Shoeless Joe Remains a Scapegoat
At the 1999 All-Star game, 98 of the 100 players on the ballot for the
All-Century Baseball team were honored with banners hanging at Fenway Park.
However, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, two of the best players in the
history of the game, were not.
"Charlie Hustle" and "Shoeless Joe" are becoming baseball's odd couple - both
ineligible for the Hall of Fame because of a lifetime ban, two of just 15 ever
issued by the commissioner of baseball. No person ever permanently banned has
ever been reinstated.
Most sports fans know a lot about Pete Rose: however, their knowledge about
Jackson is sketchy, sometimes inaccurate. So for the record - the facts.
Joseph Jefferson Wofford Jackson was born to a poor family on July 16, 1889 in
Greenville, South Carolina. School was never a part of his life for at the age
of six he was already working in the cotton mills as a cleanup boy.
By the time he was 13 he was laboring a dozen hours a day along with his father
and brother. His sole escape from the back-breaking work, the din and dust of
the mill, took place out in the grassy fields playing baseball. He was a
natural right from the start, good enough to be noticed and recruited to play
for the mill team organized by the company.
One hot summer day Jackson played the outfield wearing a new pair of shoes.
They pinched his feet, so he took them off and played in his stocking feet. A
sportswriter who saw what he did dubbed him "Shoeless Joe." The name stuck even
though that was the only time Jackson is reported to have played 'shoeless.'
He despised the name for he felt it reinforced his country-bumpkin origins, the
fact that he could not read nor write.
Perhaps that was why when he played for the Chicago White Sox after stints with
the Philadelphia Athletics and Cleveland Indians, he wore alligator and patent
leather shoes - the more expensive the better. It was if he was announcing to
the world: "I am not a Shoeless Joe. I do wear shoes. And they cost a lot of
He was the greatest ball player ever from South Carolina, one of the top
players of all time. His lifetime batting average was .356, topped only by Ty
Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.
Four times he batted over .370. Babe Ruth copied his swing claiming Jackson was
the greatest hitter he ever saw. Ruth, Cobb, and Casey Stengel all placed him
on their all-time, all star team. He was such a remarkable fielder that his
glove was called "the place where triples go to die."
In the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown one can find Jackson's
shoes. His life size photograph is there. But he is not there even though
others with far less credentials and far more soiled reputations are. Shoeless
Joe had to leave the game in disgrace, one of the members of the "Black Sox"
accused of throwing the 1919 World Series.
He was asked under oath at trial:
"Did you do anything to throw those games?"
"No sir," was his response.
"Any game in the series?"
"Not a one," Jackson answered. "I didn't have an error or make no misplay."
In fact, Shoeless Joe was under-stating his accomplishments which included the
only series home run, the highest batting average, the collecting of a record
dozen hits, while committing no errors.
It took the jury a single ballot to acquit all eight accused players of the
charges against them. But the very next day baseball's first commissioner -
Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis - issued a verdict of his own. He banned all
eight players from baseball for life.
Landis was brought into organized baseball in the fall of 1920 with a lifetime contract and a mandate to clean up the game using whatever methods he
saw fit. He had the reputation of being a vindictive judge, a hanging judge -
and he was all of that.
Every baseball commissioner since Landis has refused to act on "Shoeless Joe's
Commissioner Faye Vincent said: "I can't uncipher or decipher what took place
back then. I have no intention of taking formal action."
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
Public pressure keeps increasing year by year. But the ban still remains. It is a story that won't go away, like a riddle inside a jigsaw puzzle
inside an enigma. It is a story about a great baseball injustice - - - a
talented player caught at a crossroad in American history who became a victim,
a scapegoat so that the sport of baseball could offer up a cleaner image.
(Harvey Frommer is the author of 30 sports books, including "The New York
Yankee Encyclopedia" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball.")
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.
FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and
is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
on Twitter: http://twitter.com/south2nd
on Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/edit?locale=en_US
on the Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer
Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch.
*Autographed copies of Frommer books are available .
Other Frommer sports related articles can be
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.
This Article is Copyright
© 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.
All rights reserved worldwide.