By Granville Burgess
This World Series marks the 100th Anniversary of the infamous Black Sox Scandal, in which Shoeless Joe Jackson was accused of participating in the conspiracy to deliberately throw the Series. It is a fitting occasion for rectifying a wrong that is the true scandal of the Series: Jackson’s permanent banishment from professional baseball. And the model for achieving this justice is the example of Shoeless’ hometown.
Playing Little League baseball as an 8-year-old boy in Greenville in the mid-1950s, no one ever told me that across town in the village of Brandon Mill had lived the greatest natural hitter of all time. Why? Because his name was Joe Jackson and he had been branded a “cheater,” definitely not a person to be held up as a role model for growing young boys.
In the Series, Joe led all batters with a .375 average, made no errors, hit the only home run, threw out a man at the plate, and had 12 hits, a record that stood until 1964. Some argue that he hit only .286 in the games Chicago lost, as if hitting a baseball safely is something one does at will. Others ask about the $5,000 Lefty Williams gave Joe which he ultimately deposited in a Savannah bank. Joe claimed he tried to give the money to Charles Comiskey, the White Sox owner, but was denied entrance to his office. He also claimed he tried to give it to Harry Grabiner,
Comiskey’s secretary, when he came to Savannah to negotiate Joe’s 1920 contract.
Like much of the history of the Scandal, these facts are in dispute. What is not in dispute is this: Not one, but two juries declared Joe innocent. The first, in 1921, unanimously declared the eight accused players not guilty. The second, in a 1924 trial where Joe sued Comiskey for back pay, also declared Joe innocent.
Was justice served? No. After the first trial, commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis
banned all eight players from professional baseball. His edict begins: “Regardless of the verdict of juries…” Regardless of the verdict of juries?! What kind of justice can be expected to follow that pronouncement? At the second trial, the judge set aside the verdict and threw Joe in jail for perjury, because his 1920 grand jury testimony, where he had been coached to lie by Comiskey attorney Alfred Austrian, didn’t jibe with his truthful 1924 testimony. Twice declared innocent, twice convicted anyway.
Joe Jackson was the illiterate son of a sharecropper who went to work in a textile mill at age 7 — a place where the lint was so thick workers sometimes vomited balls of cotton. The fact that he had one of the purest swings ever saved him from a hard life, but not from a hard fate. His hometown has softened that fate: today, his statue stands at the entrance to the downtown ballpark of Greenville’s minor league team, and the Shoeless Joe Jackson museum sits across the street — in Joe’s actual home. I, like the rest of my hometown, can take pride in our town’s honoring of this baseball legend.
I have sat in Joe’s chair and tried to imagine what it must have felt like to have been forever denied the use of your extraordinary talents. It is time to remove Jackson from the list of permanently banned players. It is time to let Shoeless Joe Jackson have a last at- bat and hit the home run that will finally assure his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Granville Burgess is a Greenville native and author of “The Last At-Bat of Shoeless Joe.” If you would like to join Burgess’ campaign to get Jackson reinstated, email him at email@example.com.