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Joe Jackson had the talent to be the greatest player in history, but he threw it away when he accepted $5,000 to throw the 1919 World Series. As part of the most infamous scandal in sports history, Jackson was banished from baseball following the 1920 season, along with his seven co-conspirators. The controversy over that decision has kept Jackson’s name alive long after his death in 1951, but the facts remain the same: Jackson was guilty of accepting bribe money from gamblers to fix the Series.
Jackson played for the Greenville Spinners in 1932, in a semi-pro industrial league in South Carolina.
Bibb Falk, who was a fine hitter himself.
Jackson’s 1911, 1912 and 1913 seasons are very similar in value. In 1911, as a rookie, he hit .408, which ranked second to Ty Cobb in the AL. Jackson set a rookie record with 233 hits, 126 runs scored, 45 doubles, 19 triples and a .590 slugging percentage. One note: offense was up in the AL in 1911 due to the fact that the league changed the baseball. Unlike today, when MLB refuses to admit if they tamper with the balls, in 1911 it was public knowledge that a new rubber center was used in baseballs in the AL.
In the movie “Field of Dreams,” actor Ray Liotta portrayed Joe Jackson as a right-handed hitter, because Liotta could not hit left-handed.
In 1990, a collector paid nearly $24,000 for a Joe Jackson autograph, a record amount for a 20th century autograph. Since Jackson was illiterate, he had to have copied the signature from one made by his wife.
July 25, 1910: Traded by the Philadelphia Athletics to the Cleveland Naps for Bris Lord; August 21, 1915: Traded by the Cleveland Indians to the Chicago White Sox for Braggo Roth, Larry Chappell, Ed Klepfer, and $31500 cash Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack has taken his share of heat for sending Jackson to Cleveland in the middle of the 1910 season for Bris Lord. But Mack had legitimate reasons for the move, even though it cost him in the long run. First, Jackson had toyed with Mack, refusing to report on two occasions, once in 1908 and once in 1910. Jackson was afraid to play in Philadelphia, fearful of being so far away from the comforts and familiarity of the south. Secondly, Jackson’s awkward southern habits made him an outcast with his Philadelphia teammates, much like Ty Cobb with Detroit. Mack made a deal that he felt netted him a solid outfielder, in Lord, who had came up with the A’s in 1905. In 1910 and 1911, the A’s won the World Series with Lord in center field. So the trade, at least short-term, benefitted Mack’s club. Lord performed poorly in the post-season, but he did bat .310 during the 1911 season with 37 doubles, 11 triples and 92 runs scored. Of course, Lord, whose large forehead earned him the ugly nickname “The Human Eyeball,” was not a great player like Jackson, and was out of the league in 1914.
Jackson set practically every rookie batting record you can think of in 1911. Most of those records have been eclipsed, except his .408 average, which may last forever.
As a player, Jackson was a left-handed hitter with a beautiful swing, which Babe Ruth claimed to have imitated. Jackson had power and speed, was considered the finest left fielder in the game, and possessed a strong arm. He never won a batting title, but finished second to Ty Cobb in his first three full seasons, and ranked third on two other occasions. With his career curtailed because of the “Black Sox” scandal, Jackson’s career average remained frozen at .356 – the third highest in history.
Jackson and the 1919 World Series
Jackson batted .375 with 12 hits in the eight games. He led the White Sox with six RBI and hit their only home run. Yet, in my opinion, looking at the full details of Jackson’s performance in the 1919 Series would actually support my belief that Shoeless Joe played dishonestly. That cannot be said for every game, because it’s been established that some or all of the White Sox played Game Six and Game Seven on the up-and-up. It should be noted that four of Jackson’s hits occurred in those two contests, which means he was 8-for-28 (.286) in the “dishonest” games. This, of course, does not prove his guilt. However, it is important to note that a player may affect the outcome of a game in a negative way without committing an error or hitting poorly. He may collect his hits at times when his team doesn’t have runners on base or when his team is behind and the game is not in jeopardy. In the field he may position himself poorly or be lackadaisical in chasing after the ball. For instance, in the fourth Inning of Game One, Jackson fielded a ball hit to the base of the wall in left-center field. The ball was played into a triple, in part due to his casual fielding. Two runs scored. The next batter hit a ball to left field for a hit, which Jackson gathered and threw late to the infield, allowing the runner (Morrie Rath) to reach second. The following batter singled, scoring Rath. Five runs scored in this inning that was obviously the result of pitcher Eddie Cicotte and the other fixers playing less than honestly. Catcher Ray Schalk, who was not involved in the fix, was furious at his pitcher, realizing Cicotte was ignoring his pitch calls and throwing fat fastballs to the Reds. Jackson’s game-by-game breakdown for the 1919 World Series: Game One Batting: 0-for-4, safe on an error, scored a run (Gandil – chief planner of the fix, blooped a hit to score him). In the 2nd Jackson led off and was safe on an error, in the 4th he grounded to short, in the 6th he batted with two runners on base and grounded out to first. In the 9th with the Sox trailing 9-1, Jackson hit a deep fly ball to right for the first out of the inning. Fielding: The two plays in the fourth inning (described above), but no charged errors. Game Two Batting: 3-for-4; first hit was a double leading off the 2nd inning, he was stranded. His next hit was in the 4th inning, a single advancing Buck Weaver. No runs scored in the inning. In the 6th inning Jackson came up with Weaver at second and was called out on strikes. With two out in the 8th, Jackson singled and hustled to second base on a fielding error by the