Jackson was supremely gifted in his baseball ability and supremely limited in his ability to deal with real life. He could hit, run, and throw with the best but he lacked education, judgment, and character. When his limitations overcame his gifts, it was a tragedy of both baseball and American life.
Joe was an illiterate son of the cotton-town South, ignorant of city ways, easy to ridicule for everything but his baseball talent. The Athletics, his first ML team, turned him sullen and ineffective with their cruel, mocking humor. Manager Connie Mack gave up on him and shipped him to Cleveland for a mediocre outfielder, Bris Lord.
His Cleveland teammates accepted Jackson as he was and treated him well. He responded with the great years of his career. A graceful natural hitter (supposedly Babe Ruth patterned his batting stance on Jackson’s), he hit for power in an age of slap hitters, yet kept his BA near the top. In 1911, his first full season, he hit .408, then followed with .395, .373, and a mere .338 in 1914. He was unerring in the field, had a powerful and accurate arm, and ran the bases with savvy.
Money troubles forced Cleveland to trade him to the White Sox in 1915 for three undistinguished players and $31,500. He hit less well for the Sox but still reigned as the star of the powerful team Comiskey had assembled. He contributed an uncharacteristically low .301 to the championship 1917 Sox but hit .351 with 96 RBI for the 1919 pennant winners. In 1920, he had one of his greatest seasons (.392, 12 HR, 121 RBI), but everything crashed with the revelation of the Black Sox scandal.
Friends pointed to his .375 WS average as evidence that he’d played on the square, but Jackson had undoubtedly accepted the promise of $5,000 to fix the games. Banned from baseball for life, he returned to his small South Carolina town, started a dry-cleaning business, and prospered. Occasionally he swung “Black Betsy,” his famous bat, in sandlot and outlaw games. In time, he retrieved some of his dignity if not the glory. Locally, he was warmly regarded at his death.