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Play ball

Andrew Zaleski, a senior at Loyola University Maryland who is serving as an intern on The Sun’s copy desk this semester, commented in his blog this week on a construction in sports articles that he finds annoying:

“The [insert team's name] return [insert player's name] for a second season.”

The reason: I have never heard even the most avid sports-buff friends of mine use “return” as a verb in the above context. People will say “Mike Vick is coming back for a second season,” or “Mike Vick returns for a second season,” or “Mike Vick will be returning,” but never do I hear people say “The Eagles return Mike Vick.” My next question, upon hearing that, is to ask where they are returning him. To the supermarket? The department store? Outside the NFL draft, is there a special store that houses players in hermetically-sealed packaging before throwing them on an AstroTurf field to live their lives in states of football-induced concussive bliss?

Jargon, whether specialized terms or constructions that vary from standard written English, serves two purposes. It expresses specialized meanings that cannot easily or conveniently be rendered in common language, and it identifies the writer and the reader who grasps it as being member of an in-group.

Sports stories are regularly written for fans—a non-fan can sometimes read half a dozen or more paragraphs in a sports story without being able to identify what sport is being played. And that is what the audience wants, to be on the inside, to be in the know.* If you ever listen to sports talk radio, you understand that any given fan knows better how to run the team than the current management.

The trick for the editor of this copy is to recognize which examples of jargon are apt to convey to the reader that cosy feeling of being in the know, and which are merely annoying tics. Mr. Zaleski has fastened on one that looks like the latter.


*The same thing holds true for a good deal of political reporting, which, rather than dwelling tediously on policies and what their impact on the reader might be, prefers to focus on the excitement of who’s up and who’s down today Significantly, much political coverage is referred to within the business as “horse racing” or “insider baseball.”



Posted by John McIntyre at 8:55 AM | | Comments (13)


Outside the NFL draft, is there a special store that houses players in hermetically-sealed packaging before throwing them on an AstroTurf field to live their lives in states of football-induced concussive bliss?

The kid's good, McI.

A testament to the ubiquity, and enduring mass appeal of sports in American popular culture, is evidenced, as you, Prof. McI., earlier alluded to, in the co-opting of so many sports idioms, or catchy turns-of-phrase, in the media coverage of all-things-political in this country.

More and more, as we move into the second decade of the 21st century, politics seems to have become more of an adversarial exercise, or enterprise $$$$, where it's all about the competition, the strongest party candidate rosters, and bottom-line, WINNING! (Apologies to Charlie "Tiger Blood" Sheen. HA!)

Politics-as-sport just seems to work for so many competition obsessed Americans, where it's really not about how you play the game, but more importantly, who (which party, or particular candidate), when the dust finally settles, WINS the race. (Stealing an election win, in today's 'sportsified' American culture, is merely par for the course. George Dubya, are you listening?)

Frankly, as a lapsed major 'team sport' fan, and now, in my dotage (HA!), more of an individual sport aficionado (tennis, golf, gymnastics, and figure skating), I'm frankly offended by the growing conflation of politics and sport by the mainstream political media. But as they say, the genie is already out of the bottle......... or in today's parlance, out of the batter's box. (Or, in deference to the upcoming Kentucky Derby........ the horses have already left the stables. HA!)

Here's a quicky list of some of the more grating sports-related phrases that political 'commentators' often pull out of their light-and-breezy bag of cliched tricks, and IMHO, beat like a dead horse:

--- "full court press"

---"..... threw the Hail Mary pass"

---"hit it out of the park"

---"the home stretch"

---"put on his (her) game face"

---"pinch hit"

---"dropped the ball"

---"size up the opposition'

---"time out"

---"two-minute warning"

---"the hat-trick"

---"the trifecta"

---"dash to the finish line'

---"a major runaway"

---"team player"

---"ace in the hole"

---"lost his (or her) mojo"

---"team spirit"

---"make the cut"

---"build it, and they will come"

---"play hardball"

---"cover all the bases"

---"on the ropes"

---"loosing momentum"......... and the list goes on, and on. (Ugh!)

