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Joe Jackson

Joe Jackson

Position(s):
OF, 1B
Nicknames:
Shoeless Joe
Born:
July 16, 1889
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Right
Height:
6' 1"
Weight:
200 lbs
Major League Debut:
8-25-1908 with PHA

Shoeless Joe Jackson's alleged involvement in the Black Sox scandal of 1919 resulted in the star outfielder being banished from baseball for life by then-commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis at the conclusion of the 1920 campaign.  Accused of taking a bribe to throw the 1919 World Series, Jackson and seven of his Chicago White Sox teammates spent their remaining days living in infamy, being treated as outcasts by both the baseball world, and by society as a whole.  Almost 60 years after his passing, the name of Shoeless Joe Jackson still evokes feelings of disdain from a large segment of the baseball community, although he has become a far more sympathetic figure among fans of the game through the years.  Jackson's unthinkable act has also kept him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame for nearly three-quarters of a century.  Yet, anyone familiar with the history of the sport would have a difficult time finding fault with the assertions made by many old-time players that Shoeless Joe Jackson was among the very greatest players who ever lived.

Contents


Biography:

Early Life

The first of eight children, Joseph Jefferson Jackson was born into abject poverty on July 16, 1889 in Pickens County, South Carolina.  The son of a textile mill worker, Jackson got his first job at the tender age of six, sweeping cotton dust off the wooden floors at nearby Pelzer Mill.  In early 1901, Jackson moved with his family to the Brandon community of West Greenville, South Carolina, where he went to work at Brandon Mill to help support his family.  Jackson's early entrance into the work force afforded him little time for a formal education, leaving him almost completely illiterate.


During his early years, Jackson received what little joy he got out of life from baseball.  Displaying a natural inclination towards the national pastime at an early age, he began playing on the Brandon Mill men's team at the age of 13.  Although Jackson was easily the youngest member of the squad, he acquitted himself quite well, often earning tips for his younger brothers, who passed their hats among the crowd every time their older sibling hit a home run.  Since the Brandon Mill team played all its games on Saturdays, Jackson's homers became known as "Saturday Specials."  Blessed not only with outstanding power, Jackson's all-around skills were such that his line drives also became known as "Blue Darters," while his glove was often referred to as "A place where triples go to die."

Jackson's extraordinary ability eventually earned him a spot on the roster of the semi-pro Greenville Spinners, with whom he acquired his famous nickname in 1908.  Breaking in a new pair of cleats, Jackson developed painful blisters on his feet during the first game of a doubleheader against the Anderson Electricians.  To ease his discomfort, Jackson removed his spikes before stepping into the batter's box for an at-bat in the second contest.  After he subsequently tripled, Jackson inspired a fan of the opposing team to shout, "You shoeless son-of-a-gun," as the outfielder pulled into third base.  Although Jackson never again appeared 'shoeless' in a game, the nickname followed him wherever he went.


Minor Leagues:
Jackson began his professional career shortly thereafter, signing with legendary owner and manager Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics.  However, the young outfielder's rise to the major leagues was a slow and arduous one.  Uncomfortable in the big city and ridiculed by his teammates for his inability to read and write, Jackson had a difficult time adjusting to life in Philadelphia.  As a result of his personal troubles, Jackson experienced little in the way of success his first two seasons, spending most of the 1908 and 1909 campaigns in the minor leagues, while appearing in a total of only 10 games with the Athletics.  Philadelphia finally gave up on Jackson in 1910, trading the 21-year-old outfielder to the Cleveland Naps (who eventually became the Cleveland Indians).  After winning the Southern Association batting title, Jackson joined Cleveland late in 1910, posting a .387 batting average in his 20 games with the team. 

Cleveland Naps:
Earning a starting spot in Cleveland's outfield the following year, Jackson compiled one of the greatest rookie campaigns in major league history.  In addition to establishing an all-time record for first-year players by finishing second to Ty Cobb in the batting race with a mark of .408, he amassed 19 triples, stole 41 bases, topped the circuit with a .468 on-base percentage, and placed second to Cobb with 126 runs scored, 233 hits, 45 doubles, 337 total bases, and a .590 slugging percentage.  Although Jackson's extraordinary performance was overshadowed somewhat by the remarkable season turned in by Cobb, he earned the undying respect of the Tiger great, who told Jackson many years later, "Whenever I got the idea I was a good hitter, I'd stop and take a look at you.  Then I knew I could stand some improvement."

Jackson followed up his phenomenal rookie season by batting .395 in 1912, driving in 90 runs, scoring 121 others, and leading the league with 26 triples, 226 hits, and 331 total bases.  He performed brilliantly again in 1913, batting .373, scoring 109 runs, accumulating 17 triples, and topping the circuit with 39 doubles, 197 hits, and a .551 slugging percentage.  More than just an exceptional hitter, Jackson also possessed outstanding running speed and a powerful throwing arm.  Playing both left field and right field for Cleveland, he compiled a total of 90 outfield assists his first three years with the team.

Although Jackson posted a solid .338 batting average the following year, his overall production fell off considerably. 

 

Traded to Chicago:

After he batted .327 in 83 games with Cleveland in 1915, the Indians traded the star outfielder to the Chicago White Sox for $31,500 cash and three players in August of that year.  Jackson finished out the campaign with a mark of .308 – his lowest since becoming an everyday player.

