Baseball player. “Shoeless Joe” Jackson was born on July 16, 1888, in Pickens County, the son of George and Martha Jackson. His father has been described variously as a tenant farmer, sharecropper, or a sawmill worker. In 1891 or 1892, George Jackson moved his family to Pelzer, then to the Brandon Mill near Greenville to work in textile mills. Jackson began working in the mill helping his father when he was six or seven years old, never attending school and never learning to read or write. At the age of thirteen, he began to work in the mill full time, and shortly after he started playing with the mill baseball team, earning $2.50 a game. He started as a pitcher, then played catcher before settling in as outfielder, a position he would play for the rest of his career. Between 1901 and 1907, he played for various South Carolina mill teams as well as the semiprofessional Greenville Near Leaguers. In 1908 he signed his first professional contract, with the Carolina Spinners in the Class D South Atlantic League. That same year, on July 19, he married Katherine Wynn.
It was with the Spinners that Jackson acquired the nickname “Shoeless Joe.” Breaking in a new pair of cleats one game, he developed painful blisters on his feet that forced him to play the next game without his shoes. Tagging up at third base after hitting a triple, an opposing fan vented his frustration by shouting “You shoeless bastard, you.” Although Jackson played only a single game without his shoes, the nickname stuck.
Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics purchased Jackson’s contract during the 1908 season. Jackson played in Philadelphia in parts of the 1908 and 1909 seasons before being traded to the Cleveland Naps (later the Indians) in 1910. In 1911, his first full season in the major leagues, he batted .408. The next two seasons he batted .395 and .373, but lost out all three seasons to Ty Cobb for the batting title. In 1915 Jackson was traded to the Chicago White Sox, leading the team to a World Series title in 1917 and a pennant in 1919.
Jackson is frequently regarded among the greatest natural hitters of all time. He was one of the game’s first modern power hitters, always taking a full swing with his hands together and consistently hitting for power. His approach had a strong influence on Babe Ruth and other younger players. His lifetime batting average of .356 is the third highest in baseball history. He was also an excellent fielder with a powerful arm, and his glove was popularly referred to as “the place where triples go to die.”
Jackson was barred from organized baseball for his participation in a scheme to throw the World Series in 1919. He was later acquitted of all charges in a jury trial in 1921. Some writers have reexamined the transcripts of the 1921 trial and Jackson’s 1924 civil trial and concluded that Jackson was innocent. Jackson played baseball for many different semipro and industrial leagues throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. Returning to South Carolina, he operated a successful dry cleaning business and ran a liquor store for many years in Greenville. He died December 5, 1951, and was buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Greenville.
Asinof, Eliot. Eight Men Out. New York: Ace, 1963. Fleitz, David L. Shoeless: The Life and Times of Joe Jackson. Jefferson, N.C.:
McFarland, 2001. Gropman, Donald. Say It Ain’t So, Joe!: The True Story of Shoeless Joe Jackson. 2d ed. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol, 1999.