The 100th anniversary of the Black Sox Scandal and why it matters to Greenville

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Joe Jackson's famous swing
Joe Jackson's famous swing | Photo provided by the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library

The World Series starts today, marking the 100th anniversary of the infamous Black Sox Scandal that resulted in Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven of his Chicago White Sox teammates being banned from professional baseball for life

One of Greenville’s most famous figures, Joseph Jefferson Jackson (a.k.a. Shoeless Joe Jackson) is regarded as one of the best hitters of all time. “I copied Joe’s swing because he was the greatest I had ever seen. He’s the greatest hitter I ever saw.” – Babe Ruth.

Joe Jackson talking with Babe Ruth
Joe Jackson (right) talking with Babe Ruth | Photo provided by the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library

Joe grew up in the Brandon Mill village, playing in the mill leagues before making it to the MLB in 1911. He earned the nickname Shoeless Joe Jackson in 1908 while playing for the Greenville Spinners (learn why he got the nickname here). He holds the third-highest lifetime batting average in Major League Baseball at .356 and the highest batting average for a rookie at .408

Despite the stats and recognition from players like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, a lot of people (Greenvillians included) have never heard of Shoeless Joe Jackson as a result of the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.

Here’s what happened: 

  • 8 Chicago White Sox players (including Joe) were accused of conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. 
  • 6 of the players did conspire to throw the game + were paid to do so. One player, Buck Weaver, participated in conspiracy meetings but strongly fought any action to fix the series and did not receive any money. Joe Jackson knew about the plan and did receive payment but never attended any planning meetings.
  • Why was Joe involved? Simply because he was the best player on the team. The players conspiring to throw the series felt it would be necessary to have him onboard.
  • Joe originally agreed to participate and was paid $5,000 (his annual salary at the time was only $6,000) – but his stats and actions before the series could stand alone in proof that Joe did not follow through with the plan. 
  • Joe went to his manager before the series and told him he didn’t want to play. The manager refused to hear Joe and insisted he play, saying “We’ll win anyway.”
  • The White Sox lost the series, but Joe hit .375 – with 12 hits, 6 RBIs + the only home run. He committed no fielding errors in 30 chances and threw someone out at home. 
  • His World Series stats led both teams. Defenders point out, if Joe was trying to throw away the series, “he failed miserably from a statistical standpoint.” 

The accused players were tried in 1921 and unanimously declared not guilty. Despite the verdict, commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis banned all eight players from professional baseball for life in an attempt to legitimize baseball and deter any future attempts of conspiracy.

Joe Jackson's famous swing
Joe Jackson’s famous swing | Photo provided by the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library

The Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library in Greenville is among several groups that have petitioned to have Joe reinstated. Many believe that Joe’s death in 1951 means he fulfilled his sentence (“banned for life”) + hope that one day he’ll be returned to the good graces of baseball.

A milestone year

The 100th anniversary of the Black Sox Scandal World Series marks an important milestone in Joe’s story – but the year is also significant for the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library as they prepare to move

The Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library is housed in Joe’s actual home. It’s filled with photographs, memorabilia and interactive displays that commemorate the local legend’s life and baseball career + currently sits across from Fluor Field at 356 Field St. When we say they’re preparing to move – what we mean is they’re preparing to move the entire house.

Joe Jackson's home
Joe Jackson outside of his home compared to the current-day Museum | Photo provided by the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library

This isn’t the first time the home has been moved. In 2006, it was moved from Wilburn Street (~3.5 miles away) to its current location across from the (then) newly built Fluor Field. The home officially re-opened in 2008 as the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. 

This time, the house is moving down the street ~100 yards to the corner of Markley and Field (still across the street from Fluor Field) in order to make way for a new Woodfield Development. According to the current construction schedule, the Museum and Library is scheduled to shut down late Dec. and re-open in its new location May 8

Aside from the new location, the Museum is also preparing for some major updates. Woodfield Development will be making some generous refurbishments to Joe’s home, including a new roof, a new HVAC system and a 500 sq. ft. addition that will become the Museum’s new gift shop. 

Once in the new location, the Museum will also be open up to seven days per week and before all Greenville Drive games and other events that are planned for Fluor Field (significantly more days/hours than the Museum’s current availability on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.). Dan Wallach, a life-long baseball historian and fanatic, will be relocating to Greenville from Chicago to serve as the Museum’s full-time Executive Director.

Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum
Inside the Museum | Photo provided by the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library

Whether you knew who Shoeless Joe Jackson was or not, his legacy has a strong presence in Greenville. 

  • The baseball field that Joe played on in his youth is still in use today. The Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Park (located at 406 West Ave.) hosts events like the annual Vintage Base Ball Games.
  • Craig Brown and the Greenville Drive have been instrumental in preserving the local player’s legacy. A statue of Joe sits prominently at the main entrance to Fluor Field on Main St. The secondary entrance on Field St. also features the Joe Jackson Plaza commemorating Joe and the 1919 Chicago White Sox. 
  • A number of movies have been made about Joe and his story like Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams – with an additional movie in the pre-production stage.
  • After his baseball career ended, Joe operated a few business – including a liquor store in the Village of West Greenville (1262 Pendleton St.) where a well-known interaction with Ty Cobb took place (more on that here). Now an upscale t-shirt shop, the space has a plaque honoring Joe’s legacy. 
  • Joe worked, grew up, and learned to play in the Brandon Mill village. Brandon Mill has been renovated into the West Village Lofts Apartments, but his presence in the space will soon be memorialized with a wall showcasing Joe and pictures of his life. His grave is also here in Woodlawn Memorial Park (1 Pine Knoll Dr.) – if you visit the site you’ll often find it adorned with cleats, notes and baseballs left by Joe’s fans.

Whether you’re watching the World Series this week or you spot one of the tributes to Joe Jackson around town – the story of this shoeless son-of-a-gun is an important part of Greenville’s history.

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