Shoeless Joe Jackson

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"Shoeless Joe" redirects here. For the novel by W. P. Kinsella, see Shoeless Joe (novel).
Joe Jackson (Shoeless)
Born: (1887-07-16)July 16, 1887
Pickens County, South Carolina
Died: December 5, 1951(1951-12-05) (aged 64)
Greenville, South Carolina
Batted: Left Threw: Right
MLB debut
August 25, 1908 for the Philadelphia Athletics
Last MLB appearance
September 27, 1920 for the Chicago White Sox
Career statistics
Batting average .356
Hits 1,772
Home runs 54
Runs batted in 785
Career highlights and awards
  • Hit .408 as a rookie in 1911
  • World Series champion (1917)
  • Third highest career batting average (.356)

Joseph Jefferson Jackson (July 16, 1887 – December 5, 1951), nicknamed "Shoeless Joe", was an American outfielder who played Major League Baseball in the early part of the 20th century. He is remembered for his performance on the field and for his alleged association with the Black Sox Scandal, in which members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox participated in a conspiracy to fix the World Series. As a result of Jackson's association with the scandal, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Major League Baseball's first commissioner, banned Jackson from playing after the 1920 season. Since then, Jackson's guilt has been disputed, and his expulsion from baseball during the prime of his career made him one of the game's legendary figures.

Jackson played for three Major League teams during his 12-year career. He spent 19081909 as a member of the Philadelphia Athletics and 1910 with the minor league New Orleans Pelicans before joining the Cleveland Naps at the end of the 1910 season. He remained in Cleveland through the first part of the 1915; he played the remainder of the 1915 season through 1920 with the Chicago White Sox.

Jackson, who played left field for most of his career, currently has the third-highest career batting average in major league history. In 1911, Jackson hit for a .408 average. It is still the sixth-highest single-season total since 1901, which marked the beginning of the modern era for the sport. His average that year also set the record for batting average in a single season by a rookie.[1] Babe Ruth said that he modeled his hitting technique after Jackson's.[2]

Jackson still holds the Indians and White Sox franchise records for both triples in a season and career batting average. In 1999, he ranked number 35 on The Sporting News '​ list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. The fans voted him as the 12th-best outfielder of all-time. He also ranks 33rd on the all-time list for non-pitchers according to the win shares formula developed by Bill James.

Early life[edit]

Jackson was born in Pickens County, South Carolina, the oldest son in the family. His father George was a sharecropper; he moved the family to Pelzer, South Carolina, while Jackson was still a baby.[3] A few years afterwards the family moved to a company town called Brandon Mill, on the outskirts of Greenville, South Carolina.[4] An attack of measles almost killed him when he was 10. He was in bed for two months, paralyzed while he was nursed back to health by his mother.[5]

Starting at the age of 6 or 7, Jackson worked in one of the town's textile mills as a "linthead," a derogatory name for a mill hand.[4] Family finances required Joe to take 12-hour shifts in the mill, and since education at the time was a luxury the Jackson family couldn't afford, Jackson was uneducated.[4] His lack of education ultimately became an issue throughout Jackson's life and even affected the value of his memorabilia in the collectibles market; because Jackson was illiterate, he often had his wife sign his signature. Consequently, anything actually autographed by Jackson himself brings a premium when sold, including one autograph which was sold for $23,500 in 1990 (equal to $42,000 today).[6] In restaurants, rather than ask someone to read the menu to him, he would wait until his teammates ordered and then order one of the items that he heard.[7]

In 1900, when he was 13 years old, his mother was approached by one of the owners of the Brandon Mill and he started to play for the mill's baseball team.[8] He was the youngest player on the team. He was paid $2.50 to play on Saturdays (equivalent to $71.00 today).[5] He was originally placed as a pitcher, but one day he accidentally broke another player's arm with a fastball. No one wanted to bat against him so the manager of the team placed him in the outfield. His hitting ability made him a celebrity around town. Around that time he was given a baseball bat which he named Black Betsy.[8] He was compared to Champ Osteen, another player from the mills who made it to the Majors.[8] He moved from mill team to mill team in search of better pay, even playing semi-professional baseball by 1905.[8]


According to Jackson, he got his nickname during a mill game played in Greenville, South Carolina. Jackson suffered from blisters on his foot from a new pair of cleats, and they hurt so much that he had to take his shoes off before an at bat. As play continued, a heckling fan noticed Jackson running to third base in his socks, and shouted "You shoeless son of a gun, you!" and the resulting nickname "Shoeless Joe" stuck with him throughout the remainder of his life.[9]

Professional career[edit]

Early professional career[edit]

