The first thing that Sarah Palin said at last night's debate was to Joe Biden, "Hey, can I call you Joe?"
Certainly that fit her 'folksy' outlook better than if she'd used 'Senator Biden,' though at a time when people are looking for knowlege and breadth of understanding about the myriad issues facing America today I'm not sure if 'folksy' is what they want. We've had eight years of 'folksy,' (remember that supporters of President Bush bragged about him being a 'C' student?) Where has it gotten us? Into a very, very tough spot, that's where.
But I was waiting for a specific 'Joe' line, and it came towards the end of the debate.
Palin responded to something Biden had said with, "Say it ain't so, Joe."
For all but the oldest of baseball fans, the zinger there was lost. But it's one of the most famous sayings to come out of an awful situation.
The 1919 Chicago White Sox, led by their star, "Shoeless Joe" Jackson (considered by many baseball historians to be the second greatest player of his day, after Ty Cobb) won the American league pennant and were favored to win the World Series. Gamblers bought off eight members of the team, including Jackson, paying them money to lose the series on purpose. And sure enough, they did lose. The next year the plot fell apart. As Jackson left the Federal Courthouse, the story is told that a young fan, who had always idolized Jackson and looked up to him as a role model, went up to the star with tears in his eyes and pleaded, "Say it ain't so, Joe." Of course the great Joe Jackson could only hang his head in shame as he knew he could not speak those three simple words.
Maybe in ninety years, Mark McGwire's "I'm not here to talk about the past," will be similarly enshrined in America's lexicon of phrases whose original meaning is slowly being lost, but somehow I doubt it. It's hard to imagine heartbreak in a Senate subcommittee the same way as it is to imagine it in a ten year old boy.
So what was Palin up to by alluding to baseball's most painful moment of the past century? And yes, even though it happened before virtually anyone alive today can remember I rank the 'Black Sox scandal' as a peculiarly painful moment in the history of baseball ahead of the tragic and untimely deaths of stars Lou Gehrig, Roberto Clemente and Thurman Munson, the ugly and horrible treatment that was accorded to Jackie Robinson all through the National League (and which came back to life though not so intensely and echoed again a quarter century later for Henry Aaron), the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn, the Pete Rose ban, the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and the recent 'roid rage' scandals. All painful moments for baseball, but none so painful as the Black Sox scandal. Apparently Palin wanted to suggest something deeper than just "I think you're wrong about that, Senator." Viscerally the pain from the first time that phrase was uttered still lingers, even among people who aren't quite sure why it should hurt-- but it does.
Not coincidentally, Barack Obama is from the south side of Chicago-- White Sox territory.