Joseph Walker Jackson
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 200 lb.
- Debut August 25, 1908
- Final Game September 27, 1920
- Born July 16, 1887 in Pickens County, SC USA
- Died December 5, 1951 in Greenville, SC USA
"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." - Babe Ruth
Joe Jackson is one of the most controversial major leaguers of all time, his number three all-time career batting average of .356 arguing for the Hall of Fame and his role among the Black Sox banned from baseball for cheating during the 1919 World Series keeping him out.
Shoeless Joe received his moniker in 1908 while playing for his hometown Greenville, South Carolina team. Upon wearing new spikes for only one day, Joe had developed some pretty horrific blisters. He didn't want to play the next game against a team in Anderson, his team needed him though. Joe tried to play through the pain brought on by his new spikes. Unable to take the pain anymore, Joe took off his size 10 1/2 spikes for one inning. He came up to bat with just his socks on and hit a triple. Rumor has it that as he was pulling up at third an Anderson fan hollered "You shoeless son of a gun you!" This name stuck with him his whole "Hall of Fame worthy" career.
Joe named his favorite bat "Black Betsy." It was 36 inches long and weighed 48 ounces. Joe believed bats had only so many hits in them and when he went into a slump, Joe would discard the bat and get a new one. The only bat Joe did not discard was his original Black Betsy. Joe said hairpins brought him good luck and he would pick them up where ever he saw them... the rustier the better. Like the bats, when Joe was going through a slump he would discard his collection of hairpins and start over. Joe would keep the hairpins in the back pocket of his baseball uniform.
Joe Jackson started out as a pitcher on the mill league team, but because he threw the ball so hard and broke the catcher's arm, they placed him in the outfield.
He was an illiterate mill worker when he came to Philadelphia in 1908. Connie Mack traded him away in 1910 for Bris Lord, so Jackson missed out on the 1910 World Series and the 1911 World Series. He hit .408 in 1911 while with the Cleveland Naps. Had the same rules been in place then that are in place today, he would hold the record for highest batting average ever by a rookie. Still, his average that year ranks 6th all-time for highest average in a single-season (post-1900). To give a sense of how good a hitter he was, there were twelve seasons during the Deadball Era during which a hitter had an OPS of 1.000 or above. Five of these were by Ty Cobb and three by Jackson, with Nap Lajoie, Ed Delahanty, Tris Speaker and Babe Ruth having one each. In June of 1912, he had a .529 batting average, which is the highest by any batter in any month since 1901, just ahead of Cobb, who hit .528 in July of that same year. Another amazing stat is that he is credited for four of the top ten monthly batting averages ever, with another great month being September of 1912, during which he batted .506.
Joe Jackson was suspended from playing baseball in 1920 for allegations of his involvement in the throwing of the 1919 World Series. Say it ain't so Joe... well it ain't. The famous incident about the kid outside the courthouse saying to Joe "Say it ain't so Joe," never happened; it was made up by Charley Owens of the Chicago Daily News. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey testified under oath three times that he did not believe Joe Jackson had anything to do with the throwing of the 1919 World Series - but how would he have known what went on between players and gamblers behind closed doors. Jackson's testimony to a grand jury was pretty damning, and he later added details when questioned by reporters coming out of the courthouse. Only later would he claim he had done nothing wrong and claimed his sworn and recorded testimony was an invention - something which did not convince the judge who ruled on his civil suit for back pay in 1924.
In 1921, a Chicago jury acquitted Jackson and seven others of aiding to fix the 1919 World Series. But Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, first commissioner of baseball, went against the court's decision and banned them all from baseball for life. Although Joe Jackson is ineligible to be a member of the Hall of Fame, there are photographs of him on the walls of Cooperstown. There are even a pair of his spikes in a glass case. However, Ted Williams elected Joe into his Hitters' Hall of Fame.
In 1924, Jackson, along with two other banned players - Happy Felsch and Swede Risberg - sued the Chicago White Sox for back wages left unpaid after Landis banned them from baseball. Jackson's claim was the largest, as he had only completed the first year of a three-year contract at the time, and claimed that it could not be terminated without cause, as the White Sox had allegedly done. While his two teammates settled their case out of court, Jackson's went to trial in Milwaukee, WI, where the White Sox were incorporated. The jury found in his favor, but the presiding judge overturned their verdict, based on the fact that some of Jackson's testimony contradicted what he had told the grand jury in 1921 and thereby constituted perjury. Jackson's defense strategy was indeed pretty brazen: he claimed never to have said any of the damning statements included in his sworn testimony before the grand jury, in spite of this being part of official documents from the 1921 trial, and the stenographer and jury foreman both testifying that the transcripts were faithful.
After baseball Joe owned and operated a barbecue restaurant and then a liquor store. In later interviews, he continued to contradict himself, taking advantage of the fact relatively few people had access to his original confessions by then, and of reporters who were trying to paint a sympathetic portrait of him. By all accounts, he was a genial and likeable person, so it's understandable that reporters who sought him out would depict him favorably.
He died on December 5, 1951 at home in Greenville, SC. His death certificate dated December 9 lists the cause of death as "coronary thrombosis" caused by "arteriosclerosis" and "cirrhosis of the liver." He is buried at Section V plot 333, Woodlawn Memorial Park in Greenville.
