Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball
years have passed since the original publication of Shoeless Joe and
Ragtime Baseball. During that time I've written many books, but none
have the drama, the pull, or the controversy of the life and times of
Joseph Jefferson Wofford Jackson.
born July 16, 1889, into a poor family in Greenville, South Carolina.
Education was never a part of his life. At the age of six, little Joe
was already working in the cotton mills as a cleanup boy. When he was
thirteen, he was performing hard labor a dozen hours a day along with
his father and brother. His only escape from the din and dust of the
mill was playing baseball on the grassy fields. A natural at the game
from the start, Jackson was recruited by the company mill team.
the outfield one very hot summer day in a new pair of shoes that were
pinching his feet, Jackson was so uncomfortable that he took them off
and played on in his stocking feet. A sportswriter noticed and dubbed
him "Shoeless Joe." Reportedly, it was the only time he played baseball
shoeless. But the name stuck.
It was a
moniker the youth despised as it reinforced his rural origins and his
inability to read and write. Perhaps that is why, when he played for the
Chicago White Sox (after stints with the Philadelphia Athletics and
Cleveland Indians), he made a point of wearing alligator and
patent-leather shoes--the more expensive the better. It was as if he
were announcing to the world, "I am not a 'Shoeless Joe.' I do wear
shoes. And they cost a lot of money!"
greatest player ever to come out of South Carolina, Jackson's .356
career batting average is the third highest, making him one of the top
players in baseball history. He batted over .370 in four different
seasons. Babe Ruth copied his swing; he said Jackson was the greatest
hitter he had ever seen. Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, and Casey Stengel
were among those who placed Jackson on their all-time All-Star team. Ted
Williams called him perhaps the greatest natural hitter of all time.
Also, Jackson was such a remarkable fielder that his glove was called
"the place where triples go to die."
he had going for him, Jackson was undone by the 1919 World Series. His
image was destroyed for his being a member of the "Black Sox," accused
of throwing the Fall Classic.
fall of 1920, Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed baseball
commissioner with a lifetime contract and a mandate to clean up the game
using whatever methods he saw fit. Landis had the reputation of being a
vindictive judge, a hanging judge. And he lived up to his reputation.
When a jury acquitted the eight accused "Black Sox" players of all
charges against them, Landis, acting as judge and jury, issued a verdict
all his own. He banned the eight players from baseball for life.
Joe maintained that he had played all out in that World Series of 1919.
In fact, he had hit the only home run of the series, recorded the
highest batting average, collected a dozen hits (a record at the time),
and committed no errors. Nevertheless, Major League Baseball was done
with Jackson and his seven teammates. Justice miscarried.
Sensationalistic slander had a field day. The powerless were punished
while the powerful prevailed. Jackson and his teammates were scapegoats,
caught at a crossroads in baseball and American history.
In 1951, a
week before he was scheduled to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show to
receive a trophy in honor of his being inducted into the Cleveland
Indians Baseball Hall of Fame, Joe Jackson died of a massive heart
to get Jackson into the Baseball Hall of Fame have failed both during
and after his lifetime. Yet, Jackson's shoes are at Cooperstown. His
life-sized photograph is there. So is a baseball bat he used, along with
the jersey he wore in the 1919 World Series and the last Major League
Baseball contract he signed. Players with far fewer credentials and far
more soiled reputations are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but Jackson
baseball commissioner who followed the posturing Kenesaw Mountain Landis
has refused to act on Shoeless Joe's behalf. Commissioner Bart Giammatti
said, "I do not wish to play God with history. The Jackson case is best
left to historical debate and analysis. I am not for reinstatement."
Commissioner Faye Vincent said, "I can't uncipher or decipher what took
place back then. I have no intention of taking formal action." Neither
did Commissioner Bud Selig, who received a myriad of messages,
petitions, and pleas and who even agreed to a meeting with Ted Williams,
who pushed for Jackson's admission to the Hall of Fame.
pressure keeps mounting to undo what many believe was a terrible wrong.
Prominent attorneys such as Alan Dershowitz and F. Lee Bailey have
argued that Jackson should go into the Hall. There have been petitions,
Congressional motions, letters sent to baseball commissioners through
the years--all to no avail. At the 1999 All-Star Game, of the one
hundred players on the ballot for the All-Century baseball team, only
two names were not displayed on banners at Fenway Park: Pete Rose and
Shoeless Joe Jackson--who had finished twelfth in the All-Century
memory and accomplishments live on. In Greenville, South Carolina, there
is a Shoeless Joe Jackson Plaza (bearing a life-sized statue of the
great ballplayer), a Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Park, a Shoeless Joe
Jackson coffeeshop/museum, and a Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Parkway.
Murals celebrating him are near the liquor store he once owned.
are books such as this one that attempt to tell the tale of the
illiterate boy who came out of the mills to become one of the greatest
baseball players of all time and who wound up as a scapegoat, vilified
through the decades by many who didn't know the full story--a story that
just will not go away.
You can reach
Harvey Frommer at:
About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
The Sporting News, among other publications.
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Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth
College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage
in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
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