Joe Jackson batted .375 with 12 hits in the eight games of the 1919 World Series. He led the Chicago White Sox with six runs batted in and hit their only home run. Excellent performance by one of baseball’s best hitters, right?
Shoeless Joe had a calculated approach in the World Series that autumn. He purposely played bad and helped his team lose so he could profit.
While the raw numbers almost 100 years later might appear to be impressive, in actuality, Jackson took a dive and was integral in costing his team a chance to win the title they played hard for all season.
Why did he do it? For money of course.
But how is it that so many people believe Jackson was an unwitting spectator in what became known as “The Black Sox Scandal”?
It makes for a good story, that’s why. Add in the passage of time and loss of perspective, and Shoeless Joe is a folk hero to many baseball fans.
A serious examination of the facts and contemporary coverage of the ’19 Series reveals that Jackson was a cheat. He gladly accepted money to throw the World Series and he followed through with the fraud by playing poorly for his team against the champions of the National League, the Cincinnati Red Legs.
Any objective analysis of the full details of Joe Jackson’s performance in the 1919 World Series illustrates that Shoeless Joe played dishonestly.
How a good player can throw games without anyone noticing
It’s important to note that a player may affect the outcome of a game in a negative way without committing an error or hitting poorly. A crooked ballplayer might collect his hits at times when his team doesn’t have runners on base or when his team is behind and the game is not in jeopardy. In the field he may position himself poorly or be lackadaisical in chasing after the ball. To the casual observer the crooked behavior would go undetected.
For instance, in the fourth inning of Game One, Jackson fielded a ball hit to the base of the wall in left-center field. The ball was played into a triple, in part due to his casual fielding. Two runs scored. The next batter hit a ball to left field for a hit, which Jackson gathered and threw late to the infield, allowing the runner (Morrie Rath) to reach second. Eddie Collins later testified that both he and shortstop Swede Risberg found the play puzzling because Jackson rarely made such mistakes. The following batter singled, scoring Rath. Five runs scored in the inning that were the result of pitcher Eddie Cicotte and the other fixers playing less than honestly. Catcher Ray Schalk, who was not involved in the fix, was furious at his pitcher, realizing Cicotte was ignoring his pitch calls and throwing down-the-middle fastballs to the Cincinnati Reds.
Jackson’s game-by-game breakdown for the 1919 World Series:
Batting: 0-for-4, safe on an error, scored a run (Chick Gandil – chief planner of the fix, blooped a hit to score him). In the 2nd Jackson led off and was safe on an error, in the 4th he grounded to short, in the 6th he batted with two runners on base and grounded out to first. In the 9th with the Sox trailing 9-1, Jackson hit a deep fly ball to right for the first out of the inning.
Fielding: The two suspicious plays in the fourth inning (described above), but no charged errors.
This game was fixed, as those involved later admitted. Cicotte hit the first batter of the game (Rath) to send a signal to the gamblers. Once Cicotte and his helpers gave the Reds their big lead in the fourth inning, the rest of the game was just window dressing.
Batting: 3-for-4; first hit was a double leading off the 2nd inning and Jackson was stranded. His next hit was in the 4th inning, a single advancing Buck Weaver. No runs scored in the inning. In the 6th inning Jackson came up with Weaver at second and was called out on strikes. With two out in the 8th, Jackson singled and hustled to second base on a fielding error by the right fielder. He was stranded on base.
Fielding: In the bottom of the 4th inning, a ball was hit over Jackson’s head and to the wall, allowing the batter to advance to third base for a triple and resulting in two runs for Cincinnati. It was the second straight game that a ball was hit to Jackson that was played into a key run-scoring triple.
Batting: 2-for-3 with a run scored; he singled to open the 2nd inning, later scoring on Gandil’s hit (it was later revealed that the players were trying to win due to the fact that they hadn’t been paid what they were promised). In the 3rd inning Jackson popped out with two men aboard. Joe opened the 6th with a bloop hit to left field.
Fielding: No unusual or notable plays. It’s almost a certainty that this game was played honestly as Black Sox were peeved that they hadn’t received any money from the gamblers. In addition, Dickie Kerr, not in on the conspiracy, started and pitched brilliantly, making the Sox three runs hold up. Another possible conclusion is that the fixers tried to look less conspicuous in this game, realizing they had made some bumbling plays in the first two games, but were foiled by Kerr’s pitching. Lefty Williams, who had started and blown Game Two, later stated that he thought this game was played on the up-and-up.
Batting: 1-for-4; Jackson’s only hit came leading off the 2nd inning, when Reds outfielder Edd Roush misplayed his flyball. He was credited with a double on what probably should have been an error. Cincinnati second baseman Rath made an error on Jackson’s 3rd inning grounder, and Jackson later grounded to short and struck out in the Sox’ 2-0 loss. In all, the White Sox lineup simply went silent in this game against Cincinnati hurler Jimmy Ring, but it was the conspirators who had the only three hits, although Shoeless Joe’s was really a gift from the official scorer.
