I never knew that Greenville, SC was the home of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. I’d been out taking some photos on the wrong side of town and followed the signs out to the Joe Jackson Memorial Ballpark. From the age of thirteen Jackson played left field on the Brandon Mill baseball team. Greenville-News reporter Scoop Lattimer once reported how young Joe had to play in his stockings one game because of blisters on his feet. He called him “the Shoeless Joe Jackson.” The name stuck.
From the 1880’s through the 1950’s, mill workers used to escape the drudgery of work through watching and playing Textile League baseball. By the end of the 1920s, the Textile Leagues were known as the unofficial farm system of the major leagues. The 1930s were considered textile ball’s glory years. Where the average mill worker would make $7-$10 per week, the average mill worker/ball player could make as much as $100-$200 a week.
Jackson went on to play for the Chicago White Sox. He was a member of the 1919 team that was accused of conspiring with gamblers to throw the Series. Jackson never admitted to doing so, and his impressive Series stats tell a story of an honest ballplayer. But Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw “Mountain” Landis saw things a different way and banned Jackson and the others from organized baseball for life.
In 1933, the Jacksons moved back to Greenville, South Carolina. After first opening a barbecue restaurant, Jackson and his wife opened “Joe Jackson’s Liquor Store,” which they operated until his death in 1951. To this day, his name remains on the Major League Baseball Ineligible list. Jackson cannot be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame unless his name is removed from that list.
In 1988, John Sayles wrote and directed ‘Eight Men Out’, a very good film about the 1919 World Series scandal.
*From Thomas Perry’s book “Textile League Baseball.”