For me, this annoying phenomenon merely reflects lazy, colloquial, sophomoric writing (reporting). Yet it's not that surprising, considering, as I suggested earlier, how much sports, particularly the major team sports like NFL football, NBA basketball, and NHL hockey, have evolved into almost secularized national religions (might be an oxymoron hiding there HA!), followed 'faithfully' by tens-of-millions of rabid fans........... including our high-profile political pundits and 'opinionators', i might add.

Former MSNBC's political anchor/ commentator Keith Olbermann was one of the more egregious co-opters of sports terminology, likely because in a former cable TV incarnation
he was a mouth-piece for ESPN. (Fired from that gig, as well. Hmmmm?)

MSNBC's voluble on-air pundit Chris Mathews, like his former banished colleague, is also fond of occasionally embellishing his decidedly left-of-center blatherings w/ what he clearly perceives as clever sports idioms. As a native Bean Towner, he's admitted to being a big (Boston-centric) team sports 'nut'. In my books, he's just a nut. Period.

Anyway, some food for though. Any comments, for or 'agin' are welcome.

Play Ball !

Ducky "Hit 'Em Out of the Park" Isaksson.

Alex, what have you got against pairs skating?

Alex -- Chris Matthews is a native Philadelphian. You could look it up.



As comedian Jerry Seinfeld, and his stand-up comedy ilk might say, "Boy, is this a tough crowd, tonight.".

But, Dahlink, you do make a valid point, nonetheless.

OK, I grant you that dynamic sports duos like pairs figure skaters, two-man (or women's) luge mates, tennis doubles partners, and the like, technically qualify, in what i would regard as a rather loose interpretation of the term "team sports" strictly defined. The current Super Bowl champs, The Green Bay Packers, or say the present NBA Championship team, the L.A. Lakers was more what I had envisioned as "team" (exceeding two players) sports entities.

Dahlink, I know you were just trying to gently 'pull my chain'. HA! But I digress.

Of course 'indoor sports' (nudge, nudge, wink, wink HA!) can be of either an "individual" (read self-pleasuring), or the more conventional, one-on-one "team" nature, while out-and-out bacchanalian orgies could take team spirit, and esprit de corps to whole new, ecstatic levels. Just ask those decadent ancient Romans........... or, even better, Italy's current sex-crazed PM Silvio Berlosconi (sp. ?).

Hey, who brought the grapes, and oysters? HA!

Ducky "Kama Sutra" Isaksson.......... over and out....... of it. Ciao!

Ol' Scrapiron,

I did take you up on your suggestion to look up Chris Matthews' bio, and indeed, he WAS born in Philadelphia, PA.

I humbly stand corrected.

I guess I merely assumed Matthews was a native-born Bostonian from his frequent reference to, and high praise for North Cambridge, Mass.-born, liberal Democrat, and long-time House leader/ party Whip, the late "Tip" O'Neil.

Matthews would often wax almost poetic on his MSNBC show over O'Neil's critical contribution, over decades of dedicated service, to U.S. political discourse and governance, at its highest level.

Matthews often speaks w/ personal affection and reverence for all the Boston-rooted Kennedy brothers, from John, to brother Robert, and in more recent years, the undaunted, courageous fighter of the Senate Democrat ranks, the late Teddy Kennedy.

But still, no real excuse for me flubbing Matthews city of birth. Mea culpa.

(IMHO, Matthews still doesn't let most of his in-studio, or monitored guests get a word in edgewise, unless it's one of his usual (politically-in-lock-step) suspects, whom he usually allows to babble on, w/ nary an interruption. Of course there's always Rachel Maddow. Just sayin'.)


Alex, I'll bet you could get a word in edgewise if Chris Matthews had you on as a guest :-)

shades of jimmy j!

Just wait until the team disables him.

@Laura Lee, thanks, sweet lady, for your strong vote of confidence. HA!

To get even a weenie word in edgewise w/ the predictably manic motor-mouthed Matthews I'm afeared I'd have to arrive in-studio fully equipped w/ a 'verbal'/virtual crowbar, a roll of duct tape, a distracting 'pic' of Chris' all-time American political hero, "Tip O'Neil" caught in a 'compromising position', and maybe a signed copy of J.F.K.'s early best-seller, "Profiles in Courage". HA!

But seriously, Laura, i would likely be much more intimidated by all the on-set production histrionics (bright lights, makeup, cameras, cue cards etc.), than the actual going toe-to-toe (or more precisely, tongue-to-tongue HA!) w/ the clearly Type-A, wall-of-sound Matthews. (Apologies to felon/ producer Phil Spector w/ the "wall-of-sound" bit. HA!)