Fielding: In the 5th inning (when Cincinnati scored all of their runs) Jackson pegged a perfect throw to the plate after Kopf had singled to left, but Cicotte cut off the throw, allowing the first run to score. It seems Jackson played honestly – at least on this play.
Batting: 0-for-4; Jackson popped out in the 1st with two men on, bounced to the pitcher in the 4th, grounded to second base in the 7th, and grounded to shortstop for the final out of the game in the 9th inning with a man on third as the Sox lost 5-1. This is the most damning offensive performance of the series for Joe. A hit in the first may have opened up the game for the ChiSox. The losing team only had three hits again, this time two coming off the bat of Weaver, who knew something was up, but didn’t participate, and non-conspirator Schalk.
Fielding: Jackson handled three putouts flawlessly. Center fielder Happy Felsch was the suspect in this game, committing an error and misplaying another ball.
It’s been established that some or all of the White Sox played Game Six and Game Seven honestly. It should be noted that four of Jackson’s hits occurred in those two contests, which means he was 8-for-28 (.286) in the “dishonest” games. This, of course, does not prove his guilt.
Batting: 2-for-4 with a run and a RBI; Joe popped out to third base with a man on in the 1st inning, fouled to the catcher in the 4th, produced an RBI single in the 6th inning and scored on Felsch’s double, walked to lead off the 8th but was doubled off second base later, in the 10th Jackson beat out a bunt with Buck Weaver on second in front of him, igniting the game-winning rally. Gandil, the ringleader, singled in the go-ahead run. As stated above, this contest was played honestly, as the fixers later admitted, because they were upset at not receiving their money.
Fielding: In the 4th inning Jackson handled his only putout on a flyball from Jake Daubert and threw out Rath trying to score from third for the final out of the frame. Based on this and his hitting exploits, it is clear that Jackson played to win in Game Six.
Batting: 2-for-4 with 2 RBI; had an RBI-single in the 1st and was then nearly thrown out in an rundown, but a Cincinnati error rescued him. In the 3rd he had another RBI-single, in the 5th with two runners on Jackson was safe on an error, in the 7th he grounded to second base.
Fielding: Handled three flyballs with no incident.
The Sox won this game but still trailed the best-of-nine series 4-3.
Batting: 2-for-5 with 2 runs scored and 3 RBI; popped out in the 1st with two men on base, hit a two-out solo home run in the 3rd (the only homer of the Series and coming with the Sox down 5-0), flied to deep center in the 6th with a man on base, doubled in two runs (two were on) in the 8th inning to make the score 10-3, scoring later on Gandil’s hit. But the player efforts in this inning ring very shallow – the team already trailed by nine runs. Shoeless Joe fittingly made the last out of the Series in the 9th on a grounder to second base with two runners aboard.
Fielding: In the 2nd inning Edd Roush hit a fly ball to deep left that Jackson dropped, allowing the Reds fifth run to score. The play was ruled a double. His only other play was a routine fly ball.
Williams, who was probably the happiest player to throw the series and stick it to owner Charles Comiskey, made sure this game was over early, surrendering four in the first and a single run in the second. The Sox tried to make it look good later in the game, but the dirty deed was done.
Batting: 12-for-32 with 5 runs, 6 RBI, 3 doubles, a home run, one walk and two strikeouts. He came to bat 16 times with men on base, collecting 6 hits (.375) and plating 5 of the 21 runners on in front of him. However, in the first five games he had 7 at-bats with men on base, with 10 runners on, and collected just one hit and no RBI. It was in the final three games of the World Series that Jackson padded his stats – hitting 9-for-11 with men on base and collecting 5 RBI. I don’t have proof of this, and perhaps no one ever will – but it appears that Jackson may have been so good that he could “turn it on” in the final three games. Perhaps he had a change of heart or perhaps he went the way of the other fixers, who tried (and did) win Games Six and Seven. Jackson’s barrage in Game Eight is meaningless since it came after Williams had blown the game in the first inning.
Fielding: 16 putouts and one assist, no errors. Four plays of suspect variety, one (Game Eight) that should have been ruled an error, and three (two in Game One, one in Game Two) that may have been a case of Jackson “letting up” on hit balls and allowing the Reds to get more bases than they should have.
In the 1919 World Series, Joe Jackson played two games honestly (Games Six and Seven). At times in the other games he was also playing to the best of his ability. However, one does not need to be tanking for an entire game to be throwing baseball games. Jackson picked his spots and made lackluster efforts in the field, critically in both Games One and Two. He did have the highest batting average of any player in the series, but four of his eight hits came in Games Seven and Eight, which the Black Sox were playing straight.
The lack of effort he made on the field and the fact that Jackson did receive and keep $5,000 from the gamblers, should be enough to convince anyone (who is being fair and objective) that Shoeless was crooked in the 1919 World Series. Guilty.
Situational information and play-by-play accounts come from the New York Times accounts of the games, and The World Series, by Richard M. Cohen and David S. Neft. Comments regarding the opinion of observers at the time come from Times articles written at the time. Other conjecture and opinion is my own.
Written by Dan Holmes