“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

One of the most famous quotes in sports history is linked to the date September 28, 1920.

On that day, “Shoeless Joe” Jackson supposedly admitted during testimony 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 scandaland it was devastating for baseball fans.

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.”

It’s legend rather than fact because there are holes in key aspects of the story.

For one thing, there’s no court record of Jackson ever admitting he was involved in fixing the game — and, publicly, he always denied it.

In 1921, Jackson was found innocent by a Chicago jury.

In addition, other players who admitted to being on the take said Jackson was not at any of the meetings they had with the gamblers involved.

What about the tear-jerking line by the crushed kid?

Quotation experts have determined 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’ must-have 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, the words “It ain’t so, Joe, is it?” morphed into “Say it ain’t so, Joe” in rewritten accounts of the incident.

Then it became legend.

Eventually, it became an idiomatic expression used humorously as a comment about some disappointing revelation or bad news.

However, no other eyewitness accounts corroborate either version of the alleged quotation by the young baseball fan.

Jackson himself always 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 further distorted in later accounts.

In recent decades, public awareness of the “Black Sox Scandal” and “Shoeless Joe” Jackson has been renewed by various books and movies, most notably by two best-selling books that were adapted into hit movies: Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams.

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