Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Shoeless Joe Jackson: His Life Before and After the Scandal



(Shoeless Joe) Jackson's fall from grace is one of the real tragedies of baseball.  I always thought he was more sinned against than sinning.
- Connie Mack (1862-1956), baseball player, manager and team owner


Joe Jackson agreed to throw the World Series, and he received $5,000 for doing so. The evidence that he actually did throw the Series is slightly less than conclusive, but in a way that's irrelevant. He certainly knew what was going on, and he probably helped. And that's all we need to know. Shoeless Joe's not a god, nor even a ghost. He was a man who happened to play baseball exceptionally well.
- Rob Neyer
July 30, 2014, ESPN.com

There has been a great deal of controversy about whether Pete Rose should remain banned from Major League Baseball and whether he should eligible for membership in the exclusive National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  In 1989, Rose was expelled from MLB amid allegations that he gambled on baseball games during his tenure as player and manager for the Cincinnati Reds.  In 2004, he admitted to betting on baseball, but not against his own team.  The issue of Pete Rose's possible reinstatement and induction to the Hall of Fame continues to spark debate. There is, however, another player from a much earlier era whose exclusion from the hallowed halls of Cooperstown still remains an issue.  That player is Joseph Jefferson Jackson, better known as "Shoeless Joe."

Shoeless Joe Jackson was born on July 16, 1887 (some sources cite 1888 as his birth year) in Pickens County, South Carolina, the eldest of the eight children (six boys and two girls) of George Jackson, a sharecropper, and his wife, Martha.  In 1901, the family moved to a company town called Brandon Mill, just outside of Greenville, South Carolina where George found employment at the textile factory.  Young Joe also went to work at the Brandon Mill to help meet family finances.  He probably would have remained a mill worker if it hadn't been such an immensely talented baseball player..

The Jackson family was poor and could not afford to send Joe to school.  Of his lack of formal education, Joe once stated, "I ain't afraid to tell the world that it don't take school stuff to help a fella play ball."  Well, Joe sure knew how to play ball!  The great Babe Ruth imitated Shoeless Joe Jackson's style because "I thought he was the greatest hitter I ever saw.  He's the guy who made me a hitter."  Ty Cobb, no stranger to controversy himself, praised Joe as "the finest natural hitter in the game."

Joe was originally a pitcher for the mill league squad, but he was moved to the outfield because his fastball was so hard that he once broke a catcher's hand or arm.  After that, it was difficult to find someone who would agree to catch for him.

On July 19, 1908, Joe Jackson married 15-year-old Katherine "Katie" Wynn, also of Greenville.  That same year, the newlywed Joe played professional baseball for the first time, with the Greenville Spinners of the Carolina Association. He led the league with an impressive .346 batting average.  In August of 1908, Connie Mack, manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, bought Joe's major league contract.

Joe and Katie on their wedding day

Shoeless Joe had a difficult time in Philadelphia, then a city of over 1.5 million people.  It was all rather overwhelming for the illiterate country boy who was teased incessantly by his teammates because of his inability to read and write.  When Connie Mack offered to get Joe a tutor, he refused the offer. In 1909, after five games with the Athletics, a homesick Joe departed for his native South.  He played 118 games for the South Atlantic League's Savannah, Georgia team (the Savannah Indians) and batted .358 for the season.

The Philadelphia Athletic eventually gave up on Shoeless Joe.  In July of 1910, he was traded to the Cleveland Naps (later the Indians) for outfielder Bris Lord and $6,000.  He dutifully reported to the team's New Orleans farm club (the Pelicans) and batted .354 during that Southern League season.  Joe's performance in New Orleans earned him a promotion and he was brought up to play for the Cleveland team for the last twenty games of their season. During that time, his batting average was an impressive .347.

In 1911, Jackson's first full major league season, he batted a stellar .408, the highest batting average ever recorded by a rookie.  In 1912, his batting average was .395 and he led the American League in triples. The following year, 1913, he led the league in hits with 197.


