"Say it ain't so, Joe" (WAS: successful fires)

Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Wed Jun 7 08:23:15 UTC 2000

Mark Mandel took this thread down a side path by citing George
Thompson's message:

     [...]  A very major gambler and criminal power-broker and financier
named Arnold Rothstein had been murdered. An Irish-born cleaning woman
who worked in the hotel where Rothstein was last alive said that she had
seen him talking to a man she described as "a big feller, and as Irish
as Paddy's pig".  The cops, reasoning shrewdly, thought that the
description was not inappropriate for George McManus, who was
considerably taller than 6 feet and who was on poor terms with
Rothstein.  Nothing came of this.  Rothstein's murder generated a lot of
heat but even more pressure to cover it up, and covered up it was.

Mark then said:

Aha! So that's the reference of one of the half-stanzas in a long poem
by Ogden Nash that I memorized many years ago:
     See Rothstein pass like breath on a glass,
     The original Black Sox kid.
     He riffles the pack, riding piggyback
     On the killer whose name he hid.
We usually associate Nash with light verse in grotesquely long,
unmetered lines with absurd rhymes, but "A Tale of the 13th Floor" is a
Halloween (or Walpurgisnacht) ghost story/morality tale, rigorously
rhymed and metered in the stanzas of Oscar Wilde's "Ballad of Reading

-- Mark

   Mark A. Mandel : Senior Linguist and Manager of Acoustic Data
          Mark_Mandel at dragonsys.com : Dragon Systems, Inc.
 320 Nevada St., Newton, MA 02460, USA : http://www.dragonsys.com/

This document was created with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

To which Laurence Horn replied:

> and for the uninitiated, the "Black Sox kid" reference in the Nash line
> Mark quotes is to Rothstein's legendary role (rumored or actually
> confirmed?) as the major figure responsible for bribing the underpaid and
> ill-treated 1919 Chicago White Sox to throw (deliberately lose) the World
> Series of that year to the heavy underdog Cincinnati Reds.  (all very well
> depicted in the John Sayles movie "Eight Men Out" from the Eliot Asinof
> book of the same name.)  This, in turn, bequeathed us "Say it ain't so,
> Joe" (supposedly a disillusioned kid beseeching Shoeless Joe Jackson, one
> of the eight bribees later permanently banned from baseball) and,
> eventually, "Field of Dreams".  Quite a legacy for Mr. Rothstein.
> larry

"Say it ain't so, Joe":

Some of the Sox were bribed to throw the 1919 World Series, and they
earned their illegal pay.  That much is certain.  Shoeless Joe Jackson
may very well have been one of the culprits. It's a matter of record
that he was banned from baseball in connection with the Black Sox
scandal.  It might be well, however, to use a word like "allegedly" when
declaring that Jackson himself either took a bribe or had a conscious
part in losing any of the 1919 World Series games.

Shoeless Joe Jackson was one of the great athletic heroes of his time.
He was so admired that his partisans refused to believe that anyone
would even dare to offer him a bribe to throw a game.  They vociferously
rejected the notion that their great hero actually did anything worse
than have a few bad days on the field during that Series. Jackson
supporters have argued, ever since, that there was no definitive proof
that Jackson was one of those who took the bribes and threw the games.

The "Say it ain't so, Joe" story -- and reports of how Jackson reacted
on hearing the question -- became part of the argument.  People on both
sides alleged that Jackson's reaction clearly settled the question in
their favor. It's an interesting case of belief triumphing over
evidence, since it's not at all certain that any disillusioned kid ever
asked Shoeless Joe the famous question in a face-to-face, live
encounter. The whole thing could have been the invention of a newspaper
reporter. In any event, the ranks of the Jackson supporters thinned
considerably when the banning decision came down.  Twenty years later,
anyone who remembered Jackson at all remembered him for his (ahem)
ALLEGED participation in the scandal.

There's a recondite reflection of the public acceptance of Jackson's
involvement in the scandal in a series of Big Band recordings made
sometime between 1938 and 1942.  In that era, Benny Goodman had an
exclusive contract to record only for RCA records. His contract also
banned the use of the name of the Benny Goodman orchestra without RCA
permission.  The ban did not keep Goodman's sidemen from making quite a
few recordings for other companies; they simply listed some other member
of the Goodman crew as the bandleader.  One remarkable series of 78 rpm
recordings lists just about all the Goodman people as performers --
except the clarinet player.  He is listed as "Shoeless John Jackson".
Nobody by that name ever played any live dates or made any other
recordings with members of the Goodman band.  It has been years since I
heard the recordings (and if you know where to get hold of a copy,
please tell me!), but my memory of the performances is that Shoeless
John Jackson had to have been Benny Goodman himself.  The name was a
deliberate giveaway, but the sound of the clarinet was unmistakable

-- mike salovesh                    <salovesh at niu.edu>

P.S.: I have a vague memory that the Ogden Nash poem has more to do with
Arnold Rothstein than a mere passing reference to his possible
involvement with the Black Sox Scandal.

What I think I recall is that Rothstein lingered at death's door for
some time, not consciously reacting to his surroundings but talking
non-stop nevertheless. Taken individually, his sentences are supposed to
have been grammatical, but the ensemble simply made no sense.  One
recurring theme was something about "shuffle and deal".  If my memory is
connected to the real facts at all, there was supposed to have been a
police stenographer writing down whatever Rothstein said in his dying
delirium, in hopes that he would at least name his killer.  (Or, as
elaborated in fictional reports of his death, in hopes that he might
either incriminate some of his associates or reveal where and how he had
hidden the bulk of his illicit wealth.) If Rothstein did reveal anything
in his ravings, nobody was able to make sense of what he said. Hence
Nash's "The killer whose name he hid".

The story I report in this postscript is FWIW.  I wouldn't know where or
how to start searching for confirmation or contradiction; it's just a
fugitive memory from I don't know where.  The story of Benny Goodman
recording as "Shoeless John Jackson", on the other hand, is fairly well
known to dedicated Goodman fans.

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