Once and for all: Did Shoeless Joe Jackson play to win in the 1919 Series?

Use your ← → (arrows) to browse

Shoeless Joe Jackson (photo by: GHI/Universal History Archive via Getty Images)

Did Shoeless Joe Jackson play to win in the 1919 Series?

This, then, was Shoeless Joe Jackson in the 1919 World Series:

Game One—Jackson batted once with men on. First and second in the sixth, and the White Sox in the hole, 6-1. The runners moved up a base each when Jackson grounded out. And, yes, a base hit might have sent at least one and maybe both home, cutting the deficit exactly in half and keeping the White Sox within reach.

Game Two—Jackson batted twice with men on. With no score, a man on first, and nobody out, he singled in the fourth to make it first and second, but both men were stranded. He batted with a man on second, one out, and the White Sox down 3-0  in the sixth, and looked at a third strike.

Game Three—With the White Sox up 2-0 (and Clean Sox pitcher Dickey Kerr en route a 3-0 shutout), Jackson batted with first and second and nobody out in the third . . . and bunted a pop out to first base. He scored the game’s first run after leading off the second with a single and coming home on co-conspirator Chick Gandil’s single but otherwise had nothing to do with the game score.

Game Four—With no score and two on, Jackson reached on an infield error to load the bases for . . .  an inning-ending ground out. It was his only plate appearance of the game with men on base, and while he did load the bases a base hit would have broken the scoreless tie.

Game Five—This time, Shoeless Joe batted twice with men on. With no score and two aboard in the third, he popped out to third. With the White Sox down five and a man on third with two out in the bottom of the ninth, he grounded out.

Game Six—Jackson got to bat three times with men on. No score, man on first, the bottom of the first: pop out to third. The White Sox down three with nobody out and a man on second in the sixth—he singled home their second run of the game. Top of the tenth, tied at four, and a leadoff double ahead of him—beat out a bunt single to put what proved the winning run ninety feet from home.

Game Seven—Once again Shoeless Joe got to hit three times with men on base, and again he rose to the occasion twice. Top of the first, no score, two out, and a man on second—RBI single to left. Top of the third, the White Sox still up 1-0 and a man on second despite a line-drive double play—RBI single to left. Top of the fifth, still 2-0 White Sox, first and second—his grounder becomes an error to load the bases, leading to the third White Sox run.

Game Eight—The good news: Jackson had his most plate appearances with men on base of any game in the Series—four. He also hit the only home run of the Series for either team, a two-out solo shot in the third.

The bad news: the Reds trashed too-trashable co-conspirator Lefty Williams in the top of the first and rebuffed any and all White Sox attempts to recuperate and overcome. (Before you ask, “What about Lefty Williams and/or his wife being threatened before the game?” the answer is—it didn’t happen.)

Jackson batted in the bottom of the first with the Sox in the 4-0 hole, one out, and first and third. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: he popped out behind third base. He batted after Buck Weaver’s leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth, with the Sox in the deeper hole, 9-1—fly out to center field. In the 10-1 hole with one out and second and third in the bottom of the eighth—two-run double.

After the White Sox went from there to finish the eighth cutting the deficit to 10-5, Jackson batted in the bottom of the ninth with second and third and two out . . . and grounded out to second for game, set, and Series loss.

The 1919 World Series was set up as a best of nine, as it would be in 1920-21 before reverting to the best-of-seven. In the first five games, Jackson batted six times with men on base, got one base hit, and reached on an error once, without scoring or driving in a single run. That’s a .167 batting average with men on base for that span. The White Sox ended Game Five in a 4-1 Series hole, and in the only win through that point, Shoeless Joe scored the first of the White Sox’s three runs after leading off with a hit.

Then the White Sox played three straight elimination games and won the first two. Jackson batted ten times with men on base in those three games, got five hits, and reached on an error once. But in the third of those games—the absolute last chance for the White Sox to stay alive—he went 1-for-4 with men on base and drove in two runs with that hit when the game was still far enough beyond reach.

“That Joe Jackson was a likable fellow and persistent in his claims of innocence does not change the historical record,” wrote Bill Lamb, a longtime New Jersey prosecutor and author of Black Sox in the Courtroom: The Grand Jury, Criminal Trial, and Civil Litigation, in SABR’s Baseball Research Journal for spring 2019.

On the evidence, the call is not a close one . . . As he admitted under oath after first being confronted, Jackson was a knowing, if perhaps unenthusiastic, participant in the plot to fix the 1919 World Series. And damningly, Jackson was just as persistent in his demands to be paid his promised fix payoff money as the Series progressed as he would later be in his disavowals of fix involvement. In the final analysis, Shoeless Joe Jackson, banished from playing the game that he loved while still in the prime of his career, is a sad figure. But hardly an innocent one.

In 1920, Jackson posted a terrific season even amidst rumors of the White Sox continuing to tank games, until the late September published accusations started the chain reaction that battered baseball.

Jackson didn’t really appear to start playing to win in the 1919 Series—for whatever reasons—until the White Sox faced elimination having won only one of the first five games. In a third straight elimination game, Jackson and the White Sox showed up a couple of hours late and about five bucks short.

That’s the game record as it really was. We don’t have to love or even like it, especially because it did involve one of baseball’s genuine greats. We have only to acknowledge it.

Use your ← → (arrows) to browse