‘Shoeless Joe’ autographs rare in any form

JJ2[1].jpgIn 1920, the sports world was shocked to learn that eight members of the Chicago White Sox teamed with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. The eight men were indicted and banned from baseball for life. Joe Jackson was a member of the team coined the “Chicago Black Sox,” who actually got their name from wearing dirty uniforms, not the gambling scandal that was to follow.

JJ3[2].jpg There have been numerous articles, stories and even a major motion picture about the Black Sox scandal (“Eight Men Out”) with many questions remaining unanswered.

This much is known: Jackson was a great player. In the 1919 World Series he hit .375 with six RBIs and one home run. His lifetime batting average of .356 is the third highest of all time. Jackson was also an incredible base runner, finishing his career with 168 triples, placing him 26th on the all-time list.

JJ4[1].jpg Jackson started his career in 1908 with the Philadelphia Athletics and ended his professional baseball career after the 1920 season with the Chicago White Sox. Although he came up with the A’s, he only played 10 games in two seasons with the team before being traded to the Cleveland Naps in 1910. In Jackson’s official rookie season he hit .408, the only rookie to ever post a .400-plus average in a season. In 1915, Jackson was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Braggo Roth, Larry Chappell, Ed Klepfer, and $31,500.

JJ5[1].jpgFew people realize that Jackson did play in the 1920 season before being suspended. At the time of the suspension, he was batting .385 and leading the American League in triples. Although Jackson did admit under oath to participating in the fixing of the World Series and being paid $5,000 for doing so, the Chicago jury acquitted him along with the other seven accused. Disregarding the jury’s verdict, newly appointed Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis went against the ruling and banned all eight players for life.

JJ6[1].jpgPrior to the scandal breaking, Jackson was almost traded to the Boston Red Sox for Babe Ruth. The White Sox offered up Jackson and $60,000 in cash, yet they were outbid by the Yankees who offered an all-cash deal of $100,000.

After being banned, Jackson played what was referred to at the time as “outlaw baseball.” He later moved back to Greenville, S.C., and operated a liquor store with his wife, Katie. Jackson was the first of the eight men to die when he suffered a massive heart attack on Dec. 5, 1951. He died at the age of 62.

Jackson got his nickname because of a new pair of cleats he was wearing gave him such bad blisters he decided to finish a game without his shoes. While still in his socks he hit a triple. After standing on third base, a fan in the stands shouted to him, “You shoeless son of a gun,” coining his now-famous nickname “Shoeless Joe Jackson,” which he never cared for.

Jackson is probably one of the rarest signatures of any celebrated athlete who lived during the 20th century. Considering the fact that he lived until 1951 and that there are so few autographs of Jackson that exist, he really is an anomaly.

Most collectors know that Jackson was illiterate and have heard the stories of him signing his name with an “X.” However, later in his life he did learn how to sign his name. For the most part, his wife, Katie, signed the majority of his autograph requests. Often when people would come into the liquor store that Joe and Katie owned asking for an autograph, Jackson would tell his fans that they would need to come back the next day to get it. This would give him an opportunity for his wife to craft one that night.

It’s fairly easy to spot a signature that Katie had signed. She would connect all the letters in a very smooth-looking script (See Example 1). The genuine Jackson signatures that have surfaced thus far have all shown similar habits, yet each is unique in its own right. In contrast to Katie’s version of Joe’s signature, he had trouble connecting the “J-a-c-k” part of his last name.

Furthermore, all examples show a rather shaky signature, which seems understandable for someone who is unfamiliar with a pen in his hand. Moreover, in all examples of his handwriting the “e” in “Joe” appears as though it were a capital letter. Jackson’s signature has a classic slant to the right, a trait found in most signatures.

There is an example of Jackson’s signature that shows a fuller version with every letter spelled out (See Example 2). The “k” in “Jackson” is more clearly defined and in this version the “o” and “n” are present in the signature unlike the other examples. Also, the “J”s in both his first and last name come to a sharp point and don’t slant nearly as far to the right as the rest of the signature.

Lastly, the “o” in “Joe” and the “a” in Jackson both have a more-rounded shape then in his other signatures. This example comes from a circa-1911 Louisville Slugger bat that Joe’s lifelong friend and teammate Sydney Smith owned. The bat was discovered mixed in among Smith’s belongings after Smith died.

The majority of the signatures that Jackson penned show a shorter version of his last name (See Examples 3-6). In most cases, the last name almost appears to look like “Jacks,” leaving out the “o” and the “n.” The other examples of Jackson’s signature show a softer point at the top of the “J”s in both his first and last name, along with being slanted in line with the rest of the signature. Jackson’s “o” in “Joe” has a severe slant with a very thin and jagged oval shape. Conversely, the “a” in “Jackson” has a wider oval shape.

Signatures known to be penned by Jackson himself are incredibly valuable.
A cut signature of Jackson sold for $23,100 in 1990, which was a record for any 19th or 20th century signature at the time. Since then, only a handful of other Jackson signatures have surfaced for sale. In Christie’s East Auction in 1998, they had two “Shoeless Joe” autographs up for sale, one of which was a driver’s license of the famous slugger, selling for an incredible $14,950. The other item that sold was a mortgage note that Jackson had penned, which was hammered down at $20,700.

Game-used Jackson memorabilia can also be quite expensive. The most famous piece of memorabilia from Jackson is his fabled “Black Betsy” bat sold for $577,610 at auction. Other, less famous, game-used bats from Jackson’s career have sold at more reasonable prices. Recent bats that Jackson used while playing in the semi-pros after being banned from baseball have sold for around $5,000, while other less famous bats from his professional career have sold for more than $20,000.

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