His name forever will be associated with the messiest episode in baseball history. His lifetime ban and exclusion from Hall of Fame consideration are viewed by many as a travesty of justice. But there's one thing nobody can take away from Shoeless Joe Jackson: his reputation as the greatest natural hitter in the game's long history.
Ty Cobb thought he was. An impressed Babe Ruth copied his batting style. Other contemporaries, such as Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie and Eddie Collins, marveled at the slashing line drives that whipped off his oversized bat that he affectionately dubbed "Black Betsy".
During the 13 years (1908-20) he starred for the Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox, the lefthanded-hitting, righthanded-throwing left fielder never met a pitcher he couldn't hit. Jackson stood well back in the box, feet close together, and unleashed his big, even swing—unlike the short, punching jabs of other top dead-ball hitters. The only thing missing from the 6-1, 200-pounder's offensive arsenal was the great speed that gave Cobb the additional hits he needed to win 12 batting championships. Jackson, who topped the 200-hit plateau four times, batted .408 for the Indians in 1911—losing the batting title to Cobb's .420— and .395 the following year en route to a whopping .356 career mark, third all-time behind Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.
Jackson, who earned his nickname as a minor leaguer when he played a game in his stocking feet because of a blister, helped the White Sox to a championship in 1917. But his exact role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal will never be known. There's no doubt the illiterate country kid from the Carolina hill country, perhaps caught up unwittingly in something he did not fully understand, enjoyed an outstanding World Series against Cincinnati (.375, a record 12 hits, no errors) while teammates were helping the Reds to victory. One of eight White Sox players banned for life by then-commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Jackson never played another big-league game—a punishment, right or wrong, that continued long after his 1951 death.
After his expulsion from the majors, Jackson fell from grace in the eyes of some, but had become a folk hero to many. His nickname "Shoeless Joe", his infamy, and even the identity of his famous bat "Black Betsy" contributed to that folklore. Of the latter, no other player in sports history ever had a piece of equipment with its own identity of the magnitude of Joe Jackson's bat.
The Joe Jackson professional model bat presented here is one of two known bats, and the only full name signature model, manufactured by Louisville Slugger Inc., that can be attributed to being used by Joe Jackson during his active Major League career. The other bat, a factory side written and vault marked J13 model (with Jackson's last name stamped in block letters on the barrel), was returned by Jackson to then J.F. Hillerich & Son Company, in June of 1911, so that more bats of the same model could be made. The specifications of this bat, including its 35.5 inch length and 39.2 ounces weight, are nearly identical to the referenced J13 model that is noted in factory records. This bats 1917-1921 labeling period coincides not only with some of Joe Jackson's most prolific offensive seasons, but also with the White Sox Championship season of 1917 and of course, the infamous 1919 campaign.
The bat shows evidence of outstanding use with a substantial handle crack. Many ball marks are visible on the right, left and back barrel. Also visible on the bat are cleat marks and some fading to the finish on the front barrel. Judging by the appearance of the wood, some drying or grain swelling on a section of the barrel could have been reduced by buffing or rubbing with an improvement to the finish having been made in that area. The handle has been scored to enhance the grip. The bat has Jackson's familiar dark barrel and natural handle, which has been characterized as his "Black Betsy" finish. The discovery of this bat is believed to trace back to a large find made at the Louisville Slugger Kentucky headquarters in the mid 1980's. It was first sold publicly by Leland's as part of The Goldstein Collection in 1994, where it was purchased by Bill Nowlin. We are privileged to offer it here as one of the most historically significant game used baseball bats in existence. LOA from John Taube of PSA/DNA (Graded GU7).
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