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THE VIEW FROM LEFT FIELD

How to Talk Baseball
By Dennis Gould

Is there a school that instructs baseball announcers? If so, I'd like to know the address, because the curriculum offered there must be quite vigorous and effective. After all, every baseball announcer obeys its teaching, and even baseball analysts (usually former players) have been infected by the contagious lingo.

No, I am not talking about baseball's arcane terminology. We have heard bunt, sac fly, pitching out of the stretch, can of corn, and other kindred terms for many years. One could write an entire essay on the many names of the curveball: the Hook, the Yakker, Yellow Hammer, and Uncle Charlie (or, for a really big bender, Lord Charles), to name a few. But I'm talking about something else, something more sinister and creepy—the sort of banter that modifies language. Let's call it "baseball-speak." Nearly every announcer and analyst practices it to an extreme. And I've got a few questions I'd like to ask the instructors behind it.

For example, which faculty member came up with the idea that baseball announcers should say "department," as in the "stolen base department"? It makes one wonder how many departments there are in baseball. How come no one says "after-game-buffet department" or "late-for-the-team-bus department"? Maybe they have.

What teachers told their students to say a person is "twenty-seven (or however many) years of age" rather than "twenty-seven years old"? Maybe I'll start talking this way when someone asks me how old my children are. I could say, "Well, my oldest is thirty-eight years of age; our second child is thirty-five years of age; and. . ." That's the response I would give in the children's age department.

I'd also like to find the instructor who taught a person to say "out of" instead of "from," like when an announcer says that a player is "out of" Florida State University or "out of" San Jose or "out of" the Mets' farm system. Are baseball players sired like horses? Some announcers have even shortened out of to "outta." You know, as in "He's outta Notre Dame" or, in describing a home run, "It's outta here!"

And how about the confusion between good and well? Baseball-speak says, "He didn't hit that ball good"; never, "He didn't hit that ball well." I think that the word good has more import than well, or it would not be such a ready substitute.

Then there is the Shakespearean way of saying that something happened recently. In baseball-speak, the expression has become "of late." Thus, the announcer says something like, "Mondesi has been stealing bases of late" or "Shawn Green has been hitting the ball of late." But it's never "lately." In truth, the use of ly is unknown in baseball-speak. You always hear, "He got down the line quick," not "He got down the line quickly."

And, speaking of the ly, think about what baseball announcer school has taught its pupils on the use of plurals. I'm sure you have heard once-in-a-lifetime superstars referred to as if there were many of them—like when baseball-speak graduates say "your Koufaxes, your Musials, your Aarons, your Marichals . . ." It makes me wonder how I missed all the other players with the same last names as these Hall of Famers.

I've also heard many announcers use this variation on an age-old phrase: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The spell-check in my word processing program has a fit on that one. Somehow announcers can't use the word broken, so they have to shorten it to broke. Shortening anything in baseball-speak, however, is rare. Thus, practitioners of this new language are required to use many words when one will do fine. For example, "prior to" is preferred over "before."

In the end, you don't have to be sixty years of age to moan over fractured baseball lingo. Your own language does not have to be broke to learn it. Of late it takes only a little while to speak it good. One need not be out of Harvard to catch it. And prior to now, your Allens, your Barbers, your Scullys, and your Garagiolas have all excelled in the baseball-speak department.

—EFQ

 

DENNIS GOULD is an artist who follows baseball and baseball-speak from his home and studio in the woods outside Eugene, Oregon.

© 2002 Dennis Gould

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