Joe as a Cleveland Naps player

On August 20, 1915, Shoeless Joe Jackson was traded to the Chicago White Sox for $31,500 in cash and three players (Braggo Roth, Larry Chappell and Ed Klepfer).  The owner of his new team was Charles Albert Comiskey (1859-1931).  A former player and manager, Comiskey had been instrumental in the formation of the American League and the founding of the White Sox.  Under his direction, the team's renowned stadium, Comiskey Park, was built in 1910.

Charles Comiskey

Joe's trade to the White Sox would alter the course of his life.  As he boarded a train to Chicago on the night of the deal, he had no way of knowing what turbulence lay ahead.  The next day, he joined his new team and played left field in a double header against the New York Yankees.

By 1917, the United States had entered World War I and Shoeless Joe was a star outfielder for the Chicago White Sox.  He batted .307 that season and led his team to a World Series victory over the New York Giants - four games to two.  Joe was ineligible for the draft because he was the sole supporter of his wife and his mother.  In 1918, he took a job in the shipyards, receiving much criticism for not going overseas to fight in the war.  He continued to play baseball for industrial team leagues and returned to Chicago when the war ended.

During the 1919 season, Joe Jackson resumed his fine play on the field.  He recorded a .351 average during the regular season and once again led his team to a berth in the World Series.  His Chicago White Sox were heavily favoured to defeat their National League opponents, the Cincinnati Reds. Despite being underdogs, the Reds won the best-of-nine Series five games to three.


1919 Chicago White Sox



1919 Chicago outfield  (L to R) -  Nemo Leibold, Happy Felsch, Shano Collins, Jackson

After Chicago's lacklustre performance, suspicions were aroused that some of the White Sox players had been influenced by gamblers and bookies.  Owner Charles Comiskey attempted to discourage speculation that the Series had been fixed.  He made the following statement to the press.

I believe my boys fought the battle of the recent World Series on the level, as they have always done.  And I would be the first to want information to the contrary--if there be any.  I would give $20,000 to anyone unearthing information to that effect.

Despite his initial statement of confidence in his players, Charles Comiskey's actions prove otherwise. According to Douglas Linder, author of an article entitled "The Black Sox Trial: An Account," on the Famous American Trials  website, Comiskey employed a private detective to investigate the finances of seven of the eight players who were considered part of the original conspiracy."  Infielder Buck Weaver was the only one of the eight not under investigated.

In December of 2007, the Chicago History Museum purchased a collection  of documents relating to the Black Sox scandal.  The documents, all came came from the same source - the offices of Charles Comiskey's attorney.  Among the documents were reports from the detectives Comiskey hired through his lawyer, Alfred Austrian,  These included letters from J.R, Hunter of Hunter's Secret service of Illinois.

So, the Chicago White Sox played the 1920 season under a cloud of suspicion, even from their owner. Shoeless Joe batted .385 and led the American league in triples for the third time in his career, but his team failed to win the pennant.  Although the White Sox were in contention until the final week of the season, they quickly fell out of the race in the autumn of 1920, when the infamous "Black Sox" scandal broke wide open. News of the affair was made known to the public on September 26th. Shoeless Joe and seven of his teammates (Eddie Cicotte, George "Buck" Weaver, Oscar "Happy" Fetsch, Arnold "Chick" Gandil, Charles August "Swede" Risberg, Fred McMullin and Claude "Lefty" Williams) were accused of accepting $5,000 each as part of a conspiracy with gamblers (including former boxer Abe Attell) to throw the 1919 World Series.  Newspaper headlines screamed "WHITE SOX INDICTED.".




Charles Comiskey suspended the seven players who were still active.  The eighth player was first baseman Chick Gandil, the self-admitted ringleader of the conspiracy.  Gandil,who opted to leave major league baseball after the 1919 season, had associated with a bookie and gambler, Joseph "Sport" Sullivan, who would later become a key figure in conspiring with Gandil to fix the 1919 World Series.

After the 1920 season, Major League Baseball's first commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned Shoeless Joe Jackson from playing professional baseball.  Jackson's last major league appearance occurred on September 27. 1920 for the Chicago White Sox.  He was in his early 30s and in the prime of his career.

