It just goes to show how lively, adaptable, and just plain wonderful the English language can be:

SOME YEARS ago baseball was hailed as a compelling force in the spread of the English or American language, mainly because, according to accounts, a New York German paper, which had previously excluded every word of English from its reading columns, found itself forced to print the baseball news in the tongue that is used on the coaching lines and in disputes with the umpire. “Pitcher” could be translated “werfer” and the catcher might masquerade as “der fanger,” but after the reporters had blunted many pencils in desperate attempts to describe the intricacies of the national game in an alien tongue, the obdurate Teutonic editor yielded, and the baseball column thereafter appeared in what passes for English. Considerations such as these add cogency to the protest of the Providence Journal against the reactionary demands emanating “from various purists of the press who would eliminate slang from baseball stories and substitute plain English.”

Henry James Not Welcome

This protest, which became of moment, says The Journal, only when it was traitorously seconded by a prominent baseball weekly, is vigorously negatived by enthusiasts who do not wish their baseball reports to “read like one of Henry James’s short stories.” The Journal quotes an expert in the language appropriate to the game as explaining that,

“Ever since baseball began, it has had a language of its own. The slang that the baseball writer is accused of slinging so profusely has become inseparably a part of the game. It is hot off the bat, it is brief and graphic. It tells its story tersely and always to the point.

“There is a picturesqueness in the line of goods handled by the baseball writer that you don’t stack up against anywhere else in the paper. The English he uses may not be errorless and some of it may be unintelligible to the common herd, but it is vivid, concise, and usually coherent. And if I remember correctly, my dear old college professor was always strong for vividness and conciseness.”

Normal English Just Not Good Enough

The excitement and exuberance of the game could not be conveyed in ordinary language to the satisfaction of its devotee:

“Being picturesque and alive, he demands that whatever is written about the game shall have similar qualities. He refuses to find pleasure in a style that is used in describing a convention, a banquet, or a meeting of the Blacksmiths’ Union. He doesn’t care about the English of it so long as there is life and vigor in the details that he is reading. To gain this effect the baseball writer has laid most of the hard-and-fast rules he learned in college on the back shelf and has evolved a set of his own that suits his purpose as nicely as a three-bagger fills the bill with two men on and two runs needed to win. . . .

“English that the college professor would O. K. was never intended for the sporting page, least of all the baseball column.”

Tickling the Scoreboard

To prove his point the expert presents a baseball report in language designed to pass the censorship of the purist:

“The baseball game yesterday between the teams representing the cities of Providence and Rochester, respectively, was one of the most exciting affairs ever seen at Melrose Park. The young men on both teams played marvelously well and proved themselves adept in every department. As Providence made four runs, while its opponent was making three, it won the game.

“Thanks to the ability of Mr. Roy Rock, the Providence shortstop, in hitting the baseball, the men representing this city were able to get their four runs. Mr. Rock distinguished himself by hitting the ball hard in the fifth inning, with two runners on base, sending it so far he was enabled to reach third base before it was retrieved. Needless to say, the two runners scored.

“In the seventh inning also, Mr. Rock made another long hit which brought in two more runs. His skill in this respect was the subject of considerable favorable comment on the bleachers and in the grand stand.”

Now, for comparison follows an account of the same game in the vernacular:

“The Grays and the Hustlers slam-banged each other in the final game of the series yesterday afternoon, and the Grays ran away with the candy, 4 to 3. Both teams uncorked the ginger bottle at the getaway and danced through the whole performance for the snappiest work of the season.

“Rock was the star with the stick. The little Centerdale lad toed the plate with two in the fifth, bumped a bender on the trademark, and zipped it to the fence for a triple. He encored in the seventh for a smashing single, and the bleachers aeroplaned their emotions as two more tallies tickled the scoreboard.”

“Joyous Slang”

“Now that’s something like it,” comments The Journal’s expert. “No words wasted, no attempt to give details in the roundabout way the professor solemnly declares is correct English.”

Likewise are the nicknames of baseball teams defended, and all the joyous slang of the game. “Fan” is far more effective than its definition, “a baseball spectator affected by enthusiasm.” To call a player “a bonehead” will make him realize his deficiencies more completely than if one merely implies that he is “not as intelligent as he might be.” And the term “bush leaguer” is more significant than the phrase “a young man just being broken into baseball.”

“Baseball Slang Defended,” The Literary Digest, June 25, 1910

See also this article.