Jackson, Joseph "Shoeless Joe"
Joseph "Shoeless Joe" Jackson
American baseball player
Joseph Jefferson "Shoeless Joe" Jackson was one of the most talented baseball players of all time. Babe Ruth , who acknowledged that Jackson "was the greatest hitter I'd ever seen," copied his style, and Ty Cobb once called Jackson "the greatest natural hitter I ever saw." In a still-contested decision, Jackson was barred forever from baseball by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis over the "Black Sox" scandal of 1920, when Jackson and seven teammates from the 1919 Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Evidence that was to be presented to the grand jury in September 1920 mysteriously disappeared, and he was not prosecuted, but Jackson has never been honored by induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame because of
the charge. However, sports figures and fans who believe him innocent, or at least not guilty enough to warrant the exclusion, continue to campaign to so honor Jackson.
Jackson was born to a poor family, the eldest of eight children. He had no formal education and worked from a very young age, beginning with a job cleaning up in the textile mill where most of the members of his family were employed. He played for the mill's team, but when he broke the catcher's arm with his powerful throw he was reassigned to the outfield. He next played for a semipro Greenville team, then the professional Greenville Spinners. During a game, he removed the new cleats that were giving him blisters, and a fan of the opposing team yelled out an insult to the shoeless runner as he rounded third base. The intended insult—"Shoeless Joe"—stuck even though Jackson had played without his spikes only one time.
Sportswriter Joe Williams, who knew Jackson, called him "pure country, a wide-eyed, gullible yokel. It would not have surprised me in those days to learn he had made a down payment on the Brooklyn Bridge…. He was a drinker and a heavy one. He carried his own tonic: triple-distilled corn. And on occasions he carried a parrot, a multicolored pest whose vocabulary was limited to screeching, 'You're out!'"
A Major League Player
Jackson's illiteracy haunted him for his entire career. When he first joined the Philadelphia Athletics, team members took him to an upscale restaurant and told him he could drink from the finger bowl, which he did. Humiliated upon learning of the trick, he jumped a train and ran away the next day. He left the team a second time in 1908, his first full season. Manager Connie Mack was sympathetic to Jackson's plight and the teasing he took from his mostly Northern teammates. Mack offered to hire a tutor for him, but Jackson was too embarrassed to accept.
Jackson was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1910 and played with the team until 1915. During this period, he and his wife Katie, whom he had married in 1908, became more accustomed to life in the North. Although he still took a ribbing about going shoeless, with Katie's support and bolstered by a growing number of fans, he began to accumulate a number of records, and eventually achieved the third-highest lifetime batting average in history, at .356. (Cobb is first with .366, and Rogers Hornsby is second with.358.) Jackson invested carefully and earned extra income by making appearances on the vaudeville stage.
Black Sox Scandal
In 1915 the Indians traded Jackson to the Chicago White Sox for three players and $15,000. He was instrumental in the team's capture of the 1917 pennant, but there was unrest on the bench. White Sox owner Charles A. Comiskey was so cheap that he wouldn't even pay for the cleaning of the team's uniforms, thus leading the players to call themselves the Black Sox and wear their increasingly dirty uniforms for several weeks in protest in 1918. When Jackson avoided wartime service by taking a job in a shipbuilding factory, Comiskey criticized him for being unpatriotic.
During the first season following the war, the Sox again won the pennant. Jackson picked up where he had left off, and fans soon forgave his military exemption. However, Comiskey failed to pay the players the bonuses they were due, and Jackson, his star hitter, received a measly salary of $6,000 for the 1919 season. Most of the other team members were also underpaid, leaving many desperate to earn extra income.
First baseman Chick Gandil approached gambler Joseph "Sport" Sullivan and told him that he and his teammates were willing to throw the 1919 World Series for $100,000. He then brought the idea to pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude "Lefty" Williams, and both men agreed to go along with the scheme. The three met with outfielder Happy Felsch, infielders Swede Risberg and Buck Weaver, utility infielder Fred McMullin, and Jackson. Jackson later claimed that when Gandil offered him $10,000 to help throw the series, he initially turned it down, as well as a higher offer of $20,000. Gandil told Jackson he could take it or leave it, that the fix was going forward with or without him if the money could be raised. Jackson ultimately agreed.
