Saturday, July 21, 2012

Team sport with yellow hammer

Besides the silent speak of baseball, those signs for, among other things, taking, stealing, hitting and running, pitching out and, yes, even throwing at a hitter — signs which often give the manager the look of a Jack Benny clone on speed — baseball boasts a nonpareil arcanum of oral expression. Its voluminous vernacular has evolved to reflect the myriad complexities of the game, and has doubtlessly been helped along the way by more than a few colorful players, coaches and announcers. As major leaguers enter the second half of sports' longest season, let us consider for a moment the patois of America's pastime.

The pitcher brushes back the batter, gives him chin music, buckles his knees or jams him inside. He blows gas, throws cheese in the hitter's kitchen or comes upstairs. The hurler can paint the black with heat or the yellow hammer. His friend is Lord Charles, aka Uncle Charlie. He may come at the batter from over the top or from the stretch. He might be a sidewinder, submariner or knuckleballer. He'll disguise his delivery, intimidate and back the hitter off the plate.

Meanwhile the batter attempts to hit, bunt or bunt for a hit. In order to get to first base, he can single, walk, be walked, get hit by a pitch or hit the pitcher with a comebacker that the hurler can't handle. The hitter can even reach on a strikeout, if the ball is dropped and the batter beats the throw down the line. A batter might pop up, line out, hit a frozen rope, a seeing-eye single, or a dying quail. The batter's effort might be categorized as a Texas leaguer, Baltimore chop, or simply dismissed as a can o' corn.

A pitcher could give up half a dozen runs and yet strike out the side in the same inning. Three players can combine for a single put out, or a single player can make a triple play. A player may miss signs, steal signs, or run through a stop sign. A batter can be given the green light and sit dead red. He can be in a hole at the dish, protect the plate or the runner. He can pull the ball or go the other way. The pitcher's ultimate effort is called a no-no, while the batter dreams of smacking a grand salami or going yard with a walk-off, extra-innings jack.

As the richness of the lingo used to describe it evinces, baseball counts as much more than a conventional sport. Sure, it is often denigrated for an apparent languid tempo by those who don't share the love of the game. But like Mark Twain's horse, baseball's "strong suit is grace and personal comeliness, rather than velocity."

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