You don’t know Shoeless Joe.
So much has been written about one of baseball’s most famous players, Joe Jackson, who was banned for life from baseball because of the Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series, but there is so much more to learn.
There was going to be that Field of Dreams game August 13th between the White Sox and Cardinals near a cornfield in Iowa, where Joe’s Hollywood image showed up one day in the 1989 film – much to the delight of Kevin Costner.
That game has been put off for another year, and that gives us more time to study the real Joe Jackson.
A great place to start is at the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library, Joe’s old brick house which is soon to undergo an addition and was recently moved 110 yards, but is still located across from beautiful Fluor Field, home of the Class A Greenville Drive, a Red Sox affiliate, in Greenville, South Carolina.
“Just because Joe was uneducated did not mean he was unintelligent,” Dan Wallach, the executive director of the museum, told BallNine.
Jackson ran a series of successful businesses, including a liquor store in Greenville. The doors to the original store will be part of a display that will be added to the museum when it plans to open up again in November.
Joe did not like to be called “Shoeless Joe” and made it a point to be well dressed, always wearing nice shoes, after his baseball career ended.
When Major League Baseball does play the Field of Dreams Game, Jackson will be center stage once again. MLB also is a betting man’s game now, as we all know in many ways with the full endorsement of Rob Manfred & Co.
Isn’t that ironic since Joe was banned for life for his role in the Black Sox scandal?
Doing a little hunting with White Sox pitcher Lefty Williams
Joe has been dead since 1951 when he passed at the age of 64, and remember it was a lifetime ban handed down in 1921 by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Isn’t it about time Shoeless Joe gets a plaque in the Hall of Fame? Jackson was one of eight Chicago White Sox players who received a lifetime ban by Landis after allegedly fixing the 1919 World Series.
There are a lot of characters in the Hall of Fame already. And again, Joe was banned for life. Not banned forever. Unfortunately, Joe Jackson’s story is intertwined with Pete Rose, who remains banned, while Mr. Hustle lives large in Las Vegas.
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In MLB 2020, it seems many roads lead to some form of gambling.
The multi-talented Wallach, 33, who hosts the My Baseball History podcast, is most of all a historian, and wrote a fascinating piece on Jackson for the Emil Rothe Chicago Chapter of Society for American Baseball Research. Wallach once was a bartender in Wrigleyville, too, so he has seen it all.
The museum brings history to life. First things first. Should Joe Jackson be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame?
“Obviously we think he belongs in the Hall of Fame,” Wallach told me. “When you’ve got the third highest batting average (.356) in the history of the sport, when you got guys like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Ted Williams, when they were asked who was the best natural hitter to play baseball, all of them without hesitation answered Joe Jackson.
“You can’t find higher praise than that,” Wallach said. “Is it realistically going to happen soon? I don’t know that for sure. Whether we like it this way or not, Joe Jackson’s and Pete Rose’s names are forever linked. Where I stand is Joe was banned for life from baseball. In 1951 his life ended so his sentence should have ended. For whatever reason, it didn’t and then 40 years later Pete Rose got into his mess and their names are linked. I think what is happening is the current Hall of Famers have told Major League Baseball if you let Pete Rose in I will never show up to another Hall of Fame ceremony the rest of my life. I don’t think the Hall of Fame is willing to give up Henry Aaron and Willie Mays and all these other guys for the sake of letting in Pete Rose and/or Joe Jackson.
“They are in a tough spot right now,” Wallach said of the HOF. “I think they wanted to put Joe Jackson in a couple of years ago when Rob Manfred became the new commissioner. I think he wanted to put in Pete and put in Joe. Pete opened his mouth again and shot himself in the foot.
Babe Ruth getting some hitting tips from Joe Jackson, 1920. - Photo courtesy of Dan Wallach
“That’s all a shame because you look at Pete’s numbers and again he actually belongs in the Hall of Fame. When you have a number of displays of game-used bats and the baseballs from his record-breaking hits, he’s in the Hall of Fame, he just doesn’t have a plaque. The same thing with Joe.”
Add to all this the steroid issues with the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and it is an HOF quagmire.
Jackson’s banishment has increased his footprint in the history of the game. His museum was moved 110 yards this past Friday, and that is a story in itself that you can follow at www.shoelessjoejackson.org and on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram @shoelessmuseum.
“We are getting ready to have the addition construction to start,” Wallach said. “The addition is going to be roughly 840 square feet. We’re really excited about it. The museum is actually Joe and his wife’s Katie’s old house. They bought it in 1941 and Joe lived there until 1951 until he passed and Katie lived there until she passed away in 1959. In 2006, a real estate developer named Richard Davis found out the house was available. It was still on the property it sat on, the address was 119 East Wilburn Street.”
Mr and Mrs Jackson enjoying a moment with the pup. Look at the size of his hands. Not the dog’s. - Photo: Dan Wallach
Davis purchased the house, and moved it to the second location and donated it to the city in 2006, directly across the street from the Greenville Drive. That first move was about 3 1/2 miles and the building had to be cut in a half because it was too wide to travel down the street.
