April 11, 2011
Most baseball fans are well aware that Shoeless Joe Jackson was one of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball (3rd highest career batting average of all time at .356), and they certainly know that he got kicked out of the game following the Black Sox scandal. But did you know he started his pro baseball career in Philadelphia?
In 1908, Connie Mack bought Joe Jackson’s contract from the Greenville (S.C.) Spinners for $325. He came in with a bang. In his first major league game, late in the 1908 season, Shoeless Joe had a hit and RBI, made a spectacular catch, and had two strong throws to the infield. His future in Philly seemed secure, and the sportswriters were singing his praises. The Evening Times wrote, “He has justified early predictions of his abilities. With experience and the coaching of Manager Mack, he should turn out to be…the find of the season.”
But Joe was homesick, had never been in the big city before, and slipped out of town and back to South Carolina before the A’s next game. Philly sportswriters ripped him, saying that he was scared to play against Ty Cobb (The A’s were taking on the Tigers.) His teammates ripped him anonymously in the papers as well. When he returned to the team, the veterans teased him because he couldn’t read and had a Southern drawl.
Joe, embarrassed because he couldn’t read, would look at the menu in restaurants, then order whatever someone else ordered that sounded good. Philly fans would taunt Joe with screams of “Read any good books lately?” (Funny sidenote…in 2008, a Cleveland writer asked Cliff Lee what his favorite book was. Cliff responded, “I don’t think I’ve read a book in my life, to be honest.” The media and the Philly fans seem to have let that one slide.)
Jackson was sent down to the minors in Georgia in the 1909 season, and led the league in batting average. He was called up to the Big League
squad in September, but went only 3 for 17 in limited action. He started 1910 in the minors, and in July, Connie Mack decided that Jackson would never make it in a big city like Philadelphia. He traded Jackson to the Cleveland Naps (later the Indians) for Bris Lord and $6000. The next year, Shoeless Joe would bat .408 in Cleveland. Bris Lord had a decent 1911, batting .310, but he batted only .238 the next year and was traded to the Cleveland Naps. It’s interesting to note that if not for the Philly fans and writers, one of the greatest players in Major League Baseball history may have indeed spent his career in the City of Brotherly Love.
(Special thanks to Shoeless: The Life and Times of Joe Jackson by David Fleitz, where I got a lot of this information.)