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Joe jackson's “black betsy” game used bat from jackson estate

  • USA
  • 2005-12-10
About the object
“Shoeless Joe Jackson” Joseph Jefferson Jackson was the eldest of George and Martha Jackson's eight children. As a child Joe worked alongside his father in a textile mill in Brandon Mill, S.C. devoting little time to school. Outside of the mill his interests centered on the game of baseball, and by 13 Joe was starring on the mill's baseball team. Of the formal education he’d all but dismissed, Joe would later say, “I ain't afraid to tell the world that it don't take school stuff to help a fella play ball." Jackson began playing semipro ball at age 18 and quickly advanced to the minors. It was here that he earned his nickname "Shoeless Joe," after playing a game in his stockings because a new pair of spikes had given him blisters on his feet the previous day. Jackson plied his trade as a minor leaguer, (playing occasionally in the big leagues from 1908-1910) developing a swing so pure that Babe Ruth would later admit to copying it. For a man of average size, Jackson showed profound strength, wielding a bat of unusual size, that he affectionately dubbed “Black Betsy”. His unlimited gifts for the game included an arm that could throw a runner out at home plate from 400 feet, and a glove that was called “the place where triples go to die.” In 1911, his first full season in the majors, Jackson batted a remarkable .408 for the Cleveland Indians, setting a rookie record that still stands. In 1915, Jackson was traded to the Chicago White Sox for two undistinguished players and $31,500 to help the financially foundering Cleveland franchise. The trade paid off for owner Charles Comiskey as Jackson went on to help the White Sox to a six-game victory over the New York Giants in the 1917 World Series. At the height of his career, Jackson was an indomitable force at the plate, poised to leave a legacy as one of the game’s all-time greats. Banishment The illiterate mill worker’s son from the hills of South Carolina, gave every shred of himself to the game of baseball and became one the sport’s most celebrated stars. In spite of this, the legacy of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson remains a sad one, tainted by association with the infamous "Black Sox Scandal" of the 1919 World Series. In response to suspicions that the White Sox had thrown the series under the influence of sports bookies, baseball commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis banned Joe Jackson and seven of his teammates for life, sending a no-tolerance message regarding the presence of gambling in baseball. Of all the players, Jackson's involvement in the conspiracy seemed the least plausible, as his on-field stats were sparkling -- a .375 batting average and a perfect fielding percentage during the series. A jury later acquitted Jackson of the charges, and despite holding the third highest lifetime batting average in baseball history at .356, the legendary outfielder remains permanently barred from induction to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He could run, hit, and throw the best of them in both leagues, but he lacked judgment, education, and common sense. Being unable to read and write put this Southerner at a distinct disadvantage. Totally out of place in the big city, Joe probably did accept the promise of $5,000 to fix the games. If he chose to ignore the promises, his .375 World Series batting average was not enough to exonerate him. It was a pure tragedy of baseball and the American way of life.   Joe Jackson's “Black Betsy” Game Used Bat From Jackson Estate   “Black Betsy” After his expulsion from the majors, Joe and wife Katherine settled in Savannah, Georgia, where he opened a successful dry cleaning operation and continued to wield his “Black Betsy” for semipro and industrial league teams in the area. The game was ingrained in his heart and soul and, in 1929, the Jacksons moved to Greenville, SC, where Joe would don the uniform of the local nine, the Greenville Spinners. Jackson had fallen from grace in the eyes of some, but had become a folk hero to many. His nickname “Shoeless Joe”, his infamy, and even the identity of his famous bat “Black Betsy” contributed to that folklore. Of the latter, no other player in sports history ever had a piece of equipment with its own identity of the magnitude of Joe Jackson’s bat. It was during Joe’s time with the Greenville Spinners in the early 1930’s, that the story was recorded of this historic “Black Betsy” bat. Joe Thompson, who would later author the book “Growing Up With Shoeless Joe - The Greatest Natural Player in Baseball History” was the Sports Editor of the Greenville News-Piedmont newspaper at that time and conducted several personal interviews with Jackson concerning his life in baseball. One such interview resulted in an August 1, 1932 column bearing the headline “Famed Chisox Slugger Here; In Good Shape – Recalls Early Playing Days in Greenville; Tells True Story of How He Got ‘Black Betsy’. The article included the following excerpts; “Shoeless Joe" Jackson - one of the greatest sluggers of them all, the man who taught Babe Ruth how to hit - strode the streets of the old home town again today and recalled his early playing days here with Brandon Mill and the Greenville Spinners. Joe will don his baseball harness again Wednesday to give the home folks an eyeful of the modern Joe Jackson. He will play in his old position, center field, for the Greenville Spinners here Wednesday afternoon. Joe has his famous bat "Black Betsy" with him, and he will use the bludgeon in the game Wednesday. The bat is 24 years old, and has never been broken. It was with this bat that Jackson