Chicago White Sox: Shoeless Joe Jackson Awaits Justice 50 Years After His Death

Anonymous ChicagoanContributor IIIOctober 24, 2011

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 5:  'Shoeless' Joe Jackson's bat stands on display during an auction preview at Sotheby's December 5, 2005 in New York City. The bat, called 'Black Betsy,' will be auctioned December 10 and was last purchased at a 2001 auction for $577,610.  (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)
Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Innocent until proven guilty:  This is principle on which the American justice system is based. However, in the case of Shoeless Joe Jackson, it is a case of guilty even though proven innocent.

Imagine being accused of wrong doing, facing trial, and then being acquitted by a jury of your peers. The relief of being found not guilty would feel as if the weight of the world was lifted off your shoulders.

Now imagine that despite being acquitted, you were still punished and placed into exile by your boss? That is exactly what happened to Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Shoeless Joe, of the Chicago White Sox, was accused of taking part in throwing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds along with seven of his teammates. Even though he was found innocent, he was still banned from baseball and, ultimately, the Hall of Fame. Evidence shows he had no part in the fix and the statistics show he played his all during the Series.

Shoeless Joe Jackson should be reinstated and allowed in the Hall of Fame.

The owner of the Chicago White Sox, Charles A. Comiskey, was one of the stingiest owners in all of baseball and was known throughout the league as paying his players a little as possible. Comiskey did numerous things to cut his cost when it came to his players. At one point in time, he refused to pay for laundry services for his players, making them pay out of their salaries.  The players rebutted his refusal with a refusal of their own. They refused to wash their own uniforms and continued to play in filthy uniforms. That is when the “Black Sox” moniker came about from a sports writer.

Shoeless Joe Jackson
Shoeless Joe Jackson

The White Sox star pitcher, Eddie Cicotte, was promised a $10,000 bonus by Comiskey if he won 30 games during the 1919 season. The “Old Roman”, as Comiskey was known, had Cicotte benched for two weeks when he reached 29 victories. Cicotte did not get the opportunity for his 30th win due to the owner’s actions. When Cicotte went to Comiskey at the end of the season to collect his bonus, Comiskey refused stating “you only won 29 games” .

Comiskey also promised the team an additional bonus had they won the American League pennant in 1919. The White Sox did just that, finishing 88-52 and beating the Cleveland Indians by 3.5 games. After they clinched the pennant, there was a case of stale champagne awaiting the team in the locker room. When the players realize the stale champagne was their bonus, this set the wheels in motion for some of the players to get back at the “Old Roman.”

The Beginnings

Shoeless Joe with many Black Betsy's
Shoeless Joe with many Black Betsy's

Shoeless Joe Jackson was born Joseph Jefferson Jackson in Dickens County, South Carolina. He was uneducated and illiterate, but you don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to play America’s Favorite Past Time. Jackson even said, “I ain't afraid to tell the world that it don't take school stuff to help a fella play ball". He obtained the nickname “Shoeless” because he once had a pair of spikes that were too tight during a game, took them off, and played the game in his socks.

Shoeless Joe is considered by many to be one of the purest hitters to ever play the game. The greatest home run hitter of all-time, Babe Ruth, once said "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". Detroit Tiger great, Ty Cobb, said Jackson was the finest natural hitter in the history of the game. In fact, Jackson’s .356 batting average the third highest career batting average of all-time trailing only Hall of Famers Cobb and, St. Louis Cardinal Rogers Hornsby.

Jackson was no slouch in the outfield either.  A famous sportswriter once called Joe’s glove ‘the place where triples go to die’. It’s no secret, Joe was a great player.

Babe Ruth and Shoeless discuss hitting...what a conversation
Babe Ruth and Shoeless discuss hitting...what a conversation

The Fix Is In

The White Sox had two cliques on the team. There was a group led by second baseman, Eddie Collins, who was the White Sox highest paid player and educated. The other group, which included Jackson, was led by first baseman, Chick Gandil. Gandil’s group was mainly uneducated and underpaid, whereas Collins’ group was savvier. However, it was Chick Gandil and his faction that had enough of Comiskey’s penny pinching ways.

It was Gandil that initiated the fix. As the White Sox began preparations for their series with the Reds, Gandil approached a gambler from Boston, “Sport” Sullivan, and informed him the White Sox were willing to throw the championship for $80,000. Two other gamblers, Bill Burns and Billy Maharg, agreed to put up money to cover the cost. The three men then contacted New York gambling kingpin, Arnold Rothstein. Rothstein, who was the influence for the characters Meyer Wolfsheim in novel The Great Gatsby and Nathan Detroit in the musical Guys and Dolls?, agreed to foot the bill for the fix. The only thing left was for Gandil to get his group to “play ball.”

Gandil recruited six other players to throw the 1919 World Series. The culprits included the disgruntled Cicotte, Swede Risberg, Fred McMullin, Happy Felsch, Buck Weaver, and Lefty Williams, who was also Shoeless Joe’s best friend and roommate. Rothstein was tentative about funding the fix when he heard who was going to be involved. What he needed was star power. Williams told Gandil Jackson would take part in the fix. Jackson was what Rothstein needed to make the deal happen.

