Heritage Sports News: Spotlight On “Shoeless” Joe Jackson

There are really only a handful of players in the history of the national pastime that can be said to transcend the very game itself. This hallowed bunch is populated by names like Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Robinson and Aaron. One member of that exclusive club, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, lives on as much in infamy for his alleged misdeeds as a member of the 1919 World Series throwing Chicago “Black Sox” as for his legendary diamond skills. A reserve of rare memorabilia bearing Jackson’s name highlight Heritage April Sports Memorabilia Auction, April 24.

“Almost a century after he played, Jackson’s role in the throwing of the 1919 World Series is still the subject of great debate,” said Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Memorabilia at Heritage. “This cache of memorabilia spans the length of his storied and troubled career, and represents a special chance for an erudite collector to get some truly amazing Jackson memorabilia.”

Among the impressive grouping is one of the most exciting photographs to enter the hobby in quite some time: a 1908 Greenville Spinners team cabinet photograph featuring the then 19-year-old legend/pariah-to-be.

Jackson, baby-faced yet still imposing, stands with his first professional team in his South Carolina hometown. The piece comes to Heritage directly from the family of one of Jackson’s teammates, who were likely the only recipients of the photo when it was created more than a century ago. Upon a shabby ball field more dirt than grass, the teenaged Jackson stands with 11 of his Greenville teammates. The young mascot sits at his right foot. It is estimated at $20,000+.

“This is the first ever to reach the hobby’s auction block,” said Ivy, “and the first we’ve ever encountered, period.”

It is worthy to note that it was during a 1908 doubleheader pitting the Spinners against the Anderson Electricians that Jackson would earn his famous nickname. After suffering through the first game in a pair of new spikes that raised blisters on his skin, Jackson removed them for the second. In the seventh inning he laced a long line drive, sliding into third with a triple. As the dust cloud settled, an opposing fan shouted to him, “You shoeless son-of-a-gun!”

Jackson would not finish the season in Greenville, heeding Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack’s call to join the Athletics in Philadelphia, where he would struggle to adapt to a life entirely different from the one he had known on the dirt farms and ball fields of the South. Here we see Shoeless Joe as the ultimate “diamond in the rough,” a baseball prodigy just weeks from setting out upon a journey with all the trappings of a Shakespearean tragedy.

Two more highlights stand out in the Jackson grouping: A 1914 Boston Garter Joe Jackson card, representing one of the rarest and most sought-after baseball cards in all of collecting and a circa 1919 signed Joe Jackson baseball, representing one of the most sought after autographs in the hobby.

The 1914 Boston Garter Joe Jackson card is the key entry in the extremely rare 12-card Boston Garter window display series from 1914. It is a tremendous piece, capturing the essence of Jackson’s persona and impressive physicality via Jackson’s intense batting pose, towering god-like above the all-but forgotten earthly product this beauty was designed to promote. It is one of only two examples known with a numerical grade. Few collectors would argue that the full-color Boston Garter cards are, simply stated, the rarest and most attractive of any baseball series from any era. If afforded to opportunity to acquire any one of the dozen names in the impressive roster, Joe Jackson would receive the nod every time. This is that rare chance. It is estimated at $80,000+.

The circa 1919 “Shoeless” Joe Jackson & Buck Weaver signed baseball presents the much sought-after autographs of two of hobby’s greatest names forever linked by the greatest scandal in baseball history, and the true possibility that each was actually innocent. Jackson and Weaver formed one quarter of the notorious “Eight Men Out” that conspired to deliver a 1919 World Series victory to gamblers supporting the Cincinnati Reds at the expense of their own Chicago White Sox club. Both the famous center fielder and his teammate at third base, however, actually improved upon their regular season batting averages during the tainted Fall Classic, while not committing a single fielding error between them.

The first and third of the banished Black Sox to pass away, respectively, Jackson and Weaver are likewise the most inaccessible autographs of the group. Jackson’s functional illiteracy, born of an early childhood spent in a South Carolina textile mill rather than in a schoolroom, exacerbates perhaps the most challenging problem in the hobby for serious autograph collectors, with just a small handful of authentic signatures known to exist. This ball is estimated at $75,000+.

“If you know your baseball history then this is a truly exciting grouping,” said Ivy. “‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson is one of the greatest names to ever play America’s beautiful game. A grouping of this magnitude is hard to come by.”