This article was originally published in the June 2016 edition of the SABR Black Sox Research Committee newsletter.
In December 2015, SABR’s Biographical Research Committee released its bi-monthly newsletter, which includes a list of all changes made to players’ vital stats. Through the diligence of many researchers digging for new information, updates or corrections are made for dates of birth and death, burial information, or — in rare cases — name changes.
One name on the December list in particular caught my eye:
That is Shoeless Joe Jackson … with his middle name officially changed from Jefferson to Walker. This was news to me!
Committee member Bill Lamb brought the change to my attention, and we both wondered where this new piece of information had come from. It wasn’t long before we found out. SABR member Jimmy Keenan, a frequent contributor to the SABR BioProject and other publications, sent me an e-mail to explain his findings:
Previously listed as Jefferson I found the following information stating that Joe Jackson’s middle name is actually Walker.
1. Joe Jackson’s own words in a newspaper interview stating that his middle name is Walker.
(Washington Herald, August 11, 1912, p. 26)
2. Joe Jackson’s grave marker showing the letter W. as his middle initial.
(Joe Jackson’s page on Find-a-Grave site)
3. Joe Jackson’s Death Certificate stating his name as Joseph W. Jackson.
(Death Certificate issued by the state of South Carolina)
4. Jos W. Shoeless Jackson
(Greenville County, South Carolina Obituary Index, 1914 – 1992 on Ancestry.com)
Keenan submitted his findings to Bill Carle of SABR’s Biographical Research Committee, who passed it on to Baseball-Reference.com. Jackson’s Baseball-Reference.com page, which uses the SABR bio database as its primary source for all vital stats, now lists “Walker” as his middle name.
But was that actually Joe Jackson’s middle name? Further investigation seems to be warranted.
Before we look at the evidence for “Walker,” let’s examine Jackson’s well-known middle name of “Jefferson,” which seems to have no clear origins. Unfortunately, no birth certificate was required in South Carolina when Jackson was born in 1887 — or perhaps 1888, since his date of birth is also disputed — so there is no official record of his full name. According to Mike Nola of BlackBetsy.com, the Jackson family Bible, which likely contained the most reliable information about who was born and when, was lost in a fire many years ago.
However, it’s difficult to find any reference to “Jefferson” as Jackson’s middle name that doesn’t come from often-unreliable media reports (or the books and articles that cite them.) The earliest reference I’ve seen for Jefferson is an April 1915 wire-service article, reprinted here in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in New York. Nola also pointed out this 1917 batting trophy, presumably commissioned by the White Sox and produced by the Spalding sporting goods company, that was presented to “Joseph J. Jackson.” So someone in baseball must have thought his name was Jefferson.
But none of the legal documents from later in Jackson’s life use the name Jefferson. His death certificate, his will, and even his driver’s licenses just use the initial W. That leads us back to Walker.
The evidence that Keenan has presented for changing Jackson’s middle name includes the death certificate, which is viewable on BlackBetsy.com, and the grave marker at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Greenville, which is viewable at FindAGrave.com. Both of these use the initial W for Jackson’s middle name.
He also has cited two newspaper articles in which the name “Walker” is specifically mentioned. The first is an interview published in the Washington Herald on August 11, 1912. After a section describing Jackson’s hitting exploits and physical appearance, writer J.A. Fitzgerald peppers Jackson with “a little ‘red school house’ stuff,” seeking insight into his background. Here is the full passage about his middle name:
“What is your complete name?”
“Just plain ‘Joe’ Jackson.”
“There must be more of it.”
“Do you want me to stretch it to a double?”
“Keep right on going. It’s a passed ball.”
“Joseph Walker Jackson, but don’t print the Walker part, will you?”
“Walker out stealing.”
“Nice work, old pal. Gee, you fielded that one clean, all right. Say, I’ve got nothing against Walker, but I like plain ‘Joe’ better. Joseph Walker Jackson has a kind of one legged sound. I never pull it unless they’ve got me in a hole.”
“Where did they hang it on you?”
“Greenville, South Carolina. Population almost 40,000. Clean, healthy, sanitary city. Fine streets, splendid schools and churches. First class police and fire protection. Rents reasonable. Capitalists looking for manufacturing sites would do well to — ”
“I couldn’t help soaking that one. I’m a member of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.”
The interview continues with more corny baseball jargon mixed with some basic information about Jackson’s life and baseball history. While it’s extremely unlikely that Jackson said these exact words — newspapers in that era were much looser about how they attributed direct quotations — it’s unclear how much of the information did come from Jackson and how accurate the story is about the Walker name.
Keenan provided one additional article in which Walker is mentioned as Jackson’s middle name. A Cleveland Plain Dealer story from April 16, 1912, includes a fan letter from a man in Kansas City who wants to name his son after Joe Jackson. The ballplayer reportedly replied that “his full and complete cognomen is Joseph Walker Jackson.”
That article was cited by author David Fleitz in the book Shoeless: The Life and Times of Joe Jackson (McFarland & Co., 2001). However, Fleitz claims that the Plain Dealer reporter “obviously … misinterpreted Joe’s southern drawl” and that “he always used Wofford as his middle name.”
Mike Nola of BlackBetsy.com offers a different explanation for where Walker comes from:
“Walker was a nickname given to Joe by his brothers and it is rumored to have been used by Joe as his last name in 1922 when playing some games under assumed names up North. I have never found any reference to Joe using Walker as his last name, but I do KNOW that Walker was a nickname given to him by either Dave or Jerry at an early age, most likely Dave. … All my research talking with Jackson family members is that his brother Dave gave him that nickname when he was still playing in the mill leagues.”
According to Nola, author Tom Perry has said that Joe played under the name “Jefferson Walker” after he was banned from organized baseball in 1921. But no documentation has emerged so far to verify that claim.
Nola says, “It was and is well known among the Jackson clan that Joe’s middle name was Wofford or Jefferson … depending on who you talk to, and that Walker was a nickname given him by either Dave or Jerry.” Nola visited Joe’s sister Gertrude several times before she died in 2000, and other family members are frequently involved with events at the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville.
All three of Jackson’s primary biographers, Fleitz in Shoeless, Donald Gropman in Say It Ain’t So Joe! (1979), and Harvey Frommer in Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball (1992) claimed that his full name was “Joseph Jefferson Wofford Jackson,” although it’s unclear exactly where this double middle name came from. Fleitz’s SABR biography of Jackson, which appeared in our 2015 book Scandal on the South Side: The 1919 Chicago White Sox, used “Jefferson Wofford,” as well.
Wofford is a significant name in Jackson’s home state of South Carolina, especially in the Upstate region near Greenville. In the 1770s, the Wofford family settled in Spartanburg, located about 30 miles northeast of where Jackson was born, and later established an independent liberal arts university there.
But there seems to be even less documentation for Wofford as Joe’s middle name than there is for Jefferson or Walker. While most of Jackson’s aforementioned legal forms do use the initial W, none of them explicitly say Wofford. No Jackson interviews have surfaced (yet) that use Wofford, either.
Nola has suggested one other compelling element to support the Wofford name. In 1920, just four days before Joe Jackson testified before a grand jury in Chicago, his brother Lee Earl Jackson had a son, who took ill and died less than a year later. According to family lore, the boy was named after his uncle, Shoeless Joe. His grave marker at Graceland Cemetery in West Greenville reads:
JOSEPH WOFFORD JACKSON
Sept. 24, 1920
Aug. 21, 1921
So after all this, are we any closer to a consensus on Joe Jackson’s middle name? How should he be listed in the SABR bio database and at Baseball-Reference.com? Perhaps we’ll be able to solve this moniker mystery someday.