The Changing Language of Baseball

One of the things that has always fascinated me about baseball is the way it somehow manages to be ever-constant, yet also ever-changing. The general parameters of the game remain the same, so if I happened to stumble across ESPN Classic’s rebroadcast of Don Larsen’s shining moment, its connection to Mark Buehrle’s moment last year would be immediately recognizable.

Yet many of the details between the eras of Larsen and Buehrle are very, very different. Training has grown more streamlined, more focused, and (in some well-publicized cases) more chemically enhanced. Analysis — both of one’s own players and of the opposition — has grown more scientific. And changing attitudes amongst players and organizations have even altered the style of play we fans experience at the ball park. The baseball river’s always going to be there, but we’re definitely not stepping in the same sports water as we were in the 20’s and 30’s.

Nor, it appears, are we using the same language to describe what we’re seeing:

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With the third inning faded into the dim and forgotten past, the fourth spasm in the afternoon’s matinee of Dementia Baseballitis hopped into the glare of the calcium glim. It was the Giants’ turn to paddle the pellet, Murderous Michael Donlin taking his turn beside the glad glum. Mike biffed the bulb on the proboscis and sent it gleefully gliding to the distant shrubbery. … Bresnahan managed to get next to the seamy side of a floater and the Toledo kid sent the denizens of Coogan’s Bluff into Seventh Heaven of Gleefullness by starting the pulsating pill on a line for the extreme backyard. But they reckoned without the mighty Wagner. The Carnegie Dutchman extended a monster paw, the near-two bagger was cleverly captured by a dainty dab of his lunch hook and before you could bat an eye he had whipped the globule over to Abby, who made an earnest effort to put Donlin down and out but missed by a fraction of an inch.

Futility Closet rightfully wonders how much longer we’ll be able to understand that paragraph. For the sake of my sons’ baseball upbringing, and for the countless fans of the game’s rich history, I hope it will be comprehensible for a long time to come.

I do wish this particular bit of baseball’s river were still with us, however. Ernie Harwell is the only baseball announcer I will ever allow to be mentioned in the same sentence with Vin Scully. And by all accounts, he was an even better man than he was an announcer. May he rest in peace.


  • Joseph Susanka

    Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming — “where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks” — he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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