With one of the most exciting World Series
ever played now truly “one for the books,” the memory of another long
ago Fall Classic surfaces. It was the 1919 contest between the Chicago
White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. It was the one that saw eight players
ultimately and unjustly banned from baseball for life. It was the one
that made “Shoeless Joe Jackson” into a scapegoat, victim and story that
just won’t go away.
On July 16, 1889, Joseph Jefferson
Wofford Jackson was born into a poor family in Greenville, South
Carolina. He never learned to read or write. By the time he was six
years old, he worked as a cleanup boy in the cotton mills.
By age 13, he labored amidst the din and
dust a dozen hours a day along with his father and brother. It was hard
and back-breaking employment. Playing baseball on grassy field was his
way of escape. It was there where Joe’s natural ability stood out.
Baseball was his game, and he loved it. The youth had such passion and
skill that he was recruited to play for the mill team organized by the
One humid and hot summer day, Jackson
was playing the outfield. His shoes pinched. He removed them and played
in his stocking feet. An enterprising sportswriter gave him the
nick-name: "Shoeless Joe." Even though it was reported that was the only
time Jackson ever played that way in a game - the “Shoeless” moniker
stuck. He hated the name, feeling it cruelly referenced the fact that
he could not or write.
From the mill team, Jackson moved on to
play with the Greenville, South Carolina Spinners. It was there in 1908
that a scout recommended him to Philadelphia Athletics owner/manager
Connie Mack who purchased his contract for $325.
The youngster made his Major League
Baseball debut on August 25, 1908. The more he played the more his
potential impressed everyone. An article in the The Evening Times noted:
“He has justified early predictions of his abilities. With experience
and the coaching of Manager Mack, he should turn out to be…the find of
Sadly, Jackson was unable to read what
the Philadelphia newspaper wrote about him. He could not even read
menus. In restaurants he usually ordered what another player did. Sadly,
he did not fit in with his teammates or the big city. Homesick, he
jumped the team and took a train back home.
Mack sent Jackson down to a minor league
team in Georgia in 1909 where he won the batting title. In 1910, Mack
called him up to the big league team but decided that Jackson lacked the
disposition to play in a big city like Philly. In one of the worst
trades in baseball history, the six foot one, 190 pound Jackson was
shipped to Cleveland for a player named Bris Lord (Bristol Robotham
Lord , nick-named the (The Human Eyeball) and $6,000.
Shoeless Joe fit in quite nicely in
Cleveland where he batted .408 in 1911. In mid-season of 1915, after
compiling a .375 career batting average with the Ohio team, Jackson was
traded after mid season for three players and $15,000 to the White Sox.
It was in Chicago that Jackson 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!"
With the White Sox, Jackson became one of
baseball’s storied stars. His defensive play was at such a remarkable
level that his glove was called "the place where triples go to die."
On offense, he was one of the most feared
hitters of his time. Babe Ruth copied his swing claiming Jackson was the
greatest hitter he ever saw.
Then Along came 1919!
The 1919 Chicago White Sox were one of
the greatest teams of their era. Paced by Jackson who batted .351, they
won the American League pennant. They were 3-1 favorites to win the
World Series as they prepared to face off against the Cincinnati Reds.
Prior to the series betting odds started
to shift to even money. The word on the street was that New York gambler
Arnold Rothstein was behind the swing, that the series was fixed.
Hearing the rumor, the 31-year-old
Jackson asked Chicago manager Kid Gleason and owner Charles Comiskey to
bench him. But they insisted he play. They would have been crazy to put
down their best player.
During the series, Jackson hit the only
home run. He posted the highest batting average. He committed no errors.
He established a new World Series record with 12 hits. Nevertheless, the
Reds won the Fall Classic.
Edd Rousch, who played for the Reds,
insisted that charges that the series was fixed was nonsense. "We were
just the better team," he said.
"Maybe I'm a dope but everything seemed
okay to me," said umpire Billy Evans who worked the series.
But the rumor of a fix persisted as the
1920 season got underway. The White Sox were driving hard to their
second straight pennant when a petty gambler in Philadelphia broke the
news that a Cubs-Phillies game had been fixed in 1919.
That led to a gambling investigation -
its focus the 1919 World Series. With only a couple of days left in the
1920 season, a Grand Jury was called to determine whether eight White
Sox players should stand trial for allegedly throwing the 1919 World
Series. Jackson was one of the eight players.
It took the jury a single ballot to
acquit all eight accused players. Incredibly, the very next day,
baseball's first commissioner - Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who came
to power in the fall of 1920 with a lifetime contract and a mandate to
clean up the game using whatever methods he saw fit - banned all eight
players from baseball for life. The bigoted Landis was brought into
organized baseball with a reputation of being a vindictive judge, a
hanging judge. He was all of that.
Was there a plan to throw the World
Series in 1919?
Was a plan carried out?
If so, which games were dumped?
What role did each banned player have?
Why was there a total banning of the
Buck Weaver was banned not for dumping
but for allegedly having guilty knowledge that there was a plot.
Fred McMullen was banned though he came
to bat twice and got one hit.
And Joe Jackson was banned although his
performance exceeded his own standards.
Most importantly, the eight players were
found not guilty in a court of law.
Yet, they were found guilty by a brand
new Baseball Commissioner.
At the trial, Joe Jackson was asked under
"Did you do anything to throw those
"No sir," was his response.
"Any game in the series?"
"Not a one," was Jackson’s response. "I
didn't have an error or make no misplay."
With the banning from baseball for life
of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and the seven other White Sox players, it
seemed the sport was saying - now we are clean. Now we have purged
ourselves of the dishonest ways of the past in the national pastime. And
if Jackson in the prime of his baseball career and the others were
sacrificed, that was the way it had to be.
Shoeless Joe Jackson maintained that he
had played all out in that World Series of 1919. Nevertheless, Major
League Baseball was done with Jackson and his seven teammates. It was a
miscarriage of justice, a field day for slander on parade. Powerless
players were punished, scapegoated.
For a couple of decades Jackson attempted
to play the game that he loved, the game that he had learned so well
back in the days of his youth. He made an effort to play with outlaw
barnstormers, mill teams, semi-pro outfits. Aliases and disguises did
him not much good; his unmistakable talent brought the spotlight to be
bear on him. Relentless, unforgiving, prejudiced Judge Landis, to
keep Jackson from playing, threatened baseball team owners and league
In 1932, Jackson applied for permission
to manage a minor league team in his home town of Greenville, South
Carolina. Landis denied the application.
In 1951, Joseph Jefferson Jackson died
of a massive heart attack a week before he was to appear on the Ed
Sullivan television show. He was scheduled to receive a trophy honoring
him for being inducted into the Cleveland Indians Baseball Hall of Fame.
It is an old story
The roster of hall of Famers includes
personalities with much shabbier credentials and far more soiled
reputations. Attempts to get Joe Jackson into the Baseball Hall of Fame
failed during and after his lifetime. Yet, Jackson's shoes are at
Cooperstown. Yet, his life-sized photograph is there. So is a baseball
bat he used, along with the jersey he wore in the 1919 World Series. So
is the last Major League Baseball contract he signed.
Prominent attorneys like 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.
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."
Commissioner Bud Selig has not stood up
for Joe Jackson even though he met with Ted Williams who pushed for
Jackson's admission to the Hall of Fame.
Four times Jackson batted over .370. His
lifetime batting average was .356, topped only by Ty Cobb and Rogers
Hornsby. Ruth, Cobb, and Casey Stengel all placed him on their all-time,
all star team.
Vilified through the decades by many who
never knew or didn’t care to know the full story—his is 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.
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.