Where Praise Is Due

“Now I wanna interduce the man who has made all this possible. Folks, meet George Kluck. Welcome to our Incredible World of Sports, George.”

“It’s an honor, I’m sure.”

“We’re glad to have you with us.”

“I’m glad to be here.”

“You’ve done a magnificent job, George, and we wanna thank you for appearing on our Incredible World of Sports show.”

“Thank you for asking me.”

“Folks, that was George Kluck, who has done such a magnificent job . . .”

What was the magnificent job for which George Kluck is acclaimed in this TV sports interview? Well, very nearly anything connected with the event being shown. It depends on the availability of other luminaries at the moment.

George Kluck may be the trainer of some college or professional team — baseball, football, basketball, it doesn’t matter: “We all wanna thank you, George, for the magnificent job you did on Joe Bubba’s sore arm (ankle, neck, knee, etc.), so that the fans can see him play here today.” If the pickings are really that thin, the interviewer inserts a bit of tape, showing George kneading Joe Bubba’s ailing areas and putting the final touch on a very neat bandage. The interview winds up with a clincher: “An’ that’s what I mean when I speak of the magnificent job George Kluck has been doing all season for the Bobcats of Berserk U.”

A golf tournament will disclose all sorts of magnificent jobs: the greenskeeper, the professional, the caddy master, possibly the bartender. Their devotion to their appointed task — doing, that is, what they were supposed to do and paid to do — strikes the sports interviewer as almost beyond human experience. (“An’ I wancha to know that we all appreciate the magnificent job you’ve been doing here at the beautiful Nirvana Heights Country Club.”)

The groundskeeper of a major league ball club has usually wrought magnificently. It’s not the most complicated sort of work, although it does involve spreading a tarpaulin over the field against rain and rolling it up again. If the groundskeeper is too busy with his tarps, the interviewer can make do with the bat boy. You might think the bat boy’s

is a fairly simple job, and you’d be right, “but he’s a mighty smart youngster just the same, and he does a magnificent job . . .”

Much of the sports commentator’s chatter sounds as if it might be coming from those plaid-shirted, hunting-capped men in the commercials on his programs. If his grammar is a bit sprung, so is theirs and usually in the same places; if he is staggered too readily by the magnificent job the hot-dog concessionaire has been doing, they are equally hang-jawed when one of their number tells them of the valuable premiums to be gained from cigarette kew-pons, absolutely free and with all that rich menthol smoke thrown in. (How long before the beer company brings out a mentholflavored beer?)

When a TV sports announcer comes into possession of a strong word like magnificent, he is naturally going to give it plenty of work to do. As a former athlete or smalltime studio handyman, he was never really oversupplied with vocabulary. His language is simple; it has to be, since his performance on the air consists of rattling off an account of what we are seeing or have just seen for ourselves. (“Palmer is about to play his second . . .” “That’s another spare . . '.” “That’s Conigliaro, who singled, on first . . “There’s the pass, but he couldn’t quite get it . . .”) He needs very few words — or ideas — to keep afloat, so long as the sports action itself is on camera. In so richly sponsored a contest as a present-day game of anything, the announcer is not supposed to put forward opinions of his own — especially anything the least bit negative— about the game or the players. He goes along comfortably enough reciting the action as it takes place.

The interview, designed to fill in otherwise dead time, is the wordeating interval that could become embarrassing. In all the exchanges, the stylized opening and closing — the glad-to-have-you and the honored-to-be-here stuff—take care of the mechanics of getting the thing started and stopped, but the midsection calls for more words. It’s shocking to find how quickly words get used up, when a man hasn’t enough of them in the first place. Good is all right, but it’s really not quite enough of a word. “That’s a mighty good job you’ve been doing” is scarcely any praise at all. Grand is better, and so is great, and wunnerful is better still (“We all wanna thank you for the wunnerful job you’ve been doing . . . ).

But now that the announcer has found out about it, more and more people in the sports interview will be hearing their work described as magnificent; in fact very little of a nonmagnificent character will be talked about at all as the TV season continues.