With the third-highest career batting average in Major League Baseball history (.356), Joseph Jefferson “Shoeless Joe” Jackson would certainly be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame—if it weren’t for the Black Sox Scandal. He and seven teammates on the Chicago White Sox were accused of conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. They were acquitted following a jury trial in 1921, but newly appointed baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis barred them for life from professional baseball.
Debate has raged ever since over the extent of Jackson’s participation in the scheme. He claimed his teammates gave his name to the gamblers even though he hadn’t agreed to participate, and the other players admitted that Jackson never attended meetings about the fix. Though Jackson signed a confession in 1920 stating that he was paid $5,000 (out of the $20,000 he was promised), he later asserted that a team lawyer manipulated him into signing a document he didn’t fully understand. (Jackson never learned to read or write.) He also said he tried to return the money and talk to White Sox owner Charles Comiskey about the plan both before and after the series, but was rebuffed.
And finally, there’s the matter of Jackson’s play on the field. During the 1919 championship, the slugger made no errors and racked up 12 hits, a World Series record that stood until 1964. His batting average for the series (.375) was the highest on either team. If Jackson did try to throw the championship, his supporters argue, he did a pretty poor job. In any event, after the 1921 ban Jackson played “outlaw” ball under an assumed name before retiring to his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, where he eventually owned a liquor store. He made various efforts to be reinstated, all of which were denied, before his death in 1951.