Say It Ain’t So, Joe

Say It Ain’t So, Joe

This is a story about a man named Joe. He was a man who overcame much to experience great success, reaching the highest levels of his chosen field. But Joe’s tragic flaws led to mistakes and a pitiful downfall near the end of his professional career.

A Promising Rise

Joseph Jackson came from a small mill town in South Carolina. An uneducated, illiterate man, Joe was thin, tall, and stood straight.

And he could play baseball with the best of them. Joe was a natural. Although somewhat daunted by his backward upbringing (he had started sweeping floors in the mills by the age of seven), Joe Jackson was impressively ambitious. When he and everyone else saw that young Joe was gifted at baseball while playing on the mill’s team at 13, his hunger for success on the baseball field became the driving force in his life.

Eventually, while still a very young man, Joe was scouted and soon invited to play in the major leagues, his services originally purchased by the Athletics and then Cleveland.

In the big leagues, Joe came out swinging for the fences. His very first full season, he batted over .400, a rare feat that today has not been accomplished for more than 80 years. His career batting average (.356) still stands as the third highest ever, and even the famous Babe Ruth said he copied his own powerful swing from none other than Joe Jackson.

Joe started out playing in center field, and he did well there. His team eventually shifted him to left field, and sometimes he moved even farther toward the left if the opposition or his team so dictated. Personally, though, he always would have preferred to play center.

Given his tremendous success in baseball, Joe grew accustomed to the accompanying nice salary and attention. Nevertheless, Joe always went back home to South Carolina whenever the major league season ended. He tried to be “the same old Joe” despite his achievement in the bigs. He remained an odd blend of flexible yet cautious around other people, confident primarily in one thing—his baseball talent.

As the years passed, when he was at the peak of his career, Joe’s contract was sold to Chicago, and things began to change for him. His new team, the Chicago White Sox, was split into factions. The more educated, urban, sophisticated players formed one faction; the more down-to-earth players were the other. Even as he gained experience and was more successful than almost anyone in baseball, Joe was in the second group.

Joe never shook the nickname he was given when he first got out of the mills. One day, his team in South Carolina had provided him a new pair of baseball shoes, with spikes for traction. Joe developed terrible blisters, and eventually he had to discard the new shoes, playing the rest of the game in his socks. People started calling him “Shoeless Joe.” He absolutely detested the moniker, believing they were alluding to his poverty.

Even more than his unshakeable nickname, Joe continually was taunted about both his inability to read and his manner of speaking. Most notably, even after Joe was a star in the major leagues, a fan of the opposing team once hollered from the bleachers at him, “Hey you shoeless bastard, can you spell ‘cat’”? Spitting out a large stream of tobacco juice, Joe shouted back in a slow drawl, “Can you spell ‘sh**’”?

Either suffering from an inferiority complex or being highly self-conscious, Joe tried to compensate. For example, he tellingly bought excessive quantities of fancy shoes. Joe also developed resentments toward people with prestigious educations, foremost those who used their knowledge to negotiate higher pay than Joe could.

Mistakes are Made

In his desperation for more money and especially the added respect he thought due, Joe made mistakes. Specifically, he threw in with bad company. And that new group of associates ultimately enticed him to join a conspiracy with big-money gamblers to “fix” games.

Joe Jackson later confessed to a grand jury that he accepted cash payments in return for agreeing to play poorly against the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series. The cadre of key players who joined the conspiracy became the subject of the book and movie Eight Men Out, and they were banned from major league baseball for life, permanently tarnished as the “Black Sox.”*

*It was “Joe” and his group who emerged from an Iowa cornfield and back into baseball in the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams.

This story ends the day Joe confessed in court and this truly “breaking news” circulated. That afternoon, a despondent young fan confronted Joe on the courthouse steps. The boy, crushed to learn that his baseball hero had lost his principles and been induced into mistakes, cried out, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” But Joe quietly walked away, his career in tatters.

Allegorical Lessons

In the tradition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Dr. Seuss in Horton Hears a Who, and arguably even J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, the above is intended as a political allegory. As with anything of this genre, you can read into it what you want. We hope you at least have learned something from the sad story of a once Somebody Joe.

Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics. 

Look for his posts each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.

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