By Cristina Rouvalis
Say it ain’t so.
A crestfallen boy didn’t tell “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
And Mark Twain likely didn’t coin “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
It wasn’t Vince Lombardi who first proclaimed, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
At least that’s the verdict of Ralph Keyes, a quote sleuth who examined the origins of 450 famous quotes in his new, entertaining book “The Quote Verifier.” Many of the iconic quotes of our time were plucked from obscure people and placed in the mouths of famous people. Other quotes were edited from their original flabby form. And some seem to be journalistic wishful thinking.
People often hate to hear their favorite quotes besmirched or deconstructed into a blander form. That doesn’t make Keyes, an author from Yellow Springs, Ohio, the most popular guy around.
“Writing books about verifying quotes doesn’t get you invited to many parties,” quips Keyes, who will offer his opinion of quotes only when asked.
Quotes often improve with age. “Memory may be a terrible librarian, but it’s a great editor,” to quote Keyes. (Accurately. Honest.)
The Andy Warhol quote, “Everyone has their 15 minutes of fame” was really the less pithy, “In the future, everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”
Journalists, Keyes writes, often compress meandering quotes into perfect sound bites, and misquotes and misattributed quotes soar through cyberspace.
Leo Durocher is widely known for the quote, “Nice guys finish last.” But did the Brooklyn Dodgers manager really say it?
Keyes combed through microfilm of the July 1946 copies of New York’s Journal-American to find the answer.
The league-leading Dodgers were about to play the seventh-place New York Giants, and Durocher ran down the Giant’s bad record to a group of sports scribes.
When a radio reporter asked Durocher why he couldn’t be nicer, the manager waved at the Giants’ dugout and said, “The nice guys are all over there. In seventh place.”
The next day, Frank Graham of the Journal-American wrote a column titled “Leo Doesn’t Like Nice Guys.” A reprint of the column in Baseball Digest said nice guys were in “last place,” instead of “seventh place.” Durocher’s words were subsequently compressed into the very quotable “Nice Guys Finish Last.”
“Verdict: Credit the concept to Durocher, its pithy version to the press,” writes Keyes, who puts a verdict at the end of all the quotes he tracked down.