John Leo

Another baseball season has reached its midpoint, the All-Star break. This means it is surely time for all Americans to cast aside normal English and spend the week talking baseballese. Speakers of this arcane tongue go around saying things such as, "Good pitching stops good hitting," "A game in April counts as much as a game in September," "You can't have too much pitching" and "Baseball is a game of inches" (although in Toronto it's clearly a game of centimeters).

In baseballese, contending teams must be "strong up the middle," and players must "give 110 percent" because "it's a long season," played "one game at a time," and "pennants aren't won on paper." The oldest mandatory comment may be "Baseball is like life." Rabbi Marc Gellman, who appears frequently on TV, worked a nice riff on this remark, pointing out that "Baseball is like life ... most of the time nothing much seems to happen."

It's also mandatory to talk about the mystical aspects of the game known as "intangibles." As the late Orioles scout Jim Russo once mystically observed, "You play 162 games and a lot of intangibles come to the surface." Jerry Brown, former New Age governor of California and now mayor of Oakland, once said something similar about politics. He declared that the Democratic Party must strive to "tangibilitize" itself. My thoughts exactly.

Knowing baseball lingo has its uses. As it happens, two of my three daughters are deeply bored by baseball and want no part of it. But I gave them six phrases to use whenever baseball comes up in conversation. Now friends marvel at their deep knowledge of the game. Here are the six situations in which non-baseball people are called upon to say something sensible in baseballese:

(1) A friend says excitedly, "How 'bout those Marlins!" Do not ask what a Marlin is, or wonder how the late Mr. Brando managed to get a whole team named after him. Simply echo your friend's exultation and say, "How 'bout 'em!" This will be taken as a thoughtful assessment of current Marlin achievements.

(2) Someone wants your analysis of a baseball trade. You have no idea what he's talking about. So you answer: "Looks good for both sides." This is always considered a satisfying response. But if your questioner asks again, it means he thinks his team was snookered. At this point just say, "You have to give up something to get something." He will admire your judgment because he knows that.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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