On the day baseball legend “Shoeless” Joe Jackson played at Hackensack, he had five at-bats, four hits and a false name.
Jackson, one of the greatest players ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, was undercover. Darkness was mandatory.
Less than a year earlier, in August 1921, after he and seven Chicago White Sox teammates were accused of starting the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Jackson had been banned from Major League Baseball. . The “Black Sox” scandal, since confirmed by participants, remains one of the most significant controversies in baseball history.
Players associated with Jackson after the scandal were told they had no chance of playing in baseball’s top league. League officials enacted a rule banning Jackson and future teammates or opponents from their competition.
To make a living and protect other athletes, the 34-year-old Jackson tried to blend into the Bergen County semi-pro league. He adopted a pseudonym, “Josephs”, for his first foray on June 25, 1922.
The unknown outfielder quickly caught the eye, RH Wynkoop, sports reporter for The Record, reported in the following day’s newspaper. Flying in fourth for Westwood, the 6-foot-1 left-handed hitter looked much better than his competitors at Hackensack’s Oritani Field.
Jackson kicked out a home runner from center field. He hit a double on his first at bat and a single on his second. His third was a legendary home run, his Westwood manager would say 15 years later in a letter to Jackson.
“I guess the ball goes on,” he joked.
The scene was to be “something very different from ‘Field of Dreams,'” said Jacob Pomrenke, chairman of the Society for American Baseball Research’s Black Sox Scandal Research Committee.
Eventually, New Jersey’s Ray Liotta will play “Shoeless” Joe in the hit baseball movie “Field of Dreams.”
But 100 years ago, the Hackensack game, one of the most memorable games Jackson would play after being banned for life, was also one of the few times Jackson or his banned White Sox teammates would play under a name. of borrowing. It was difficult for Jackson to keep his talents secret, and it would be financially unwise to do so, Pomrenke says.
Although Jackson’s name was tainted by the big league ban, he still attracted fans. Jackson was one of the best hitters in baseball when he left the major leagues. During the 1920 season, his last, Jackson had 218 hits in 570 at-bats for the White Sox. He also had a career-high 121 RBIs in over 146 games.
Jackson’s role in the Black Sox scandal is uncertain, Pomrenke says. His game on paper in the 1919 World Series showed no signs of lack of effort. He batted .375 and made no field errors.
Additionally, Jackson’s teammates involved in the scandal claimed they never told him about their meetings with the players who paid him $5,000, which was nearly his annual salary. A teammate said the player-conspirators only brought up Jackson’s name to lend credence to their promise to kick off the nine-game series.
At the end of the following season, Jackson and his teammates were taken to court for rigging the series. They were acquitted in 1921 by a jury, but were nevertheless banned from Major League Baseball. The evidence was overwhelming.
Banned from the major leagues, Jackson found himself in Hackensack on June 25, 1922, to be a mercenary. After four hits in five at bats, his visiting Westwood team beat the Hackensack-Bogota Club 9-to-7, The Record reported.
Wynkoop wrote in the newspaper the next day that the sports office was inundated with calls after Sunday’s game. Everyone wanted to know the story of Josephs. It was relatively short: Josephs was the infamous “Shoeless Joe”.
The revelation shook the region. The match was forfeited. Other teams refused to play Westwood. The fallout led Abe Gildersleeve, Westwood’s manager, to claim his innocence. In a statement to The Record the day after the game, he claimed he had no idea “Joseph” was Jackson. He said he blindly trusted a mysterious New York agent who had promised to send “the best in the business”.
“Under no circumstances would I or any member of the Westwood Baseball Club have such a player on our team,” Gildersleeve said. Few bought his claim.
They were wise. In a 1937 letter to Jackson, Gildersleeve passed away. In the letter, he boasted of having “imported” the slugger for “a game against the Hackensack Oritani team in 1922” and “under the alias of – Josephs… You hit a home run that is always talked about Bergen Co.,” he wrote.
Gildersleeve’s public denial and apology in 1922 quickly faded in favor of defiance. Days after the match, Gildersleeve boasted of big wins in Westwood’s future. He alleged New York teams were clamoring for exhibitions against Jackson and his own players countered criticism by saying they would not allow Hackensack-Bogota or any other team to dictate their roster.
At least one Westwood player, Leo Curry, didn’t feel the same way. Curry, who pitched for Westwood in the June 25 game as Brown because he knew his teammate’s true identity and didn’t want to be punished for playing with him, was a member of the Hackensack-Bogota team. at the end of the week. .
Jackson remained with Westwood, helping the team win July 2 home games against teams from Virginia and New York. For this double Sunday, nearly 1,000 fans packed the small Westwood pitch, The Record reported. “The attendance was the best at any Westwood game in many long days,” the report said. “Jackson, of course, was the center of attraction.”
When Westwood played Clifton on July 9, Jackson was gone. He would go on to create a traveling all-star team to capitalize on his notoriety and eventually play most of his games in the South, Pomrenke says. On July 18, Wynkoop reported claims from Westwood that Jackson was “as a baseball player in Bergen County”. The local game quickly evolved, as had Major League Baseball.
“We are led to believe that he wanted almost all the money in sight for his services after the first few games,” Wynkoop wrote. “Jackson’s absence won’t be felt. It’s such a shame he ever showed up.”
David Zimmer is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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