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Top 100 Cleveland Indians: #10 Shoeless Joe Jackson

As we enter the Top 10, we reflect on a player with Hall of Fame credentials who while associated with the Black Sox, actually had his best seasons while in Cleveland.

Shoeless Joe Jackson
Shoeless Joe Jackson
Plain Dealer

Joseph Jefferson Jackson (Shoeless Joe)

Center Fielder, 1910-1915

Height: 6'1" Weight: 200 lbs

Throws: Right Bats: Left

How Acquired: Trade, July 30, 1910: Traded as PTBNL by the Philadelphia Athletics with Morrie Rath for Bris Lord

Left Via: Trade, August 21, 1915: Traded to the Chicago White Sox for Eddie Klepfer, Braggo Roth, $31,500 and Larry Chappell (PTBNL)

A Shoeless Son of a Gun

Joe Jackson was born in rural South Carolina. His father George was a laborer at the Brandon textile mill. Joe, being the oldest of eight children, began his career at the mill when he was only six or seven. Instead of going to school to learn to read and write, he was earning a wage to help the family. When he was ten, he was stricken with measles, which nearly killed him. After two months of nursing from his mother, he went back to working twelve-hour shifts.

Jackson also played ball in the off hours and weekends. By 13 he was good enough to play for the factory team. He began as a pitcher, but after he broke another player's arm with a pitch, no one wanted to face him, so he became an outfielder. He bounced from one mill team to another, looking for the best pay. At 17, he started playing semi-pro as well. His hitting prowess was well known throughout the state.

In 1908, South Carolina got its first taste of minor league baseball when the Carolina Association (Class D) started up. Jackson hooked up with the Greenville Spinners. It was here he picked up the nickname Shoeless Joe. He tried to play a game with a brand new set of spikes that he hadn't broken in. Midgame, the blisters on his feet hurt so much he took the cleats off before batting. As he ran the bases a heckler called him "a shoeless son of a gun," and a local reporter ran with the line. In July, Jackson married. He was 20 years old, while his bride, Katie Wynn, was just 15.

A Taste of the Big Leagues

In August of 1908, Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack purchased his contract after Joe led the Carolina Association in hitting with a .346 average, and showed impressive range and a strong arm in center field. Jackson made his debut on August 25 and singled in first plate appearance. Three days later, he became very homesick and left the team. He returned in September, but finished with just 3 hits in 23 at bats.

In 1909, Mack placed him with Savannah Indians, a Class C squad in the South Atlantic League. He shined again, leading the league with a .358 average, 19 doubles and 12 triples. Mack again called him up late in the season, but he didn't play much, or have any real success. He was also hazed by many of his teammates, taunted for his country ways and illiteracy, which he tried to hide as best he could.

In 1910, Mack put him with the New Orleans Pelicans, a Class A squad in the Southern Association, which also had ties to the Cleveland Naps. Jackson again hit very well, nabbing his third straight batting title with a .354 average, 18 doubles and 19 triples. Mack determined that he would never succeed in Philadelphia though, and traded him to the Naps in July, in exchange for Bris Lord and $6 thousand.

Cleveland was a big city, but not nearly as big as Philadelphia and a lot of the players on the team were either from the South, or had played there before. In late September, the Naps called him up, and unlike his stints in Philadelphia, this time he hit extremely well, posting a .387/.446/.587 line in 86 plate appearances.

A Stretch Unmatched in 100 Years

That performance earned Jackson a starting spot in the Cleveland outfield for 1911, as none of the incumbents had an OPS of over 605. He set a rookie record that still stands by hitting .408 that year. That mark is also Cleveland's single-season record. Other franchise records he set that still stand include his 233 hits and 32 assists from the outfield. He didn't lead the league in batting average though, as Ty Cobb bested him, which would become a recurring theme. He did lead the league with a .468 on-base percentage, and he slugged .590, with 45 doubles and 19 triples. The Naps finished in third that season while Jackson finished 4th in MVP voting.

In 1912, the Naps slipped to sixth place, but it wasn't any fault of Jackson's. He hit .395/.458/.579 and led the league with 331 total bases, 226 hits, and 26 triples. Those 26 triples set an American League record, since equaled by Sam Crawford in 1914, but never broken. That he finished just 9th for the MVP award is mind-boggling. Many players swore that when Jackson hit the ball, the sound it made was completely different from other players. Jackson was one of the first to put his hands together on the bat and take a full cut, rather than punching at the ball. He also strode into the pitch, trying to drive the ball as hard as he could. Babe Ruth modeled his swing after Jackson.

