That was the day “Shoeless Joe” Jackson supposedly admitted to a grand jury that he was one of eight Chicago White Sox baseball players who took bribes to let the Cincinnati Reds win the 1919 World Series.
It came to be known as the “Black Sox scandal” and it was devastating for baseball fans.
On that September 28th in 1920, a crowd of fans were gathered outside the Cook County Courthouse where Jackson was testifying. Word spread among them that their hero had admitted he’d helped throw the series to the Reds.
According to legend, as Jackson left the courthouse, a heartbroken young boy went up to him and begged: “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
I say “legend” because there are holes in this old story.
There’s no court record of Jackson admitting he was involved in fixing the game – and he always denied it. In fact, in 1921, he was found innocent by a Chicago jury.
In addition, quotation experts have determined that the legendary quote is a misquote of a quote that was probably fabricated by a reporter in the first place.
One of the best overviews of the facts is in Ralph Keyes’ terrific quote debunking book, Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations.
As noted by Keyes, an Associated Press sportswriter named Hugh Fullerton was at the courthouse when Shoeless Joe left it that day.
In the original version of the story he filed, Fullerton wrote that a young kid approached Jackson as he emerged and said: “It ain’t so, Joe, is it?” Fullerton wrote that Jackson replied “Yes, kid, I’m afraid it is.”
Somehow, by 1940, “It ain’t so, Joe, is it?” had morphed into “Say it ain’t so, Joe” in rewritten accounts of the incident.
But no other eyewitness accounts corroborate either version of the quote. And, Jackson himself denied any such thing was said to him by a kid or anyone else that day.
So, basically, the quote and story were apparently made up by a reporter – and then distorted further in later press accounts.
Hmmm. Somehow, I am not surprised.
Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to SEPTEMBER 28:
• “Progress is our most important product.” - Famed (and mocked) ad slogan of the General Electric Company. GE’s trademark filing for the slogan says it was first used in commerce on September 28, 1952.
• “Make it so!” - The catchphrase of Patrick Stewart as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, in the science fiction TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, which first aired on September 28, 1987.