Shoeless Joe's name lives on in prospect

Young Joe Jackson, right, is the great-great-great-nephew of Shoeless Joe -- and bats lefty, too. Getty Images/Courtesy of The Citadel

Whenever Joe Jackson joins a new team, he knows what’s coming.

Teammates hear his name and a light bulb goes on.

“Yeah, it’s kinda funny,” he says. “The first time I’m with a team, they’re like, ‘Oh, Shoeless,’ just joking around. Sometimes I let them go on with it and then tell them, ‘Hey, man, I really am related to him.’ Really, they can’t believe it."

Joe Jackson is the great-great-great-nephew of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, and he’s not about to say it ain’t so.

Though Shoeless Joe was one of the best hitters baseball has ever known, he’s forever associated with the Black Sox scandal and his banishment from the game. Yet for 20-year-old Joe Jackson, a catcher at The Citadel who has been playing in the Cape Cod League this summer, being a relative of Shoeless Joe is a source of pride.

The younger Joe grew up in Greenville, S.C., where his famous relative lived most of his life and died in 1951. In Greenville, there’s a statue of the lifetime .356 hitter, as well as the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum and his well-visited gravesite.

For years after he was banned from the game, the former Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians star lived a peaceful life in Greenville. His family says he was a humble, kind man who spent time playing ball with youngsters, coaching and running his liquor store.

The younger Jackson says Shoeless Joe told his family and friends he never threw a game in the 1919 World Series and always gave his best.

To this day, the family believes him, and so does most of Greenville.

“He’s very much looked upon as a hometown hero,” Jackson says.

Since young Joe Jackson began playing baseball as a kid, he’s known about the connection with his famous uncle and wanted to learn more. He’s read the books, seen the movies, and talked to his family. Both sets of his great-grandparents, who knew Shoeless Joe, are still living, and his grandfather, Joseph Ray Jackson -- for whom he is named -- also has told him stories about going over to Old Joe’s house as a youngster.

“I did a book report on him one year in elementary school,” Jackson says. “I think that’s when it really got my attention.”

In high school, when Jackson’s baseball career started to take off, so did interest in his links to Shoeless Joe from fans and media.

Often, he recalled in a 2011 story in The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.), fans have shouted: “Hey, Joe! What are you doing with your shoes on?”

Today, the young catcher -- nicknamed “Shoes” by his Bourne Braves teammates this summer -- has a chance to become the first descendant of Shoeless Joe to play professional baseball.

In 2010, he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 50th round after being named to the all-South Carolina high school baseball team. In back-to-back years he hit .368 and .387.

He signed with The Citadel and hit .302 his first year, earning a spot on the Southern Conference All-Freshman Team. After hitting .279 as a sophomore, he wanted the challenge of the Cape Cod League, which features some of the best talent in college baseball.

Though he didn’t hit well this summer (just .213) he believes the chance to play against top talent and in front of numerous scouts will help as he enters his junior year.

As far as Joe and his father know, no other member of the Jackson clan since Shoeless Joe has taken baseball this far. His great grandfather played ball until World War II interrupted any plans he had. His grandfather was considered a good ballplayer, but scouts shied away from him because his sight in one eye was hampered by a childhood case of the measles. And his dad concentrated on golf and is a PGA teaching pro and country club GM.

“He’s the one who played the furthest,” says Joseph Brandon Jackson, Joe’s dad, who recently took a break from the country club to watch his son play in the Cape Cod League. He says his son’s goal is to play pro ball.

Like Shoeless Joe, young Joe Jackson is a left-handed batter. Both are listed at 6-foot-1, with young Joe about 20 pounds lighter at 180.

Joseph Brandon Jackson says it would be a stretch to say his son looks like Shoeless Joe. When a local newspaper ran photos of the two side by side, he said, “If you looked at it to try and see a resemblance, yeah, you could probably see a little bit in the eyes and around the bridge of the nose and forehead, but it wasn’t something [obvious].”

More obvious, he says, is how they look similar in the batter’s box, judging from photos.

“It all looks real close, except for my son’s hands seem to be a little higher than Uncle Joe’s,” he says.

Because Shoeless Joe and his wife, Katie, didn’t have children, the couple passed down items to the rest of his family. The hitter’s famous bat, Black Betsy, was handed down through Katie’s side and sold at auction in 2001, fetching $577,610.

Shoeless Joe passed on many other items -- photos, old newspaper clippings and a ring commemorating the White Sox’s 1917 World Series victory -- to a nephew, Lee Earl Jackson. Since then, those items have trickled down through a series of Joseph Jacksons. Today, Joseph Brandon Jackson has the ring, which one day will go to his son -- who has worn it a few times, including the day he signed his letter of intent to play for The Citadel.

The ring originally was a gold pendant attached to the chain of a pocket watch given to the 1917 World Series winners. The pendant included a diamond in the middle of an infield with the words “World Champions 1917,” says Joseph Brandon Jackson. Shoeless Joe had the pendant made into a ring and wore it proudly.

Young Joe said when his dad recently came up to watch him play in the Cape Cod League, his father wore the ring.

“It’s not very big,” the youngest Joe Jackson says. “People don’t really notice it that much unless you show them what it is.”

Among the Jackson clan, it’s a special link to one of baseball’s most famous (and infamous) names. Shoeless Joe always said he didn’t throw the 1919 World Series, and he never wavered. When Old Joe first passed his ring on to his nephew, he said “wear it with pride,” says young Joe Jackson, and they do.

His family believes the great hitter deserves to be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration.

“From what I know, he told the family that he didn’t do it,” young Joe says. “There’s one of his quotes, ‘Only God knows that I played the game as hard as I could and no man can judge me otherwise,’ or something along those lines.”

Today, the name Joe Jackson is still remembered -- though the Joe playing baseball today is nicknamed “Shoes” instead of “Shoeless.”