There’s a lot to love about the late, great Ray Liotta’s portrayal of MLB legend “Shoeless Joe” Jackson in Field of Dreams. I mean, the guy went through all sorts of trouble just to ensure Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella could have a catch with his dead dad. You might not have a soul if you don’t tear up just a little for that moment.
But it’s sometimes difficult when watching the beloved classic not to notice everything the filmmakers got wrong about “Shoeless Joe.” Now, don’t get things twisted. They got a lot of things right. Jackson’s lifetime batting average in the big leagues was .356, and it was the third-highest in MLB history behind only Ty Cobb (.366) and Rogers Hornsby (.358).
Technically, it’s now fourth as MLB has added stats from the Negro Leagues to its official records. Oscar Charleston hit .364 during his 18-year career and now sits in the second spot behind Cobb. But that wasn’t a thing when the film was released in 1989, so we’ll let that one go.
But let’s now shift our focus to the glaring mistakes made about “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, starting with the obvious.
“Shoeless Joe” Jackson hit and threw the wrong way in Field of Dreams
The most common knock on Field of Dreams is how Ray Liotta hit right-handed and threw left-handed. In reality, of course, Jackson hit lefty and threw righty. And that was the original plan for Liotta, who worked tirelessly on his baseball skills ahead of the shoot and did his best to portray “Shoeless Joe” accurately.
In the end, however, director Phil Alden Robinson chose to go the other way, as Liotta explained in the 15th anniversary two-disc DVD extras.
“For a month, I was batting left-handed and throwing right-handed. Rod Dedeaux, who was the coach of USC, who won like 14 National Championships . . . and Donnie Buford, who played for the Baltimore Orioles was my coach. So one day, the director came down to see how I was doing, and I could see them mumbling and saying stuff and looking over, and they said, ‘Do you mind, it doesn’t matter if it is historically accurate.’ So they made me go right-handed and left-handed.
“To this day, I regret it because I’m a bug, making sure things are accurate. There used to be Monday Night Baseball, and they were talking about the movie and how wonderful the movie was, and some announcer who shall remain nameless said, ‘Yeah, but Shoeless Joe was batting the wrong way.’
“Well, he didn’t come down from heaven either, so . . .”Ray Liotta on portraying “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams
So there you go. Don’t blame Ray Liotta, as he truly did make the effort — at least on that end.
Liotta’s version of Jackson didn’t have a Southern accent
Another easy way to knock Field of Dreams is Liotta’s overall portrayal of Jackson. Liotta is a native of Newark, New Jersey, and his version of “Shoeless Joe” seems to be from that area as well. He’s got that New Jersey/New York accent, and it’s hard not to see Henry Hill, Liotta’s most famous role from Goodfellas, when watching Field of Dreams these days.
In reality, Jackson was born and raised in South Carolina and had the thick Southern drawl that comes with growing up in that part of the country.
D.B. Sweeney got a bit closer in Eight Men Out.
“Shoeless Joe” was actually friends with Ty Cobb
One of the most humorous moments of Field of Dreams occurs when more players show up, and “Shoeless Joe” tells Ray, “Ty Cobb wanted to play, but none of us could stand the son of a bitch when we were alive, so we told him to stick it!”
Cobb certainly rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in his day. And, at times, Jackson was one of them. Overall, however, the two were friends and greatly respected one another.
Cobb, considered by many to be the greatest pure hitter of all time and a fiery competitor who didn’t like finishing second in anything, even once called Jackson “the finest natural hitter in the history of the game” and that “Joe Jackson hit the ball harder than any man to ever play baseball.”
But the line works, as does everything else. Despite the inaccuracies and the various other issues within the film, Field of Dreams remains one of the most beloved sports movies of all time, as it should.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference