Tagged: Black Sox

Shoeless Joe. Was It So?

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson batted .356 over a 13-year big-league career.

By Glen Sparks

The great–and disgraced–“Shoeless Joe” Jackson died on this day in 1951. One of the best players ever, Jackson batted .356 over a 13-year career. Commissioner “Kennesaw Mountain” Landis kicked he and seven other Chicago White Sox players out of baseball after they allegedly threw the 1919 World Series for $5,000 apiece.

Jackson’s story—the part about how his career ended, at least– is sports tragedy. The early part is pure Americana, Southern style. Joseph Jefferson Jackson was born on July 16, 1887, in rural Pickens County, South Carolina. He began working as a millhand at age six or seven and almost died following a bout with the measles when he was 10.  A few years later, young Joe began playing baseball on a mill team.

(Why “Shoeless” Joe? Well, the story goes back to the mill days. Joe put on some new, uncomfortable, cleats. His feet ached. So, he took of his shoes. He stood barefoot in the outfield. He stood barefoot as walked into the batter’s box. Not surprisingly, the other players noticed.)

Jackson signed with the Philadelphia A’s in 1908. He didn’t play much in his first two seasons. The A’s traded Jackson to the Cleveland Naps in 1910. Jackson hit .408 in 1911, .395 in 1912 and .373 in 1913. The outfielder established himself as one of the game’s great players. He could still barely read.

The White Sox traded for Jackson in August 1915.  Shoeless Joe batted .341 in 1916 and helped Chicago to a World Series championship the following year. Jackson blended in with other great White Sox players from this era, including Buck Weaver, Eddie Collins, Eddie Cicotte and “Lefty” Williams.

Chicago’s 1919 squad went 88-52 and captured the American League pennant. The White Sox met the Cincinnati Reds in the fall classic. There had been rumors of a fix long before Cincinnati’s “Dutch” Ruether threw the first pitch on Oct. 1 at Redland Field. Many White Sox players loathed owner Charles Comiskey. He was a cheapskate, the ballplayers swore. If they could get a few extra bucks out of a bigshot gambler like Arnold Rothstein, so be it. Rothstein, a New York City mobster, bankrolled the scandal.

Cincinnati took a 2-0 lead in the Series, but Chicago tied things up after four games. The Reds won the best-of-nine match-up five games to three. Alfred “Greasy” Neale led Cincinnati. The outfielder batted .357 (10-for-28) with three runs scored and four RBIs. Pitcher Horace “Hod” Eller won both his starts. The right-hander hurled two complete games, gave up four runs and struck out 15.

Jackson batted .375 in the Series (12-for-32) and knocked the lone home run. He hit .351 in the regular season.  A Chicago grand jury acquitted Jackson and the others in 1921. Even so, the all-powerful Landis banned them all. Said Landis: “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ballgame; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.” (Eddie Collins, never implicated in the scandal, batted .226 in the World Series. The future Hall of Fame hit .319 in the regular season.)

Jackson retired to his native South Carolina and proclaimed himself innocent.  Was he? Well, we’ll probably never know for sure. Reportedly, he refused the money. We know that Jackson’s .375 batting average led all hitters, White Sox and Reds. He not only hit the only Series home run, he also handled 30 chances and didn’t commit an error. Jackson threw out five baserunners.

Some experts point out that Jackson hit just .286 in Chicago’s five losses. Well, OK. But, .286 is still respectable batting. (National and American league hitters averaged .263 in the 1919 season.) And, he split his six RBIs between wins and losses. That home run? Jackson ripped it in a 10-5 loss in Game 8.

It probably didn’t help Jackson’s cause that he had White Sox team attorney Alfred Austrian representing him. Austrian, among other things, talked Jackson into signing a waiver of immunity from prosecution. Supposedly, Jackson never confessed to throwing the Series, as Eliot Asinof claimed in the 1963 book Eight Men Out.

(You may know that the most famous story connected with the Black Sox scandal never happened. The story goes that a kid, with tears in his eyes, afraid that his favorite team had thrown the World Series for money, races up the Chicago courthouse steps, tugs at the pants of the great—now sullied—Jackson and pleads to his fallen hero, “Say it isn’t so, Joe.”

Jackson, not a really articulate guy, solemnly says, “It is so, kid.” He then takes one more step toward the clicking cameras, the eager reporters and his doomed, and sealed, fate.

