Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Goin’ ‘Shoeless’ at Heritage: Trove of tainted ‘Black Sox’ player in April

March 31, 2009
Posted by Noah

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson is one of those guys who lives on as much in infamy as legend. He stands among the most brilliant baseball players to ever step on a diamond, and as one of the most cursed. The former cannot be disputed. The latter, however, is rightfully the subject of much debate. The fact, though, is that we’re auctioning off some very cool Joe Jackson stuff – and I don’t mean the singer of Steppin’ Out – in the April Sports Auction. For the right collector – that brave soul who loves the sport as much for its black eyes as for its glory – these are must-have items.

I’ve always been a fan of the underdog – I took 16-seed Radford to win the NCAA Tourney this year – so it may not come as a surprise that I always believed Joe Jackson was framed. Also, how can you not love a guy whose nickname is “Shoeless?” The most telling fact of his innocence, though, is in his statistics during that notorious 1919 World Series. They went up. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Would a guy trying to hand the Series to Cincinnati play better in a situation that depended on the best players intentionally playing worse? I don’t buy it. If I had about $100,000, however, I’d certainly buy the 1914 Boston Garters Joe Jackson baseball card that’s part of the trove.

Another key lot in the several that constitute this mythic corner of baseball history is a 1908 Greenville Spinners team photograph featuring an impossibly young version of the soon-to-be slugger and pariah. It is his first gig, the year before he was called to the majors, and eventually stardom, by Connie Mack, and Jackson is raw. What’s impressive about him in the photo is the raw physicality he conveys, a diamond in the rough. He’s ready to break out, if not ready for the challenges and pitfalls of fame, which took him considerably longer to master. It’s a beauty of a piece, and at around $20,000, I’d say well worth it. Something Cooperstown should be interested in, even if it represents a supposed stain on the game. (Jackson was never convicted of any wrongdoing, by the way. MLB had already made up its mind as to his culpability.)

In the photo, the team mascot sits right at Jackson's right foot, if you don't already know what he looks like.

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

It’s an amazing look at the innocence of youth before the influence of fame and fortune, and scandal, make it all dissolve into a bitter mask of indifference.

As for the other Joe Jackson, the singer from the 1980s, I have seen him in concert at least a dozen times and his albums – from 1977’s I’m The Man up through 1986’s Big World – remain a staple in my music rotation. His longtime bass player, Graham Mabe (pronounced “Maybe”) is the very best of his generation and is the reason I learned to play the bass guitar. I had the chance to interview Joe for Goldmine Magazine last year, and found him to be a very forthright person, a good interviewee and a very outspoken advocate for Smoker’s Rights. No kidding. Still, he rocks.