This Sat., July 16 marks the 134th birthday of legendary baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson. Although Joe died more than 70 years ago, his legacy lives on in future developments, award-nominated films, and the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library right here in Greenville.
Let’s take a look back on some of the moments that built Joe’s legacy into what it is today.
1888: Joseph Jefferson Jackson is born on July 16 in Pickens County. He’s one of six brothers and two sisters.
1901: Joe + his family move to West Greenville, where he begins working at Brandon Mill to help support his family instead of going to school (he did not learn how to read or write). At just 13 years old, Joe plays for the Brandon Mill baseball team, where evidence of his skill at the game — from the specific “crack of the bat” when he hit a line drive to his ability to throw a ball 400 feet — became clear.
1908: Joe joins the Greenville Spinners, an independent semi-pro league. On June 6, 1908, Joe’s new cleats formed blisters on his feet, and half way through the game, he took them off and finished the game without his cleats and with the longest home run in the history of Memminger Street Park + a new nickname: Shoeless Joe. He moves up into professional baseball when he signs with the Philadelphia Athletics.
1910: The Athletics trade Joe to the Cleveland Naps and in 1911 during his first full season, he bats the highest batting average recorded for a rookie, .408.
1915: Joe is traded to the Chicago White Sox, and goes on to win the 1917 World Series.
1919: After winning the American League pennant in 1919, there’s no question that the White Sox were to win the series, but they fall to the Cincinnati Reds. The loss sparks a suspicion of betting and that Joe + seven other players intentionally threw the game (the White Sox coach at the time was notorious for underpaying players).
1921: The suspicions become known as the Black Sox Scandal and the eight players go to court. Although a jury delivers a not-guilty verdict in under two hours and Joe + the seven are acquitted of all charges, new baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis bans the players from professional baseball. Joe and his wife, Katie leave Chicago for Savannah, GA in 1922.
Later years + death
1932: Joe and Katie move to Greenville, where he operates a number of businesses, from a BBQ restaurant to a liquor store (which now houses clothing shop Beautiful Demise in the West Village), and plays semi-pro baseball throughout the south.
1951: Joe dies of a heart attack on December 5 before his appearance on Ed Sullivan’s show, “The Toast of the Town,” an appearance that would be one of the numerous appeals to have Joe inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Though his prolific career and .356 batting average are not part of the Baseball Hall of Fame to this day, they’re memorialized in other ways in the years that follow.
1989: “Field of Dreams” starring the late Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe Jackson, is released. The film grosses $84 million+ worldwide, and is nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score at the 1990 Academy Awards. The year before, “Eight Men Out,” which tells the story of the Black Sox Scandal, premiered with actor DB Sweeney as Joe.
2006: After Joe and Katie die, their home remains at 119 E. Wilburn St. until 2006, when it’s relocated next to Fluor Field on 356 Field St. (his career batting average) and undergoes years of renovations to become the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library, which opens in 2008.
2022: Today, the museum and Joe’s legacy are central to the construction of the new outdoor entertainment space, District 356 + the new mixed-use development, .408 Jackson, named after Joe’s 1911 record-breaking batting average.
Although the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and Baseball Library is currently closed while both developments are under construction, you can visit its website to learn more about Shoeless Joe Jackson’s legacy, how you can support the museum, and how you can continue his legacy in the community — DIY project, anyone?