Who Was Shoeless Joe Jackson?

Shoeless Joe’s was born to the name Joseph Jefferson Jackson on July 16th 1887, in Pickens County, South Carolina. He was born to a hard working east coast family where his father George was a sharecropper and would help the harvest the land that he rented and split it with the owner of their property to make his living. George moved the family to Greensville, South Carolina when Joe was in his early youth years. At the age of six, Joe began to work at the towns textile mill as a “linehead” or mill hand. He worked 12 hours a day starting at 6 years old. Because schooling back then was a luxury, he did not go to school and was uneducated. He never learned how to read or write. It is said that he had his wife sign for him, whenever it was important matter, illiteracy brought about many people trying to take advantage of him.

At the age of 10 years old Joe came down with a tragic case of the measles which almost took his life.

The love for the game all started in 1900 when Joe was 13 years old. For some reason Joe’s mother was sought after and approached by the owners of the Brandon Mill he worked at, during those time the mills had club teams. He was asked to play baseball and agreed for $2.50 he would play baseball on Saturdays. Pretty cool gig for a 13 year old at the turn or the century. I remember my first job when I was 12 years old it was $4.50 an hour, cash money. When Joe began his baseball career at the age of 13 his coach started him as a pitcher, and thought that would be a good position for him to grow into. He pitched until one day he broke a hitters arm. After that nobody wanted to step in the batters box against him. From that point on he was placed in the outfield, and that’s where he played until the day he was banned from baseball. Once Joe was moved to the outfield his stardom began, he was quickly known for his hitting and ability to put the ball where ever he wanted.

Black Betsy

When gaining popularity in his teen years Joe was given an all black wood bat that was named “Black Betsy”. It was created by a local fan of the South Carolina mill teams, Charlie Fergerson. What’s unique about this bat it was a whopping 36 inches long and weighed massive 48 ounces! Imagine that, in today’s age teenagers use a 33″ bat and 31oz in weight. That would feel like bringing a sledge hammer to the plate for today’s players. Fergerson darkened the bat with tobacco juice to get it’s black color, Joe took that bat to the minors with him and the fans chanted “Black Betsy” whenever he came to the plate. When Joe made it to the Majors  he took it with him, it was his favorite bat. Black Betsy broke in 1911 and Joe sent it out to J.F. Hillerich Company to have the bat fixed. When returned he used it the rest of his career. Based on the specs of his bat, I am not surprised that it lasted that long. Joe held onto the bat until his death in 1951. After his wife’s death it was passed down to his cousin and son, who kept it for over 40 years. The son then decided to sell it on ebay for $525,100 to a collector in Pennsylvania!

The Nick Name

So how did “Shoeless Joe” ever get that nick name? Joe said that he retained the Shoeless Joe nick name during a mill game in Anderson, SC. His feet hurt so bad from blisters on his feet due to a new pair of cleats. So he took them off for an at bat and as he hit the ball and was running a heckler yelled “You shoeless son of a gun, you!” After that he was known as Shoeless Joe Jackson for the rest of his career.

Professional Ball

In 1908 Shoeless Joe made it into professional baseball, he started his career playing for the Greenville Spinners a club part of the Carolina Association. Later that year he signed with the famous Connie Mack to play in the MLB for the Philadelphia Athletics. That same year he married Katie Wynn who was 15 years old. Shoeless Joe seemed to have everything and things looked promising for this young blue collar kid from South Carolina. Shoeless Joe’s first couple of seasons were pretty rough, he only spent 10 games at the Major League level. It was said, like some players that go to New York today, he had trouble being in a much larger city, having a lot of attention and publicity that came with it. It was also mentioned that he received hazing from his teammates. In the latter part of 1909 he played in 118 games and hit .358. In the 1910 season he parted ways the the Athletics and he was traded to the Cleveland Naps pro team, and played for the New Orleans Pelicans which was considered their Double A baseball team. There he won a batting title and the team went on to win the pennant. At the end of the season he was called up to the Major League team and played in 20 games, hitting .387 earning him a full time gig for the next season. In 1911, Shoeless Joe’s first full season and a Rookie, set many records. One hitting .408 for the entire season! Only second to Ty Cobb for all time batting avg in a season. The next 4 years Shoeless Joe set many season records and won many titles.

