by Tyler Handlan
SURPRISE — Joe Jackson, a minor-league outfielder for the Texas Rangers, is a thread of a baseball legacy. He is the great, great grandnephew of the infamous Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Joe Jackson, 24, said he was “was pretty young, I’d say like four or five” when someone told him about his baseball-playing ancestor.
There’s a lot to tell.
Shoeless Joe was one of baseball’s greatest hitters. His career average of .356 is third-best all-time behind Ty Cobb (.366) and Rogers Hornsby (.358).
Shoeless Joe is not best remembered for his superior baseball talent however, but for his alleged role in the 1919 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and his Chicago White Sox. Jackson and seven of his teammates were accused of accepting money from gamblers to throw the Series — it would become known as the Black Sox Scandal.
A jury acquitted the eight White Sox players, but commissioner Kenesaw Landis banned all eight, including Jackson, from baseball for life. Shoeless Joe was 33 when he played his final big-league game.
“He told the family he didn’t do it, and that’s good enough for me,” Joe Jackson said. “I don’t think he threw the Series. I think that there’s pretty substantial evidence that said he didn’t. They were acquitted in a court of law; it’s just a really unfortunate thing.”
Growing up in Greenville, South Carolina — the same town as where Shoeless Joe lived for the majority of his life — Joe Jackson had plenty of experiences with one of baseball’s most-told stories.
Hearing the good, the bad and the ugly about his great, great granduncle, Joe Jackson learned how to handle it at an early age.
“They were kind of jabbing at me a little bit,” Joe Jackson said of school friends poking fun of his family’s lineage. “Also, I found a lot of people don’t really know, and they joke around about it. I just kind of let them joke around about it until they really find out, but it’s pretty funny.”
Middle school can sometimes be a very vulnerable place for adolescents, but Jackson who sports number 82 tries to focus on the positives — like Cobb and Babe Ruth having admired Shoeless Joe.
“I see a lot of pictures with Joe and Ty, and Joe and Babe,” Joe Jackson said. “It’s really cool. Every time I look at them, it’s just incredible to me that when my uncle played was in those days, and just the types of stars that were around back then . . . it’s just kind of surreal looking back at baseball history.”
(Video by Michael Baron/Cronkite News)
Joe Jackson may have been a beneficiary of receiving some of Shoeless Joe’s baseball genes in the family heritage, yet that doesn’t fairly represent his desire to play baseball.
“He’s gritty, loves the game, and he’s just a good guy to be around,” teammate Ryan Ledbetter said.
In his fourth year in the Texas system, Joe Jackson reached Double-A for the first time last season. He got more than 400 at-bats there and hit .269 with five homers. Jackson bats left-handed, as did Shoeless Joe.
Joe Jackson played college baseball at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. He had a career average there of .324.
“Obviously, The Citadel, you think of discipline, and accountability, and character and all those things,” said Kenny Holmberg, the Rangers’ minor-league infield coordinator. “He’s upfront with all of that stuff. He’s a guy that you battle for, he’s a guy that you play hard for, he’s a guy that you come to the ballpark ready to teach and look forward to being around.”
In Yu Darvish’s first simulated game of spring training, Joe Jackson hit a mammoth homer over the right field fence. Fans who might have come to see Darvish instead got a combined glimpse of the past and the present in Joe Jackson.
“I don’t hit a lot of home runs,” Joe Jackson said with a smile and a chuckle. “Whenever I do hit a home run it makes you feel good. It doesn’t really count for anything; it’s just getting ready for the season.”
A bit of unsaid advice that Joe Jackson has taken from Shoeless Joe’s scandal, and put into his everyday life, is to be accountable for all of his actions and to not put himself in bad situations.
“I’m trying to go out there and restore the family name a bit,” Joe Jackson said. “But also make a name for myself. I don’t want to be just Shoeless Joe’s nephew. I want to be my own player. I want to make it for myself, as well, as much for my family.”