The Language of Sports



“I truly don’t know the language,” said the late Sparky Anderson, a Hall of Fame baseball manager, in 1993. At least he had the gumption to admit it.

It’s not that they’re lazy—athletes work their tails off. And it’s not that they’re stupid—you try memorizing a football playbook. It’s just that their brand of eloquence is clutch three-pointers, late-inning game-winning hits, last-second touchdown passes.

So give a break to the baseball pitcher who said, “I look forward to a strong year in oh-sixteen” and the boxer who lamented, “I guess I’ll fade into Bolivian.”

But no mercy for the scribe who wrote, “Maybe he could have took off more.” Or the eminent sportswriter and author who thought the plural of series was “serieses.” Or the play-by-play guy who said, “Hunter leads off with a lead-off double.” Or the perky lady on the sidelines who—twice—said “world’s most fittest man.” Or the color man who enlightened listeners with, “He’s giving his chance a team to win.” Or a former player, now in the broadcast booth, who tried to get fancy on us but fumbled on the goal line: “He makes bad plays and he makes great plays, and the latter has hurt him.”

The Washington Nationals major-league baseball team played an entire game wearing jerseys that said “NATINALS.” The Minnesota Timberwolves of the National Basketball Association had a Reading to Succeed Night at their arena. The posters handed out that evening spelled the team’s nickname “WOVES.” Pro hockey player Brad Marchand celebrated his Boston Bruins’ championship season by getting a tattoo that said, “Stanley Cup champians.”

Sports fans who are insomniacs may know that the ESPN Classic cable sports channel intermittently plays 4 a.m. reruns (or used to) of The Joe Namath Show, a weekly half-hour trifle that ran for thirteen episodes starting in October 1969. (The influence of the sixties psychedelic counterculture on the show’s look makes for surreal viewing today.) The host was the charismatic quarterback who’d led the New York Jets to a shocking Super Bowl III upset win the previous January.

Anyway, one memorable Namath show featured Rocky Graziano, a raspy-voiced brawler from New York’s Lower East Side who was once the world middleweight boxing champion (1947-48). The other guest was the writer Truman Capote, a tiny person whose voice and manner seemed like an over-the-top impersonation of the gayest man who ever lived.

Capote had stunned the literary world a few years earlier with In Cold Blood, which Capote proclaimed the first “nonfiction novel.” His long, distinguished, and diverse career made him an honored guest on the program. Namath and Graziano couldn’t have been more cordial, and soon Capote was regally at ease.

So now the great writer turned to Namath and told him that he, too, had played football on his high school team. Namath asked, “What position did you play?” Capote’s reply: “Center field.”

Tom Stern

Posted on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, at 11:00 pm

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