Jackson bounced back in 1916, batting .341, leading the league with 21 triples and 293 total bases, and placing among the leaders in six other offensive categories.  He then helped lead the White Sox to the world championship in 1917, finishing near the top of the league rankings with 75 RBIs, 91 runs scored, and 17 triples.  Jackson missed most of the 1918 campaign due to World War I, but he returned in 1919 to lead the White Sox to their second pennant in three seasons by batting .351, knocking in 96 runs, and scoring 79 others.  The heavily-favored White Sox then lost the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds,  raising questions in the minds of many as to the legitimacy of their effort during the Fall Classic with their uninspired and mistake-prone play.  Chicago failed to make it back to the postseason the following year, even though Jackson had one of his greatest seasons.  With the American League using a somewhat livelier ball, Jackson posted career highs with 12 home runs and 121 runs batted in, while also batting .382, scoring 105 runs, accumulating 218 hits, and topping the circuit with 20 triples.  Little did anyone know when the last out was recorded of Chicago's final game of the season that Shoeless Joe Jackson would never again set foot on a major league ball field.

Black Sox

In September of 1920, a Chicago grand jury convened to investigate charges that the White Sox intentionally lost the 1919 World Series to the Reds.  Jackson was among eight Chicago players who were accused of conspiring with gamblers to "fix" the Series.  Court records indicate that, in testimony made before the grand jury on September 28, 1920, Jackson admitted under oath that he agreed to participate in the "fix."  Contemporary news accounts contend that Jackson told the grand jury:

"When a Cincinnati player would bat a ball out in my territory, I'd muff it if I could -  that is, fail to catch it.  But, if it would look too much like crooked work to do that, I'd be slow and make a throw to the infield that would be short.  My work netted the Cincinnati team several runs that they never would have had if we had been playing on the square."

While no such direct quote or testimony to this effect appears in the actual stenographic record of Jackson's grand jury appearance, the outfielder did admit to receiving a cash payment of $5,000.  He also testified that he had been originally promised a $20,000 bribe.

Court records also indicate that several other Chicago players admitted to receiving cash remunerations as well.  However, following the mysterious disappearance of their confessions, and other legal machinations, the eight Black Sox won acquittal during their June, 1921 conspiracy trial.  Nevertheless, the newly appointed baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, in an extraordinarily bold move aimed at restoring public confidence in the game, subsequently suspended all eight players for life.

As a result of Landis' stunning ruling, Shoeless Joe Jackson never played another game of major league baseball.  Furthermore, his name remains on the list of those players who are ineligible to be elected to the Hall of Fame.  Yet, evidence has continued to surface through the years that puts into question Jackson's true culpability.  

Various sources have revealed that Jackson initially refused to take a payment of $5,000, only to have fellow conspirator Lefty Williams toss it on the floor of his hotel room.  Jackson then tried to tell White Sox owner Charles Comiskey about the fix, only to have Comiskey refuse to meet with him.  In addition, team attorney Alfred Austrian coached Jackson's testimony in an extremely unethical manner before the outfielder appeared before the grand jury.  Austrian reportedly elicited Jackson's admission to having a role in the fix by plying him with alcohol, before also getting him to sign a waiver of immunity.  Years later, the seven other players implicated in the scandal confirmed that Jackson was never at any of the meetings.  In fact, Williams said they only mentioned Jackson's name to give their plot more credibility.  The outfielder's possible innocence tends to be supported by his performance during the Fall Classic, which included flawless play in the outfield and a Series-best .375 batting average, 12 hits, six runs batted in, and one home run.

Jackson professed his innocence years later, telling The Sporting News in 1942: "Regardless of what anybody says, I was innocent of any wrong-doing.  I gave baseball all I had.  The Supreme Being is the only one to whom I've got to answer.  If I had been out there booting balls and looking foolish at bat against the Reds, there might have been some grounds for suspicion.  I think my record in the 1919 World Series will stand up against that of any other man in that Series, or any other World Series in all history."

Post 1920 - Semi Pro Ball

After being banished from the major leagues, Joe Jackson spent another 20 years in baseball, playing and managing with a number of semi-pro teams, located mostly in  Georgia and South Carolina.  After returning to Savannah with his wife in 1922 to open a dry-cleaning business, Jackson eventually moved back to Greenville, South Carolina in 1933.  After first opening a barbecue restaurant, Jackson and his wife opened "Joe Jackson's Liquor Store," which they operated until he died of a heart attack in 1951, at the age of 62.  

Some 60 years after his passing, it still appears unlikely that Shoeless Joe Jackson's banishment from baseball "for life" will ever be rescinded.  As a result, the man with the third-highest batting average in major league history (.356), and the man who is considered by many of his contemporaries to be the greatest natural hitter in the history of the game is likely never to gain admittance to Cooperstown.  Nevertheless, Jackson's legacy as a truly great player remains undiminished.



Quotes about Joe Jackson:

Babe Ruth expressed his admiration for Jackson by proclaiming, "I copied Jackson's style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen...the greatest natural hitter I ever saw.  He's the guy who made me a hitter."

Ty Cobb echoed Ruth's sentiments, saying, "He (Jackson) was the finest natural hitter in the history of the game."

Ernie Shore, who faced Jackson as a pitcher with the Red Sox and Yankees, stated, "Everything he (Jackson) hit was really blessed.  He could break bones with his shots.  Blindfold me and I could still tell you when Joe hit the ball.  It had a special crack."

Connie Mack, who first signed Jackson to a major league contract, expressed the sadness he felt over his former player's plight when he noted, "Jackson's fall from grace is one of the real tragedies of baseball.  I always thought he was more sinned against than sinning."

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