Flashback: “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s spectacular 1910 season in New Orleans propelled him to legendary MLB career

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The baseball career of former major-league player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson is well-chronicled. His character in the 1989 Field of Dreams movie popularized him among those who weren’t traditional baseball fans.

Perhaps not as well-known is that one of the major steps in his ascent to a legendary major-league career involved his 1910 season with the New Orleans Pelicans. The 22-year-old outfielder led the Southern League with an impressive .354 batting average, helping the Pelicans capture the league title.

At the end of the Pelicans’ season in August, Jackson was sold to the Cleveland Naps, with whom he finished the 1910 season with a .387 average in 20 games. His brief major-league appearance was a preview of the following seasons in which he established himself as one of baseball’s premier hitters. In his first full season in the majors in 1911, he posted an astounding .408 batting average, second only to Ty Cobb’s .419.

But unfortunately, his time in the majors as one of its leading hitters was ultimately overshadowed by what became known as the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. Jackson, along with seven other Chicago White Sox players, were banned from baseball for their involvement in fixing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.

Jackson was originally the property of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s, having played two brief stints in the majors with them in 1908 and 1909. Jackson’s arrival in New Orleans in the spring of 1910 came about after Mack’s preference for outfielder Bris Lord over Jackson allowed the Pelicans to claim Jackson on waivers.

Local New Orleans newspapers hailed the arrival of Jackson as an up-and-coming prospect. He had led the Class C South Athletic League in hitting in 1909 with a .358 average. His hitting and speed were compared to Cobb, who had already racked up three batting titles and two stolen base titles in five major-league seasons.

When Jackson was told there was a $50 prize for hitting a tobacco sign on the outfield fence at New Orleans’ Pelican Park, he confidently responded, “I guess I will get several 50’s during the season.”

In late April, one sportswriter penned, “He [Jackson] is out of his class here and is easily the star of this league.” By mid-July, Jackson already had 14 triples, which were largely attributed to his speed on the bases.

In addition to leading the Southern League in batting average, Jackson led in hits and runs scored. He was one of the major factors in the Pelicans’ first-place finish over Birmingham by eight games.

Jackson returned to New Orleans in 1911 to play for the Pelicans in an exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs. While his Cleveland Naps team was conducting spring training in Alexandria, Louisiana, he made the trip to rejoin his former Pels manager, Charley Frank, and his teammates.

Jackson’s .408 batting average in 1911 still stands as a Cleveland team record and a major-league rookie record. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox during the 1915 season. His batting line during his 13-year career was .356/.423/.517. However, because of his banishment from baseball, Jackson was never eligible for induction into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

According to David Fleitz’s SABR biography of Jackson, he acquired the nickname “Shoeless” Joe because he once played a game in his stocking feet since his new baseball shoes were not broken in yet. The nickname stuck with him for the rest of his life.

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Richard Cuicchi

New Orleans baseball historian

Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.

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