The next day, September 28, 1920, Joe testified under oath before a County Cook, Illinois grand jury. In his testimony, he admitted to agreeing to throw the 1919 World Series for the sum of $20,000. However, he stated that he received $5,000.

Q: Did anybody pay you any money to help throw that series in favor of Cincinnati?
A: They did.
Q: How much did they pay?
A: They promised me $20,000, and paid me $5,000.
Q: Who promised you the twenty thousand?
A: "Chick Gandil.
Q: Who is Chick Gandil?
A. He was their first baseman on the White Sox Club.
Q: Who paid you the $5,000?
A: Left Williams brought it in my room and threw it down.
Q: Who is Lefty Williams?
A: The pitcher on the White Sox Club.
Q: Where did he bring it, where is your room?
A: At that time I was staying at the Lexington Hotel, I believe it is.

So, according to Jackson's own testimony, he agreed to fix the series and he also accepted a bribe. Shoeless Joe was guilty as sin!  Case closed!  Well, it's not quite as simple as that.  Joe's biographer, Donald Gropman, author of Say it Ain't So, Joe!," portrays Joe as more of a victim than a villain.  At the time of the grand jury hearings, Joe did not have his  own legal counsel.  In what was clearly a conflict of interest, he was represented by Charles Comiskey's lawyer, Alfred S. Austrian (Comiskey paid Austrian's legal fee).

Gropman claims that Austrian advised Jackson to admit to the judge that he was guilty and to apologize.  It was this lawyer, Gropman says, who persuaded Joe to sign a waiver of immunity, which Joe couldn't read.  As for the presiding judge, his name was Charles McDonald and he was a close friend of none other than (you guessed it) Charles Comiskey.

In 1949, Joe Jackson told his side of the story to Furman Bisher of Sport Magazine.  Bisher was young journalist at the time and his interview with Shoeless Joe was a real coup for him.  Joe told Bisher that he was aware of the talk about fixing the World Series and that he went to see Charles Comiskey about it.

When the talk got so bad just before the World Series with Cincinnati, I went to Mr. Charles Comiskey's room the night before the Series started and asked him to keep me out of the line-up. Mr Comiskey was the owner of the White Sox. He refused, and I begged him: "Tell the newspapers you just suspended me for being drunk, or anything, but leave me out of the Series and then there can be no question." 

As for the famous legend about the young boy who tugged at Joe's sleeve as he left the courthouse and urged him to "Say it ain't so, Joe," it's a great story, but it's likely a fabrication of the press. Here's what Shoeless Joe had to say about the alleged incident to Sports Magazine.

I guess the biggest joke of all was that story that got out about "Say it ain't so, Joe." Charley Owens of the Chicago Daily News was responsible for that, but there wasn't a bit of truth in it. It was supposed to have happened the day I was arrested in September of 1920, when I came out of the courtroom. 

There weren't any words passed between anybody except me and a deputy sheriff. When I came out of the building this deputy asked me where I was going, and I told him to the Southside. He asked me for a ride and we got in the car together and left. There was a big crowd hanging around the front of the building, but nobody else said anything to me. It just didn't happen, that's all. Charley Owens just made up a good story and wrote it. Oh, I would have said it ain't so, all right, just like I'm saying it now. 


On August 2, 1921, a Chicago jury acquitted Joe Jackson and his teammates of helping to fix the 1919 World Series.  Kenesaw Landis, however, chose to take a hard line on the matter, arguing that it was necessary in order for Major League Baseball to clean up its tainted image. Landis acted against the court ruling and he claimed that baseball was perfectly capable of governing itself.  As a result, Shoeless Joe and the seven other Chicago players were prohibited from ever playing professional baseball again.

Joe leaving the courthouse in 1921

On the day after the jury's verdict,  Landis released the following statement to the press:

Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ballgame, no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame, no player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.