Jackson, before the Series, attempted to inform Comiskey on what was going to transpire during the Series. Jackson went to Comiskey and requested to be benched during the Series so he would not be implicated in the conspiracy. The Old Roman refused Shoeless Joe's request, and the Series went on with him in the lineup.

To assure the gamblers that the players were willing to throw the series, Cicotte, who had tremendous control, hit the first batter of the Series, Reds second baseman Morrie Rath. As the games wore on, the White Sox' fixers botched fielding plays, pitched wildly, purposely cut throws off, and played out of position. Runners were gunned down trying to take an extra base and control pitchers, like Cicotte and Williams, could not find the strike zone.

Shoeless warming up prior to a game
Shoeless warming up prior to a game

The White Sox could do no right during Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-nine series. The Sox fell 9-1 and 4-2 respectively. Game 3 went to the White Sox 3-0 and Cincinnati won Game 4 with a 2-0 tally. Then Cincinnati inched within one game of winning the Series with a 5-0 Game 5 victory. After Game 5's loss, Sox manager, Kid Gleason said "We aren't hitting. I don't know what's the matter, but I do know something's wrong with my gang". With the Sox trailing the Series 4 games to 1, the players has still not received Rothstein's money. They played for real and they played to win.

Games 6 and 7 were the way the 1919 World Series should have been. The White Sox won 5-4 and 4-1 respectively and it was now a Series. The Sox had to win the final two games to claim the World Series Championship.  Lefty Williams was slated to start Game 8 and without his payment, was going to give his all. The Sox had the momentum and things were looking up.

Prior to game 8, things changed for Williams and for the White Sox. Williams was approached by gamblers and threatened harm to his family if he did not carry out the agreement. Subsequently, Williams was shelled and was knocked out of the game before the end of the first inning after letting up three runs. The Sox could not recover enough to mount a formidable comeback and lost the deciding Game 8 by a score of 10-5. The Cincinnati Reds were the World Series Champs and the Chicago White Sox had more to answer for.          

Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe
Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe

While His Teammates Throw the Series, Shoeless Joe Plays Flawlessly

There was one bright spot throughout the 1919 World Series: Shoeless Joe Jackson. Jackson’s performance, statistically speaking, was stellar to say the least. During the eight games, the White Sox scored 20 runs. Shoeless Joe was personally responsible for 11 of them. Joe had 6 RBIs, which was the most on the team, and scored 5 runs which was also most on the team. Jackson’s batting average was .375 and set a, then, record for most hits in a World Series with 12. His BA led both teams. Shoeless Joe’s only offensive downfall was getting caught trying to steal a base and striking out twice…total…in eight games! The offensive statistics show not only did Joe play, but Shoeless Joe Jackson hit better than any player on either of the teams.

Shoeless’ performance for the White Sox in left field was astounding. In 13 fielding opportunities, Jackson made absolutely no errors and threw a Red out at the plate trying to score on a fly ball. Another one of Joe’s throws to home would have been in time had Cicotte not deflected the ball away from catcher Ray Schaulk. If he were to throw the Series, Joe would have made at least one error in 8 games. In this case, not a single botched catch or errant throw. Of the 12 errors the White Sox made, 9 were owned by the other 7 Black Sox. Shoeless Joe played flawlessly in left field.

Shoeless Joe passed away in 1951 and still he waits for Cooperstown
Shoeless Joe passed away in 1951 and still he waits for Cooperstown

The Other Shoe Drops

Lefty Williams came to Shoeless Joe’s room a night after the Series ended and gave him $5,000. Shoeless was unaware his name was used in the fix and refused to accept the Williams’ delivery. Williams then threw the money on the floor and left Jackson’s room. Jackson decided to go see the Old Roman, to make known what had occurred during the Series. Comiskey's secretary would not let Joe into see him because he knew the team he had built did something not so kosher. Jackson brought the money to Comiskey's office and was repeatedly turned away by the secretary. Shoeless Joe's efforts to rectify the situation and clear his name went undaunted. The worst was yet to come.

Prior to Game 1, a local reporter had caught wind something might be up with gamblers and the White Sox and they might attempt to throw the Series. Hugh Fullerton, the Chicago reporter, was marking plays in his scorecard he felt may have been on the lam. Hall of Fame pitcher, Christy Mathewson, sat in the press box with Fullerton and would let him know if certain plays should have been made that were not. After the Series was over, Fullerton posted an article in the Chicago Daily Herald claiming the Chicago White Sox had thrown the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. The scandal was made publicized and an investigation was started by baseball immediately.

Shoeless Joe had met with Comiskey under the impression that team attorney Alfred Austrian was in fact his lawyer. Austrian in fact was on the White Sox' payroll and was advocating onbehalf of Comiskey.  The illiterate Jackson was fed moonshine by Austrian and was asked to sign a confession. So the drunken Southerner, who could neither read nor write, was coerced into signing a confession stating he and the other players threw the 1919 World Series, which ultimately led to his indictment. Cicotte had signed a confession earlier out of guilt for what he had done and Williams signed one as well. With the three confessions, the ball started rolling into legal proceedings.

