"Say It Ain't So, Joe"


“Say It Ain't So, Joe”
Written by Murray Head (1975)
Performed by Murray Head

The Music

In 1973, British singer-songwriter-actor Murray Head saw a documentary about Richard Nixon, who was then months away from his post-Watergate resignation. Head was struck by a moment in the film when an editor of a small town newspaper was talking about his readers who still supported the president despite so much condemning evidence. The editor compared Nixon's situation to that of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, the famous baseball player who was banned from the Majors after being accused of taking a bribe to throw the 1919 World Series.

Legend goes that after Jackson was banned, a young fan approached him and said, “Say it ain't so, Joe.” Head borrowed that  phrase for the title of a beautifully yearning ballad that was later covered by Roger Daltrey of The Who. In 2013, Head hit the charts a second time with a re-recorded version of the song.

Here's his original 1975 recording:

The History

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Born in 1888 to a poor South Carolina family, Joseph Jefferson Jackson fell in love with baseball at a young age. His natural gifts for the game were such that by the time he was thirteen, he was playing on a local team alongside men twice his age. Joe could throw a ball over 300 feet. He could make spectacular diving catches in the field. And he could hit anything that was thrown at him, and hit it far.

In 1908, Joe started playing semi-pro ball with the Greenville Spinners. During a double-header, he was wearing a new pair of spiked shoes that wore painful blisters on his heels. In the second game, he took them off. The story goes that after he hit a triple and pulled into third base in his bare feet, someone in the stands yelled, “You shoeless son-of-a-gun!” Though that was the only time Jackson ever played a game without shoes, the nickname stuck.

Dirty Socks

Later that year, Jackson started playing in the majors, first with the Philadelphia Athletics, then with the Cleveland Naps. In 1910, he batted .408, the highest average ever for a rookie. In 1915, he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox.

As depicted in the acclaimed film Eight Men Out, the White Sox were one of the best teams in baseball. But they were also saddled with a tyrannical and miserly general manager named Charles Comiskey. A former ball player himself, Comiskey was credited with being the first person to train players to change their field positions according to a batter's hitting habits. But as a manager, he underpaid his players and cut corners in every aspect of running the franchise. When Comiskey decided to save money by reducing the number of times uniforms were laundered each week, his team got the nickname “Black Sox.”

Of course, baseball in 1919 was nothing like it is today, with free agents and million dollar contracts. Players had what was called a “reserve clause” in their contracts that prevented them from changing teams without the permission of the owners. Further, there was no union to protect players' interests. For all that, Comiskey wasn't much worse than any other general manager. But his abrasive personality rubbed his players the wrong way. And their bitterness towards him set the stage for what happened in the World Series.

So too did the dissension in the ranks of the White Sox. The team was divided into two opposing factions—one led by second baseman Eddie Collins, the other by first baseman Chick Gandil. Collins' guys were more educated and sophisticated and had negotiated higher salaries for themselves. Gandil's were less polished, and underpaid.

It was Gandil who reportedly approached a gambler named Joe Sullivan about the idea of fixing the Series. Sullivan was connected with several gangsters in Chicago. The set-up was that each player would receive $10,000 for giving less than their best over the first three games. It guaranteed that the White Sox would lose to the Reds. Gandil, who was 33 years old and ready to retire, saw this as a way to get out of the game with some big money.

Dirty Stakes

Gambling had been part of major league baseball since its beginnings in the 1860s. And Chicago being a hotbed of organized crime, there were certainly plenty of hustlers skirting around the White Sox organization. Comiskey had even posted signs in his stadium that said, “No Betting In This Ball Park.”

Gandil recruited at least seven teammates to join him in the fix. And this brings us back to Shoeless Joe Jackson. When he was approached by Gandil—and according to later testimony—Jackson was promised $20,000 to participate. He agreed to take the money, once he was convinced that all his teammates were on board. After the fourth game, Jackson received an envelope with $5000. He felt that the players were being double-crossed by the gamblers, and refused to take the envelope. He told Gandil, “Somebody is getting a little jazz, everybody is crossed.” Despite the fact that Jackson had initially agreed to be part of the fix, he did not personally throw any of the games. In fact, he batted .375 with twelve hits in the series, and committed no errors in the field. But his association with the other players who did throw their games would permanently taint his reputation in baseball.

Three Strikes, You're Out

In 1921, eight members of the White Sox stood trial and were acquitted of wrongdoing. But soon after, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned the same players from the Majors for life.

For the next 20 years, Joe Jackson played semi-pro ball, sometimes under an assumed name. Eventually, he and his wife settled back in his hometown of Greenville, where Jackson ran a barbecue restaurant and a liquor store. On the side, he coached kids' baseball teams.

Jackson died of a heart attack in 1951, at age 64.

Over the years, there have been countless fans who've lobbied for Jackson's induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1999, MLB commissioner Bud Selig said that Jackson's case was under review. But there has been no further action or comment.

Towards the end of his life, Jackson said, “Regardless of what anybody says, I was innocent of any wrong-doing. I gave baseball all I had. The Supreme Being is the only one to whom I’ve got to answer. If I had been out there booting balls and looking foolish at bat against the Reds, there might have been some grounds for suspicion. I think my record in the 1919 World Series will stand up against that of any other man in that Series or any other World Series in all history.”

See all installments of our Music History series here.

The History Behind Why We Eat 10 Dishes at Thanksgiving

Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.


A roasted turkey on a platter.

Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as…served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!


Pan of breaded stuffing.

Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.


Dish of cranberry sauce.

Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.


Bowl of mashed potatoes.

Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting President to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.


Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.

Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, historian Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to created a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!


Plate of corn.

Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.


Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.

In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.


Plate of green bean casserole.

Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you love was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at, contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.


Slice of pumpkin pie.

Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. WINE

Two glasses of wine.

Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.


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