Windy City Fans Bid Shoeless Joe Adieu

What might Shoeless Joe Jackson's career have looked like without the scandal? (via Public Domain)

What might Shoeless Joe Jackson’s career have looked like without the scandal? (via Public Domain)

From a Far-Flung Correspondent:

Comiskey Park in Chicago is an idyllic greensward lovingly wrapped in a red brick shell. Built in 1910, it is one of the finest baseball plants in this great nation of ours, not as cozy as its neighbor on the North Side, nor as curiously-shaped as the Polo Grounds in Manhattan. But it has a familiar permanence to it, a solidity that should make it last well into the next century. Rumor has it that the National Park Service wants to requisition its vast outfield expanse, but we don’t give credence to this tale.

On the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 26, a fair day with the thermometer slowly rising, I decided to forego my usual get-together with the in-laws and made my way down to the ballpark at 35th and Shields. The White Sox were officially out of the race for the American League pennant, which will fly over the Yankee Stadium in New York this year. The Sox’ opponents in the contest were the Senators of Washington, who had a pretty fair hurler you may have heard of named Walter Johnson. The D.C . team also had a Goose, a Muddy, a Bucky and a Buddy. But what they didn’t have was a Joseph Jefferson Jackson, otherwise known as “Shoeless” Joe. The White Sox star was the attraction nearly everyone had come to the ballpark to see, including myself.

This being the final Sox game to be played in this summer of 1926, it also meant it would be the last time the baseball fans of the South Side would get to see Shoeless Joe, the team’s regular left fielder and beloved drawing card. He had been telling everyone for months that this was going to be his last season as a player. Most Sox fans didn’t want to believe it, didn’t want to imagine the day would ever come when Jackson’s name wouldn’t be penciled into the lineup card by manager Kid Gleason. One headline blared, “Who Will Fill Joe’s Shoes??”

But Father Time is no respecter of persons, and Jackson is now 38 years old, no rosy-cheeked cherub by baseball standards. To be sure, he had a truly fine season in ’26, hitting .318 with 12 home runs. But he insisted that his legs and knees wouldn’t hold up for another 154-game schedule. Leading up to the final day, he had been giving away autographed pairs of socks to adoring fans. Let no one say that Shoeless Joe doesn’t have a sense of humor.

I arrived in time for batting practice, the last that Jackson would ever partake in. One after another, he hit towering blasts beyond the right field fence, as the growing crowd shouted its appreciation. Each drive seemed to go higher and farther than the last. From my seat just behind the third base dugout, I marveled at the long, loping, left-handed swing, a sweet stroke that comes along only every generation or so. I wondered if we would ever see the likes of it again.

Once practice concluded, I relaxed into my hard, wooden-backed seat and took a bite out of my red hot. I’ve found they always taste better at the game, but on that day I had too much on my mind to truly appreciate its processed pleasures. I was thinking about Jackson and his glorious time in Chicago. It had all happened so fast. The first world championship in 1917 was a mere taste of things to come. The team went to the World Series three straight times from 1919 to 1921, winning all of them. But to get there, the Sox had to engage in furious regular-season combat with Babe Ruth and the Yankees.

Those were high-flying days, and there were no two bigger stars in the sporting world than Shoeless Joe and the Sultan of Swat. Jackson batted .409 in 1921 and .370 the following year. Chicago was the baseball capital of the world, and Shoeless Joe was its president.

His finest hour occurred in Game Seven of the 1921 Series, when his home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning captured yet another championship for Chicago. To many in this great city, the hard-hitting Jackson is poetry at the plate. But now the stanza has reached the end of the line. There will be no heroics at the plate in 1927, no majestic home runs to make us leap from our seats. There is sadness in Chicago because of that.

Jackson may well go down as the greatest hitter who ever lived. He and Ruth belong in their own league, and the debate over who is the superior batsman is the stuff that occupies our time when there is no baseball during the dreary winter months on the shores of Lake Michigan. Of course, Chicagoans know very well who is more deserving of the crown. New Yorkers will give a different answer. That is why it is a great game.

Finishing my lunch, I signaled for the scorecard man. He handed me the blank form and a bright new pencil, and I began filling in the names as a fellow on the field shouted them out through a megaphone. I noticed Jackson poke his head up out of the dugout and wink at a lovely female fan in my section. “Oh, that man!” she gasped.

In a brisk pre-game ceremony, a group of Chicago aldermen presented Jackson with a floral bouquet in the shape of a giant baseball shoe. This was followed by a local cobbler who announced he was awarding Jackson a gift certificate for a lifetime supply of Florsheim shoes. I thought this was a nice ironic touch, until the cobbler made a pretense of being unable to find the certificate in his trousers. He and Jackson both shrugged their shoulders, the cobbler patted him on the back, and the crowd got a good laugh. Sans certificate, Jackson will have to go through the rest of his life shoeless, after all.

The patron next to me elbowed my ribs. “That Jackson,” he drawled, “we sure are gonna miss him. He don’t need no lifetime supply of shoes, no-how. And I’ll wager he’d play the game for free.”

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It wasn’t much of a contest. Johnson was slinging it in there for the Sens, just like the old days, but Lefty Williams was matching him frame for frame for the Pale Hose. Good old Lefty, the World Series hero of yesteryear. Jackson failed to reach base his first two times at bat. He came to the plate leading off the seventh, and The Big Train hung a fastball a bit too high; Shoeless Joe belted the ball on a line toward right. It just cleared the wall, and the crowd let out a roar of approval that shook the dang place to the rafters.

That made it 1-0, but Williams surrendered a run in the top of the ninth when Goose Goslin doubled home Ossie Bluege. But we knew that Jackson would get another chance to hit in the final frame, and that’s really all we could ask for.