Kenesaw Mountain Landis

The Chicago players who threw the 1919 World Series were not satisfied with their salaries. While that does not justify their actions, by any means, it explains their motivations.  Charles Comiskey certainly had a reputation for being a tightwad who failed to follow through on promised bonuses to his players. He apparently tried to save expenses by reducing the number of player uniforms laundered.  Two of his biggest stars, Shoeless Joe and third baseman Buck Weaver, received $6,000 a year, far less than their value.  At the time, of course, there was no free agency. Due to baseball's reserve clause, any player who turned down a contract was forbidden from playing for another team.

To be fair, most owners during that era were no better than Comiskey.  In fact, the 1919 Chicago White Sox actually had one of the highest team payrolls in the majors leagues at $93,000 ($20,000 more than their National League opponents, the Cincinnati Reds).  These facts did not come to light until 2003 when Major League Baseball allowed the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame to have access to index cards containing information about players' payments and contract modifications.

There is no doubt that Comiskey was  unpopular with his players and that he was intensely disliked by Chick Gandil.  In the September 17, 1956 issue of Sports Illustrated, Gandil provided his view of the scandal to journalist Melvin Dursag in an article entitled "This is My Story of the Black Sox Series!" Here is what Gandil thought of Comiskey.

There was Charles Comiskey, the White Sox owner.  He was a sarcastic, belittling man who was the tightest owner in baseball.  If a player objected to his miserly terms, Comiskey told him.  'You can take it or leave it.'  Under baseball's slave laws, what could a fellow do but take it?  I recall only one act of generosity on Comiskey's part.  After we won the World Series in 1917, he splurged with a case of champagne.

The major issue regarding Comiskey is not, however, whether he was a skinflint and a tyrant.  The major issue is that he was aware of the conspiracy to some degree and that he played a part in covering up the scandal.  Shoeless Joe claimed to have warned him about it, and there is evidence that the White Sox front office had knowledge of what was going on, including Harry Grabiner, the team's secretary and Comiskey's top aide (a position similar to a general manager in today's baseball).

In the mid-1960s, baseball owner and promoter Bill Veek (1914-1986), a Chicago native, discovered Grabiner's diary hidden away in a remote area of Comiskey Park.  Veek published parts of the diary in a 1966 book entitled The Hustler's Handbook.  Grabiner's journal contained pages of handwritten notes about contract negotiations with players and the White Sox's investigation into the World Series fix.  Here is what Veek wrote in The Hustler's Handbook.
.
Beyond any doubt, the White Sox front office had more than some inkling of what was going on from the very first game of the 1919 World Series.  Some accounts state that Grabiner warned Comiskey, American League President Ban Johnson and National League John Heydler of a possible scandal after Game 2 of the Series, but was ignored.

In his biography of Shoeless Joe, entitled Shoeless: The Life and Times of Joe Jackson, author David Fleitz also revealed Comiskey's cover up of the scandal.

(Charles Comiskey) could not risk the public exposure of the 1919 Series fix., since his enemies could use his own awareness of the details against him . . . The temptation to cover up the scandal proved irresistible, so Comiskey and Grabiner soon got all the crooked players, except for (Chick) Gandil, back in the fold . . .

How did Cominkey get his errant players back in the fold?  Prior to the 1920 season, Charles "Swede" Risberg and Oscar "Happy" Fetsch were given an increases in salary.  As for Shoeless Joe, he signed a three-year contract for $8,000 a year.  After the 1919 season, Chick Gandil refused Comiskey's offer of a raise and retired from the majors.  Instead, he decided to play semi-professional baseball in California, far away from Chicago and the brewing scandal.

Charles A. Comiskey died on October 26, 1931 and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939 by the Veteran's Committee.  He was not excluded from Cooperstown despite his cover-up of the Black Sox scandal.  If one believes that Shoeless Joe should not be a member of the Hall of Fame, then by the same token, Comiskey does not deserve to be there either.  Did Judge Landis know of Comiskey's complicity in the scandal and the subsequent cover-up of the affair?

Ted Williams, legendary left fielder for the Boston Red Sox, is best known for batting 406 during the 1941 season.  Nicknamed "The Splendid Splinter," Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966, his first year of eligibility.  He made the following statement in defence of Shoeless Joe, whom he admired.