1908 was an eventful year for Jackson. He began his professional baseball career with the Greenville Spinners of the Carolina Association, married 15-year-old Katie Wynn, and eventually signed with Connie Mack to play Major League Baseball for the Philadelphia Athletics.[9]

For the first two years of his career, Jackson had some trouble adjusting to life with the Athletics; reports conflict as to whether he just did not like the big city, or if he was bothered by hazing from teammates. Consequently, he spent a great portion of that time in the minor leagues. Between 1908 and 1909, Jackson appeared in just 10 games.[10] During the 1909 season, Jackson played 118 games for the South Atlantic League's Savannah Indians. He batted .358 for the year.[11]

Major League career[edit]

Ty Cobb and Joe Jackson in Cleveland in 1913

The Athletics gave up on Jackson in 1910 and traded him to the Cleveland Naps. He spent most of 1910 with the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, where he won the batting title and led the team to the pennant. Late in the season, he was called up to play on the big league team. He appeared in 20 games and hit .387. In 1911, Jackson's first full season, he set a number of rookie records. His .408 batting average that season is a record that still stands and was good for second overall in the league behind Ty Cobb. His .468 on-base percentage led the league. The following season, Jackson batted .395 and led the American League in hits, triples, and total bases. On April 20, 1912, Jackson scored the first run in Tiger Stadium.[12] The next year, he led the league with 197 hits and a .551 slugging percentage.

In August 1915, Jackson was traded to the Chicago White Sox. Two years later, Jackson and the White Sox won the American League pennant and also the World Series. During the series, Jackson hit .307 as the White Sox defeated the New York Giants.

Jackson missed most of the 1918 season while working in a shipyard because of World War I. In 1919, he came back strongly to post a .351 average during the regular season and .375 with perfect fielding in the World Series. However, the heavily favored White Sox lost the series to the Cincinnati Reds. The next season, Jackson batted .382 and was leading the American league in triples when he was suspended, along with seven other members of the White Sox, after allegations surfaced that the team had thrown the previous World Series.

Black Sox scandal[edit]

Main article: Black Sox Scandal
Jackson in 1913

After the White Sox lost the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, Jackson and seven other White Sox players were accused of accepting $5,000 each to throw the Series. In September 1920 a grand jury was convened to investigate the allegations.

During the series Jackson had 12 hits (a Series record) and a .375 batting average—leading individual statistics for both teams. He committed no errors and threw out a runner at the plate.[13]

It has been claimed that the Cincinnati Reds hit an unusually high number of triples to left field where Jackson played during the series,[14] but this is not supported by the contemporary newspaper accounts. According to first hand accounts, none of the triples were hit to left field. In fact, more triples were muffed by Shano Collins than were hit to Jackson. (Collins was ironically listed as the wronged party in the indictments of the conspirators. The indictments claimed he was defrauded of $1,784 ($24,267 today) by the actions of those charged.)

In testimony before the grand jury on September 28, 1920, news accounts from the era claim that Jackson admitted under oath that he agreed to participate in the fix:[15]

However, no such direct quote or testimony to this effect appears in the actual stenographic record of Jackson's grand jury appearance, casting doubt on their veracity.[16] Legend has it that as Jackson was leaving the courthouse during the trial, a young boy begged of him, "Say it ain't so, Joe," and that Jackson did not respond. In an interview in SPORT nearly three decades later, Jackson contended that this story was a myth.[17] A contemporary press account does refer to an exchange of Jackson with young fans outside the Chicago grand jury hearing on September 28:

When Jackson left criminal court building in custody of a sheriff after telling his story to the grand jury, he found several hundred youngsters, aged from 6 to 16, awaiting for a glimpse of their idol. One urchin stepped up to the outfielder, and, grabbing his coat sleeve, said:
"It ain't true, is it, Joe?"
"Yes, kid, I'm afraid it is," Jackson replied. The boys opened a path for the ball player and stood in silence until he passed out of sight.
"Well, I'd never have thought it," sighed the lad.[18]

Even though Jackson's exchange with the shocked young fan was most likely not a true historical event, but rather a fabrication by a sensationalist journalist, the "Say It Ain't So" story remains an oft-repeated and well-known part of baseball lore.

In 1921 a Chicago jury acquitted Jackson and his seven teammates of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the newly appointed Commissioner of Baseball, banned all eight players from ever playing again. Landis argued that while the players had been acquitted, none of them could ever be allowed back into the game if it were to clean up its public image.