In 1913, Jackson continued what was probably the best three-year stretch in franchise history, as he again dominated AL pitchers. He hit .373/.460/.551, leading the league in slugging, OPS, hits, and doubles. His batting eye improved as he went from 54 walks the season before to 80. The highlight of the season came in June, when he hit a home run against the Yankees that bounced of the roof of the right-field grandstand at the Polo Grounds. Joe finished second in MVP voting.

OPS+ didn't exist a century ago, but Jackson's figures for 1911 to 1913 are 193, 192, and 192. In the 100 seasons since then, Albert Belle in 1994 and Jim Thome in 2002 are the only Indians to post even one season at the level Jackson maintained for three in a row.

In 1914, the Federal League started up and raided the American and National Leagues for players. Jackson was courted, but he stayed in Cleveland. For the first time since his arrival, he encountered difficulties, suffering a broken leg and missing 35 games. He still hit .338/.399/.464 (156 OPS+) and finished 5th in MVP voting. Ray Chapman also missed a chunk of time and Nap Lajoie finally showed signs of aging. The Naps could not overcome these maladies or the loss of two pitchers to the Federal League, and finished in last place for the first time.

That offseason Lajoie was sold to Philadelphia and the team was renamed the Indians. Jackson headlined a vaudeville show that toured in the South. It was wildly popular and he loved doing the show. He threatened to quit baseball and refused to report for spring training. After his wife (who was unhappy about the proposed career change) filed for divorce, they reconciled and Joe returned to Cleveland just in time for the 1915 season.

In May, team owner Charles Somers ordered manager Joe Birmingham to play Jackson at first base so that rookie Elmer Smith could play in the outfield. Jackson soon developed a sore arm, which Birmingham blamed on the position switch. Somers was on the brink of bankruptcy and had to choose between keeping Jackson or Chapman, either of whom would fetch talent and some much needed cash. There were rumors that Jackson might sign a three-year deal in the Federal League, which worried Somers and made his decision easy, despite the fact that Jackson was turning in another great season at the plate.

On to Chicago

White Sox owner Charles Comiskey coveted Jackson and sent secretary Harry Grabiner to Cleveland with a blank check and orders to beat anyone else's offer. After Jackson agreed to a three year extension (with no raise), Chicago agreed to send three players and $31.5k. At the time, the total cost of $65.5k (cash plus three players' salaries) was the most expensive baseball transaction ever.

With the White Sox in 1916, Jackson was again one of the best hitters in the league, leading the league in total bases and triples. In 1917, he struggled with a bad ankle all season, but was a key cog in securing the World Series title for Chicago. World War I was in full tilt in 1918. Jackson was originally given a deferment by the Greenville draft board, but 17 games into the season the board reversed its decision. To avoid being drafted, Jackson volunteered to work in a naval ship yard in Delaware, while continuing to play. This type of service would be become fairly normal during World War II, but at the time it was looked down on, and Chicago sportswriters criticized him heavily.

In 1919, Jackson returned to the Sox, but Comiskey only offered him a $6k salary, exactly what he had been making since 1914. He hit .351/.422/.506 (159 OPS+), with the Sox beating out the Indians for the pennant. Chicago then faced the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series, which was a best-of-9 affair at the time. The White Sox lost, 5 games to 3, in what would soon become the most infamous series ever played.


Prior to 1920, Jackson finally finagled a raise out of Comiskey, signing a three-year deal worth $8k annually. Jackson had his best season since 1913, hitting .382/.444/.589 with a league leading triples and a career best 121 RBI. However a cloud of suspicion hovered over the team for the entire season. Finally, formal allegations from the 1919 Series surfaced in September, and a grand jury was called to look into things. Comiskey immediately suspended Jackson and the other six players still on the team (ringleader Chick Gandil had retired in 1920). With the team gutted, the White Sox faded late, helping the Indians win the pennant (and eventually their first World Series).

Whether or not Jackson really did throw the Series is still a topic of debate (while other details remain unknown, the famous "Say it ain't so, Joe" story is myth).There are conflicting stories, as news accounts from the grand jury claim Jackson confessed under oath, while the actual stenographic records do not confirm that story. Jackson hit .375 in the series, with a .956 OPS, and claimed to have refused the $5k bribe on two different occasions, only to have pitcher Lefty Williams toss the cash on the floor of their hotel room. He also claimed he'd tried to meet with Comiskey to tell him about the fix, but had been rebuffed by the owner.

