Joe's Story  

Joseph Jefferson Jackson
"Shoeless Joe"
1888 - 1951

Lifetime Batting Average: .356 (third highest in baseball history)

 
Philadelphia Athletics   1908 - 1909 1911:   Batted .408 (highest average ever by a rookie)
Cleveland Naps   1910 - 1915 1912:   Led the American League in Triples
Chicago White Sox   1915 - 1920 1913:   Led the American League in Hits (.551 slugging)
Position:   Left Field 1917:   Led the the Chicago White Sox to World Series victory against the NY Giants
Threw:   Right-Handed
Batted:   Left-Handed 1919:   World Series Batting Average of .375

The great Ted Williams once remarked: “When I was younger, the Red Sox used to stop sometimes in Greenville, South Carolina—that’s Joe Jackson’s home. And he was still alive. Oh, how I wish I had known that and could have stopped in to talk hitting with that man.”

Many of us wish we could have talked with Joe Jackson!


  There are still folks around the Greenville area who knew Joe. Most of them were kids during the ‘40s when they learned to bat and throw from the old man who ran the liquor store on Pendleton Street. Years later, only after Joe was gone and they were grown, did they understand that “Mr. Joe” had been one of America’s greatest ballplayers.

Joe Jackson came from a hard life of southern poverty. He was born on July 16, 1888, in Pickens County, the first of six boys and two girls born to George and Martha Jackson. When Joe was six years old, he went to work at Pelzer Mill sweeping cotton dust off the wooden floors.

In early 1901, George Jackson moved his family to the Brandon community of West Greenville, SC.  Life was tough for the large family, and like so many children of textile mill workers, Joe went to work at Brandon Mill to help his family. There was no time for school, and Joe never learned to read or write. He probably would have spent the rest of his life working in the textile mill except for one thing—baseball.

At an early age Joe showed signs of greatness at bat and in the field, and by the time he was thirteen he was playing on the Brandon Mill men's team.  Folks said they could be blindfolded and still know when Joe hit the ball because they heard a special 'crack!' When he hit a homer, his brothers would scatter through the crowd passing their hats for tips and sometimes made as much as $25.00 a game.

Joe's home runs were known as “Saturday Specials,” his line drives “Blue Darters,” his glove, “A place where triples go to die,” and he could throw the ball more than 400 feet on the fly. Crowds cheered and clapped when he came on deck. Many years later, the great Ty Cobb told Joe:  “Whenever I got the idea I was a good hitter, I’d stop and take a look at you. Then I knew I could stand some improvement.

In 1908, Joe was playing semi-pro ball with the Greenville Spinners. During the first game of a doubleheader against the Anderson Electricians, Jackson played in new spikes that quickly wore painful blisters on his feet. In the second game, Joe took off his spikes to ease his aching "dogs."  In the seventh inning, he hit a triple. As he pulled into third base a fan of the opposing team shouted, “You shoeless son-of-a-gun!” It was the only time Joe played 'shoeless' in a game, but he was tagged with the moniker, “Shoeless Joe,” and the name stuck.
 
It didn’t take long for word of Jackson’s quick instincts and precise skills on the baseball field to reach the professional league. Connie Mack signed him with the Philadelphia Athletics in August 1908, and then traded him to Cleveland in 1910. The following year, Joe batted .408, the highest batting average ever recorded by a rookie.

In August 1915, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for $31,500 cash and three players. The White Sox were a talented team, winning the world championship in 1917 and the American League pennant in 1919. They were the heavy favorites to beat Cincinnati in the 1919 World Series, but the Reds ultimately took the title.
 
 
 
 
In response to suspicions that the White Sox were under the influence of sports bookies, Joe Jackson and seven other White Sox players, were accused of conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series.
 
The headline, "WHITE SOX INDICTED!" stunned baseball fans. At the trial in 1921, it took only two hours for a Chicago jury to render a verdict of not guilty on all counts. Despite acquittal in a court of law, and without conducting an investigation, baseball’s newly appointed baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned Jackson and the seven other White Sox from playing professional baseball, sending a no-tolerance message regarding gambling in baseball.

Whether Joe Jackson really helped fix the 1919 World Series has remained a point of dispute for eighty-nine years. Joe played flawless baseball, hitting .375 for the Series, the highest on either team. He had twelve hits (a tie for the World Series record at the time); six RBIs and no errors in eight games. He accounted for eleven of twenty runs by the Sox; and he hit the only home run in the Series!

Joe told The Sporting News in 1942:
 
 
 
Regardless of what anybody says, I was innocent of any wrong-doing. I gave baseball all I had.  The 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 grounds 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 history.
 
 
 
Following his banishment from professional baseball, Joe and his wife Kate moved to Savannah in 1922 where they owned a successful dry cleaning business. They moved back to Greenville in 1932 and opened a barbeque restaurant on Augusta Street and later a liquor store on Pendleton Street, a stone’s throw from Brandon Mill where they both grew up. During ball season, Joe played with semi-pro teams throughout the south, and even with teams in the north. In 1941, at the age of 53, Joe played in his first and only night game, putting on a hitting exhibition and belting two home runs in the process.
 
 
But Joe’s story doesn’t end here. Evidence of what actually occurred before, during and after the 1919 World Series—who was involved and who covered up the truth—is beginning to surface.  Fortunately, the Black Sox scandal is being studied by respected baseball historians who are exposing a cover-up that has long been suspected but never proven.

Jackson continues to be one of the most beloved and publicized ballplayers of all time. Several movies, a Broadway play, songs, poems, countless books, television documentaries, feature articles and the internet have spun Joe Jackson into an American icon.