An Interview with Shoeless Joe Jackson (Sort of) 11/17/13

Hey baseball fans!

I’m back with another interview! This time, it is with Shoeless Joe Jackson!! I know what you are thinking: “How could you have gotten in touch with a ballplayer who died in 1951?” Well, my answer to you all is this: just like my Babe Ruth interview, a few days ago I sent in questions to Peter Alter, a historian at the Chicago History Museum in Chicago, Illinois. They’re experts on Shoeless Joe. I asked him if he could answer my interview questions the way that Shoeless Joe would answer them if he were alive today using all his expressions and language, and the results couldn’t have been better! But before we get to the interview with one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, let me tell you a little bit about him first.

Shoeless Joe Jackson played for the Philadelphia A’s, Cleveland Naps and Chicago White Sox during his 13-year career from 1908-1920. Jackson got his nickname, Shoeless Joe, during an exhibition game in Greenville, South Carolina. Jackson had blisters on his feet because of new cleats and had to take them off when he played. During the game, a fan saw Jackson running to third with just his socks on his feet. The heckler shouted “You shoeless son of a gun, you!” From that day onward, the nickname Shoeless Joe stuck to him like glue and he was never able to live it down.Shoeless Joe spent ’08 and ’09 with Connie Mack and the A’s, but didn’t play very much in the majors. He joined the Cleveland Naps at the end of the 1910 season after playing in the minors for most of the 1910 campaign. In 1911, his first full season, the left fielder hit .408, the sixth-highest single-season average since 1901. His average that year also set the record for batting average in a single season by a rookie. He was so good that year that the great Babe Ruth was said to have tried to copy Joe’s hitting style. During the 1915 season, Jackson went to Chicago, where he consistently batted very well for the team and even helped bring them to multiple World Series, first in 1917, a win over the Giants, and then in 1919, where they faced the Reds. In the 1919 Series, he batted .375 with a record-tying 12 hits, but the Chi Sox lost the Series, five games to three.

Sadly, in 1920, Jackson and seven other players were accused of “throwing” the 1919 World Series for money. Although Jackson regretted accepting the $5,000, he was banned by Major League Baseball at the order of Commissioner Landis. He couldn’t play again and he could never be elected into the Hall of Fame. Nonetheless, he is still one of the greatest players of all time, with the third highest career batting average at .356. In fact, in 1999, Jackson was a finalist for the All-Century Team and was voted the 12th best outfielder in baseball history by the fans.

Now that you know a little bit about Joe, let’s get to the questions.

Matt: You batted .408 in 1911. If you had those same skills playing today, what do you think your batting average would be?
Shoeless Joe: I would hope my average would stay the same, but it’s hard to say. I hear they change the ball a lot now durin’ the game. In my day, we used the same ball ‘til the thing fell apart and it was hard to hit. Hurlers these days are pretty good too, they really can do all kinds of things.

Matt: In your opinion, what’s more important: playing small ball or swinging for the fences?
Shoeless Joe: For me it’s doin’ whatever the team needs to win. If we need a sacrifice, I’d give it to ‘em, same thing for a big hit. Though if my stats tell you anythin’ I’m a big fan of the long ball, helped make me some extra money when I played in the mill leagues.

Matt: Why was it so hard for you to stay in the majors with Connie Mack and the A’s (see pic below)?
Shoeless Joe: Philadelphia was a big city; I got a bit nervous comin’ up there from my rural hometown in Greenville. It affected my playin’ a bit so I ended up movin’ to the minors for a while in New Orleans.

Matt: Did you like the nickname “Shoeless Joe” or did you find it insulting?
Shoeless Joe: I was never a big fan of the name. I felt like people were callin’ me dumb. It stuck though, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.

Matt: Who was the toughest pitcher you ever faced? If you played today, who would you like to hit against?
Shoeless Joe: Hod Eller is a pitcher that comes to mind, went against him in the ’19 Series. I may have hit a home run off of him, but it didn’t matter, he got two wins in the Series. Tough to say who I would want to hit against today, though I think it would be fun to go against these current Sox to see if they are as good as my old teammates.

Matt: Can you tell us your side of the story relating to the 1919 Black Sox scandal?
Shoeless Joe: I never said I would help with the fix, but I did take money cause they said they were gonna do it with or without me. My wife Katie got real upset with me about that. I played to win all those games though, and I regret acceptin’ that five grand.

Matt: Why did Sox owner Charles Comiskey (see pic below) refuse to meet with you before the 1919 Series when you tried to tell him about the fix?
Shoeless Joe: I was goin’ to see him a day or two before the Series started. By then there were actually a lot of rumors goin’ ‘round. I was goin’ to ask him to let me sit, but he didn’t want that, not if there was a chance of winnin’. So he wouldn’t hear me out at all.

Matt: If you had to do it all over again, how would you have handled the Black Sox scandal differently  (see newspaper headline below)?
Shoeless Joe: Maybe I would have gone to the boss a lot sooner I think, maybe would have tried to stop them. Hard to say really, I didn’t really have many choices in front of me.

Matt: Can you tell me something that most people don’t know about you?
Shoeless Joe: I actually acted in vaudeville for a while. It was a lot of fun, and I wanted to keep doin’ that instead of playin’ ball. My wife threatened me with a divorce though so I went back to baseball instead.

Matt: Were you buddies with any players who remained close with you after the Black Sox scandal?
Shoeless Joe: I played ball with some of the guys in outlaw leagues for a bit, but I was never particularly close with anyone of ‘em. I just wanted to move on from the scandal mostly.

Matt: What should MLB be doing about getting fans more interested in baseball history?
Shoeless Joe: Best thing they could do is talk about it more. You don’t see much history talk these days. This is a great sport with a great past, more folks should get to hear it.

Well, that’s the interview. A special thanks to Peter Alter of the Chicago History Museum for answering my questions as if he were the great Joe Jackson. Anyway, thanks for reading this interview. I hope you enjoyed it and check back in a couple of days for more of “all the buzz on what wuzz.”

1 Comment

Nice article Matt. Nice to see someone under 60 (I’m nearing 70) has some interest in baseball history!

Fellow Life Long Yankees Fan

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