basketball and a lifetime ban, he was man enough to say: “I made a mistake. I make no excuse. I’m sorry.” Perfect epitaph for Every Man. Ralph Beard was that too.

Like Shoeless Joe Jackson, Beard should have been elected to the Hall of Fame decades ago. He would have been 80 last Sunday.

And so it goes.

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