His guilt in throwing the 1919 World Series was never proven, and in fact the courts found him innocent. But for the rest of his life Joe Jackson lived with the stain of having disgraced the game of baseball.
He died relatively young, just 63 years of age, on December 5, 1951. But those who knew him at the time of his death later wrote that “Shoeless” Joe Jackson bore the scars of age and torment of a man twice his age.
Jackson was one of the early immortals of major league baseball whose skill, speed, and instincts for the game were so great that many still consider him one of the games top 50 players of all time. Except…there was that issue of him being banned from baseball for being part of a conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox (Jackson’s team) and the Cincinnati Reds.
Jackson was reportedly offered $20,000 by bettors to help throw the series. But he refused. In fact, he would statistically have one of the best series in the history of baseball. He hit .375 and set a new record at that time for hits in a series (12). He scored five runs and drove in six more. Defensively, he handled 30 chances without and error.
But when the “fix” was revealed the following year, Jackson was one of seven Chicago players called before a grand jury, even though character witnesses testified to his honor and innocence. Club owner Charles Comiskey, however, refused to exonerate Jackson in order to preserve his own reputation, and Jackson was indicted.
Subsequently, a jury trial declared him innocent of taking a bribe, but baseball commissioner Judge Kennesaw Landis banned all of the White Sox players for life.
After the decision Jackson returned to his home in Greenville, South Carolina and ran a liquor store until his death of a heart attack in 1951. Although banned from professional baseball, he continued to play with amateur touring teams for many years and it was during that time that a young journalist famously reported that during an interview about his involvement in the 1919 scandal, he said, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Later it was reported by the newspaper that the statement was made up for publicity.
The fact of how he got the nickname, “Shoeless Joe”, is not made up. During a game in 1909, performing for the amateur Greenville Spinners, Jackson got a base hit and removed a new pair of shoes on first base that were tight to the point of causing him blisters. He proceeded to run the bases in his stocking feet and scored. Hence the name, “Shoeless Joe Jackson”.