Any player/Any era: Shoeless Joe Jackson

Posted: 23rd September 2010 by Graham Womack in Shoeless Joe

What he did: The man nicknamed Shoeless Joe is one of the all-time greats. Say what you will about his involvement in throwing the 1919 World Series, which cost him a spot in the Hall of Fame, but Jackson hit for average, fielded impeccably, and even ran the bases well, stealing at least 20 bases five times and peaking with 41 steals in 1911. The only thing Jackson couldn’t do was hit for power. In another era, he might have hit more than 54 home runs lifetime. In fact, I think Jackson could have been a Triple Crown winner.

Era he might have thrived in: Jackson is probably one of those few legends who would have stood out at pretty much any point in baseball history. With the Red Sox in the late ’30s and early ’40s, Jackson could have been Ted Williams with greater speed and fielding ability. In the ’50s and ’60s, Jackson might have been a five tool player comparable to Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle. And with the current Texas Rangers, I would liken Jackson to another sweet-swinging lefty and Triple Crown threat, Josh Hamilton.

Why: I see Hamilton and I can’t help but think of Jackson. In many ways, Hamilton seems his modern equivalent. Both are Southerners. Both were exiled from baseball, Hamilton temporarily to deal with drug problems, Jackson permanently because of the Black Sox Scandal. In terms of playing ability, both hit similarly sweet from the left side and possessed supreme talent. I think if Jackson were playing today, Hamilton is the player he might resemble most closely.

Hamilton returned to the game in 2007 with the Reds, was traded to the Rangers before the following season and blossomed into a star. Texas has been his promised land. Considering Hamilton’s .395 home batting average this year, I can only imagine what Jackson would hit there. I’m thinking his home batting average might approach .500. After all, Jackson hit better than .350 six seasons, peaked at .408 in 1911, and hit .356 lifetime, third-best all-time behind Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby. And Jackson did that against Deadball Era pitching.

So I think Jackson’s batting average today would be just as good, if not better. I also think he’d have better power numbers, playing with a livelier ball and in a park like Texas. I think the park would have the same effect on Jackson it’s had on Hamilton and that Shoeless Joe would have similar slugging stats: maybe 30 home runs and a ton of RBI. Of course, if Jackson had stayed in baseball, a spike in his numbers may have come in his own era.

Jackson posted career highs of 12 home runs and 121 RBI in 1920, his last year before being banned. That year, Babe Ruth topped 50 home runs for the first time and helped revolutionize baseball, with the number of home runs in the American League increasing nearly 50 percent by 1925. Mike Lynch of Seamheads.com told me recently that in a What If-style book he wrote on the 1919 White Sox, Jackson posted a slugging percentage ranging between .512 and .591 from 1921 through 1924. One can only wonder what might have been.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Dom DiMaggio, Fritz Maisel, George Case, Harmon Killebrew, Home Run Baker, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Nate Colbert, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Sandy Koufax, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb

  1. I agree that Jackson would’ve been great in any era. I’ve totally loved that guy since I studied up on him about 11 years ago.

    But… I disagree that he didn’t hit for power. Not sure how missed this, but from 1908-1920, Jackson’s .517 SLG is the 3rd best of everyone with 500+ PA’s. Also, Babe Ruth said he modeled his own swing after Shoeless Joe. So I personally wonder if Jackson might’ve become the all-time HR king if he lived in another era… especially if he came after Ruth, then the Babe wouldn’t have been able to model his swing after Joe, thus reducing Babe Ruth’s slugging ability and probably changing everything.

    …and if Joe Jackson’s .517 SLG was moved to Arlington, where it seems a bit easy to smack the ball out… woah..