Simply Baseball Notebook's Legends

Joe Jackson

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Rogers Hornsby


Philadelphia Athletics 1908-09
Cleveland Indians  1910-15
Chicago White Sox 1915-20

The story of Joe Jackson has been well documented.  Over the years blockbuster movies have been produced and best selling books have been written documenting his plight and adding to his legend.  Often "Shoeless" Joe has been portrayed as a victim or tragic hero, but what really matters is that Joe Jackson is one of the finest hitters that ever lived.


Whether or not "Shoeless" Joe Jackson helped fix the 1919 World Series, should be banned from baseball, or belongs in the Hall of Fame will not be discussed here.  Instead we will take a look back at the career of possibly the most naturally gifted baseball player of all time.


Joseph Jefferson Jackson was born on July 16, 1889 in Pickens County, SC.  His childhood included little schooling.  By age 13 he was working 12-hour days in a textile mill and starring on the company's baseball team.


Jackson's professional career began in 1907 when he signed with the Class D league Greenville Spinners for $75.00 a month.  Legend has it that while in Greenville he was given a brand new pair of cleats.  During one game the new shoes began to cause blisters and Jackson simply took them off and played in his stockings.  When the 18 year old was rounding the bases following a home run, a fan supposedly stood up and hollered, "Oh you shoeless son of a bitch."  From then on Jackson became known as "Shoeless Joe."


The validity of this story has come into question over the years; nevertheless it remains a prominent part of baseball lore.


Word of the young prodigy quickly spread and in 1908 Connie Mack signed Jackson to a $900.00 contract.  Jackson appeared in only 10 games over two seasons with Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. Because of conflicts with his teammates, who constantly mocked the illiterate Jackson, he was traded to the Cleveland Naps (who became known as the Indians in 1915) on July 25, 1910 for OF Bris Lord.


In Cleveland Jackson became a star.  After appearing in just 20 games in 1910, the rookie hit .408 in 1911, a record that will never be broken.  Jackson's stellar play continued, as he posted .395, .378, and .338 marks from 1912-14.  He began the 1915 season in Cleveland, but the team was in financial trouble.  To remedy the situation, Cleveland sent their star outfielder to the Chicago White Sox for OF Braggo Roth, OF Larry Chappell, P Ed Klepfer, and $31,500.


After hitting .341 and setting a team record in triples (21) in 1916, Jackson's average dipped to .301 in 1917.  Although his productivity was not up to his standards, the White Sox still won the American League pennant and defeated the New York Giants in the World Series.  Jackson hit .304 in his first Fall Classic.


Jackson played in only 17 games in 1918 before taking a draft-exempt job when the US entered World War I.  While he was technically working at a ship building plant, Jackson spent much of his time playing baseball in the Bethlehem Steel League.


When he returned to the White Sox in 1919, they appeared to have the best team in baseball.  The Sox again captured the AL flag, helped by Jackson's .351 average, and were set to face the underdog Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.


What happened, of course, lives in infamy.  Eight Chicago players conspired to fix the World Series and Cincinnati walked away with the title in eight games (the World Series was a best of nine contest that season).  Jackson hit .375 with a record 12 hits in the tainted series.


Rumors of the fix swirled the entire off-season, but when the 1920 season began seven of the eight players (1B Chick Gandil retired) were in the lineup.  Jackson, in fact, had one of his finest seasons.  The 31 year old hit .382 and led the AL with 20 triples.


Following the season Jackson and the seven others were indicted by a grand jury and went to trial for conspiracy to fix the 1919 World Series.  All eight were cleared of all wrong doing by the jury, but were far from in the clear.  Newly appointed commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis chose to make an example of the eight men and banned them from the game for life.


No longer able to play the game he loved at his highest level, Jackson moved with his wife Katherine to Savannah, GA where he led a productive life.  The couple started a successful dry cleaning business, and Jackson played baseball for semipro teams.  In 1929 Jackson moved back to Greenville, SC where he lived until his death in 1951.


Today "Shoeless" Joe Jackson is one of the most romanticized figures in baseball history.  Legions of fans campaign for his reinstatement into baseball and induction into the Hall of Fame. 

-David Zingler, April 2003

Simply Baseball Notebook

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