Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Say it ain't so, Joe"

Shoeless Joe Jackson
 As the great Chicago baseball player, Shoeless Joe Jackson, who got caught up in the “Black Sox" World Series of 1919 scandal, was leaving the courthouse, a young fan uttered that immortal phrase, “Say it ain't so, Joe.” Everyone is familiar with that line, but no one knows who the kid was who said it.

 Until now.

As a lifelong student of detective science and having read the entire series of Hardy Boy Mysteries TWICE, I feel that I'm uniquely qualified, and have indeed solved this mystery after all these years.

 It was a kid named GEORGE.

The time frame fits perfectly. George was 10 years old and living in Chicago in 1919. He was a huge fan of his hometown team. He hardly ever missed a game. He was always hanging around the ballpark. Every player in the lockeroom knew him. The phrase, “leave us alone, kid,” meant nothing to him. It just went right over his head every time. The players once agreed to sign a bat he owned on the condition that he stop bothering them.

 He didn't. But he kept the bat.

 When George grew, correct that, he never grew most men he just became an older kid. He moved to Washington in the early 30's, started raising a family and by the 1950's had become a very successful Television executive. But his true love was still sports. As you know, the word “fan” is short for fanatic.

That was George.

Eddie LeBaron (L) George Marshall (middle), George (R)
He showed the Washington sports teams the Chicago way of “fandom." and gave them a taste of what it must have been like for the Black Sox. But the major difference was the Senators and the Redskins couldn't just say, “Get lost, kid “ like the Chicago players could. “The kid” was now the one who signed their lucrative TV contracts.

Ted Williams and George
Richard Nixon, George, Mike Nixon
(Redskin Coach in 1959)
Besides, George was very likable and the “Skins” and the Senators soon learned that he knew as much or more about their sport than they did. So no one objected to his being part of Redskin's training camp for two weeks each summer and traveling with the team for all the out of town games or regularly helping out with batting practice during the Senators Spring Training Camp.

 George became my father in law when Linda and I got married in 1963. Neither of us were surprised when in 1965 our son John's first words sounded remarkably like he was reciting some one's batting average. As he grew older it was obvious that some kind of “baseball card gene” had been passed from Grandaddy to grandson. John's card collection became a legend among his friends , thanks to grandaddy George, who was the ultimate collector. He saved everything!

Honus Wagner
 He once had cards going back to the earliest days of baseball. And yes, his collection included a Honus Wagner card. (The most valuable baseball card in existence because it was originally printed by a tobacco company and Wagner hated tobacco so he made the company “pull” the card. As a result, only 25 or so still exist. One sold recently for 1.8 million dollars.)

 I asked a sports memorabilia expert one time how much that autographed Black Sox bat would be worth today....and his best guess was, “priceless.”

 Like I said, George never threw anything away! Unfortunately, though, he came home from college one weekend to hear his Mother proudly proclaim that she had finally “gotten rid of all that junk in the attic”

" Say it ain't so, George."


Even though the "priceless" bat and the Honus Wagner card were included in the "junk" that George's Mom threw away, he started his collection all over again.  Those were the cards that our son, John, inherited. I'm no expert, but I believe the entire collection would be much more valuable if George had kept the "gum" instead of the cards.

During the 1919 series Joe Jackson had 12 hits (a Series record) and a .375 batting average—leading individual statistics for both teams. He committed no errors and threw out a runner at the plate. The Pickins, SC native was later acquitted by a jury, but the legendary outfielder remains an outcast from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.)