 1915 was the year that Shoeless Joe’s was traded to the Chicago White sox. He went on to lead the team and were World Series Champions in 1917. He sat out most of the 1918 season due to fighting in World War 1. The next year in 1919 the Chicago White Sox made it back to the World Series and were heavily favored to win. The White Sox ended up losing. Allegations began to surface saying that the Chicago White Sox player’s received money to lose/throw the World Series on Purpose.

The Black Sock Scandal.

When his name comes up, often enough so does an unfortunate scandal. In 1920, the year after the White Sox lost the World Series 1919, eight players including Shoeless Joe Jackson were accused of taking a lump sum of $5,000 each ($62,455 in today’s dollars) to throw the 1919 World Series. One of the biggest, if not thee biggest scandal in sports history last century. In September 1920 the members that were accused, stood in front of the grand jury to plead their case. During that Series Shoeless Joe had 12 hits and a .375 batting average, which were leading stats for either team. He also did not commit one error, and on top of that he threw a runner out at the plate. You would think that would be a pretty good case in his favor to show that he was not part of the scandal.

On September 28, 1920 the statement below was claimed by news accounts to be said by Shoeless Joe at the trial in front of the grand jury. That he admitted to the fix under oath.

“When a Cincinnati player would bat a ball out in my territory I’d muff it if I could—that is, fail to catch it. But if it would look too much like crooked work to do that I’d be slow and make a throw to the infield that would be short. My work netted the Cincinnati team several runs that they never would have had if we had been playing on the square.” However, there is no direct quote/testimony or stenographic record of this happening during Jackson’s grand Jury appearance. The truth will never be known. The famous saying, “Say it aint so, Joe” was asked by a little boy on his way out of the court house. In an interview three decades later Joe stated that it was a myth and never happened.

As a result to the trial in 1921 the grand jury acquitted all eight players. However the new commissioner of baseball, went against the juries decision, and declared that all eight players to be banned from MLB play for the remainder of their lives. That was the end of Shoeless Joe’s playing baseball career along with the other seven players. For the latter part of his life he continued to fight for his innocence. No one would give him a 2nd chance. The 7 other players later stated that Joe had nothing to do with the scandal, he never showed up to the meeting and they used his name for credibility to make it happen. My question is why was this not said during the trial? Most of all his stats in the World Series should prove his innocence, he out preformed everyone.

Later Years

 After professional baseball, Shoeless Joe moved to Georgia and opened a dry cleaning business. For the next 20 years he would go on to manage semi-pro baseball teams and open many businesses. He and his wife also started a barbecue restaurant and liquor store. At his liquor store, years after he was done playing Ty Cobb a sportswriter walked into the store. Joe did not acknowledge Ty at all. When Ty was checking out he asked  “Don’t you know me, Joe?” Jackson replied, “Sure, I know you, Ty, but I wasn’t sure you wanted to know me. A lot of them don’t.” It just shows how humiliated that Joe felt for that mistake in 1919. Growing old Joe was getting heart trouble, a heart attack took his life in 1951 at the age of 64. Joe left behind his wife, he  never had any children. Joe was the first of the eight banned players to pass away, his name lives on in baseball lore and is still one of baseball’s most popular figures.

– Matt Ingle


  1. Great story Matt thanks for sharing it.

  2. John McLaughlin says:

    “Eight Men Out” was a great movie. I made my son watch it before he watched and visited the the movie site for “Field of Dreams”. “Eight Men Out” really help in understanding some of “Field of Dreams” you might not be aware of.

  3. No Problem! Thanks for taking the time to read it. I would love to have some rare baseball collectables, like the “Black Betsy” bat. But that would cost a pretty penny.

    Yes, it does help explain some of those characters. I remember going to the “Field of Dreams” when I transferred to Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa. Pretty Cool place, it sounds like they are trying to sell the land. The actual Field of Dreams will be preserved but they want to build a mega baseball complex around it. Build it and they will come, and they have been for 23 years.

    – Matt

  4. I have always been a huge fan of the “Field of Dreams” and “Shoeless Joe.” In fact, I am constantly trying to find other books/movies that have that same heart and soul feel to them, and recently found one titled, “Ark” by John Heldon (the first book in a trilogy). I loved reading your post… it is great to get more info. about this great man.

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