Joe Jackson is back in baseball. Not Shoeless Joe, of course, but his great-great-great nephew who happens to bear the same name.The Texas Rangers selected Jackson in the fifth round of this year’s First-Year Player Draft and wasted little time in signing the catcher out of the The Citadel. They sent area scout Chris Kemp with a contract in hand to Jackson’s home in South Carolina hours after they selected him.Jackson didn’t think twice about beginning his professional baseball career once Kemp arrived, but made sure he wore one thing when he signed his contract — the 1917 World Series ring that his great-great-great uncle won with the Chicago White Sox.Two years after winning that ring, Shoeless Joe was linked to the infamous Black Sox scandal in which eight players, including Jackson, were accused of fixing the World Series. All were banished from the game after the 1920 season by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.There have been disputes about Shoeless Joe’s involvement in the fix, but he remains on the ineligible list. Years later, Joe Jackson takes pride in being the first descendant of Shoeless Joe to get back into baseball.His great-grandfather and grandfather played ball, but never made it to the professional ranks. His dad focused on golf and is a teaching pro.Jackson also wore the World Series ring when he signed to play at The Citadel, but signing a professional contract felt different.“It was really surreal, to be honest,” Jackson said. “Over the past few years I’ve really realized how special it is to carry the name. It’s definitely something my family and I are proud of.”Jackson has heard that Shoeless Joe’s case for reinstatement remains under review, but nothing has been overturned. But as Jackson knows, Shoeless Joe’s career and legacy might be better known than the majority of players who are in the Hall of Fame. After all, Hollywood has made movies, such as Field of Dreams, based on Shoeless Joe.Jackson enjoys the recognition his famed relative receives. He has heard countless stories about Shoeless Joe from his grandparents and a few family friends such as Joe Anders, who learned how to hit from Shoeless Joe.But Jackson is now focused on his career and making the most of his opportunity with the Rangers.Jackson was drafted in the 50th round by the Royals out of Mauldin (S.C.) High School in 2010 but opted to play at The Citadel, a non-affiliated military school.The military lifestyle helped Jackson develop on and off the field, and it didn’t take long for him to become a key piece of the team. He played in 54 of 56 games as a freshman and started all 58 his sophomore season.Last season, Jackson, a left-handed batter, played in all 60 games and had a team-leading .386 average with 13 home runs and 67 RBIs.Jackson has transformed significantly since high school, putting on 25 pounds and being regarded as a player who would certainly be drafted in the first 10 rounds this year.“The big thing with Joe is his overall makeup and instincts,” said Kemp, the Rangers’ area scout. “He has some edge to him and some toughness and has an old-school mentality to him. Kids like that are rare nowadays, so that really stood out. And then you can obviously talk about the bloodlines.”Kemp praised Jackson for his durability, although said he might have jinxed it because Jackson suffered a freak injury on his first day with the Rangers.Jackson was catching bullpen sessions at the Rangers’ complex in Arizona, and a ball popped up and slightly fractured his right (throwing) thumb. He has since recovered and made his debut with Short A Spokane earlier this month.“Man, it’s awesome to be in the Rangers organization and playing in Spokane,” Jackson said. “It’s just awesome.”Somewhere, Shoeless Joe has to be smiling.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @drewdavison