"Shoeless" Joe Jackson

The 1919 World Series featured baseball’s most infamous scandal. That Fall Classic pitted the heavily favored Chicago White Sox against the underdog Cincinnati Reds. Eager to make some extra money, some Sox took bribes from gamblers to throw the World Series. Eventually, the bribery was discovered and a national scandal erupted. Sox star outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson’s name appeared prominently among those implicated as cheaters. By 1921, several White Sox, including Shoeless Joe, faced a criminal trial. A Chicago jury found them not guilty, but the baseball commissioner banned them from the sport forever. Follow as the Chicago History Museum uses Shoeless Joe's voice to tell his story.

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There were some who wanted rooters to believe I was in the dumps without baseball after the scandal ended. Let me tell you I wasn’t. I kept busy after I left the White Sox, even with the commissioner, Judge Landis, tryin’ to keep me outta baseball. I hardly stopped playin’ even into my 50s. I also managed some teams in Louisiana and Georgia and helped a few of my teammates. Me ‘n Katie moved to Savannah, Georgia in 1922 and owned a real good dry cleaning business for a while. Eventually, we moved back to Greenville, South Carolina, our hometown, in 1932. We opened a barbeque joint and later a liquor store there. Life was good, business was good, and I even got to teach local kids ball. Lookin’ back I don’t think I woulda had it any other way.

Shoeless Joe swinging Betsy, Greenville, SC, 1949. (from right) Joe Anders, Shoeless Joe, and unknown, Greenville, SC, c. 1945. Shoeless Joe cleaning his car, Greenville, SC, 1949. Courtesy of  THE SHOELESS JOE JACKSON MUSEUM, Greenville, SC.

In 1924, I decided it was time to get what I deserved from our boss, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey.  He kicked me outta my contract in March 1921, and I decided to sue him for $18,000 three years later. The trial was held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That’s where the White Sox business was set up.The trial didn’t go as planned. Nothin’ seemed to go as planned. Comiskey’s lawyer, George Hudnall, ended up producin’ my missin’ Grand Jury testimony from 1920. Still, I ended up winnin’ the jury’s vote. I was glad to see somethin’ go my way. That was until the judge got mad and turned down the jury’s decision. He wanted to send me off to jail on perjury charges. We settled outta court, but the whole thing was an awful mess. After that, I wanted nothin’ to do with the law.

Telegram, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey to his lawyer Alfred S. Austrian, asking Austrian to go to Milwaukee for Shoeless Joe’s lawsuit to protect “the integrity and cleanliness of baseball,” 1924 (ICHi-51817). Telegram, Austrian replies to Comiskey that ”clean baseball” is important but he cannot get away, 1924 (ICHi-51818).

Not long after I met with the Grand Jury in 1920, the team owners, led by our boss Charles Comiskey, hired a commissioner to lead baseball. His name was Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a famous judge from Chicago. I never met him before, but he was a big baseball rooter. Landis banned us from the game for life on August 3, 1921. Even though we were found not guilty the day before, he called us “crooked players.” I said I was done with organized baseball after the trial, but this was still tough to take. The ban hurt a lot of us, like our third baseman Buck Weaver who never got over it. I kept playin’ with shortstop Swede Risberg and slab man Eddie Cicotte in outlaw ball for awhile, but it was hard. We had to find leagues Judge Landis didn’t control, and we had to use fake names. I managed to stay in Louisiana and Georgia for a while. We couldn’t be in one league long on account of people findin’ out who we were. It was a tough time.

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Chicago, 1907 (DN-0051731). Judge Landis’ White Sox field pass with schedule, 1920 (ICHi-67479 and ICHi- 67480). Judge Landis speech to Major League Baseball players regarding outside influences on baseball, 1921 (ICHi-67478).

Our Black Sox criminal trial in 1921 looked pretty bad from my point of view. Then our defense team took its turn and was able to catch the prosecutors off guard by only defendin’ Chick Gandil. That game plan worked  pretty well. The prosecutors got denied a lot of witnesses durin’ their rebuttal. The jury came back in our favor, lettin’ us off the hook. Jury foreman, William Barry,told trial Judge Hugo Friend, after the proceedings, that it was our boss Charles Comiskey’s  treatment of us that swayed them. Mr. Barry  said Comiskey was makin’ a lot of money off a small investment, and we were makin’ nothin’. It was a great feelin’! We all went out and had a good time that night. Some of the boys were hopin’ to get their contracts with the White Sox back. I was thinkin’ of doin’ vaudeville again. Maybe, I might be done with organized baseball, I thought.

Eight Men Out author Eliot Asinof’s notes of his interview with Judge Hugo Friend, describing Friend’s conversation with jury foreman, William Barry, c. 1963 (ICHi-67429). Eliot Asinof article in Cavalier magazine (1961), image at bottom, (from left) Swede Risberg, attorney Michael Ahern, Buck Weaver, attorney Thomas Nash, Happy Felsch, 1921 (ICHi-67395). (from left) Attorney James O’Brien, Chick Gandil, and attorney John Owen, Chicago, 1921 (DN-0073157).

The criminal trial of us ball players finally got rollin’ right in that midsummer heat of 1921. The Chicago court room was damn hot, and it made sittin’ there real tough. The prosecutor against us, George Gorman, was goin’ all out bringin’ people up to talk from everywhere. Our boss Charles Comiskey and manager Kid Gleason took the stand to testify about the 1919 World Series and the team. Then Gorman and the others spent three days talkin’ to gambler and former ball player Sleepy Bill Burns to get an idea of how the fix was run. Smack in the middle of the trial the lawyers called a break to decide how Eddie Cicotte’s, Lefty Williams’, and my Grand Jury testimonies would be used. Then, they discovered they got lost somewheres. It didn’t matter much in the long run. They were able to make new copies that could be used in the trial.

Black Sox criminal trial transcript with “People v. Cicotte” case title, 1921(ICHi-67612). Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney George Gorman, Chicago, 1925 (DN-0079192). Sleepy Bill Burns on the witness stand, Black Sox criminal trial, 1921 (SDN-062901).