And here's another thing: Did you know that if you count the syllables "runners on second and third" is only seven syllables long, compared to eight for "runners in scoring position"? Think of the number of times in your life that you've said "runners in scoring position" and think of the time you would have saved if you'd just said "runners on second and third." If you put all that time together in one string, you'd probably have been able to watch all of Jean Renoir's films or reread Tolstoy.
Several other terms have snuck into baseball language that should be given their unconditional release. When I played Babe Ruth League ball we had pitchers and regulars, the latter term referring to players who play every day. Now we've got something called "position players," which takes up two more syllables than "regulars" and is misleading, since pitcher is as much of a position as the other eight spots. We also have "role players," which says nothing and takes up two more syllables than "subs," short for substitutes. "Role players," too, is inaccurate; doesn't every player on the team have a role?
Here are some more current terms I don't like:
–I remember the great power pitchers of my youth—Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson come to mind first—as having great fastballs; they had "speed." Pitchers today bring "great velocity." Speed is two syllables shorter than velocity, and it suggests speed even better, because you can say it faster.
–The great pitchers who seldom walked batters—such as Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, and Juan Marichal—had "control" or, even better, "pinpoint control." Now they have "location" or "outstanding location." "Location" is great when describing real estate, much less so for baseball.
–There used to be a lovely phrase, "game-ending home run"—Bobby Thomson and Bill Mazeroski hit game-ending home runs. This was a phrase that complimented the winner. It has now been transformed into "walk-off home run," a term that thumbs its nose at the loser since the team in the field begins to walk off as soon as the ball clears the fence, while the batter is still circling the bases.
I'm sure you can think of a dozen others or hear them used in the game you watch tonight. If you can't, just beam in any game Tim McCarver happens to be calling.
As recently as 30 years ago, when many of the pioneer baseball broadcasters such as Ernie Harwell, Mel Allen, Red Barber, Harry Kalas, Harry Caray and Vin Scully were still doing regular baseball broadcasts (or were at least still active in the game), you could hear a rich, colorful and original jargon that took us back to the 1920s when Ring Lardner was preserving this new language on paper. (Thank God Vin Scully is still alive and in the booth.)
Virginia Woolf, certainly the most improbable Lardner fan imaginable, observed in a letter to a friend that the language in Lardner's baseball stories "is not English" but something quintessentially American. "It is no coincidence," she wrote, "that the best of Mr. Lardner's stories are about games for one may guess that Mr. Lardner's interest in games has solved one of the most difficult problem of the American writer; it has given him a clue, a center, a meeting place for the diverse activities of people whom a vast continent isolates, whom no tradition controls. Games give him what society gave his English brother."