Originally created 08/04/98

Niece defends memory of baseball great Shoeless Joe Jackson



SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Maggi Hall remembers South Carolina native "Shoeless Joe" Jackson as the uncle who ran a business in Savannah and took her for a ride in his car every Sunday.

She knows little about the scandal that got him kicked out of baseball, but she's convinced he was innocent.

"It just wasn't in his makeup to be part of something like that," said Ms. Hall, 84, who worked at her uncle's dry-cleaning business when he lived in Savannah in the 1920s. "He wasn't that kind of person."

Joseph Jefferson "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, whose major-league career ended with allegations that he and seven other Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series, played one year of minor-league baseball in Savannah in 1909. He met his wife, Katie, here and returned regularly to visit.

After the scandal, the Jacksons moved to Savannah in 1922, opening a dry-cleaning store and buying a house. They stayed until 1929, when Jackson decided to move back to his native Greenville, S.C., to care for his ailing mother.

Ms. Hall said he often bought her a Coca-Cola during their Sunday drives, and he once brought sweet pears to her ailing brother in the hospital.

She said he always had a smile on his face despite the scandal that kept him from playing the game he loved.

"I was just a teen-ager when all that was going on," she said. "But when it was all over, Uncle Joe was exonerated. To me, that's the one thing I hang onto."

Jackson entered professional baseball with the Greenville Spinners in 1908 and got his nickname by removing a new pair of shoes that were hurting his feet during a game that year.

After playing in Savannah in 1909, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians and hit .408 in his major league rookie season in 1911.

While with the White Sox in 1919, he was one of eight players accused of taking money to throw the World Series. A Chicago jury acquitted them, even though it was later proved that Jackson had taken $5,000. The players were banned from baseball, and Jackson returned to Savannah.

Jackson's shoes from the 1919 World Series are at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., but Jackson, who died in 1951 at age 63, isn't.

Now many Jackson supporters, including Hall of Famer Ted Williams, are crusading to have him enshrined.

Ms. Hall and other Savannah supporters agree with that campaign.

"To me, he is a definitive figure of Americana because he was a prodigious athlete and a good man with a fatal weakness for money," said Savannah attorney Walter Hartridge, whose father, Julian, was a friend of Jackson.

"A lot of people thought that he had been treated unfairly," Hartridge said.