Unable to afford an attorney, Jackson was represented by team counsel for the grand jury investigation, a conflict of interest. It has been suggested that attorney Alfred Austrian got Jackson's admission of guilt only after intoxicating him, as well as signing a waiver of immunity from prosecution. Years later, the other seven players all confirmed that Jackson was never at any of their meetings with the gamblers. Lefty Williams said they'd used Jackson's name to gain more credibility with the bribers.

The Cook County grand jury acquitted all eight players in 1921, but baseball's owners were extremely concerned about the involvement of gamblers in the sport, and hired Kenesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner, giving him unilateral powers. Landis didn't care about the acquittal and banned all eight players from ever playing again in order to clean up the image of the game that had been shattered by this scandal. And just like that, at the age of 33, Jackson's MLB career was over.

Jackson appealed his ban numerous times but was never successful. While continuing to maintain his innocence, he kept playing ball in semi-pro leagues around the South. He stayed out of the public eye most of the time, but would grant an interview from time to time to make his case for reinstatement. He eventually moved back near the Brandon Mill textile factory in Greenville, where he operated a liquor store and restaurant until he passed away in 1951 at 63.

Whether or not he deserves to be in Cooperstown is a fair question, but his numbers are definitely worthy. I wonder how his career would have turned out if he hadn't been traded by the Indians. Would he have continued to be one of the best hitters in the game, and become a shoo-in for induction when the Hall of Fame was created?


Wikipedia, SABR Biography Project by David Fleitz (via proxy of Deadball Stars of the American League by David Jones in 2006, Potomac Books)

Indians Career Stats
1910 22 CLE 20 86 75 15 29 2 5 1 11 4 8 8 .387 .446 .587 1.032 221 44 0 3 O
1911 23 CLE 147 641 571 126 233 45 19 7 83 41 56 43 .408 .468 .590 1.058 193 337 8 6 *O MVP-4
1912 24 CLE 154 653 572 121 226 44 26 3 90 35 20 54 19 .395 .458 .579 1.036 192 331 12 15 *O MVP-9
1913 25 CLE 148 623 528 109 197 39 17 7 71 26 80 26 .373 .460 .551 1.011 192 291 5 10 *O MVP-2
1914 26 CLE 122 512 453 61 153 22 13 3 53 22 15 41 34 .338 .399 .464 .862 156 210 5 13 *O MVP-5
1915 27 CLE 83 337 303 42 99 16 9 3 45 10 10 28 11 .327 .389 .469 .858 155 142 3 3 O3
CLE (6 yrs) 674 2852 2502 474 937 168 89 24 353 138 45 267 141 .375 .441 .542 .983 182 1355 33 50