Dispute over Jackson's guilt[edit]

Jackson remains on MLB's ineligible list, which since 1991 has automatically precluded his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A 1993 article in 'The American Statistician' conducted a statistical analysis on Jackson's clutch batting performance and contribution to the team performance during the 1919 World Series, and found that there was "substantial support to Jackson's subsequent claims of innocence".[19] In November 1999 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution lauding Jackson's sporting achievements and encouraging MLB to rescind his ineligibility.[20] The resolution was symbolic, since the U.S. government has no jurisdiction in the matter. At the time MLB commissioner Bud Selig stated that Jackson's case was under review; but as of the present, Jackson remains ineligible.

Jackson spent most of the last 30 years of his life proclaiming his innocence, and evidence has surfaced that casts significant doubt on his involvement in the fix. Jackson reportedly refused the $5,000 bribe on two separate occasions—despite the fact that it would effectively double his salary—only to have teammate Lefty Williams toss the cash on the floor of his hotel room. Jackson then reportedly tried to tell White Sox owner Charles Comiskey about the fix, but Comiskey refused to meet with him.[21] Unable to afford legal counsel, Jackson was represented by team attorney Alfred Austrian—a clear conflict of interest. Before Jackson's grand jury testimony, Austrian allegedly elicited Jackson's admission of his supposed role in the fix by plying him with whiskey.[13] Austrian was also able to persuade the nearly illiterate Jackson to sign a waiver of immunity from prosecution.[21] Years later, the other seven players implicated in the scandal confirmed that Jackson was never at any of the meetings. Williams said that they only mentioned Jackson's name to give their plot more credibility. Jackson's performance during the series further suggests his innocence.[13]

An article in the September 2009 issue of Chicago Lawyer magazine argued that Eliot Asinof's 1963 book Eight Men Out, purporting to confirm Jackson's guilt, was based on inaccurate information; for example, Jackson never confessed to throwing the Series as Asinof claimed. Further, Asinof omitted key facts from publicly available documents such as the 1920 grand jury records and proceedings of Jackson's successful 1924 lawsuit against Comiskey to recover back pay for the 1920 and 1921 seasons. Asinof's use of fictional characters within a supposedly non-fiction account added further questions about the historical accuracy of the book.[22]

Career statistics[edit]

See baseball statistics for an explanation of these statistics.

1,332 4,981 1,772 307 168 54 873 785 519 158 .356 .423 .517

Later life[edit]

Jackson and his wife Katie on their wedding day in 1908

During the remaining 20 years of his baseball career, Jackson played with and managed a number of semi-professional teams, most located in Georgia and South Carolina.[23] In 1922, Jackson moved to Savannah, Georgia, and opened a dry cleaning business with his wife.

In 1933, the Jacksons moved back to Greenville, South Carolina. After first opening a barbecue restaurant, Jackson and his wife opened "Joe Jackson's Liquor Store," which they operated until his death. One of the better known stories of Jackson's post-major league life took place at his liquor store. Ty Cobb and sportswriter Grantland Rice entered the store, with Jackson showing no sign of recognition towards Cobb. After making his purchase, the incredulous Cobb finally asked Jackson, "Don't you know me, Joe?" Jackson replied, "Sure, I know you, Ty, but I wasn't sure you wanted to know me. A lot of them don't."[24]

As he aged, Jackson began to suffer from heart trouble. In 1951, at the age of 64, Jackson died of a heart attack.[23] He was the first of the eight banned players to die, and is buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park. Prior to his death, he was scheduled to be interviewed on television to set the record straight about reports that he was living in poverty, but died before the interview could take place. He had no children, but he and his wife raised two of his nephews.

Films and plays[edit]

Shoeless Joe has been depicted in a few films in the late 20th century. Eight Men Out, a film directed by John Sayles, based on the Eliot Asinof book of the same name, details the Black Sox scandal in general and has D. B. Sweeney portraying Jackson.

The Phil Alden Robinson film Field of Dreams, based on Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella, stars Ray Liotta as Jackson. Kevin Costner plays an Iowa farmer who hears a mysterious voice instructing him to build a baseball field on his farm so Shoeless Joe can play baseball again. (Liotta portrays Jackson as batting right-handed and throwing left-handed, although Jackson actually batted left and threw right.)

Jackson's nickname was worked into the musical play Damn Yankees. The lead character, baseball phenomenon Joe Hardy, alleged to be from a small town in Missouri, is dubbed by the media as "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO." The play also contains a plot element alleging that Joe had thrown baseball games in his earlier days.

Jackson was also an inspiration, in part, for the character Roy Hobbs in The Natural. Hobbs has a special name for his bat (as Jackson did), and is offered a bribe to throw a game. In the book (but not the film), a youngster pleads with Hobbs, "Say it ain't true, Roy!"

Shoeless Joe is a character in the song "Kenesaw Mountain Landis", by Jonathan Coulton, although the song takes many liberties with the story for comedic effect.


