On this date one hundred years ago, the Philadelphia Athletics sent Joe Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”) to Cleveland. Jackson was signed by Connie Mack in 1908. He played a handful of games in both 1908 and 1909, decided he hated Philadelphia, the big cities, and the travel, so he returned to South Carolina and did not report in 1910. By the end of July, Mack gave up on him and sent his contract to Cleveland. Jackson reported to Cleveland, got into 20 games and hit .387 with a home run, four stolen bases, and 29 hits. This time he stayed around and became a star. In fairness to Jackson, he was only 18 in 1908.
I’ve made a point of staying away from posts dealing specifically with Jackson for a reason. He is one of the most polarizing figures in baseball history. Only Pete Rose and Barry Bonds rival him as a controversial player. I feel my job here is to inform, not confront. You want confrontation, go visit a political blog. Lots to “confront” about. Having said that, it’s time to deal with Shoeless Joe.
Let me start by saying I’d have given everything I ever had, including my first-born, to have been Moonlight Graham and gotten into just one Major League game. Jackson got that chance and threw it away. I have, therefore, little sympathy for him. He was a star, the idol of millions (whether one of them ever said “Say it ain’t so, Joe” or not), a great ballplayer and he decided he wanted more money. Well, Joe, so do I, but I’m not willing to compromise certain principles for it. Now I know there are a lot of defenses of Jackson. Let’s take a look at some of them:
1. He was underpaid. So what? I’m underpaid. My wife is underpaid. My first-born (who I was willing to give up a paragraph or two ago) is underpaid. Most of you reading this are underpaid. Does that make it OK to, in Jackson’s case, throw the World Series? Surely not.
2. He was too stupid to know what he was doing. Oh, really? What did he think they were giving him the bribe money for, his looks? Besides unlettered and stupid are two different things. There’s ample evidence that Jackson was illiterate, but also evidence he wasn’t stupid. He had a meal routine that belies stupidity. He always ate with a teammate. If the waitress came to him first he’d tell her he hadn’t decided yet and to get everybody else’s order and come back. He’d then listen to what they ordered and get one of the same things. If he wasn’t first, his response was “I’ll have what he’s having.” That’s not a stupid man there. In fact that’s rather clever.
3. Comiskey was a jerk. Got me there; Comiskey was a jerk. But Comiskey isn’t the one throwing games. Comiskey’s human qualities are not in question here, Jackson’s are. And to my mind, Jackson is as big a jerk as Comiskey and two wrongs don’t make either man right, or less of a jerk.
4. Jackson played OK in the series. That’s sort of right. But if you break down his series by at bats you see he doesn’t come through in crucial situations. His home run, as a simple example, is after the final game is already lost. He drives in six runs, but all in games the Sox win or in meaningless situations (like the home run). I’ll give you that Gandil and Cicotte and Williams are greater villains in losing games, but that doesn’t make Jackson any kind of hero.
So there, I’ve said my piece. Obviously I don’t like Jackson and have no wish to see him in Cooperstown. I accept that some other people do. It’s a free country. They’re entitled to be wrong.