The story is a good one; it certainly captures the poignancy of the moment. Jackson, though, later said that no one–not a crying kid, not a hotshot news man—spoke to him as the grand jury testimony concluded. Apparently, he left through a back entrance and hitched a ride home with a court deputy.)

Baseball expert Bill James has rated Jackson as the 33rd greatest player of all-time.  He is, nevertheless, banned from any Hall of Fame honors (If he could get in, he’d be in). Joseph Jefferson “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, dead now for 66 years, remains—like all the Black Sox players—on baseball’s ineligible list.

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Chicago Black Sox’ “Lefty” Williams Took a Wrong Turn

Lefty Williams compiled an 82-48 won-loss record, mostly with the Chicago White Sox.

Lefty Williams compiled an 82-48 won-loss record, mostly with the Chicago White Sox.

By Glen Sparks

Claude “Lefty” Williams had a heck of a time of it in the 1919 World Series. Of course, many critics say he wasn’t even trying. Lefty lost all three games he pitched.

Williams, born in Aurora, Mo., on this date in 1893, spent most of his brief big league career with the Chicago White Sox. He, along with seven teammates, allegedly took money to throw the ’19 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, a crusty, white-haired picture of legal authority, kicked all the players out of baseball after a hometown jury declared them “not guilty” of conspiracy. Williams and the others would forever be known as the Black Sox.

The Sox (White or Black, take your pick) of Williams’ time featured some outstanding players. Williams wasn’t one of them. The 5-foot-9, 160-pound hurler threw a mediocre fastball and a decent curveball. Chicago outfielders ran down plenty of the fly balls that he gave up. The pitcher also could count on a solid hitting attack, led by “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, to light up the scoreboard.

Of Williams’ seven big-league seasons, 1919 was undoubtedly his best. He finished 23-11 with a 2.64 ERA (121 ERA+). Lefty completed 27 of 40 starts and threw five shutouts. Next to Eddie Cicotte (29-7, 1.82., ERA+ 176), he was definitely the best pitcher on the team.

Lefty broke in with the Detroit Tigers in 1913, going 1-3. The following season, he went 0-1 in Detroit, spending most of his time with the Sacramento Salons of the Pacific Coast League. It was in 1915 that Williams had his first big year, with the Salt Lake City Bees of the PCL. It’s a wonder his arm didn’t fall off. Lefty threw 418.2 innings and won 33 games to lead the league. He also finished first in strikeouts with 294. The White Sox, duly impressed, purchased Williams’ contract after the season ended.

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Series Goes Dark as Black Sox Lose to Reds

By Glen Sparks

Joe "Shoeless Joe" Jackson

Joe “Shoeless Joe” Jackson

My Oct. 1 post gives an account of the Black Sox scandal and its aftermath. I hope you get a chance to read it and to take a look at the slide show. You’ll learn a few things about the key participants.

If you want to find out more about the scandal, you can choose from plenty of options. I am listing some books, movies and web sites.

Books

Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series. Eliot Asinof and Stephen Jay Gould (Introduction). 2000 edition of 1963 book.  This is the most popular account of the scandal and the basis for the 1988 movie.

Turning the Black Sox White: The Misunderstood Legacy of Charles Comisky. Tim Hornbecker and Bob Hole. 2014. Did Charles Comiskey’s penny-pinching habits really inspire his players to throw the World Series for money? This book offers a different take on the man people called “Commie.” Continue reading

Say It Isn’t So; Take a Look Back at the Black Sox Scandal

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By Glen Sparks

You may know that the most famous story connected with the Black Sox scandal never happened. The story goes that a kid, with tears in his eyes, afraid that his favorite team had thrown the World Series for money, races up the Chicago courthouse steps, tugs at the pants of the great—now sullied—“Shoeless” Joe Jackson and pleads to his fallen hero, “Say it isn’t so, Joe.”

Jackson, not a really articulate guy, solemnly says, “It is so, kid.” He then takes one more step toward the clicking cameras, the eager reporters and his doomed, and sealed, fate.

The story is a good one; it certainly captures the poignancy of the moment. Jackson, though, said that no one–not a crying kid, not a hotshot news man—spoke to him as the grand jury testimony concluded. Apparently, he left through a back entrance and hitched a ride home with a court deputy. Continue reading