midsummer spectacle of Hall of Fame
inductions is now past. There was lots
of hype, lots of hoopla, lots of
celebrating of one of the greatest
induction classes in Cooperstown
history. And that was what it should
have been like.
Mention of “Shoeless
Joe” was minimal. Pete Rose even got
more of the spotlight in conversations.
They are two of those 15 who received
lifetime bans issued by the
commissioners of baseball through the
years. 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
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
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
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
He was asked under oath at trial:
"Did you do anything to throw those
"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
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
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
Commissioner Bud Selig has not touched
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.
(From the Vault)
(To read more check out
my Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball, to
be published in a new edition spring
2015 as a Harvey Frommer Baseball