Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Vin Scully Is Wrong, and I'm Right

Yes, the title of this piece is a sensationalist headline, designed to grab your attention and draw you in to read further. Vin Scully is wrong--about something, perhaps about only one thing--but my point here is not to single him out for criticism. He is far from the only baseball announcer to make an all too common mistake.

Vin Scully's voice is the most recognizable to make the mistake, and he does it at the start of every broadcast. "It's time for Dodger baseball!" he announces in the most pleasing voice ever to grace the airwaves. But wait--there is no such thing as "Dodger" baseball. That would be game played by a lone Dodger. The games Scully has been announcing since before even I was born are played by the "Dodgers." That's the name of the franchise: Dodgers.

Think about it. Would it be correct to say "The Dodger scored one run yesterday" or "The Dodger will be on the road next week"? Of course not. It's the Dodgers. The team scored one run. The team is going on the road. Yet here's Vin Scully telling us he's about to describe something called "Dodger baseball." Just because our most beloved broadcaster says it before every game, it is not necessarily correct. In fact, it's dead wrong.

Scully would be correct if he said, "It's time for Dodger Stadium baseball," but he doesn't say that. When I've brought up this issue to many people, their response has been, "Well, in that case, why is it called Dodger Stadium?" Or Yankee Stadium. Or some other team's stadium. The simple answer is that because the "s" sound is already present in "stadium," it is linguistically more difficult to ask a speaker to double up on the sound. Try it. You have to pause slightly between words when you say "Yankees' starting lineup" if you wish to say it correctly.

There have been a handful of exceptions to the ballpark-naming rule, most tellingly Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. The builders of that venerable cookie-cutter did not merely wish to honor one veteran; they wanted to honor all veterans,and however you wanted to pronounce it, that was fine. Similarly, you couldn't call the Pittsburgh cookie-cutter park "Three River Stadium" without maligning at least two of the rivers.

Other exceptions were Royals Stadium (now Kauffman Stadium), Seals Stadium (the first home of the San Francisco Giants), and my favorite of all, the only home park of the team immortalized in Ball Four, the Seattle Pilots. That park was named after the man who opened it in 1938, the man who owned the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League, and, not coincidentally, the Rainier Brewing Company. It was called Sick's Stadium. Much better than Sick Stadium, a moniker which could fit all too many places where major league ball has been played. But I digress.

There is only one instance when it is correct to use the singular form of a team name:  when you are talking about an individual player. Vin Scully would rightly say "Sandy Koufax is the only Dodger to pitch four no-hitters" or "only a Dodger would think of doing something like that to a Giant." But it would not be correct to say "Sandy Koufax joined Carl Erskine as the only Dodger to throw more than one no-hitter." If there were two of them, they were Dodgers, not a Dodger.

When someone goes out on a low-hanging limb and asks me "Are you a Yankee fan?" my response (these days) is "Yes, I like Ichiro. Which one do you like?" In earlier times, it has been Paul O'Neill, Ron Guidry, Bobby Murcer, Jim Bouton, and Moose Skowron, to name nearly every Yankee of whom I have been a fan. My smart-ass response is usually followed by "I mean the team? Do you like the team?" "Oh, the team. No, I'm not. You asked me about individuals." Any attempt my interlocutor makes to continue this line of questioning is met with further obfuscation and/or ball-busting. So don't get me started!

Of course, Vin Scully is not the only broadcaster to refer to his team erroneously in the singular. My "local" team, the Mets, has a very fine lead announcer in Gary Cohen, but he drives me nuts (albeit not a long jouirney) every time he says something like "Duda drove in the Met run in the second inning." Partly I'm dismayed because this means that the team's scoring is probably over for the day, but mainly it's because the team scored the run, and the team is the Mets. Cohen is a lifelong fan of the Mets, as I am, and he should know better. If he wants to say "Duda was the first Met to score in the eight-run second inning," that is just fine with me. I might doubt his veracity, but not his usage.

I do a lot of baseball reading and edit a lot of baseball books, and I can report that the average writer treats the singular and plural as virtually interchangeable. The manuscript I'm looking at right now says "Pirate hurler" in one paragraph and "Pirates pitcher" in the next. Yet both pitchers were employed by the Pirates.

Perhaps the height of confusion came in a rare baseball article a year ago in the AARP magazine. Here's a sentence from the article: "Veteran fans can see a little of Juan Marichal, the Giants right-hander of the 1960s, in the high-kicking rookie on the mound — or a touch of Dodger legend Pee Wee Reese in the soft hands of the new kid at short." 

There you have it, in one fell-swoopish sentence: the team from San Francisco is the Giants, while the team from Los Angeles is the Dodger. Do you suppose the AARP writer got his information from listening to Vin Scully? That would be a shame.

I know it's my problem that the confusion grates on me. Perhaps it's one of those usage quirks that we should indulge simply because it has existed for so long, like referring to the "foul pole" even though it's in fair territory. I guess my beef is that it is not simply a conscious choice to perpetuate an accepted phrase. More and more, the singular and plural are being used interchangeably because the speaker/writer hasn't thought about it at all, much less thought it through enough to realize that when you refer to something about a team, you should use the team's actual name.

Would a political observer discuss a "United Nation peacekeeping effort"? Did disc jockeys herald "Hey Jude" as "the latest Beatle #1 hit?" Are we witnessing the dawn of a new era in "United State" soccer? Of course not.

Come on, Gary Cohen, get with it! Are you a "Met" fan, or do you like the whole damn team?

The subject of apostrophes and the possessive case will be discussed at the next breakdown.

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A couple of people have responded to this carping by saying (more or less), "Fine, your favorite Yankee is Ichiro. Since your main team is Cincinnati, if I made the mistake of asking 'Are you a Red fan? Which one is your favorite?' what would be your answer?" Here's a list of what my response would be for every major league team.

Red: Erik the
Astro: the Jetsons' dog
Ray: Charles
Ranger: Aragorn
Cardinal: Richelieu
Twin: Danny DeVito
Angel: Gabriel, of course
Royal: Grace Kelly
Cub: Jimmy Olsen
Tiger: Tony the
Mariner: Coleridge's ancient one
Brave: Huxley's new world
Dodger: Jack Dawkins (see Dickens)
A: 11th-grade English
Marlin: the one that got away from Ted Williams
Brewer: Gerard Adriaan Heineken
Giant: Gargantua
Indian: Crazy Horse
Rocky: Raccoon
Pirate: Jean Lafitte
Philly: cheesesteak
Blue Jay: Stellar's
Oriole: Bullock's
Diamondback: crotalus atrox
Padre: Father Flanagan
Yankee: Hank Morgan (see Twain)
Met: the one where Pavarotti sang
National: League [Senator: Alan Simpson] [Expo: 1964 NY World's Fair]
White Sock: what I wore to play on my high school tennis team [plus one gray one]
Red Sock: Schilling's bloody one

There you have it. Any more questions?

1 comment:

Bruce Brodersen said...

I think the reason us Met fans act in the singular is because, as you stated in your article, the next word usually begins with an "s" - however, most often that word is "suck"!