right fielder. He was stranded on base. Fielding: In the bottom of the 4th inning, a ball was hit over Jackson’s head and to the wall, allowing the batter to third base for a triple and resulting in two runs for Cincinnati. Game Three Batting: 2-for-3 with a run scored; he singled to open the 2nd inning, later scoring on Gandil’s hit (which may indicate that the players were trying to win due to the fact that they hadn’t been paid what they were promised). In the 3rd inning Jackson popped out with two men aboard. Joe opened the 6th with a bloop hit to left field. Fielding: No unusual or notable plays. It appears this game was played honestly by the fixers as they realized they had been stiffed by the gamblers. In addition, Dickie Kerr, not in on the conspiracy, started and pitched brilliantly, making the Sox three runs hold up. Another possible conclusion is that the fixers tried to look less conspicuous in this game, realizing they had made some bumbling plays in the first two games, but were foiled by Kerr’s pitching. Game Four Batting: 1-for-4; Jackson’s only hit came leading off the 2nd inning, when Reds outfielder Edd Roush misplayed his flyball. He was credited with a double on what probably should have been an error (the game was in Chicago and one may speculate that the home town scorer favored Jackson’s batting average over Roush’s fielding percentage). Cincinnati second baseman Rath made an error on Jackson’s 3rd inning grounder, and Jackson later grounded to short and struck out in the Sox 2-0 loss. Fielding: In the 5th inning (when Cincinnati scored all of their runs) Jackson pegged a perfect throw to the plate after Kopf had singled to left, but Cicotte cut off the throw, allowing the first run to score. It seems Jackson played honestly, at least in the field on this play. Game Five Batting: 0-for-4; Jackson popped out in the 1st with two men on, bounced to the pitcher in the 4th, grounded to second base in the 7th, and grounded to shortstop for the final out of the game in the 9th inning with a man on third as the Sox lost 5-1. Fielding: Jackson handled three putouts flawlessly. Center fielder Happy Felsch was the suspect in this game, committing an error and misplaying another ball. Game Six Batting: 2-for-4 with a run and a RBI; Joe popped out to third base with a man on in the 1st inning, fouled to the catcher in the 4th, produced an RBI single in the 6th inning and scored on Felsch’s double, walked to lead off the 8th but was doubled off second base later, in the 10th Jackson beat out a bunt with Weaver on second in front of him, igniting the game-winning rally. As stated above, this game was played honestly, as the fixers later admitted, because they were upset at not receiving their money. Fielding: In the 4th inning Jackson handled his only putout on a flyball from Jake Daubert and threw out Rath trying to score from third for the final out of the frame. Based on this and his hitting exploits, it is clear that Jackson played to win in Game Six. Game Seven Batting: 2-for-4 with 2 RBI; had an RBI-single in the 1st and was then nearly thrown out in an rundown, but a Cincinnati error rescued him. In the 3rd he had another RBI- single, in the 5th with two runners on Jackson was safe on an error, in the 7th he grounded to second base. Fielding: Handled three flyballs with no incident. Game Eight Batting: 2-for-5 with 2 runs scored and 3 RBI; popped out in the 1st with two men on base, hit a two-out solo home run in the 3rd (the only homer of the Series and coming with the Sox down 5-0), flied to deep center in the 6th with a man on base, doubled in two runs (two were on) in the 8th inning to make the score 10-3, scoring later on Gandil’s hit. But the player efforts in this inning ring very shallow – the team already trailed by nine runs. Shoeless Joe fittingly made the last out of the Series in the 9th on a grounder to second base with two runners aboard. Fielding: In the 2nd inning Roush hit a fly ball to deep left that Jackson dropped, allowing the Reds fifth run to score. The play was ruled a double. His only other play was a routine fly ball. Summary Batting: 12-for-32 with 5 runs, 6 RBI, 3 doubles, a home run, one walk and two strikeouts. He came to bat 16 times with men on base, collecting 6 hits (.375) and plating 5 of the 21 runners on in front of him. However, in the first five games he had 7 at-bats with men on base, with 10 runners on, and collected just one hit and no RBI. It was in the final three games of the World Series that Jackson padded his stats – hitting 9-for-11 with men on base and collecting 5 RBI. I don’t have proof of this, and perhaps no one ever will – but it appears that Jackson may have been so good that he could “turn it on” in the final three games. Perhaps he had a change of heart or perhaps he went the way of the other fixers, who tried (and did) win Games Six and Seven. Jackson’s barrage in Game Eight is meaningless since it came after Williams had blown the game in the first inning. Fielding: 16 putouts and one assist, no errors. Four plays of suspect variety, one (Game Eight) that should have been ruled an error, and three (two in Game One, one in Game Two) that may have been a case of Jackson “letting up” on hit balls and allowing the Reds to get more bases than they should have. Note: Situational information and play-by-play accounts come from the >New York Times accounts of the games, and The World Series, by Richard M. Cohen and David S. Neft. Comments regarding the opinion of observers at the time come from Times articles written at the time. Other conjecture and opinion is my own. — Dan Holmes
Joe Jackson’s Lumber
Jackson spun, or had someone else spin, his bats out of hickory. He named his bats: there was Blonde Betsy, Big Jim, and Old General. But his most famous piece of lumber was Black Betsy, a charcoal-darkened bat with a wide barrel, a brass staple, and a Spalding logo on the sweet spot. Jackson received the bat in 1908, and used it into the 1930s, when he was playing in outlaw leagues in the south.
Jackson received at least three write-in votes for the Hall of Fame in the 1930s and 1940s, but after a while those voters just stopped writing his name down.