Politically speaking, we would likely be mostly on the same page, but for my taste, Mathtews comes off as far too much of an unabashed, loud, media apologist, dare i say shill, for the Democratic Party, and its leftist minions.

I grant you it would be a fun experience, but odds are it ain't never going to happen.

Curiously, last night I finished reading the late Jerzy Kozinski's incredibly thought-provoking shortish, satiric, novel, "Being There", w/ the hapless, and basically clueless lead character, Chance (Chauncey Gardiner) early in the narrative being forced out of his comfy, regimented, T.V./ gardening-centric cloistered world, and remarkably, thru some weird turns of fate, rising meteorically to the heights of societal prestige, power, and respect, by just being his naive, illiterate, authentic (yet so very limited) self.

Of course this recently republished reprint from Grove Press had a superb cover full-frontal photo (not nude, silly HA!) of the incredible Peter Sellers, in his "Being There" Chauncey Gardiner formal get-up----- nattily tailored dark charcoal-hued suit jacket, grey felt bowler hat, starched white shirt and thin tie, brown leather gloves, holding a TV remote control (key story point) in his right hand and a jet black umbrella in his left. He's passively, almost without expression, looking directly out at the reader, over Kosinskis's last name printed in gigantic bright yellow lower-case sans serif letters emblazoned across his chest, and a tiny "JERZY" (in cap), resting neatly over Sellers' (as Chauncey) right suit-coat shoulder.

As I read the book I couldn't help visualizing its pathetically lovable anti-hero as the Peter Sellers movie character, which I believe made it even more poignant, and real for me.

Though Kosinski penned this book over forty years ago, I feel it has so much relevance to today's devolving, surface-obsessed political 'scene', and what I call the cult of the celebrity politician, for lack of a better term. Chance, the novel's central character never learned to read, or write, and has gleaned most of his information about the world, and how to relate to other human beings, from his constant TV viewing.

Well into the book, Chance (or Chauncey), as his star is rapidly rising, is asked by a member of the MSM what newspapers he reads to keep up w/ world events, political and economic issues of the day, and such. He quite matter-of-factly (and honestly) answers, "I don't read newspapers. I watch TV."

Instead of being taken aback by Chance's admission, the newsman regards Chance's apparent straight-talk as oddly refreshing, almost as a rare virtue among the obfuscating movers-and-shakers of the day, and Chance (now Chauncey) unwittingly scores more media points, and his reputation as a sage thinker, and future high-profile international power broker continues to rise.

Hmm......too bad when CBS anchor Katie Couric casually broached a very similar question to the then 2008 Vice-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, when, off-the-cuff, she couldn't come up w/ the name of a single publication, (let alone 'The Wasilla Weekly Weasel') that she might read to keep abreast of world events, and the like----to the collective amazement of a most stunned American audience watching the telecast from the '08 Primary trail. But I digress.

What a powerful book this "Being There" STILL is. Folks, give it a read. The biting satire will open your minds, and at times break your heart.

Laura Lee, I apologize for rambling on. You thought chris Matthews was bad? HA!

Ducky "Being There" Isaksson........... Ta! Ta!

I've always found it interesting that "pinch hitter" has so completely different a meaning away from baseball. There, he's brought in because they think he'll do better than they regularly scheduled hitter; in the 'real world' he claims the title as an excuse for doing much worse.


The former is a desired result for a highly-trained sniper. An example is the poor Spanish Loyalist in Robert Capa's most famous photograph. The latter, popularized by Curt Gowdy, is much more appropriate. After all, it's just sports, not life or death. If you really want to get fluffy with the words, there's always GOLDEN GOAL, which is used in soccer thanks to the folks at FIFA.

Speaking of life or death, there is always THERE IS NO TOMORROW, a cliche which always gets mishandled by lots of sportscasters. Charles Schulz addressed this in one of his Peanuts comic strips. Charlie Brown was watching a sporting event on television when the broadcaster used that phrase. Upon hearing this, his younger sister Sally started to panic, thinking that Judgement Day was fast approaching.


OOPS! I meant that Sally thought that Judgement Day had arrived. My mistake.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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