The game of baseball became fragile during this period. On the field, there was already a rising young star in Boston by the name of Babe Ruth, who was saving the game with his mammoth home runs. However, as the scandal was gaining steam into the public view, baseball needed a figure as the law and someone who could lay down the rules and enforce them off the field. Baseball selected Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a federal district judge, as the upholding authority of baseball. Landis was the appointed the first commissioner of baseball, and with that position, was given the power of absolute authority of all aspects of the game. The owner's vowed to uphold whatever decision Landis would make.  

Acquitted by Jury; Condemned by Landis

Toward the tail end of the 1920 season, the eight players, Gandil, Weaver, McMillen, Cicotte, Williams, Risberg, Felsch, and Shoeless Joe Jackson, were indicted on charges for throwing the World Series. The trial went on during the summer of 1921, however, many critical documents, including the signed confessions of Cicotte, Williams, and Jackson and testimonies from the players involved, were missing.  After the evidence was presented, the lawyers went back and forth, from opening to closing arguments, the jury began deliberations. After a few hours, the jury had reached a verdict. All eight players were acquitted, by a jury of their peers.

A few days after their acquittal, Shoeless Joe and the others were ready to get back to playing. They all had not played since late in the 1920 season due to the scandal and grand jury testimonies. Then the unforeseen proverbial hammer dropped.

"Regardless of the outcome of the juries, no player that throws a ball game, no man that entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed, and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever again play professional baseball." --Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, 1921

The first baseball commissioner had imposed a lifetime ban the eight acquitted White Sox for throwing the 1919 World Series. All were acquitted. All were banned. However, all did not perform up to Shoeless Joe Jackson's statistics. All did not try to get benched in the World Series to not be a part of the fix. All did not try to talk to Charles Comiskey to make him aware there were some players not performing to standards on purpose. Shoeless Joe Jackson did all of these things. Shoeless Joe did all these things and was now banned for life from the game he loved.

The other seven players involved in the scandal even stated Jackson never attended any of the meetings concerning the fix. Lefty Williams went so much further to say the gamblers weren’t willing to fund the names provided. He said Jackson’s name gave the group more credibility and clout. “Jackson’s name did the trick, though he had no knowledge of the fix”, Williams said.

There is no proof that Jackson committed any wrongdoing through the 1919 World Series. The money that was taken, Jackson tried to turn in and was told by Comiskey’s secretary to take it. There are too many circumstances that should not have even led to an indictment. Shoeless Joe Jackson’s lifetime ban from baseball was unwarranted and wrong. Until Shoeless Joe Jackson’s death in 1951, he lobbied the Commissioner’s Office numerous times to be reinstated into baseball to no avail.

The Public Clamors for Shoeless Joe's Exoneration

Today, politicians, Major League Baseball Hall of Famers, and the public still long for Shoeless Joe Jackson to be reinstated into baseball and inducted into the Hall of Fame. The United States Senate has tried three times to get Shoeless Joe reinstated. Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ernest Hollings, and John McCain have petitioned in Shoeless Joe’s defense. Politicians want justice when it concerns Shoeless Joe and his reinstatement.

Hall of Famer and Boston Red Sox legend, Ted Williams, is considered by many to be the greatest hitter to ever play the game. Williams is the last major league hitter to hit over .400. Teddy Ballgame, as he is affectionately known, continued to pepper the Commissioner’s office trying to have Shoeless Joe reinstated. Williams hired a lawyer to do the legwork for his reinstatement. Williams was also in contact with the Major League Baseball Veterans’ Committee. Williams believes Shoeless Joe served any debt to Major League Baseball and his lifetime ban should have lifted when Jackson died in 1951. He felt if a reinstatement of Shoeless Joe was out of the Commissioner’s hands, it would be at the discretion of the Veterans’ Committee. Ted Williams died in 2002; however, the hope of reinstating Shoeless Joe Jackson did not die with him.

There are numerous websites around the internet providing information to the public so they have the ability to do their part to get the Commissioner to consider reinstatement. The website www.blackbetsy.com, named for Shoeless Joe’s bat, offers a letter to be printed out and addressed to current Major League Baseball Commissioner, Bud Selig. The letter requests reinstatement of Shoeless Joe and even provides numerous facts in support of Jackson’s case.

Shoeless Joe Jackson was definitely not perfect. He tried to right what was wrong and was thrown out of baseball with a lifetime ban.  Charlie Comiskey used Shoeless’ Joe's illiteracy against him by having him sign a confession he couldn't read.  He was acquitted by a jury of his peers of any wrong doing. Joe's performance speaks for itself in the 1919 World Series. With the public support, the support of politicians, and former major leaguers, we can shower the league commissioner's office to reinstate Shoeless Joe Jackson and place his memory and career where it belongs, the Baseball Hall of Fame.