The story of Joe Jackson and his fall from grace is well known by all, with countless authors having chronicled the sad affair. Most of those histories, however, end with his banishment from baseball in 1921. While it is known that he then struggled to make a living by playing in "outlaw" leagues and, as rumor has it, in sanctioned leagues under different aliases, very few documents relating to his post-banishment career have ever surfaced.
Offered here is an amazing telegram, sent to Jackson in July 1923, that not only references Jackson's post-Major League playing career but, more important, shows the lengths to which Charles Comiskey, owner of the White Sox, was willing to go to further discredit him. To place the content of this telegram in its proper perspective, one must first be provided with a little background information. In late July of 1923 the Americus baseball team, a semi-pro club playing in the independent South Georgia League, was languishing at the bottom of its division. In an effort to both better its position in the standings and to increase attendance, the team arranged for Joe Jackson to join their roster. Since the South Georgia League was an independent circuit, and therefore outside the jurisdiction of Commissioner Landis' office, he was powerless to prevent Jackson from signing with the club. At the same time that Jackson was making his return to the diamond, he was also involved in a vitriolic legal dispute with Comiskey concerning $16,000 in back pay he felt was due him. Jackson's claim was predicated on his belief that the White Sox defrauded him when he signed a three-year contract in 1920 (the case, which eventually went to trial in Milwaukee the following year, centered on the validity of a ten-day termination clause contained in the contract). Thus, that was the current state of affairs in the life of Joe Jackson when, on July 30, 1923 he received this anonymous telegram out of Chicago. The two-page Western Union wire, which was sent on July 29, 1923, reads in full: JOE JACKSON - AMERICUS G[A] - COMMY SENT DICKS TO SAVANNAH TO SCARE YOU I AM IN PO[SI]TION TO KNOW BECAUSE I AM IN OFFICE WHERE REPORTS COME IN LAST REPORT W[AS] THEY HAD NOTHING ON YOU I ALWAYS FELT SORRY FOR YOU BOYS AND AM TIPPING YOU OFF TO GO RIGHT AFTER THIS FELLOW AS YOU HAVE GOT THE GOODS ON HIM [AN]D THEY KNOW IT YOUR LAWYER IN MILWUAKEE JUST WON A BIG POINT AGAINST T[HE]M AND THEY ARE SCARED [TO] DEATH THAT THE CASE WILL BE TRIED BEFORE A JURY KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT [AND] [PL]AY BALL AND LISTEN TO YOUR LAWYER AS HE IS CONSIDERED ONE OF THE [BEST] [IN] [T]HE WEST IF ANYTHING ELSE COMES IN HERE I WILL KEEP IN TOUCH WITH YOU BY WIRE BUT YOU HAVE GOT THEM ON THE RUN NOW AND GIVE THEM A GOOD BEATING AND DONT LET THESE CHEAP DICKS SCARE YOU AS THEY HAVE GOT NOTHING ON YOU TO DATE AS I KNOW FROM REPORTS I HAVE SEEN AND THEY HAVE REPORTED THAT THEY ARE UNABLE TO GET ANYTHIN[G] [O]N YOU WILL WIRE LATER IF ANYTHING TURNS UP - A FRIEND - 905A - JUL 30
While this telegram surely pleased Jackson, in that Comiskey had "come up dry" in trying to further discredit him, it does nothing to enhance Comiskey's increasingly tarnished reputation. Many historians feel that the penurious "Old Roman" was in many ways as guilty as the conspirators in the 1919 World Series scandal, due to the fact that he was well aware of the "fix" prior to its public revelation. The fact that he was never so much as reprimanded by Landis, while the players received a "life sentence," is considered by many to be one of the great miscarriages of justice in baseball history. His actions here, as revealed in this telegram, also appear to be less than upstanding.
If this telegram bothered Jackson in any way, he surely didn't let it affect his play on the field. Jackson went 2-5 with one RBI in Americus' 15-2 win over Dawson that afternoon. For the season, Jackson batted .453 and helped lead Americus to the League championship. The following year he squared off against Comiskey in court. Once again the 1919 scandal was the focal point for both sides. Just as a jury had acquitted Jackson and the other eight conspirators three years earlier, this second jury also sided with Jackson in the dispute. In a bizarre twist, however, the judge in the case refused to let their decision stand and set aside the verdict. The case was ultimately settled out of court. This telegram originates from the estate of Joe Jackson and remained in his personal possession until his death. Both pages (8 x 6.5 inches) are in Poor condition and have separated along the fold lines. A number of tears (resulting in paper loss) are displayed throughout, affecting a few words. Despite its condition, nearly all of the text remains legible and the pieces have been mounted and framed for optimal display and preservation. Total dimensions: 18.5 x 24 inches. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open).
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