Tuesday, May 24

Joe Jackson

There is an old family story in my family.  I am sure that many families in the South have similar stories.  In my family, my great grandfather was a great pitcher in baseball.  Frankly, he was. He was in his late 70s teaching the little chap that was me the finer points of the knuckle ball and curve ball.  The legend goes sometimes in the 1930s he faced down Joe "Shoeless Joe" Jackson in the textile league baseball. 

One has to understand what textile league baseball was at the time.  It was bigger than the minor leagues.  Mill owners took special pride in their baseball teams and hired men to play for them that never worked a hard days work in the mills, as long as they could perform on the field.  Among the ringers was Joe Jackson of Greenville. 

Joe Jackson was a man done wrong.  Though he could not read or write, Jackson was caught up in the great "Black Sox" scandal of 1918.  As most know, that scandal accused members of the Chicago White Sox of throwing the World Series.  Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, brought in to be Commissioner of Major League Baseball, threw all the White Sox starters out of baseball, even though they were found innocent of charges in court.  

Among them was Jackson.  Again, Jackson was a man who could not read or write and seemed to be the most innocent of the lot when you look at how he did in the questionable series.  Yet, Judge Landis's decision stood and Jackson, like all the rest were banned from Major League Baseball.  

The Sporting News once ranked Jackson at 35th among its best 100 baseball players.  Jackson batted a career .356.  But, through Landis, Jackson's name was ruined.  Jackson spent the rest of his life toiling around the minor leagues and other leagues under other names.  

So perhaps my great grandfather, with his pitching wares, faced the legendary Joe Jackson.  Who really knows?  But what we do know is a man, so talented as Joe Jackson, was cast out of America's past time on the whim of some old Judge, who God knows had his own faults in life.  It is one of the shames that haunts baseball today.  

As for old Joe Jackson.  Rumors are he made his rounds and some money with minor leagues and textile teams.  No one can really verify all he did in that regard.  Jackson died in 1951, in Greenville, as an owner of a liquor store.  

When Joe Jackson died, no one stood up to clear his name.  Perhaps it is far past time to.  Jackson was a good ole, tobacco chewing baseball kid who had no idea what the big mob bosses wanted from him in 1918, Not only does Jackson belong in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, but he deserves an apology, even in death, from the MLB for getting it wrong about him.  All the years he spent playing under another name earned that at least. The statute at Greenville is fitting.  Joe Jackson was one of baseball's greats.  He was and is a legend.  And, if he could not hit my great grandfather's pitches, so  be it. 
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