Joe Jackson's "Black Betsy" Game Used Bat From Jackson Estate
After his expulsion from the majors, Joe and his 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.
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. Since then, it has been auctioned off again in 2005.
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.
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.