Joe did not choose military service because he had four brothers already in the service... and he was the only man of age in his family that could help support his mother Martha and one of his sisters who was crippled (Joe was sending money to his mother before his shipbuilding days and after). At the urging of his wife Katie, Joe chose the shipbuilding industry over carrying a weapon. Joe went to work for Bethlehem Steel's Wilmington, DE plant (Harlan and Hollingsworth). There were many players who "worked" at this plant and Bethlehem's Charles Schwab saw a great opportunity to create a league of his own... which he did with all this talent he had working for him.
Jackson played his last season in the majors at age 32. He was born in 1887, although his "baseball age" had him born in 1889, but draft records confirm the earlier date. It is likely that Jackson, had he not been banned, would have played another four to seven years more in the majors. Since the lively ball era was starting it's impossible to speculate what his ultimate record might have looked like.
Even today, there are people pushing for Joe's admission into the Hall of Fame. See, for example, an article called "The Greatest Player Not in the Hall of Fame" - . Most will agree it's either him or Pete Rose.
There is no player truly similar to Joe Jackson, but the most similar players are Pete Browning and Elmer Flick. Flick is an interesting comparison because he finished out his career with the 1910 Cleveland Naps while Jackson was a youngster trying to become a regular on the same team.
- "God knows I gave my best in baseball at all times and no man on earth can truthfully judge me otherwise."
-- Joe Jackson
- "When I was up there at the plate, my purpose was to get on base any way I could, whether by hitting or by getting hit."
-- Joe Jackson
- "What a hell of a league this is. Ah hit .387, .408, and .395 the last three years and Ah ain't won nothin' yet!"
-- Joe Jackson
- "I felt I was duty-bound under contract to stick with Cleveland, and I can truthfully say, in all my playing days there and everywhere, I never shirked a duty to baseball."
-- Joe Jackson
- "I ain't afraid to tell the world that it don't take school stuff to help a fella play ball."
-- Joe Jackson
- "Hey, big mouth (yelling out to a heckler), how do you spell triple?"
-- Joe Jackson
- "When I walked out of Judge Dever's courtroom in Chicago in 1921, I turned my back completely on the World Series of 1919, the Chicago White Sox, and the major leagues. I had been acquitted by a twelve-man jury in a civil court of all charges and I was an innocent man in the records."
-- Joe Jackson
- "As I pulled into third, some big guy stood up and hollered: "You shoeless sonofagun, you!" They picked it up and started calling me Shoeless Joe all around the league, and it stuck. I never played the outfield barefoot, and that was the only day I ever played in my stockinged feet, but it stuck with me."
-- Joe Jackson
- "I have no axe to grind, that I'm not asking anybody for anything. It's all water over the dam as far as I am concerned. I can say that my conscience is clear and that I'll stand on my record in that World Series. I'm not what you call a good Christian, but I believe in the Good Book, particularly where it says "what you sow, so shall you reap." I have asked the Lord for guidance before, and I am sure He gave it to me. I'm willing to let the Lord be my judge."
-- Joe Jackson
- "Jackson's fall from grace is one of the real tragedies of baseball. I always thought he was more sinned against than sinning."
-- Connie Mack
- "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."
-- Babe Ruth
- "Everything he 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."
-- Ernie Shore
- "Cleveland fans don't think Joe is as good as Ty Cobb. They are of the unanimous opinion that he is better than the Tigers' star."
-- Sporting Life, April 29, 1911
- AL On-Base Percentage Leader (1911)
- AL Slugging Percentage Leader (1913)
- AL OPS Leader (1913)
- 2-time AL Hits Leader (1912 & 1913)
- 2-time AL Total Bases Leader (1912 & 1916)
- AL Doubles Leader (1913)
- 3-time AL Triples Leader (1912, 1916 & 1920)
- 100 RBI Seasons: 1 (1920)
- 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 4 (1911-1913 & 1920)
- 200 Hits Seasons: 4 (1911, 1912, 1916 & 1920)
- Won a World Series with the Chicago White Sox in 1917
- Howard Burman: A Man Called Shoeless, PublishAmerica, Frederick, MD, 2006.
- Gene Carney: "New Light on an Old Scandal", in The Baseball Research Journal, Society for American Baseball Research, Cleveland, OH, # 35 (2007), pp. 74-81.
- David L. Fleitz: Shoeless: The Life and Times of Joe Jackson, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2001. ISBN 978-0-7864-0978-5
- David Fleitz: "Shoeless Joe Jackson", in Jacob Pomrenke, ed.: Scandal on the South Side: The 1919 Chicago White Sox, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2015, pp. 71-77. ISBN 978-1-933599-95-3
- Harvey Frommer: Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball, Taylor Trade Publishing, Lanham, MD, 1992.
- Donald Gropman: Say It Ain't So, Joe! The True Story of Shoeless Joe Jackson Carol Publishing Group, New York, NY, 1992.
- Tim Hornbaker: Fall from Grace: The Truth and Tragedy of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, Sports Publishing LLC, New York, NY, 2016. ISBN 978-1613219133
- Bill Lamb: "An Ever-Changing Story: Exposition and Analysis of Shoeless Joe Jackson's Public Statements on the Black Sox Scandal", Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Vol. 48, Nr. 1, Spring 2019, pp. 37-48.
- Thomas K. Perry: Just Joe: Baseball's Natural, as told by his wife, Pocol Press, Clifton, VA, 2007.