Chicago White Sox: What You Didn't Know About Shoeless Joe Jackson

Steven KersteinContributor IFebruary 27, 2012

Chicago White Sox: What You Didn't Know About Shoeless Joe Jackson

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    Shoeless Joe Jackson will forever be remembered for his "involvement" in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal where eight members of the team were banned from the game of baseball.

    The basics: eight members of the Chicago White Sox accepted $5,000 apiece in exchange for sabotaging the 1919 World Series and losing to the Cincinnati Reds.

    In an era when ballplayers needed every last buck, the committing of the deed was immoral yet fathomable.

    To this day, much remains hazy regarding the intricacies of the operation, including Jackson's role. The only thing we know for certain is that Shoeless Joe Jackson was an amazing ballplayer, and his story needs to be heard.

The Origin of His Nickname

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    It's actually pretty self-explanatory and one of the least interesting things I learned after reading about Jackson.

    Here it goes. Jackson was playing in the mill leagues in South Carolina and got blisters from a pair of stiff, new cleats.  

    Before stepping up to the plate, Jackson proceeded to take off his shoes and play in just his stockings.

    Nobody really noticed until Jackson was running around the bases and an annoying fan shouted the famous insult "You shoeless son of a gun, you!" 

    Who knew that fan's weak insult would stick for the rest of history?

Jackson Was Illiterate

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    Growing up in South Carolina at the turn of the 20th century, the ability to read and write didn't necessarily translate into putting food on the table. 

    Known as a "linthead" because of his work in textile mills, Jackson never actually learned how to read or write.

    At this juncture in American history, education was more of a luxury than an expectation.

    While this seems shocking, Jackson's illiteracy was more commonplace back then.

    On team road trips, Jackson allegedly ordered the same thing as his teammates did because he was too embarrassed to have them read the menu to him.  For Jackson's sake, I hope they didn't order broccoli too often.

    Jackson's inability to sign many autographs resulted in his wife signing items for the slugger.  As a result, any autographed item said to be signed by Jackson comes with the risk that it actually wasn't signed by the ballplayer. 

His Early Struggles

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    Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics was the first guy to give Jackson a shot in the bigs.  

    Whether it was the team hazing or the adjustment to the big city, Shoeless had a tough go at it in Philly.

    He struggled to stay in the big leagues and was soon shipped to the Cleveland Naps.

    He certainly didn't do any napping during his time in Cleveland. In his rookie season, he hit a robust .408 during the 1908 campaign.  

    By 1909, he was a force to be reckoned with in the American League.  He was a triples machine, leading the AL in the category.

    In August 1915, Jackson again headed to the big stage by getting traded to the Chicago White Sox.  

His Success in Chicago

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    When Shoeless Joe Jackson is mentioned, the Black Sox Scandal of 1919 is obviously the first thing that comes to mind.

    People seem to forget or overlook the fact that he was one heck of a player.

    In his six seasons with the Pale Hose, he hit .340 while striking out 87 times—87 times over the course of six seasons is absolutely ridiculous.  Just ask Adam Dunn.

    While he didn't hit for power, he still is considered by most baseball people to be one of the greatest outfielders of all time.  Currently, his .356 lifetime batting average is third all-time.

    Hey, the Great Bambino himself (Babe Ruth) supposedly modeled his batting stance after Jackson's. Good enough for me.

    Until 2005, his 1917 White Sox were the last World Series Champions on the South Side.

The Name of His Bat

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    Jackson seemed like quite the character.

    Like any legend or hero, Shoeless required his own side-kick.

    Too bad, his didn't actually have a heartbeat.  

    Black Betsy had a different type of charge, knocking the ball all over the field.  

    Jackson had an emotional attachment to his bat, often hoping that she would bring him luck.

    Over the course of his time playing the game, he formed a relationship with Blond Betsy, Caroliny, Ol' Genril and Big Jim.  Better bats than women..

His Play in the 1919 World Series

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    If Jackson was really trying to throw the 1919 World Series, it would appear that he was terrible at it.  

    In addition to hitting .375 and setting a record for base hits (12) for a World Series, he played fine defense in the field and even gunned down a runner at home. 

    Critics have claimed that there were an unusual amount of triples in the series, but this can't really proven.

    While we may never know, Jackson looked more like a potential MVP rather than goat during the 1919 matchup against the Reds.

His Confession

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    When analyzing the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, it is important to take the situation with a grain of salt.

    While I cannot personally vouch about Jackson's integrity, it sounds as though the guy was severely taken advantage of.  

    The combination of Jackson's illiteracy combined with his small-town personality made him an easy target for both bookies and his teammates to exploit.

    While his teammates didn't necessarily ever question the bribe, Jackson allegedly refused the bribe twice before finally caving.

    When he finally couldn't refuse anymore, Jackson asked cheapskate owner Charles Comiskey to bench him for the series.  

    Again, this is all undocumented and cannot actually be validated.  Nonetheless, it sounds like Jackson was duped and made a scapegoat.

    Because he couldn't afford his own legal counsel, Jackson had to rely on the services of team representative Alfred Austrian.  Keep in mind Charles Comiskey was all for punishing the players said to throw his World Series.  Sounds like a conflict of interest.

     Although Jackson did inevitably cave in, coercion and alcohol consumption probably played a big role in Jackson's confession. 

His Hall Hopes

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    While Jackson and his teammates were acquitted in 1921, Commissioner Landis banned the men from the game of baseball.  

    Although Jackson has been dead since 1951, he remains on MLB's ineligible list.  

    This might seem insignificant because the man's been dead for more than 60 years.

    Unfortunately for Jackson and the game of baseball, his inclusion on this infamous list makes him ineligible for the Hall of Fame.

    In 1999, the US House of Representatives pushed MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig to take Jackson off the ineligible list.  The end result: crickets.  

    Nothing concrete has been accomplished in salvaging Jackson's Hall hopes.  Perhaps in the future things will change.  Wishful thinking, Sox fans?

His Legacy

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    Shoeless Joe Jackson is a prime example of how society constantly remembers a man's darkest hour regardless of what else he may have accomplished.

    Jackson might not have not been able to "say it wasn't so," but his guilty confession certainly isn't black and white.  

    He was a man who just wanted to play the game for as long as he could.  Ray Liotta in Field of Dreams portrayed him as just that; somebody who lived to play baseball.

    After returning to South Carolina years after the scandal, it's been said that Ty Cobb stepped into Joe Jackson's Liquor Store and Jackson failed to recognize the Hall of Famer.  

    Cobb proceeded to ask Jackson if he knew who he was and Jackson turned around and said "Sure, I know you, Ty, but I wasn't sure you wanted to know me. A lot of them don't."

    All Jackson wanted was to be known.  With my help, I hope he will be for the right reasons.