|1888||Born July 16 in Pickens County, South Carolina to George and Martha Jackson|
|1893||Moves to Brandon Mill, South Carolina, near Greenville|
|1894||Begins working in a textile mill at age six|
|1901||Becomes the pitcher for the Brandon Mill team|
|1906||Begins semipro career with Greenville Near Leaguers|
|1908||Marries Katherine Wynn|
|1908||Begins pro career with the Greenville Spinners in the Carolina Association|
|1908||Signed by the Philadelphia Athletics|
|1909||Traded to Cleveland Indians|
|1915||Traded to Chicago White Sox|
|1918||Accepts draft-exempt employment in a shipbuilding plant|
|1919||White Sox lose World Series to Cincinnati|
|1920||Charged with throwing 1919 World Series with seven other White Sox players and suspended|
|1921||Acquitted by Chicago jury but banned from baseball by Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, first commissioner of baseball|
|1922||Moves to Savannah, Georgia and opens dry cleaning business|
|1922||Plays baseball with a team in Bastrop, Louisiana|
|1923||Leaves the Bastrop team to play for the Americus, Georgia team, which wins the Georgia Little League Series in six games.|
|1924||Manages the Waycross team for two seasons, winning the Georgia State Championship in 1924|
|1929||Returns to Greenville when his mother becomes ill, then takes her to Savannah, Georgia, where she is cared for by his wife and sister Lula|
|1932||Returns to Greenville where he plays most of the season with the Greenville Spinners and finishes with a semipro team in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|1933||Returns to Greenville with Katie to open first a barbecue restaurant then Joe Jackson's Liquor Store|
|1933||Plays ball for Poe Mills in Greenville|
|1934||Plays and manages the Winnsboro Mill Royal Cords|
|1937||Manages the Woodside Mill team|
|1951||Suffers a heart attack and dies at home on December 5|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1910||Bats .387 with 29 hits in 75 at bats|
|1911||First full major league season; bats .408, second only to Ty Cobb with .420 and highest ever by a rookie|
|1912||Bats .395 and sets season record in triples with 26|
|1913||Leads American League with 197 hits|
|1916||Sets White Sox season record in triples with 21|
|1917||Bats .307 as White Sox win American League pennant and the World Series over the New York Giants|
|1919||Member of pennant-winning White Sox team|
|1919||In World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, leads all hitters by batting .375 and ties World Series record with 12 hits|
|1951||Inducted into the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame|
|1951||Receives award from the Baseball Writers Association of America|
|2002||Honored by statue erected in Greenville, South Carolina|
|2002||Inducted into the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals|
In Baseball: An Illustrated History, the companion book to the PBS documentary film produced by Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward, a writer noted that "someone did [raise the money], although the evidence is murky and contradictory as to just who it was. Several gamblers—including Sport Sullivan; Bill Maharg, a mysterious figure, whose real name may have been Graham ('Maharg' spelled backward); Abe Attell, the former
featherweight boxing champion; and one-time White Sox pitcher 'Sleepy Bill' Burns—served as go-betweens. However, the cash seems to have been provided mostly by New York's most celebrated gambler, Arnold Rothstein, known as 'Mr. Bankroll' at the track, who was said to have been willing to bet on anything except the weather because there was no way he could fix that."
As the series began, there were rumours that something was wrong, and sportswriter Hugh Fullerton advised his readers not to bet on the games. The White Sox lost the first game, as planned, but the money that was supposed to be paid for this loss was out on bets, the players were told. They agreed to throw the second game, and did, but when it was over, Attell gave Gandil just $10,000 of the $40,000 owed the players at that point. The Sox won the third game when Dickie Kerr, a rookie who wasn't in on the fix, pitched a three-hit shutout to win 3-0. Attell lost a fortune on that game but finally agreed to pay $20,000 before the fourth game and an equal amount if the Sox lost. According to the Baseball historians, Jackson was upset that he was receiving only one fourth of his promised payoff; Weaver and McMullin never received a penny.
The Sox lost the fifth game, but the conspirators decided that since there was no more money forthcoming, they might as well play to win, considering that they all wanted their contracts to be renewed. They won games six and seven, due in part to Jackson's strong showing, and the series stood at 4-3 in favor of Cincinnati. Manager Kid Gleason, who couldn't understand what had happened to his men during the early games, finally had hope.
Williams was the opening pitcher for the eighth game, but he had been visited by a thug who worked for Rothstein, who threatened the lives of Williams and his wife if he didn't throw it. Rothstein hadn't bet on the individual games, and his money was on Cincinnati to win the series. Fearful, Williams gave up three runs on four hits before he was pulled, but it was too late. Even with Jackson's and Gandil's hitting power, the Sox lost the series. Fullerton called attention to the scandal in baseball, but others defended the game and refused to believe the allegations.
According to Baseball, Comiskey "just wanted the whole business to go away. While he had himself feared the worst after the game, he had a big investment in protecting the reputation of the team he'd built. When Joe Jackson, apparently conscious stricken, had tried to see him right after the series, to ask what he should do with the $5,000 he'd been given, Comiskey refused to let him in his office. Jackson then sent Comiskey a letter—dictated by his wife, of course—suggesting that some series games had been rigged, but Comiskey did not answer it. Instead, he stoutly defended his men."
