Over the years, Shoeless Joe Jackson has taken on a mythical quality. Even his name suggests someone born to play ball without even the encumbrance of footwear.
He’s also been immortalized in film. The original characterization of Roy Hobbs in the book “The Natural” was based heavily on him, and some of that carried over to the movie (to wit: His named special bat). Ray Liotta played him in “Field of Dreams,” a movie based on a book called “Shoeless Joe.” And D.B. Sweeney played him in “Eight Men Out,” John Sayles’ telling of the 1919 World Series fix.
Now, another movie is in the works, this one focusing on Jackson himself, his rise from poverty in South Carolina to the major leagues and his subsequent role as either a victim of circumstance or a tragic antihero, depending on how charitable you are.
It started about eight years ago for Renee James, the film’s producer, after a chance encounter with another South Carolina native in Palm Springs. The conversation turned to Shoeless Joe.
“I was a little bit of a baseball fan,” she said. “But not as much as I am today. There was something about his story that just drew me in. I couldn’t let it go.”
She was then on the phone with a city official in Greenville and she offhandedly mentioned her research into Shoeless Joe, only to hear the voice on the other end – after an extended silence – say, “I’m the curator of the museum.” (Shoeless Joe is one of just three major league players to have his own museum, along with Roberto Clemente and Babe Ruth.)
The movie is now in what James terms “pre-development,” meaning they’re still seeking funding for the movie. James says an indiegogo campaign will start soon for fees for writers, lawyers and the things they need immediately to start production. The plan is to film the movie in South Carolina, Georgia and possibly Chicago on an aggressive schedule – optimally to have it done in time for the 100th anniversary of the 1919 World Series. The script will be written by Angelo Pizzo and the director will be David Anspaugh. They’re the team behind “Rudy” and “Hoosiers,” two other sports classics. The movie’s website has a video from Billy Bob Thornton as well offering support for the project, saying it’s an important story to tell.