White Sox

How good was Shoeless Joe?

/ by Chris Kamka
Presented By White Sox Insiders
White Sox

Joe Jackson has been in the news since 2019 is the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Black Sox scandal season. Even more so today because it was announced that the White Sox will meet the Yankees on August 13, 2020 in the “MLB at Field of Dreams” game to be held in Dyersville, Iowa, the site of the popular 1989 baseball film.

Field of Dreams helped pull Joe Jackson from the dustbin of history, and all of a sudden, most baseball fans today know who he was. But how good was he?

Shoeless Joe Jackson is a player often distorted by myth and legend, but is best appreciated by simply examining the facts.

Joe could never exist today.  Perhaps this is why he remains one of the more intriguing figures in baseball history.  Can you imagine a guy playing an actual game in his socks?  Even in the minors?  Even for one game? For that matter, who was the last illiterate superstar to grace the diamond?

Consider the circumstances under which his career ended.  A group of players throwing a World Series just to make an extra buck?  Today’s average salary is a little over $4 million. Forget about it.

Jackson’s last season was 1920; his age 32 season. Plenty of good baseball left. His first sniff of the live-ball era. What would he have done with league production trending like this:

American League average BA/SLG for the last five seasons of Jackson’s career
1916   .248/.324
1917   .248/.320
1918   .254/.322
1919   .268/.359
1920   .283/.387

 

AL average BA/SLG for the first five seasons after Jackson
1921   .292/.408
1922   .285/.398
1923   .283/.388
1924   .290/.397
1925   .292/.408

How many more .400 seasons? In the inflated offensive era of the 1920s, many doubles & triples would turn into homers. Would White Sox fans not have had to wait until Bill Melton in 1971 for the first 30-HR season in franchise history? It’s a compelling thought because of his limited but incredible body of work. The inflated numbers would counteract the inevitable decline phase for a while, so he’d certainly build on his 1,772 hits, 307 doubles, 168 triples, and 54 home runs.

Jackson hit .408, .395 & .378 in his first three full seasons – but thanks to Ty Cobb, he finished second in the American League each time.

Amazingly, he put up a .356 lifetime average (3rd all-time among players with 3,000 career plate appearances) without a single batting title. He had a .423 OBP, good for 16th all-time. He slugged a very respectable .517. Struck out only 233 times against 519 walks.

Jackson’s career wRC+ of 165 is tied with Cobb for 8th all-time.  Only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Mike Trout, Rogers Hornsby, Barry Bonds & Mickey Mantle are better. Sure, that might slip a little in his mid-to-late 30s, but where would he fall? All the way to the Willie Mays-Frank Thomas-Henry Aaron tier? You could do worse.

He compiled 2,800 plate appearances for two original American League franchises (Indians & White Sox) and still owns the highest lifetime average for each (.375 for Cleveland, .340 for Chicago).

His game was not just limited to hitting. He could also run (202 SB), and throw (183 outfield assists).

This is a player who could conceivably make a list of the top 50 players period; not just limited to those not enshrined in Cooperstown.

Shoeless Joe Jackson (along with the other seven Black Sox) and John D. Rockefeller (a stunning $29 million fine imposed in 1907 on his Standard Oil in antitrust case) were the two most notable opponents taken down by Kenesaw Mountain Landis. The Standard Oil fine was overturned long ago. Isn’t it about time to give Joe his due?

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