made all his hitting records, one of them, a World Series record, still standing and tied only by Pepper Martin in the last series. Jackson recalled today how he first showed Babe Ruth how to stand properly at the plate to hit. The Babe borrowed Joe's Black Betsy on several occasions, and loaned Jackson one of his bludgeons. Babe was with the Boston Red Sox at the time. For our own special benefit, Joe explained just how he secured "Black Betsy." There had been so many conflicting stories of the famous bat, that we were naturally curious to know the true story. ‘The bat was given to me by old Cap'n Martin, who drove one of the first street cars in Greenville,’ Joe said. ‘The bat was whittled out of hickory, but I don't know just where the Cap'n got hold of it. I sent it to the Spaulding baseball company and they finished it for me and stamped their label on it. I've had it ever since and it's never been broke, although it's getting old now and I expect it any time. I used to keep it soaked in a barrel of oil, but lately it's just been thrown by my desk in Savannah." He will don a Greenville uniform Wednesday for the first time in 20 years. He broke into baseball here in 1908. Other publicly documented references to “Black Betsy” include a September 23, 1951 article in the New Orleans Times Picayune that documents the bat’s distinctive feature of having a slight curvature. Soon after Joe’s banishment, he played in Bastrop, LA (1922) and in Americus, GA (1923). The article recounts the great teams in Bastrop during 1922 and 1923, mentioning Joe’s days with them in 1922 and describing “Betsey” in the article; “’The bat was incidentally something else’, Says Montgomery (teammate): ‘In that old leather case Joe carried two bats, one of which- his favorite –was a home-made affair slightly sprung with a curve in it. He wouldn’t let anybody touch it. He sure made it talk. I remember once I ordered two new Louisville Sluggers. We were practicing when they arrived and I handed one to Joe to try. He hit a couple balls with it and silently added it to his leather case, I never saw it again’” Two photographs that were taken of Jackson in 1932 show him in uniform with the Greenville Spinners holding “Black Betsy”.  In both, the bat’s immediately identifiable characteristics, including its curvature and distinctive handle tape provide an exact photo match. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and his wife Katie would reside in Greenville, S.C. until Joe’s death on December 5th, 1951. At that time “Black Betsy” and the rest of Joe’s property were bequeathed to his widow. Upon her passing in 1959, Katie Jackson willed the bat to her 13 year-old cousin Lester Erwin who would be its keeper for 42 years. In a notarized letter drafted and signed by Erwin in 2001, he states in part;     “Mr. Jack Abbot, the Executor of the estate of Katie Jackson, delivered the bat to my house shortly after Katie’s death in 1959. I was 13 years old at the time. This bat was in the home of Joe Jackson until his death and it was his favorite bat. My cousin Katie would tell the family, including myself as a small boy, that Joe kept this bat because it was special to him and he referred to it as “Black Betsy”. Joe instructed Katie to leave it to me upon her death and it has been in my family, either at my Dad’s house as I was growing up, or at my house for the last 42 years. This has been enjoyed by my friends and family in remembrance of my cousin’s husband Joe Jackson, the greatest ball player of all time.” Lester Erwin sold “Black Betsy” at public auction in 2001, where it was bought by a private collector for a then record price of $577,610. It has been consigned to this auction on behalf of its current owner. To this day Joe Jackson remains one of baseball’s most mythical figures. Baseball historians remember him as one of the games most gifted performers, and growing legions of forgiving fans campaign relentlessly and fruitlessly to have him officially recognized as such in Cooperstown. Estimate Upon Request   Articles of Provenance Included: A copy of the Greenville Piedmont article from Aug. 1, 1932 as well as a notarized document from The Greenville County Library acknowledging its source. Copies of two circa.1932 photos of Jackson holding the bat with the Greenville Spinners. A notarized letter from Jack Abbot, executor of Katie Jackson’s estate. A notarized letter of provenance from Lester Erwin. A copy of Katie Jackson’s will, specifically referencing the bat.  A copy of the September 23, 1951 New Orleans Times Picayune article. Two separate letters of authenticity from independent bat authenticators MEARS (Troy Kinunen and Dave Bushing, Grade A 9.5) and PSA/DNA.   Bat Specifications: manufacturer: Unknown, and was sent to the Spalding Sporting Goods Co. for finishing, wherein said company stamped their logo on the knob and “Old Hickory” label on the barrel. bat weight: Approximately 40 ozs. bat length: Approximately 34.5 in. wood: Hickory finish: Slightly darkened on the barrel as a result of oil soaking, hence the “Black” in “Black Betsy”    cracks/repairs/features: Slight handle crack, repaired by Jackson with tape. Jackson was known to continue using the bat after it was cracked, however its most significant feature is that it is curved. The curve has been referred to by Jackson’s contemporaries as having been “slightly sprung with a curve or crook”. The curve is believed to have been caused by the “seasoning” of the wood, which was originally made from “unseasoned” hickory.

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* Note that the price doesn’t correlate with today’s value, but only relates to the actual end price at the time of the purchase.

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