The matter became old news, but when the 1920 season opened, players from several teams realized the advantage of working with the gamblers, and when a grand jury investigated a three-game losing streak by the Cubs to the Phillies, the old suspicions were revisited, and the White Sox players were called to testify. Jackson was one of the players to confess, and he admitted to receiving $5,000 of the promised $20,000 that was to have been his share.
Field of Dreams
The movie Field of Dreams was based on W. P. Kinsella's book Shoeless Joe and starred Kevin Costner and Amy Madigan as Ray and Amy Kinsella. The Kinsellas are Iowa farmers who sit on the porch and watch the corn grow, but when Ray hears a voice telling him, "If you build it, they will come," he carves a baseball diamond from a corn field, and the first to appear is Shoeless Joe Jackson, played by Ray Liotta. Burt Lancaster plays Dr. Graham, who always wanted to play pro ball, and James Earl Jones is writer Terence Mann. "Jones and Lancaster create small, sharp character portraits," wrote movie critic Roger Ebert, "two older men who have taken the paths life offered them, but never forgotten what baseball represented to them in their youth." Ebert said, "This is the kind of movie Frank Capra might have directed, and James Stewart might have starred in—a movie about dreams."
Rothstein, who was eventually gunned down by another gambler over a poker game, denied any part in the scheme. There was no Illinois law forbidding throwing or fixing a game, and so Attell, several other gamblers, and the eight ballplayers were indicted for conspiring to defraud the public and harm the business of Comiskey and the American League, but they were acquitted for lack of evidence when the transcripts of Jackson's and Cicotte's testimonies disappeared from court files.
The team owners had to do something to regain the peoples' trust, and so they replaced the three-man National Commission led by Ban Johnson with a new post and a new commissioner of baseball, a federal judge known for his self-promotion named Kenesaw Mountain Landis. On the day the eight players were found not guilty, Landis banned them from baseball for life. Even Buck Weaver, who had not taken any money and had played his best, was banned for not revealing the plot as it unfolded. Those team members who had received money would have made at least as much by winning the World Series. The only winners in the entire fiasco were the gamblers.
"New commissioner Kenesaw Landis wanted scapegoats," observed Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service writer Frank Fitzpatrick, "and Jackson was an easy one." Jackson biographer Harvey Frommer wrote that "Landis fancied himself an intellectual, and Jackson was easily a fall guy. He was from the South, and he was illiterate." There was reason to believe that Jackson—who accomplished the highest batting average of the series, an amazing .375, and had a perfect fielding average—ultimately made the decision to play his best in spite of his agreement to throw the series.
"The only man to ever say that Joe Jackson was present at any meetings between the gamblers and the players was Abe Attell," wrote Mike Nola, who maintains a web site on Jackson. "Abe told this story to Eliot Asinof when Asinof was doing research for his book Eight Men Out. The meeting between Attell and Asinof took place in Jack Dempsey 's restaurant in New York City. Dempsey was present that day in the restaurant and came over after Attell left and asked Asinof what he was doing talking to that scum. Dempsey said something to the effect that he would rather go twelve rounds with Joe Louis than be caught talking to that scum."
Going Home Again
At the end of the 1920 season, Jackson returned to the South, where he played semipro ball in order to survive, all the while hoping he would be reinstated. Ironically, he often made more money playing for unsanctioned teams than he had for the Sox. Jackson and his wife returned to Greenville and opened first a dry cleaning establishment, then a liquor store, which he ran until his death. They lived comfortably, and Jackson continued to deny that he had adjusted his play during the 1919 World Series.
Still a Hero to Many
On December 16, 1951, Jackson was to be honored by the Baseball Writers Association of America in a ceremony held on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town television program. His former Cleveland teammate, Tris Speaker, was to present him with a gold clock. But Jackson died on December 5. "No ruling could bar Shoeless Joe from his fans' hearts," said Peter Ames Carlin and Lorna Grisby in a People article. "As recalled in biographies and embellished in movies such as Field of Dreams and Eight Men Out, Jackson's saga grew into a parable of the struggle between innocence and greed. Though not everyone agrees that Jackson played the series to win, as some supporters claim, many believe the time has come to enshrine him in baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York."
Jackson died of a heart attack in his small home, a short distance from Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Park, which was created in his honor on the site of the baseball diamond behind Brandon Mills. He is buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park, where visitors, many of whom first came to know him through the films that portrayed him, leave flowers and sometimes notes. Frommer said Jackson "has become an American icon, one of those figures who is both hero and antihero. Joe Jackson is an epic figure in our sports culture. His story is one of continuing fascination and interest."