Joe shouldn't have accepted the money...and he realized his error.  He tried to give the money back.  He tried to tell Comiskey . . . about the fix.  But they wouldn't listen.  Comiskey covered it up as much as Jackson did--maybe more.  And there's Charles Albert Comiskey down the aisle from me at Cooperstown -- and Shoeless Joe still waits outside. 

Shoeless Joe's performance in that 1919 October Classic was absolutely superb.  Not only did Jackson belt the only home run of the eight games that were played, but he was responsible for 11 of Chicago's 20 runs, and he led his team in RBIs, with six.  His batting average was a robust .375 and his 12 hits set World Series record at the time (Bobby Richardson of the New York Yankees had 13 hits in the 1964 Series). In addition, Joe's defensive work in that 1919 Series was flawless.  He fielded 30 balls without committing a single error.

Nevertheless, Jackson's detractors contend that he did not perform to the best of his ability in the 1919 World Series.

In the first four games the conspirators wanted to lose, Jackson hit .250 with zero RBI.  In the fifth fixed game, Jackson was hitless until the Reds were ahead 5-0, at which point he hit a solo home run.  Later, with the Sox trailing the Reds 10-1, Jackson hit a meaningless two-run double.

Rob Neyer
July 30, 2014, ESPN.com

In 1922, after his banishment from the majors, Joe and his wife, Katie, moved to Savannah, Georgia where they owned a dry cleaning business.  The couple returned to Greenville in 1932 and opened a barbecue restaurant on Augusta Street.  They later owned Joe Jackson's Liquor Store  on Pendleton Street, near Brandon Mill, where the two grew up.  They operated the store until Joe's death.


Joe and Katie circa 1932


Shoeless Joe at his liquor store

During the years following his expulsion from the majors, Joe played with and managed several semi-professional teams in the South, mainly in Georgia and South Carolina.  In 1941, when he was over 50 years of age, Jackson played in his first and only night game.  He put on quite a show, by the way, slugging two home runs.  Shoeless Joe Jackson died of a massive heart attack on December 5, 1951 at his home in Greenville, South Carolina.  He was 64 years old at the time of his passing.

Ted Williams once declared:  "When I was younger, the Red Sox used to stop sometimes in Greenville, South Carolina.- that's Joe Jackson's home.  And he was still alive.  Oh, how I wish I had known that and could have stopped in to talk hitting with that man.

In November of 1999 the United States House of Representatives  passed a resolution praising Joe Jackson's sporting accomplishments and urging Major League Baseball to reverse its stand on his ineligibility for the Hall of Fame.  The resolution, of course, was purely symbolic, since the government of the United States has no official authority or power over the situation.  However, MLB commissioner Bud Selig declared that Jackson's case was under review.  Almost 15 years have pass since then, and Shoeless Joe's status remains unchanged.  He is still in ineligible.  The problem will be passed on to Selig's successor, Rob Manfred.

Movies such as Field of Dreams (1989) and The Natural (1984) have portrayed Shoeless Joe Jackson as a heroic figure.  While there is something wonderfully romantic and dreamlike about Joe's film persona, it is a highly idealized image of the man.  In truth, Joe was neither an angel nor a devil.  He was merely a flawed human being, much like the rest of us - except for his ability to play baseball.

 Joseph Jackson died in 1951 but lives on as Shoeless Joe, more a myth than a man, a ghostly figure walking out of a cornfield wanting nothing more than to play the game he loved. The real Joe Jackson, the South Carolina mill hand and small-town businessman, would smile and shake his head at the legend that surrounds Shoeless Joe today. 

- David Fleitz
From: Shoeless: The Life and Times of Joe Jackson



END NOTES

* Although Joe Jackson's death certificate and his grave marker list the year of his birth as 1888,  it must be remembered that his family records were destroyed in a fire.  According to Shoeless Joe Jackson's Virtual Hall of Fame website, "Joe gave many interviews over his lifetime and in most of them he was asked his age at the time.  If one takes the age quoted, from the year it was quoted in, it always comes up to the year of birth as 1887.  All family records were lost in a fire so there is no way of proving this, however logic would lead one to believe that Joe would know his own age when asked."