Happy Felsch and Swede Risberg both fanned against Johnson, who had recovered well after Jackson’s homer. Then a low rumble like thunder rolled across the stands, gaining in volume and hysteria, as Jackson made his way from the on-deck circle to home plate. Once in the batter’s box, he swung Big Jim lazily back and forth, like he does, and glared down at Johnson, who glared back down at Jackson. It looked to be a downright glaring contest, but the umpire called “time” and the fans booed.

Things got settled again, and Johnson reared back and flung a fastball blazing, low and outside, but not enough outside. Jackson was able to extend that long bat of his, and this time he sent the ball on a high, high arc to deepest right center field. Goslin drifted back, but even the Goose knew he didn’t stand a chance. The ball landed well beyond the wall, and the game was over.

Mayhem was the order of the day as Jackson rounded the bases. Just as he arrived home, he leaped onto the plate with both feet, then quickly reached down, pulled off both shoes, and heaved one into the crowd behind the third base dugout, then whirled around and heaved the other into the crowd behind first. In his socks and stirrups, he acknowledged the masses with a low bow. Indeed, gods don’t wear shoes. The extemporaneous gesture set the crowd to roaring anew, and confirmed his place in the hearts of the sports fanatics of this city.

What a moment to savor, the final triumph in a career that had been chock full of them. The Sox had won. Jackson had homered in his final two big-league at-bats. Not even Ruth would be able to top that, we all thought.

As Jackson bounded toward the dugout, his gleeful teammates went forth to congratulate him.

It was then that I noticed the grubby young street urchin dashing down the aisle to the rail fence, waving frantically to get Jackson’s attention.

“Joe! Joe!” the scamp screeched. Mercy of mercies, Jackson took notice of him and smiled.

Leaning over the railing, the kid extended a thin arm and thrust up two fingers in a V-shape.

“Two in a row, Joe!” he shouted. “Two in a row!”

References & Resources

  • This story imagines an alternate universe where Shoeless Joe played a full career, and is modeled after the classic piece by John Updike in The New Yorker titled “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”


Scott Ferkovich edited Tigers by the Tale: Great Games at Michigan & Trumbull, published by the Society for American Baseball Research. He is the author of Motor City Champs: Mickey Cochrane and the 1934-35 Detroit Tigers, coming in 2017 from McFarland. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_Ferkovich.
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Mike Ballard
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Mike Ballard

That was great — Joe Jackson always has been one of my favorites, and I still believe he wasn’t involved in any fix of the 1919 World Series. He should be in the Hall of Fame. When my wife and I were in Greenville, SC, last summer, we visited his grave, as well as the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum. It’s a shame he was framed in that Series fix.

Hank G.
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Hank G.

It’s a lot easier to be framed for fixing games when you take the bribe.

rickeys baby
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rickeys baby

“His finest hour occurred in Game Seven of the 1921 Series, when his home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning captured yet another championship for Chicago.” What?

Adam H
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Adam H

“This story imagines an alternate universe where Shoeless Joe played a full career, and is modeled after the classic piece by John Updike in The New Yorker titled ‘Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu'”

Philip
Guest
Philip

“What?”

I know. I said same thing.

Everyone knows it was the Boston Red Sox who won the 1921 World Series, making it back-to-back World Championships when Babe Ruth doubled off “The Wall” to plate Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper and giving 21-year old Waite Hoyt the win.

joedodger
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joedodger

Joe served his lifetime ban – deserved or not. Now would be a good time (you, know, anytime after having actually served the lifetime ban…) for him to be reinstated as eligible for the Hall. That would also send a very nice message to the “Hit King” that he, too, will serve a lifetime ban – we do remember that he signed on the dotted line for that, don’t we? – before being considered to be eligible for the Hall. It would also reinforce to others that if you do the crime, you do the time. Especially if you agreed… Read more »

Respect the Rivalry
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Respect the Rivalry

I have a different take on that. Some years ago I even tried writing to the commissioner’s office, never heard back and nothing came of it. He served his “Lifetime Ban”. His lifetime has ended, therefore the ban is ended. It’s not a forever ban. I think you’re on the same track, but reinstatement should be automatic. Once he dies the term of banishment is over. Of course this would apply to anybody on a lifetime ban. This wouldn’t be letting them off the hook, either. Imagine being Pete Rose, knowing you’ll be in the Hall of Fame, but also… Read more »

joedodger
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joedodger

We are on the same track. Just different methodologies. I “support” the reinstatement at the HOF induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, in the past (about the only way possible for a fan,there, is via signage…) and will continue to do so. I’d love for it to sink in to the banned player to KNOW he WILL be eligible, but only AFTER he has passed away. Then, and only then, can the voters decide if that person is worthy of induction. Shoeless Joe needs to be made eligible, NOW, for the vote. Why is this so difficult for people to understand?!?!?

pbmax
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pbmax

I agree. What does the HOF accomplish by not putting Joe in? It’d be a fun event. MLB could promote it, and they’d all make more money.

Rose, has to serve it like you both said. Let’s just move on from him, or at least until after he gets in the Reds HOF.

bucdaddy
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bucdaddy

For a second there, I read the head as “Windy City Fans Win Bid For Jose Abreu.”

Raincheck
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Raincheck

I believe the term (later codified in rule 21) is actually “permanently ineligible.” So the term of the punishment does not automatically expire with the expiration of the offender. The lifetime idea is an interesting one, though. It is true, as much as Jackson tends to be romanticized, that he did take a pile of cash. He was as gulity as anyone except Gandil and Cicotte (who seem to have been the instigators). And while he was illiterate,that was relatively common back in the day. It doesn’t mean he was stupid, just uneducated. We can never know his mindset when… Read more »