And now, 14 years later, this land is much more valuable because Greenville is rapidly expanding, hence the shorter move to create space for a luxury apartment complex to be built on the triangular plot. The new development company is providing a new roof, a new HVAC system and the addition for the museum as part of the deal.
Wallach is excited because that addition also will include a donation from author Gene Carney, who wrote Burying the Black Sox with his well researched information on the scandal. Carney passed away in 2009. “When he passed away he donated all his research material, all of his notes, his entire personal library, everything was donated to the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum,” Wallach said. “We are going to have a dedicated corner just to Gene Carney’s personal collection.”
There will be original Joe Jackson baseball cards, an original Baseball Magazine from 1916 with Joe on the cover – one of the most sought after magazines – display pieces from the Hotel Sinton where the White Sox stayed in Cincinnati during that infamous World Series and a Louisville Slugger display with a replica Black Betsy. Joe was smart enough to be one of the first players to sign an endorsement deal with Louisville Slugger.
Joe’s original liquor store business card (only two are known to exist) – and this one was in Joe’s wallet on the day he died – will be on display, as well. There will also be a Type 1 photo (printed from the original negative within the first two years of that photo being taken) of Joe behind the cash register.
“It’s as crystal clear of the image as you can possibly come by,” said Wallach who purchased the photo at auction. “We also have the original front doors of his liquor store. So we are going to blow up that photo life size and you are going to see that as soon as you walk in the door. I’m a history nerd so I hunted down the actual make and model of the cash register that is in that photo. It’s from 1938, a pretty rare cash register. We are going to put up a little countertop right in front of that life sized photo and put the cash register there so people can stand behind it and recreate that picture just like Joe.”
Speaking of cash, what exactly happened with the gambler’s money that wound up in Joe’s hands? There is more to the story than the 1988 film Eight Men Out, a dramatization of the scandal, portrayed.
“I’m not sure Joe took money,” Wallach explained. “He was given money and accepted that. The story goes that he knew the gamblers were in on it and he knew his teammates were trying to throw the World Series. He tried to go to the manager and the owner before the Series started and said, ‘Take me out, I don’t want to be a part of this, I don’t want to play.’ And they both said, ‘You are our best player you have to play.’
“At the end of the Series, he was roommates and best friends with Lefty Williams and one of the pitchers who was in on it. They used to go hunting together. At one point in his life Joe owned a billiards hall in Chicago and after he was banned from baseball and he just wanted to leave Chicago he sold that billiards hall to Lefty Williams for one dollar. Lefty Williams received the $10,000 from the gamblers and gave $5,000 to Joe. He took money that came from gamblers.”
Wallach said there are a number of stories of what happened to that money: Jackson used it to pay his sister’s medical bills, and there is a theory he donated it to the Shriners Children’s Hospital.
The Museum on the move. Photo Dan Wallach
“Whatever the case may be, he did end up with money somehow,” Wallach said. “I’ve never said Joe was innocent because when you have money that is tainted you are guilty. I concede that fact, but I don’t think he threw games. He had the highest batting average (.375) on either team in that World Series. He hit the only home run for either team, which by the way was the last home run ever hit in the Deadball Era because 1920 started the Live Ball Era. He didn’t commit any errors in the field. I don’t think he tried to actively throw games but when you have money in your hands that came from gamblers, that’s pretty damning evidence. He was banned for life and his lifetime is over so the ban should be over.”
Not being in the Hall of Fame probably helps the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum.
“I think it helps us because you take a look at guys like Rogers Hornsby, who has the second highest batting average in the history of baseball or Wahoo Sam Crawford or Napoleon Lajoie who had a team named after him. A casual fan maybe has heard their names but couldn’t tell you anything about them,” Wallach said. “But everybody knows the name Joe Jackson. Everybody has heard of Shoeless Joe, the phrase ‘Say it ain’t so, Joe’ even though that phrase never actually happened, that has become a part of American lexicon. I don’t think any of that happens if Joe gets rightfully inducted into the Hall of Fame with the first class of his contemporaries. I think the only reason we know his name so well is because he is not in the Hall of Fame and he is thought of as this tragic figure, a Shakespearean character, an incredible athlete, an incredible player who came from humble beginnings, started working at six years old, never went to school a day in his life, didn’t know how to read or write and he becomes one of the best baseball players who has ever ever lived.
“It’s an incredible story and it’s a shame that it doesn’t live in Cooperstown where he belongs.”
The story lives on at the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum. Let’s leave the last words to Shoeless Joe.
In 1948 Jackson told famed sportswriter Furman Bisher, a writer I knew: “All the big sportswriters seemed to enjoy writing about me as an ignorant cotton-mill boy with nothing but lint where my brains ought to be,” Joe said. “That was all right with me. I was able to fool a lot of pitchers and managers and club owners I wouldn’t have been able to fool if they’d thought I was smarter.”
Judge for yourself. Joe Jackson was smarter than you think.