Shoeless Joe was well received by reviewers. Barry Schweld, in Library Journal, called it a "triumph of imagination … the tone is gentle and sweet." Schweld compared the novel to the work of Bernard Malamud Robert Coover and others, concluding that like those writers, Kinsella had spun a "wonderful myth out of the ritual of baseball." Publisher's Weekly declared it to be "the most imaginative and original baseball novel since The Natural," and concluded, "fanciful, if somewhat lightweight, the novel attests to the timeless game and the power of love." Maggie Lewis in Christian Science Monitor joined the chorus of praise, commenting that "Kinsella does wonders in this book: The visual fantasies are so rich that whether you believe them or not, you can't help imagining them."
William Plummer in Newsweek was a little more tough-minded. He called Shoeless Joe a "wonderfully hokey first novel," adding that the subplots "are a hasty pudding" and the Salinger of the novel was not "smart or quirky enough" to have created the character Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. However, Plummer concluded that "such complaints seem mean-spirited, tin-eared, in the face of the novel's lovely minor music."
Shoeless Joe has gained lasting popularity with the reading public, owing in part to the success of the movie Field of Dreams (1989). Literary critics have given it less attention, although several scholarly articles have explored such topics as Kinsella's baseball metaphors, his presentation of different attitudes to religion, and his social conservatism. There is a general consensus that the book is Kinsella's finest achievement in the realm of baseball fiction, a subgenre to which he has devoted much of his writing career.