Joseph Jefferson Wofford Jackson was born in Pickens County, South Carolina on July 16, 1888. He was the oldest of eight children, When he was only 6 years old, Joe went to work at the Pelzer textile mill sweeping cotton dust off the floors. In 1901 the family moved to West Greenville, SC where Joe worked at the Brandon Mill to help his family. Joe never learned to read or write because he had to work instead of going to school. Joe began to play baseball on the Brandon Mill team when he was 13. If he hit a home run, his brothers would go into the crowd and pass their hats for tips. Sometimes they made as much as $25.00 a game.
Joe started out as a pitcher on the mill’s team, but he threw the ball so hard that he broke the catcher’s arm, so they switched him to the outfield. He could throw the ball more than 400 feet. There is one story that says Joe threw a baseball from the backstop behind home plate over the center-field fence at a field in Brunswick, Georgia. The newspapers called Joe’s home runs “Saturday Specials,” his line drives “Blue Darters,” and his glove, “A place where triples go to die. ”
Joe got his nickname in 1908 when he was playing semi-pro ball with the Greenville Spinners. He had a new pair of spikes that made blisters on his feet, so he began to play in just his socks. When he was running to third after he hit a triple, a fan yelled, "You shoeless son of a gun!" It was the only time Joe played ‘shoeless’ in a game, but he became known as “Shoeless Joe.”
Joe played professional baseball with the Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland Naps (who became the Indians in 1915), and the Chicago White Sox. He played left field, threw right-handed and batted right-handed. Many think he is the greatest natural hitter in the history of baseball.
• In 1911 Joe had a .408 batting average, an MLB record for a rookie.
• Joe led the American League in triples in 1912, 1916 and 1920.
• In 1912 Joe signed a contract with J.F. Hillerich and Sons to have his signature appear on their famous Louisville Slugger baseball bats.
• In 1913, Joe led the AL with 197 hits and a .551 slugging average.
• On September 30, 1916, Eddie Collins, Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch pulled off a triple steal against Cleveland.
• In 1917, Joe won the World Series with the Chicago White Sox.
• In 1918, Joe Jackson chose to avoid the World War I draft by working at a Delaware shipyard, where he helped build battleships. He played baseball on the factory team in the Bethlehem Steel League. He was criticized by sports writers for not fighting overseas.
• In 1919 Joe batted .351 during the regular season and .375 in the World Series to go along with a perfect 1.000 fielding average.
• Joe batted .340 or better for eight of his thirteen seasons.
• Joe is ranked third in MLB history with a batting average of .356. Ty Cobb’s average was .366 and Roger Hornsby’s was .358.
Joe believed that bats had only so many hits in them, and when he went into a slump, Joe would discard his bat and get a new one. Joe had a name for all his bats. His favorite, and most famous, was Black Betsy. He also had Blond Betsy, Caroliny, Ol’ Genril, Big Jim, and a bat that he named "Dixie." Cleveland fans would shout, "Give’em Dixie, Joe. Give’em Dixie." Black Betsy sold for $577,610 at auction.
In 1919, some members of the White Sox conspired to lose the World Series to the Cleveland Indians because they were unhappy with owner Charles Comiskey. This is known as the Black Sox scandal. Joe is said to have admitted that he was involved. He was supposed to get $20,000, more than three times his annual salary, but received only $5,000. He later told the Sporting News, “Regardless of what anybody says, I was innocent of any wrong-doing. I gave baseball all I had. The Supreme Being is the only one to whom I’ve got to answer. If I had been out there booting balls and looking foolish at bat against the Reds, there might have been some grounds for suspicion. I think my record in the 1919 World Series will stand up against that of any other man in that Series or any other World Series in all history.” Joe hit .375 for the Series, the highest on either team; had twelve hits (a tie for the World Series record at the time); six RBIs and made no errors in eight games. He made eleven of the Sox twenty runs and hit the only home run in the Series. The extent of Joe’s part in the conspiracy remains controversial. Charles Comiskey testified under oath three times that he did not believe Joe Jackson was involved, and he thought Joe was treated unfairly.
Since Joe was banned from MLB after the scandal, he played, coached and managed for various minor league and semi-pro teams. Joe owned and operated a barbecue restaurant known as Joe Jackson’s Restaurant. In 1933, he opened Joe Jackson’s Liquor Store. He would help local children learn how to play baseball. They knew him as Mr. Joe and didn’t know how famous he had been. Joe died on December 5, 1951 in Greenville, South Carolina.
Ty Cobb told Joe, “Whenever I got the idea I was a good hitter, I’d stop and take a look at you. Then I knew I could stand some improvement.”