How Did Shoeless Joe Jackson Get His Nickname?

Shoeless Joe Jackson first stepped up to bat as a professional baseball player in 1908, with baseball cleats on his feet. In fact, when he first began his baseball career, he was simply known as Joe Jackson, an exceptional hitter. By the time he was a teenager, Jackson was hitting circles around more seasoned baseball players, knocking out home runs and maintaining a .350 batting average during his first year with the Carolina Association's Greenville Spinners (via the Chicago Historical Society). While that is certainly remarkable, Jackson's batting average was not the most memorable thing to come out of that first season. Instead, he emerged with his famous nickname that trailed him through his whole career.

In 1908, the not-yet-shoeless Joe was playing a mill game with the Spinners. Jackson had recently purchased a new pair of baseball cleats, and they were causing him a great amount of discomfort. He tried the cleats out the day before, only to find that they caused blisters and irritation of his feet so severe that he could no longer even bear to wear the shoes, according to Biography. For an ordinary player, this might be enough to keep him on the bench until his injuries cleared up. However, thanks to his hitting prowess, Jackson's coach still wanted him in the line-up, despite his discomfort.

Shoeless Joe influenced Babe Ruth

So when it came time for him to bat, Jackson did what any reasonable person would do: He removed his uncomfortable, blister-inducing cleats and went up to bat in just his stocking feet. While that may be unusual in and of itself, that one-off decision may have been lost to history if Jackson had batted poorly. But he didn't. In the seventh inning, Jackson hit a triple, and began rounding the bases in his socks. Reportedly, one fan called out from the bleachers "You shoeless sonofagun you!" (via the Chicago Historical Society). Although he never again played without shoes, the nickname stuck, and from then on, Jackson became known as "Shoeless Joe."

Shoeless Joe Jackson was eventually traded to the Chicago White Sox, and his baseball career began to take off. He was an exceptional hitter, influencing none other than the Great Bambino himself. "I copied (Shoeless Joe) Jackson's style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen, the greatest natural hitter I ever saw. He's the guy who made me a hitter," Babe Ruth once said of Jackson's influence, via Biography.

Shoeless Joe was eventually banned from the sport for life

Shoeless Joe would likely have left behind a remarkable baseball legacy, except his reputation was marred in 1919, when he was embroiled in a cheating scandal. Fed up with being consistently underpaid by the White Sox owner, Charles Comiskey, Jackson and eight other team members were accused of accepting payments of up to $20,000 in exchange for throwing the 1919 World Series. The players were to be paid out in $5,000 installments, but they began to balk when the gamblers that were backing the fix were stalling on their payments, according to History. The players then decided to abandon the fix and played the rest of the series to win, but it was too little, too late, and the Cincinnati Reds ended up taking home their first pennant.

When news of the scandal broke, Jackson denied involvement, and the players were ultimately acquitted in court. However, Shoeless Joe and the eight other players were still banned from professional baseball for life by the baseball commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landiz, and Jackson's career was brought to an untimely end, per Biography. Although he made several attempts to be reinstated, including an attempt to be accepted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he was never successful. While Shoeless Joe is remembered for his unusual lack of footwear, and his exceptional talent, the unfortunate cheating scandal remains a black mark on his legacy.