Below is a photo of Joe's grave marker.  His middle initial is given as "W," although his middle name is always listed as "Jefferson."




* Shoeless Joe's father, George Elmore Jackson (born May 30, 1856) died on February 11, 1914.  He was only 57 years old at the time of his passing.  Joe's mother, Martha Ann J. Jackson (born February 14, 1864) died on August 25, 1923.

* Shoeless Joe Jackson and his wife never had any children.  According to Joe's 1949 Sports Magazine interview, he and Katie "raised one of my brother's boys from babyhood."   "He was never was interested in baseball," Joe stated, "but they used to tell me he would have been a fine football player."  Their nephew "didn't get to go to college.  The war came along and he went into the Navy as a flier."  "He was killed accidentally a couple of years ago when a gun he was cleaning went off. Katie and me felt like we'd lost our own boy," Joe added with sadness.

* Katie Wynn Jackson died on April 18, 1959 and is buried alongside her husband at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Greenville, South Carolina.  Unlike Shoeless Joe, Katie was able to read and write and she taught Joe how to sign his name by tracing a pattern.  It was Katie, however, who signed Joes's autograph all but a few times.

* Joe obtained the nickname "Shoeless" because he played a minor league game in his stockings after a new pair of spikes has caused him to have blisters.

* In 1923, Shoeless Joe launched an $18,500 lawsuit against the Chicago White Sox for breach of contract for salary.  The trial took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in February of 1924.  Here's what he told Furman Bisher about the lawsuit in the 1949 Sports Magazine article.

 I sued Mr. Comiskey for the salary I had coming to me under the five year contract I had with the White Sox,.  When I won the verdict - I got only a little out of it -- the first one I heard from was (American League President Ban) Johnson.  He wired me congratulations on beating Mr. Comiskey and his son, Louis.

In Milwaukee, Joe denied that he took part in fixing the 1919 World Series and was arrested for perjury.   Here's an Associated Press news item from the trial.

FRIDAY, FEB. 15,1924 - New Sensation In Jackson SalarySuit JAILED FOR PERJURY WHEN JURY RETIRES Former Star Outfielder Finds Himself In Toils As Case Ends (By Associated Press) MILWAUKEE, Wis., Feb. 15.— Additional sensational developments are expected after the circuit court jury reports today in the trial of Joe Jackson’s salary suit against the Chicago, American league, baseball club. Tbat was intimated by Judge J. J. Gregory after he ordered Jackson’s arrest for perjury at the conclusion of the trial last night. The former star outfielder was released on $5,000 bail after he had been sent to jail. FelscH Also Jailed Oscar (Happy) Fblsch, former team mate of Jackson and who testified for him in the salary suit,, was arrested for perjury Wednesday and released on $2,000 cash bail. Jackson is suing for money he alleges due him after he was barred from organized baseball for alleged participation in the 1919 world’s series scandal. 


* Did you know that Joe had a favourite baseball bat, which he named "Black Betsy?"  According to his official website, "it was 36-inches (91 centimentres) long and weighed 3 pounds (1.36 kilograms)."

* None of Joe'e five brothers played in the big leagues, but his brother, Jerry, played pro ball for a significant length of time.  Jerry Jackson was a minor league pitcher and was also an umpire in the Western Carolina League.

* In 1989, the late A. Bartlett "Bart" Giamatti, then-Commission of Major League Baseball, refused to reinstate Shoeless Joe Jackson into MLB because the case was "now best given to historical analysis and debate as opposed to a present-day review with an eye to reinstatement."


- Joanne


EDITOR'S UPDATE (June 7, 2017):  In 2015, Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, denied Shoeless Joe Jackson's reinstatement into MLB.  In a letter to Arlene Marcley, the president of the Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, South Carolina, Manfred wrote the following:

I have reviewed our records concerning the responses of both Commissioner (Bart) Giamatti and (Fay) Vincent, who declined to reconsider Mr. Jackson's case.  I agree with that determination and conclude that it would not be appropriate for me to reopen the matter. 

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