SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — Two historians in Homer, Louisiana, searched for Shoeless Joe Jackson’s missing socks after discovering the former Chicago White Sox outfielder secretly played ball in the backwoods of north Louisiana.
Shoeless Joe and other Chicago White Sox players were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series in what was referred to as the Black Sox Scandal. Jackson and seven others were accused of a plot to fix the championship game’s outcome for a $5,000 payout. Jackson was acquitted but could not save his career and was permanently banned from professional baseball.
The NWLA connection
The Director of Claiborne Parish Libraries, Pam Suggs, said researching an old semi-pro team led her to an exciting discovery.
“I was looking up something about an old semi-pro baseball team in The Shreveport Journal when I found a photo of Paul Thomas holding a pair of socks once worn by Shoeless Joe Jackson while Jackson was playing at an expedition in Homer, Louisiana,” Suggs said.
That expedition was played after Jackson was banned from professional baseball.
Who was Shoeless Joe Jackson?
Joseph Jefferson Jackson was born in 1887 and grew up poor in South Carolina. At only six-year-old, Jackson worked as a child laborer in a textile mill. He started his baseball career playing on the textile mill’s team.
“It don’t take school stuff to help a fella play ball,” Jackson once said.
Jackson never learned to read or write, and his wife often penned his signature for him.
Shoeless Joe’s baseball history in Louisiana started when he played ball for the New Orleans Pelicans, a name now known for basketball that was affiliated with baseball in 1910 when the Pelicans were the Southern League Champions.
Harris thinks Shoeless Joe might have kept his Louisiana baseball connections after playing in New Orleans, and perhaps those connections landed him on a team in Bastrop after he was banned from professional baseball.
Shoeless Joe became the symbol of the child textile mill worker turned American hero. That reverence ended when he, White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte, shortstop Charles “Swede” Risberg, third baseman Buck Weaver, outfielder Oscar “Happy’ Felsch, Claude “Lefty” Williams, infielder Fred McMullin and first baseman C. Arnold “Chick” Gandill were labeled as “The Black Sox” after the 1919 World Series scandal.
But he wasn’t willing to go down without a fight.
Jackson appealed his suspension from major league baseball during the summer of 1923 and was optimistic about the possibility of returning to the big leagues.
According to The Shreveport Times article published on Wednesday, July 11, 1923, Jackson “felt that if he could join an independent team and play regularly, he would be in good physical condition when he is re-instated to go right back in the majors.”
By early June of 1923, Jackson played under the name of Joe Johnson on a little-known baseball team in Bastrop, Louisiana. They played against nearby teams in Homer, Haynesville, Glenmora, Rayville, and Alexandria.
“Shoeless Joe played for the Bastrop, Louisiana baseball team against the Homer team nine times and the Haynesville team three times,” Harris said.
The former “White Sox” labeled as a “Black Sox” gave away a pair of his socks to a little boy named Paul Thomas at one of the games he played in Homer, Louisiana, in the summer of 1923.
The case of the missing sox
Suggs said she couldn’t let things go after finding the photo of the old socks she was curious to know if Paul Thomas’ family had kept the mementos after all those long years.
“I wanted to know what happened to Shoeless Joe Jackson’s socks, so I called Paul’s daughter Paula—we had the Paula Theatre in downtown Homer years ago, and it was named after her. Paula remembered the socks,” Suggs said.
Suggs said that although Paula remembered Shoeless Joe’s socks, “she didn’t know what happened to them.”
When asked if she thought Shoeless Joe threw the World Series in 1919, Suggs said she thinks Jackson just got in a bad situation.
“Shoeless Joe Jackson’s play during the world series was not typical of someone trying to throw a game,” Harris said. “He was the best known and probably the most beloved player of that Chicago team, so he became the face of the corruption that took place.”
For more than a hundred years, the controversy has persisted. Did Shoeless Joe Jackson help throw the 1919 World Series, or was he unjustly punished?
“God knows I gave my best in baseball at all times, and no man on earth can truthfully judge me otherwise,” Shoeless Joe once said.
The subject of the 1919 World Series is still controversial.
KTAL/KMSS Sports Reporter Wesley Boone looked at stats recorded in nearly 100-year-old Louisiana newspapers to analyze the games Jackson played in Northern Louisiana in 1923.
Jackson played under the name of “Joe Johnson” for the team in Bastrop, Louisiana, in early June of 1923.
“The Haynesville team made the trip to Bastrop, winning two out of a three-game series. Jackson was his usual self, batting .300 during the series,” Boone said. “In July, Jackson’s Bastrop squad made the trip to Homer right before Independence Day. Bastrop split the series, dropping game one before taking game two, 5-1. The score for the series’ final game was not recorded in local papers, nor were player statistics.”
“Homer traveled to Bastrop for a game two days after Independence Day, followed by a doubleheader on July 8,” Boone said. “Bastrop didn’t fair well in the series, dropping all three games. Jackson did manage to score the lone run in his team’s 3-1 loss in game one.”
According to Harris, around July 11, articles started appearing across Northern Louisiana that spread the true identity of “Joe Johnson.” Manager H. F. Benson immediately announced that the Bastrop team would take a two to three-week road trip to play towns in Mississippi and Alabama.
“It was a series in mid-July where “Joe Johnson” began turning heads,” Boone said. “Jackson’s squad swept Homer in a three-game series thanks to his five-hit, four-run, two-homer performance. On its first road trip of the season, Bastrop defeated Brookhaven, Mississippi, 3-1.”
Jackson arrived in Americus, Georgia, the next day to join the local team, but his arrival upset the baseball commissioner’s office. The South Georgia Baseball League denied him the five weeks of work guaranteed by the team in Americus. The commissioner officially said that anyone who played with outlawed players might find themselves barred from rising through the ranks of professional baseball leagues.
“Hundreds of fans flocked to Jackson’s hotel to meet him,” Harris wrote in Historic Claiborne 2022. “The Bastrop newspaper continued to follow the Americus team, calling them “the Bastrop team playing in Americus.”
“All told, Jackson led his team to an 18-5 record that summer,” Boone said. “Although complete stats are unavailable today, in games in which Jackson’s hits were recorded, he batted a respectable .296. With Jackson acting as a player-manager (manning his usual spot in the outfield), the Bastrop team played 32 games for Americus in the summer of 1923, finishing with a 24-6 record to go along with two ties.”
Shoeless Joe was never reinstated to professional baseball. He and his wife Katie Wynn ran a dry cleaner in Savannah, Georgia, and moved to Greenville, North Carolina, where he ran a liquor store. The former baseball star died of a heart attack in 1951 at the age of 64.
Shoeless Joe Jackson’s ban from professional baseball remains in effect today, barring him from ever joining the MLB Hall of Fame.