Joseph Jefferson Jackson, “Shoeless Joe Jackson,” 1888-1951, was a major league baseball player for three teams; the Philadelphia Athletics, 1908-1909, the Cleveland Naps (named after Napoleon Lajoie, 1910-1915, and the Chicago White Sox, 1910-1920. Joe Jackson’s last time at bat was the evening of December 5, 1951, when he died at home at the age of sixty-three of a heart attack.
He was proclaimed “shoeless” in 1908, at the age of twenty years, while playing semi-pro ball with the Greenville Spinners. Jackson played with a pair of new baseball spikes that quickly wore blisters on his feet. He removed his shoes and walked into the batter’s box without many fans noticing. Out of the stands came a shouting voice, “You shoeless son-of-a-gun!” It was the one and only time he played shoeless, but the name stuck and became synonymous with him.
Connie Mack signed him with the Athletics in 1908, and then traded him to the Cleveland Naps in 1910 where he batted .408. In August of 1915, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for $31,500 cash and three players. With Chicago he went on to help them win the World Series in 1917 and the American League pennant in 1919.
After the loss in the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, Joe Jackson and seven other White Sox players where accused of conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series. The headline read: “WHITE SOX INDICTED!” The news stunned baseball fans and threatened the integrity and popularity of baseball as American’s pastime. A trial was held in 1921, a Chicago jury rendered a verdict of not guilty on all counts. Despite the acquittal, newly appointed baseball commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, banned Jackson and seven of his teammates from professional baseball for life. Gambling was outlawed by the players from that day forward a la the Pete Rose scandal.
Did Joe Jackson help fix the 1919 World Series? This has remained a point of dispute for nearly a century. Let’s examine the evidence. Joe played flawlessly, hitting .375 for the Series, the highest batting average for either team. He had twelve hits (a World Series record at the time), six R.B.I.’s, and no fielding errors. Finally, he hit the only homer run in the Series! So why was he banned for life based on such a performance that defies any attempts on his part to fix the Series? Judge Landis explained that he was guilty of knowing about the conspiracy and then remaining silent about it. His indifference and poor judgment was punished severely by Landis. Did the punishment fit the crime?
Joe Jackson in his front yard being interviewed by Furman Bisher, October, 1949, for an issue of Sport Magazine.In 1949, Joe told “The Sporting News,” during an interview, “Regardless of what anybody says, I was innocent of any wrongdoing. I gave baseball all I had. My 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 ground 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 of history.”
Joe and his wife Kate moved back to Greenville, S.C. in 1922 and opened various businesses; dry cleaning, a barbeque restaurant, and later a liquor store. He continued to play semi-pro baseball throughout the South and North. In 1941, at the age of 53, Joe played in his first and only night game, putting on a hitting exhibition by belting two homeruns that evening.
Joe Jackson told Furman Bisher in October, 1949, of Sport Magazine: “I can say that my conscience is clear and that I’ll stand on my record in the World Series… I ‘m not what you call a good Christian, but I believe in the Good Book, where it says, “what you sow, so you shall reap.” I have asked the Lord for guidance, and I am sure that He gave it to me. I will let the Lord be my judge.”
Baseball statistics for Joe Jackson:
- Position Left Field, Threw Right and Batted Left-Handed
- 1911 .408 batting average (Ty Cobb won the batting title hitting a robust .420)
- 1912 Led the American League in triples
- 1913 Led the American League in hits and slugging percentage at .551
- 1917 Led Chicago White Sox to a World Series title over the New York Giants
- 1919 .356 World Series batting average and an American League Pennant
- .356 Lifetime batting average, third highest in baseball history:
- Ty Cobb, .366, Rogers Hornsby, .359, & Joe Jackson, .356 (lifetime).