Monday, February 21, 2011
Major League Baseball begins its spring training games later this week. Here is a Jim Murray column from 1973 that attempts to decipher what the managers are really saying about their prospects. (For older Canadian readers, who will find mention of John Robertson, aka Coconut Willie, in this piece. Oh, what a wonderful writer he was!)
THURSDAY, MARCH 1, 1973, SPORTS
Copyright 1973/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
The Big Con of Spring
It's that time of year again. Every squeaky contralto in the country is boning up on "Oh, say can you see?" Organists are blowing the dust off their medley of 1910's Top 10 song hits. Vendors are practising spilling mustard. Announcers are practising saying, "And that reminds me of the Iron Horse!" so they can get into an anecdote about Lou Gehrig which will be a whole lot more interesting than what is going on down on the field.
It's a time when every team is the 1927 Yankees, every rookie is on his way to Cooperstown, and every manager is a certified genius. Without their mighty celebrating, the team might finish fifth — which it will anyway. But knowing the nuances of baseball like telling the pitcher, "Don't give him anything to hit, but don't walk him neither." Or telling a hitter, "Be sure to hit your pitch" knowing that HIS pitch will never show up in a big league game till they allow girls in it, is the stuff of pennants.
The manager, you see, also has to sell tickets. He knows he can't show up at spring training and tell the press, "If you took the best skills of all 40 men I got on the big club roster and put them all together they wouldn't make 1 1/2 major league ball players." He's got to deal in the big con.
Every year at this time we offer you Murray's Instant Decoder and flash on the screen for you, "What They Say" and "What It Means." Just remember, the manager's pitch looks big and fat, but you can trust me it will curve into the dirt as soon as you go for it. First, what he says. And then, the curve.
"We think the trade will help both clubs" . . . "We got two guys they don't want for two guys we don't want and, pretty soon, we're all going to find out why the other fellow didn't want them."
"He's got an arm like Koufax" . . . "It's got five fingers, an elbow, bicep, and it can cut steak. Unfortunately, it's attached to a guy who in no way resembles Koufax."
“We're going for youth" . . . "The infield looks like a slow leak in Boys Town and, believe me, 'leak' is the word. That fellow in Montreal, John Robertson, said they made the routine ground ball extinct. Around the league, they're known as 'The Big E.' They're going to make the infield fly rule extinct, too. They throw more ground balls than they field."
"We got the best bench in the league" . . . "It's the players sitting on it that aren't much good."
"I saw Ruth in his prime, and our cleanup hitter is just like him" . . . "He drinks, chases girls, stays out late, and eats too much. At the plate, he looks more like his first name is Ruth."
"He has all the tools to make it" . . . "As a plumber."
"They've got us to beat" . . . "That's just the trouble."
"This club will steal on you" . . . "Lock your lockers."
"You're going to find we got the best bunch of utility men in the game" . . . "And to prove it, they'll all be climbing light poles this time next year."
"I figure a year in Double A could help our outfield" . . . "I don't have to tell you that I mean 'Alcoholics Anonymous.' "
"You'd have to say our starting five are all finished pitchers by now" . . . "Also by the fifth inning."
"This club is well-balanced" . . . "Everybody is mediocre."
"If we can improve in a few areas, we'll take it all" . . . "The areas are pitching, fielding, and hitting."
"We figure the Big Guy will be healthy this year" . . . "He was in the whirlpool so much last year the guys started to throw him sardines."
Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times.
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