Who Was Shoeless Joe Jackson?
Professional baseball player Joseph Jackson played for the Chicago White Sox. Jackson earned his nickname by once playing in stockings as his baseball shoes weren't broken in. He had a career .356 batting average, one of the highest ever, and was banished from the sport for his involvement in fixing a World Series outcome. Jackson died on December 5, 1951, in South Carolina.
Joseph Jefferson Jackson was born on July 16, 1887, in Brandon Mills, South Carolina. His family never had any money and at the age of six, Jackson, who never went to school and was illiterate his entire life, worked at a cotton mill.
By his early teen years, however, the gangly Jackson was already a superb baseball player, dominating older players while playing for the mill team. It was during this time that Jackson earned the nickname that would stick for life: Shoeless, for hitting a base clearing triple after forgoing a pair of baseball spikes that had started to irritate his feet.
Big League Career
In 1908 the Philadelphia A's purchased Jackson's contract for $325 from the Greenville Spinners. While a country boy at heart, Jackson, who was traded to the Cleveland franchise prior to the 1910 season, quickly grew accustomed to his new city life and playing in the big leagues.
In 1911, his first season as a full-time player, Jackson, with his trusty bat, Black Betsy, slugged a .408 average, banging out 19 triples and 45 doubles. The next season it was much the same. Jackson's abilities were such that he drew praise from the mercurial Ty Cobb and even Babe Ruth, who gushed: "I copied (Shoeless Joe) 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."
A little more than halfway through the 1915 season, Jackson was on the move again, this time courtesy of a trade from Cleveland to Chicago, where the outfielder suited up for the White Sox. In 1917, Jackson helped lead his new club to a World Series title.
Black Sox Scandal
During the 1919 season, it looked as though Jackson and the White Sox would again finish the season as champs. The club steamrolled through the competition, with Jackson hitting .351 and knocking in 96 runners.
But for all the team's success, the club's owner, Charles Comiskey, preferred to underpay his players and not pay out promised bonuses. Disgruntled and angry, eight members, including Jackson, were accused of accepting payments for throwing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Jackson later denied he knew about the fix and said his name had been given to the conspirators without his consent to participate in the scam.
For Jackson's part, the hard-hitting ballplayer was promised $20,000, a significant bump in pay from his $6,000 salary. Still, Jackson's stellar performance in the series didn't quite add-up; he didn't quite throw in the towel for every single game. Over the course of the eight-game series, which Cincinnati won, five games to three, Shoeless batted .375, including an impressive .545 in the contests the White Sox won. The batting stats were the highest of any player on both teams.
But not everything went as planned as far as the money promised. Jackson only received $5,000 for the fix and said later that he tried to return the money. He had signed a confession stating he had accepted the money, but later claimed that he didn't understand the the confession and that the team’s attorney had taken advantage of his illiteracy. Nonetheless, when the fix was discovered all eight players were brought to trial. Jackson and his teammates were all acquitted but, in 1920, baseball's newly appointed commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned the group from the sport for life. Jackson's promising career was over.
Post Scandal Life and Death
Eventually, Jackson retired to Greenville, South Carolina, with his wife Katie. There, he operated a number of businesses, including a pool parlor and a liquor store.
For the rest of his life Jackson tried to get reinstated into the game in the hope that would he be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It never happened. Jackson died on December 5, 1951.
Jackson is depicted in the movies Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams, where Ray Liotta portrays the player.
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