Though Jackson was banned from Major League Baseball, statues and parks have been constructed in his honor. One of the landmarks built for him was a memorial park in Greenville, Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Park.[25][26] A life-size statue of Jackson, created by South Carolina sculptor Doug Young, also stands in Greenville's West End.

In 2006 Jackson's original home was moved to a location adjacent to Fluor Field in downtown Greenville. The home was restored and opened in 2008 as the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum.[27] The address is 356 Field Street, in honor of his lifetime batting average. The restoration and move was chronicled on The Learning Channel's reality show "The Real Deal" episode "A Home Run for Trademark" which aired March 31, 2007. Richard C. Davis, the owner of Trademark Properties hired Josh Hamilton as the construction foreman. In a bit or irony, the show also chronicled Hamiliton's attempt to rejoin baseball after a one-year drug abuse suspension and 3-year absence.[28]

Jackson was inducted into the Shrine of the Eternals by the Baseball Reliquary.

Jackson's first relative to play professional baseball since his banishment was catcher Joseph Ray Jackson. The great-great-grand nephew of Shoeless Joe batted .386 for The Citadel in 2013 and was then drafted by the Texas Rangers. Later that year, he made his professional debut with the Northwest League's Spokane Indians.[29][30][31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Although he was in the majors as early as 1908, Major League rules at the time stipulated that a player was considered a rookie until he has had more than 130 at-bats in a season.[1]
  2. ^ "The Baseball Page". Retrieved December 11, 2006. 
  3. ^ David L. Fleitz. Shoeless: The Life and Times of Joe Jackson. McFarland. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-7864-3312-4. 
  4. ^ a b c Fleitz p. 7
  5. ^ a b Fleitz p. 9
  6. ^ "Joe Jackson Autograph Auctioned for $23,500". The Nevada Daily Mail. Associated Press. December 9, 1990. p. 1. 
  7. ^ Honig, Donald. The Man in the Dugout.
  8. ^ a b c d Fleitz p. 10
  9. ^ a b "Chicago Historical Society". Retrieved December 11, 2006. 
  10. ^ " Biography". Retrieved December 11, 2006. 
  11. ^ "Shoeless Joe Jackson Minor League Statistics & History". Retrieved May 24, 2013.
  12. ^ The Final Season, p.5, Tom Stanton, Thomas Dunne Books, An imprint of St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY, 2001, ISBN 0-312-29156-6
  13. ^ a b c Purdy, Dennis (2006). The Team-by-Team Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball. New York City: Workman. ISBN 0-7611-3943-5. 
  14. ^ Neyer, Rob. Say it ain't so ... for Joe and the Hall. ESPN 30 August 2007.
  15. ^ "Attell Says He Will Have Plenty to Say," Minnesota Daily Star, September 29, 1920, pg. 5
  16. ^ In the Matter of the Investigation of Alleged Baseball Scandal. September 28, 1920. The testimony is available as a downloadable pdf at
  17. ^ Joe Jackson: This is the Truth
  18. ^ "'It Ain't True, Is It, Joe?' Youngster Asks," Minnesota Daily Star, September 29, 1920, pg. 5
  19. ^ Bennett, J. (1993) Did Shoeless Joe Jackson throw the 1919 World Series. The American Statistician 47(4), pp. 241-250.
  20. ^ "U.S. House Backs Shoeless Joe". November 8, 1999. Retrieved May 29, 2008. 
  21. ^ a b Plummer, William (1989-08-07). "Shoeless Joe: His Legend Survives the Man and the Scandal". People. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  22. ^ Voelker, Daniel J.; and Paul A. Duffy. "Black Sox: 'It ain't so, kid, it just ain't so' ", Chicago Lawyer, 1 September 2009.
  23. ^ a b "Joe Jackson Timeline". Retrieved November 26, 2006. [dead link]
  24. ^ "Ty Cobb & Joe Jackson story" (PDF). Retrieved November 23, 2006. [dead link]
  25. ^ " "Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Park". Retrieved December 19, 2013. 
  26. ^ Josh Pahigian (2007). The Ultimate Minor League Baseball Road Trip: A Fan's Guide to AAA, AA, A, and Independent League Stadiums. Globe Pequot. pp. 169–171. ISBN 978-1-59921-627-0. 
  27. ^ "Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library". Retrieved December 19, 2013. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ Caple, Jim. "Meet Joe Jackson, shoes 'n' all". March 26, 2014. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
  30. ^ Hartsell, Jeff. "Texas Rangers take Citadel's Joe Jackson; Mariners pick C of C pitcher Jake Zokan". June 8, 2013. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
  31. ^ "Joe Jackson Minor League Statistics & History". Retrieved March 26, 2014.


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