Did Shoeless Joe Jackson Really Not Wear Shoes?

Shoeless Joe Jackson was a baseball superstar in his day, but thanks to his connection to the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, his name is synonymous with cheating. It’s a shame, too. Despite the things that Jackson may or may not have done in 1919, he had a memorable career filled with fascinating stories. One of the more entertaining stories has to do with his peculiar nickname. 

Shoeless Joe Jackson’s career

Jackson began his baseball career in 1908 as a member of the Philadelphia Athletics. While he started as a bench player who didn’t get much burn, it was here that Jackson began to make a name for himself. After playing in just ten games for the Athletics over two years, however, Jackson got his big break after joining the Cleveland Naps.

In Jackson’s 1911 season with the Naps, he secured the full-time role he hadn’t had in Philadelphia and his first year with his new team. He made the most of it by getting hits nearly every time he swung the bat and working hard in the outfield. In total, Jackson spent six-and-a-half years with Cleveland before moving on to the Chicago White Sox. 

Jackson’s powerful bat followed him to Chicago, and the White Sox became one of the best teams in baseball. In 1917, Jackson and the White Sox won the World Series after defeating the New York Giants. Two years later, the team was back in the World Series, and with it, the event that defined Jackson’s career helped derail everything he built.

The Black Sox scandal

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In 1917, several members of the White Sox were in on a conspiracy with some gamblers. The conspiracy involved the team throwing games, and in turn, making lots of money on the side.

Among those names that were implicated in the scandal was Jackson. Jackson claimed that he was hoisted into the situation, and he didn’t seek out the extra money. Eventually, in 1920, Jackson signed a confession, although he later said he only did so because he didn’t understand. Jackson was, after all, illiterate. 

New baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was swift with his punishment, barring Jackson and his teammate from ever setting foot on a professional baseball diamond again. Jackson downplayed his involvement for the rest of his life.

If Jackson did throw the World Series, he didn’t do a very good job doing so. He made no errors while others were racking them up, and he got 12 hits throughout the series. 

If Jackson was guilty of anything, some believe it was not acting swiftly enough to decline the offers given by the gangsters. Regardless of his intent, however, the Black Sox scandal is attached to Jackson’s name. It’s a shame, too, as a name like Shoeless Joe Jackson is bound to have a fascinating story without the scandal. 

How did Shoeless Joe Jackson get his nickname? 

Nicknames in sports can be funny. Some nicknames fit a player’s style of play or personality, while others get attached for the most obscure reason. This was the case with Jackson. Jackson was playing in the Carolina Association as a 20-year-old when he played a single game without his shoes because his new ones were not yet broken in. 

Playing in his stockings, a fan noticed Jackson’s lack of footwear and reportedly shouted “You shoeless son of a gun, you,”

The Greenville press heard this nickname and reported it, and over a century after the nickname’s conception, it stands. Jackson never liked the nickname. 

 “I’ve read and heard every kind of yarn imaginable on how I got the name,” Jackson told a reporter later on (per SABR). “I never played the outfield barefoot, and that was the only day I ever played in my stockinged feet, but it stuck with me.”

The story of Jackson’s nickname offers a funny look at how things could go viral in a world before social media and the internet. While his name might be tarnished for people who never saw him play, Jackson’s nickname offers a lighter glimpse of a complicated sports legend. The story may also make fans think before screaming something toward players at a game.