In 2002, Joe Wade Anders, grandson of Joe Anders, one of Jackson's closest friends, unveiled the life-size statue of Jackson in Greenville's West End. The clay model was sculpted by Douglas R. Young, who worked on it in the lobby of Greenville City Hall. Visitors stopped each day to follow his progress—schoolchildren, workers on their lunch hour, and other visitors. Young allowed them to knead the clay for the statue, and Jackson's right shoe, more easily reachable than his left, is now permanently larger because of the many times it was touched by small hands before it was bronzed.
In 2002 members of the Baseball Reliquary in Monrovia, California inducted Jackson into their Shrine of Eternals, often referred to as the "West Coast Hall of Fame." He was honored with inductees Mark Fidrych of the Detroit Tigers and Minnie Minoso of the Chicago White Sox in a ceremony held at the Donald R. Wright Auditorium in the Pasadena Central Library, Pasadena, California, where Nola accepted the award on behalf of the family.
"The obstinacy of the baseball establishment seems only to have added to the fondness for Jackson in West Greenville," noted an Economist writer. "Local children have written letters on behalf of their hero. Another project is to set up a museum devoted to mill-league baseball teams. Reunions have been organized for mill-league players.… Jackson's characteristically modest grave is distinguished from its neighbours by the presence of several baseballs quietly left there by admirers."
Two of Jackson's most ardent supporters have been Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Ted Williams (the last man to hit .400 in the majors), and Williams died unsuccessful in his quest. Through the decades since the scandal, Jackson's induction has gained support, but not everyone feels that time can erase his guilt, if in fact he was guilty, something that may never be known for certain. Dick Heller noted in Insight on the News that even if he didn't participate, Jackson at least knew of the plot to throw the series and yet never told manager Kid Gleason or Comiskey. "Some see the campaign to reinstate Jackson—the first step toward Cooperstown—in the same terms as Pete Rose 's … application to have his ban lifted," wrote Heller. "Really, though, there are no similarities. Rose probably bet on baseball games—the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming—but there is no indication that he did less than his best as a player or manager."
"Jackson's rags to riches story and figurative return to his original condition has made him a legendary sports figure," wrote Lowell L. Blaisdell in American National Biography. "Sympathy for his humble origins, admiration of his great natural ability, and dismay at his eventual exclusion from baseball's Hall of Fame caused many sports fans to identify with his name and career."
|Chi: Chicago White Sox; Cle: Cleveland Indians; Phi: Philadelphia Athletics.|
"In a country that gives second chances to countless miscreants—Richard Nixon, Marv Albert, Latrell Sprewell —why not a salute to Shoeless Joe?" commented David A. Kaplan in Newsweek. "His part in The Fix will always be remembered. It must be. But should not this baseball immortal at long last be celebrated?"
Asinof, Eliot. Eight Men Out. New York: Holt, Rinehardt and Winston, 1963.
Bildner, Phil, illustrated by C. F. Payne. Shoeless Joe and Black Betsy. New York: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2002.
Fleitz, David L. Shoeless: The Life and Times of Joe Jackson. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland, 2001.
Frommer, Harvey. Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Co., 1992.
Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, editors. American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Gutman, Dan. Shoeless Joe and Me: A Baseball Card Adventure. New York: Harper Collins, 2002.
Hickok, Ralph. A Who's Who of Sports Champions. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
Kavanagh, Jack. Shoeless Joe Jackson. New York: Chelsea House, 1995.
Kinsella, W. P. Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1980.
Kinsella, W. P. Shoeless Joe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982.
Vernoff, Edward, and Rima Shore. The Penguin International Dictionary of Contemporary Biography from 1900 to the Present. New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001.
Ward, Geoffrey C., and Ken Burns. Baseball: An Illustrated History, (companion book to PBS documentary). New York: Knopf, 1994.
Carlin, Peter Ames, and Lorna Grisby. "Extra Innings: Major League Baseball Reconsiders the Case of Exiled Legend 'Shoeless Joe' Jackson." People (July 3, 2000): 107.
Ebert, Roger. Review of Eight Men Out. Chicago Sun Times (September 2, 1988).
Ebert, Roger. Review of Field of Dreams. Chicago Sun Times (April 21, 1989).
Fitzpatrick, Frank. "Shoeless Joe Jackson still the subject of lore and curiosity." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (September 16, 1996).
Heller, Dick. "Ted and Bob go to bat for Shoeless Joe." Insight on the News (March 23, 1998): 40.
Kaplan, David A. "Infamy and Immortality: 'Shoeless Joe' Jackson was part of baseball's worst scandal. Should he still be let into the Hall of Fame?" Newsweek (August 2, 1999): 59.
"Shoeless Joe runs again." Economist (April 1, 2000): 31.
Eight Men Out. Orion Pictures (1988).
Field of Dreams. Universal Pictures (1989).
Shoeless Joe Jackson's Virtual Hall of Fame. http://www.blackbetsy.com (October 1, 2002).
Sketch by Sheila Velazquez