Rudolf Anderson, Jr. was born in Spartanburg, SC in September of 1927, the same year that the infamous Murderers’ Row proved to be its most effective, posting a .714 winning percentage for the regular season, and defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in four games to win the World Series. That same year Joseph Jefferson Jackson was living in south Georgia operating a dry cleaners, the Savannah Valet Service, after having managed the Waycross Coastliners to a state championship two years prior. The same season he played center field for the Coastliners batting .577, even occasionally switching sides to bat for both teams.
Years earlier, in 1919, the man who owned the Savannah Valet Service, had been know as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. He had been one of the most dramatic offensive weapons in Major League Baseball. He batted .351 for the season, fourth best in the Majors, behind Ty Cobb, Bobby Veach, and George Sisler, had 181 hits, behind only Cobb and Veach (both had 191), and led the majors in at bats per strikeout, striking out on average only once per 51.6 AB. By comparison, the 2013 leader, Nori Aoki, had one strikeout for every 14.9 AB. Putting that into math terms, Aoki struck out 3.46 times more often last season than Jackson did in 1919.
Four years after the 1919 Black Sox scandal had rocked Major League Baseball, Jackson was still playing baseball, albeit in the minor leagues in Georgia and South Carolina. During this time he was still pleading with Kennesaw Mountain Landis, named baseball’s first commissioner in 1920 in attempts to repair baseballs image, to reinstate him into the game. In 1921 a jury in Chicago found the eight men accused not guilty of any wrongdoing in relation to the series. Despite this, Landis continued his refusal to reinstate of any of the players associated with the scandal.
In 1933 Jackson moved back to his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina and played for a few minor league teams. At the same time he opened up a short lived BBQ restaurant, and later a liquor store on Pendleton Street in Greenville. Jackson operated the liquor store until his death on December 5, 1951.
In 1944, and the aforementioned Rudolf Anderson, Jr. had moved with his family to Greenville, South Carolina and he enrolled at Clemson University studying textile manufacturing. During his time at school he was involved across campus, from intramural football, basketball, swimming, and softball. Most importantly to his life and his place in history though, he was involved with the Air Force ROTC program.
Anderson did not possess the ability to catch things as well as Jackson. In his senior year Anderson was on the third floor of the campus barracks when a pigeon flew into the hall. Anderson chased the bird down the hall and failed to stop before he fell out of the window, hitting the eaves over the door on the way down. He suffered a completely dislocated wrist, fractured pelvis, and lacerations to the head.
After graduation, Anderson joined the Air Force. He served time in Korea earning two Distinguished Flying Crosses for reconnaissance missions flown over Korea in his RF-86 Sabre. Four years after the ceasefire in Korea, he qualified on the U-2 and joined the 4088th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. There he logged over 1,000 hours making him the top U-2 pilot the wing had to offer.
In 1962 a large influx of people and supplies from the USSR to Cuba, then President John F. Kennedy directed Strategic Air Command to fly reconnaissance over Cuba to investigate the nature of the shipments. The 4088th was tasked with the assignment, and after flyovers by Major Richard Heyser and Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr, photographic proof of ballistic missile sites on Cuba became available. On October 22 the President addressed the United States for nearly 18 minutes detailing the gravity of the situation.
October 14-28, better known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, saw the two superpowers, the US and USSR play a game of brinksmanship that has never been matched. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was discussed as a realistic option, whereby both parties would destroy the other with their entire nuclear arsenal, effectively ending all life. Not unlikely, was the start of World War III.
It was during this time that Major Anderson met his fate. On October 27th, Anderson was flying yet another reconnaissance mission over Cuba in a U-2 when he was shot down. It was expected that shrapnel from the explosion punctured his suit and caused it to decompress at an operating altitude of 70,000 (13.25 miles). Major Anderson would become the only combat death of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The surface to air missile that shot him down was fired without permission from the Kremlin. Both Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev quickly realized that nuclear war was rapidly becoming a reality and would likely be caused not by the leaders, but a panicky soldier or commander on the ground. The two sides quickly realized their inevitable loss of control and reeled back the hostilities, and on October 28th, the Crisis was averted. The Soviets publicly agreeing to dismantle all missile bases in Cuba, and the US publicly agreeing to not invade Cuba. Privately, the US also agreed to remove its Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy.
Major Rudolf Anderson may have been the most important death of the 20th century. His death highlighted the uncontrollable state of affairs that was unfolding and started the serious communication between the White House and the Kremlin that led to the end of the standoff. Without this dialogue, the reality of a worldwide nuclear holocaust was very real.
President Kennedy posthumously awarded Anderson the Air Force Cross. In 1963, the City of Greenville erected a memorial in honor of the downed pilot. Renovated, the monument, made from an F86-Sabre similar to the one he had flown in Korea, was unveiled again in October 2012 in Cleveland Park in Greenville, South Carolina.
Shoeless Joe has been more recently memorialized in the City of Greenville as well with a statue It can be located near Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive, Boston’s single A affiliate. Across the street from the stadium is Jackson’s house. It was moved from its original location to 356 Field Street in Greenville. The home has been transformed into the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum which is free to tour. The house was give street number 356 in recognition of his lifetime batting average, which remains the third highest all time behind Cobb(.366) and Hornsby (.359) .
Ultimately these men have only have a few things in common. Both men were able to achieve their dream, Maj. Anderson in the Air Force, and Shoeless Joe in Major League Baseball. Both men’s dreams ended abruptly, in ways that neither likely expected. The other thing that they share is Greenville. They both grew up there, and it is now where they are each buried. In fact, they are both buried in the same cemetery, Woodlawn Memorial Park. The cemetery is located across from Bob Jones University in Greenville and is open to the public.
Shoeless Joe’s place in baseball history will always be one of contention, whether he was a hero, a villain, or someone stuck in a no win situation. Maj. Anderson’s place in history, sadly, is a largely forgotten one despite his overall importance. In the words of Art LaFluer in The Sandlot “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” In their hometown of Greenville, each man is regarded as both.