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Sports broadcasters often have a shaky grip on grammar and on the connection between words and meaning. I learned one night from NBC that Dock Ellis, a pitcher formerly with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was "looking ahead to a low profile image with the Yankees." A low profile image is not unlike a poor field position situation and involves keeping an ear to the ground. From CBS I learned during a game between the New York Jets and the Dallas Cowboys that " Tom Henderson found an opening and blocked Greg Gantt's would-be kick." ABC, during an Ivy League football game, told us that one team's chance of winning had diminished completely, a clear infraction of the law of diminishing returns (which occur when a team runs back punts and kickoffs for less and less yardage as the game goes on). In golf, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED noted that "a twosome of Bobby Nichols and Lee Trevino talk no more than most pairs—except that Lee does it all." Well. Jim, Howard and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, maybe Nichols came to play.
The newspapers are not far behind. A Pittsburgh paper ran a photograph with the caption "Jimmy Connors gets an unidentified kiss from a local fan." The newspaper was trying to say that the woman's name was not given; the kiss, apparently, was standard. A sportswriter for the Lake Charles (La.) American Press, covering high school football, called a team capitalistic. He meant that it turned its opponent's fumbles into touchdowns. Thus, the class struggle in Louisiana.
I am, I know, mixing up the sports, but I can hardly be blamed. Nowadays, a long fly, arching skyward, will chase an outfielder to the distant wall at the same time that a shifty guard, using a solid pick from a stalwart seven-foot center, drives the middle, a slap shot eludes the masked goalie's desperate lunge as he sprawls on the ice and the red light flashes on behind him. (I am not quite right about the long fly. It arches dome-ward, because stadiums are increasingly roofed over. With so many Latin-American players in the major leagues, we can imagine the shouted instructions to the outfielders as the fly is hit, or when the artificial turf causes a ridiculously high bounce: Look domeward, Angel!)
Most Americans get their sports news on television, and the broadcasters like to make things crystal clear. So we are told about the team with the worst record in baseball won and lostwise, about the football player who incurs a penalty and is the guilty culprit and about the players who have good success in spite of being plagued by physical injuries. Ralph Kiner has explained why a team may not use a squeeze play to get the man on third base home. The squeeze, he said, might not succeed successfully. The players have the same uneasy feeling that success may be failure. Dave Kingman, an outfielder for the New York Mets, expressing his gratification after hitting two home runs off Andy Messer-smith, post-studiology and with Atlanta: "I have had terrible success against him in the past."
Just as good success is desired, so are good power and good speed. Maury Wills has described a player as having good running speed. "I knew it was hit good," said Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies after hitting a long ball in Houston, "but the ball doesn't carry good in the Astrodome." It carries bad. When James J. Braddock died, there were stories about the fight in which he lost his heavyweight championship to Joe Louis. In the first round Braddock knocked Louis down. Louis got up. Braddock: "I thought if I hit him good, he'll stay down." Braddock was a longshoreman and uneducated. Tom Seaver of the New York Mets is a college graduate: "Cedeno hit the ball pretty good but it was right where I wanted him to hit it." Budd Schulberg is a novelist. Said he, after the Ali-Foreman fight, "The fight turned out pretty good."
Good, as in: 1. "I guess he means good" ( Mets Manager Joe Frazier about an umpire); 2. "Apparently somebody's controlling the Commissioner pretty good" (Yankee Manager Billy Martin on Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn); 3. "He ran the curve good" ( O. J. Simpson of ABC Sports on Dwayne Evans, bronze medalist in the 200-meter dash at the Montreal Olympics); 4. "Evelyn Ashford comes from behind very good" (Wyomia Tyus on the women's 100-meter dash at Montreal).
Good has long been indispensable to sports language. I believe that a change is in the making, but good has a few seasons left.
"I think we'll have a pretty good year," says the coach who knows that doom awaits but doesn't want to damage morale in the interim.
"We'll have a good season," says the coach who thinks his team may go all the way but prefers not to say so.
Says the coach who is full of confidence, or in the words of Tom Landry, coach of the Dallas Cowboys, whose confidence factor is up, "All the players have real good attitudes, we have some real good prospects, including one boy who is going to be a real good kicker, and I think we'll have a real good season."