Selected Awards/Leaders
  • AL MVP: 2nd-1913, 4th-1911, 5th-1914, 9th-1912
  • AL WAR: 2nd, 1911-9.2; 5th, 1912-9.6; 6th, 1913-7.6
  • AL WAR Position Players: 2nd, 1911-9.2; 2nd, 1912-9.6; 4th, 1913-7.6; 8th, 1914-4.6
  • AL oWAR: 1st, 1913-8.2; 2nd, 1911-8.5; 2nd, 1912-8.9; 7th, 1914-5.0
  • AL Average: 2nd, 1911-.408; 2nd, 1912-.395; 2nd, 1913-.373; 4th, 1914-.338; 7th, 1914-.308
  • AL On Base Percentage: 1st, 1911-.468; 2nd, 1912-.458; 2nd, 1913-.460; 4th, 1914-.399; 7th, 1915-.385
  • AL Slugging: 1st, 1913-.551; 2nd, 1911-.590; 2nd, 1912-.579; 4th, 1914-.464; 4th, 1915-.445
  • AL OPS: 1st, 1913-1.011; 2nd, 1911-1.058; 2nd, 1912-1.036; 4th, 1915-.830; 5th, 1914-.862
  • AL At Bats: 7th, 1911-571
  • AL Plate Appearances: 8th, 1911-641; 10th, 1912-653; 10th, 1913-23
  • AL Runs Scored: 2nd, 1911-126; 3rd, 1912-121; 3rd, 1913-109
  • AL Hits: 1st, 1912-226; 1st, 1913-197; 2nd, 1911-233
  • AL TB: 1st, 1912-331; 2nd, 1911-337; 2nd, 1913-291
  • AL 2B: 1st, 1913-39; 2nd, 1911-45; 2nd, 1912-44
  • AL 3B: 1st, 1912-26; 3rd, 1911-19; 3rd, 1913-17; 8th, 1914-13; 8th, 1915-14
  • AL Home Runs: 3rd, 1915-5; 4th, 1911-7; 4th, 1913-7
  • AL RBI: 5th, 1912-90; 5th, 1915-81; 9th, 1911-83; 9th, 1913-71
  • AL Bases on Balls: 3rd, 1913-80
  • AL Stolen Bases: 6th, 1911-41; 10th, 1912-35
  • AL Singles: 2nd, 1911-162; 2nd, 1912-153; 6th, 1913-134
  • AL OPS+: 2nd, 1911-193; 2nd, 1912-192; 2nd, 1913-192; 5th, 1914-156; 5th, 1915-147
  • AL RC: 1st, 1913-133; 2nd, 1911-155; 2nd, 1912-145; 7th, 1914-80; 9th, 1915-73
  • AL Extra Base Hits: 2nd, 1911-71; 2nd, 1912-73; 2nd, 1913-53; 9th, 1915-39
  • AL Hit By Pitch: 2nd, 1912-12
  • AL Caught Stealing: 7th, 1915-20
  • AL Assists as OF: 2nd, 1911-32; 3rd, 1912-30; 4th, 1913-28
Cleveland Indians Career Leader
  • 11th WAR Position Players (34.9)
  • 9th oWAR (34.9)
  • 1st Average (.375)
  • 2nd On Base Percentage (.441)
  • t-5th Slugging (.542)
  • 2nd OPS (.983)
  • 36th Runs Scored (474)
  • 39th Hits (937)
  • 43rd Total Bases (1355)
  • t-37th Doubles (168)
  • 4th Triples (89)
  • 14th Stolen Bases (138)
  • 35th Singles (565)
  • 1st OPS+ (182)
  • 23rd Runs Created (585)
  • 37th Extra Base Hits (281)
  • t-30th Hit By Pitch (33)
  • 49th Sacrifice Hits (50)
  • t-19th Caught Stealing (45)
Cleveland Indians Season Leader
  • 5th WAR (9.6, 1912)
  • 7th WAR (9.2, 1911)
  • t-18th WAR (7.6, 1913)
  • 5th oWAR (8.9, 1912)
  • 7th oWAR (8.5, 1911)
  • t-9th oWAR (8.2, 1913)
  • 1st Average (.408, 1911)
  • 2nd Average (.395, 1912)
  • 13th Average (.373, 1913)
  • 46th Average (.338, 1914)
  • 6th On Base Percentage (.468, 1911)
  • 7th On Base Percentage (.460, 1913)
  • 8th On Base Percentage (.458, 1912)
  • t-22nd Slugging (.590, 1911)
  • t-29th Slugging (.579, 1912)
  • 42nd Slugging (.551, 1913)
  • 11th OPS (1.058, 1911)
  • 15th OPS (1.036, 1912)
  • 22nd OPS (1.011, 1913)
  • t-11th Runs Scored (126, 1911)
  • t-18th Runs Scored (121, 1912)
  • t-38th Runs Scored (109, 1913)
  • 1st Hits (233, 1911)
  • 4th Hits (226, 1912)
  • 32nd Hits (197, 1913)
  • 17th Total Bases (337, 1911)
  • 19th Total Bases (331, 1912)
  • t-22nd Doubles (45, 1911)
  • t-40th Doubles (44, 1912)
  • 1st Triples (26, 1912)
  • 7th Triples (19, 1911)
  • t-11th Triples (17, 1913)
  • t-29th Triples (13, 1914)
  • t-15th Stolen Bases (41, 1911)
  • t-33rd Stolen Bases (35, 1912)
  • t-4th Singles (162, 1911)
  • 13th Singles (153, 1912)
  • 5th OPS+ (193, 1911)
  • t-6th OPS+ (192, 1912, 1913)
  • t-41st OPS+ (156, 1914)
  • t-45th OPS+ (155, 1915)
  • t-5th Runs Created (155, 1911)
  • t-10th Runs Created (145, 1912)
  • 27th Runs Created (133, 1913)
  • t-28th Extra Base Hits (73, 1912)
  • t-33rd Extra Base Hits (71, 1911)
  • t-20th Hit By Pitch (12, 1912)
  • t-4th Caught Stealing (20, 1912)
  • t-23rd Caught Stealing (15, 1914)