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The title always seemed like the most reasonable baseball advice I ever heard. Since I was a lousy ballplayer, maybe I can apply that advice to a blog.
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Baseball Phrases, Old and Older

Posted 04-28-2009 at 12:26 PM by tebman

When I decided to make use of the blog feature on WSI I tried to think of a clever title. Something catchy, maybe a little snarky, and somehow relevant to baseball. Hoping to post some original thoughts, the notion of "hit 'em where they ain't" seemed to fit.

With lantern in hand, I regularly prowl the web looking for nuggets of insight, prospecting for information gold. To my surprise I found that a message board for Baltimore Orioles fans already calls itself "Hit 'Em Where They Ain't." Though that blog hasn't been updated for a couple of months, my claim to originality blew up like a Mike MacDougal relief appearance.

So I'll think of a new title. There's no copyright involved, only my bruised ego as I realize that not only was somebody else as clever as I was but that they thought of it first. But it got me thinking about baseball clichés and their stubborn persistence.

Yogi Berra is regarded as the Rosetta Stone of baseball aphorisms (or more accurately, malapropisms) that have held up like monuments: "It ain't over 'til it's over," "You can observe a lot by just watching." They're funny because of their simple logic but also because they happen to be true. I remember hearing an explanation of the terms "on deck" and "in the hole" as coming from a long-ago baseball man who was also a sailor; the next batter is standing by "on deck" as he would on a ship, while the following batter is down below "in the hold," which morphed into "in the hole."

If there were more hours in the day I would steep myself into baseball etymology. The origins of these terms fascinate me because so many of them find their way into our regular conversation: "Step up to the plate," "It's in the ballpark," "Out of left field," and on and on.

Why baseball clichés and not football clichés? It's interesting that so much baseball jargon is in regular English-language use and phrases from other sports, not so much. Is it because baseball has been around longer, or because the season's longer, or because more people have played it in their yards, in the street, at picnics, in Little League, or wherever?

I don't know, but I'd like to think that it's because baseball runs deeper in all of us. Not to get Ken Burns-sentimental here, but somehow baseball connects at a fundamental level with more people than other sports. There are plenty of fans of other sports, of course, but the "break your heart" quality of baseball that former MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti described isn't the same in football or basketball.

Maybe if I think too much about why baseball influences us the way it does it won't be as much fun. Mark Twain once said, "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." I'll take his advice and just enjoy what the game has done for the language, even if somebody had my clever title before I did.
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