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May 21, 2012

Pebble Hunting

Baseball and the F Word

by Sam Miller

When I moved up from the 11-and-12 league to 13-and-14, there was a 14-year-old kid named Andrade who had grown himself a pretty good mustache. He caught, and whenever a pitch would get past him, he would yell “F***” as he turned to retrieve the pitch. The first time I heard this, I was shocked, and almost embarrassed. I’d used my share of swears, but never like this, in front of grown-ups. I had no idea that swearing was possible on a baseball field.

Of course, swearing is very possible on a baseball field. Perhaps going back to 1898, major-league baseball has been a place where profanity has thrived. On-field microphones rarely pick up the audio (except in Boston, I've found), but the cameras are careful to catch foul lips in high definition. “Well, if you can read lips,” the announcers sometimes will say. “Hey you can’t say that you’re outta here,” the umpires sometimes will say. Mostly, though, we just move on and don’t talk about it. Let’s talk about it. Why not? We might as well talk about it. What follows is a taxonomy of 13 major-league F-bombs. NSFW? I honestly don't know.

Old Man Profanity
There are four stages of discovering both the power and powerlessness of profanity. The first is learning about it and realizing that you can say it, even if only to yourself when nobody is around. Feels so thrilling coming off your tongue, almost sensual. The second stage is hearing your parents say it for the first time and realizing you must be pretty grown up if they trust you with those words. The third is hearing your pastor say it and having to decide whether to respond to his casual profanity with casual profanity, or whether it’s a trap. The fourth is when you see two senior citizens screaming it at each other in front of a paying audience of children.

This is the PG-13 version of Lemonparty. What I especially like about it is that Charlie Manuel is turned away from the camera but Bob Davidson tells us exactly what Manuel is saying.

Bob: F*** you, Charlie.
Charlie: /can’t be seen
Bob: No, f*** youuuu.

What else could Charlie have said?

The Passive-Aggressive Profanity
If you stand in the umpire’s face and yell “F***. S***” you’ll get ejected. If you walk away and say it just loud enough to be heard, but not so loud that you’re demanding a reaction, you can pretty much get your point across and live to get another plate appearance.

The difference between Kevin Youkilis’ simple, direct profanity and Daniel Duffy’s more narrative profanity (next) is, in just two GIFs, the entire difference between rookies and veterans.

The Young Buck Profanity
This is Daniel Duffy:

This is Daniel Duffy in Daniel Duffy’s mind:

The Constant Profanity
Baseball players sleep on $4,000 mattresses. Do you appreciate how relaxed you would feel if you slept on a $4,000 mattress? Very relaxed, unless you bought the mattress on credit and you had just lost your job. Then not relaxed. Rich baseball players are not in debt, and they are well-rested on very nice mattresses, and surely they realize that baseball is all pretend in the end, yet they must somehow fire themselves up and keep the adrenaline going for three hours. Some of them do this by telling themselves that the guy in the other uniform is probably a pedophile and that they are at war with the pedophiles, and they do this by walking onto the field to Godsmack, and they do it by screaming themselves hoarse after every base hit. This is Jered Weaver, after a two-out single with the bases empty. Again: two-out single, bases empty. The Angels' win expectancy drops by just two percentage points after this two-out single with the bases empty:

When somebody compliments you on your poker face, they mean that you’re stone-cold. But any poker face that doesn’t reveal your mood is a good poker face. Jered Weaver on the field has a good poker face. When he’s really upset, he screams profanity. When he’s really happy, he screams profanity. When he’s drinking water from a little Dixie cup, he screams profanity and gets water all over his chin. “Homer, you couldn’t keep up a hunger strike. You eat while you’re brushing your teeth,” Marge Simpson once said. Similarly, Jered Weaver screams profanity when he’s quoting the Simpsons.

The Nuclear Bomb Profanity
And then there is something like Brett Lawrie.

To appreciate the scale of this F-bomb, realize that the camera is not zooming in on Brett Lawrie. Brett Lawrie’s head is actually growing. Soon it will fill the screen. Then it will fill the ballpark. Eventually it will fill all of space, and perhaps all of time.

The Scared Umpire Profanity
Let’s face it. If Brett Lawrie came after you, with all his tattoos, spiking his helmet at your feet, just a few feet away from a 35-oz deadly weapon, and making a crazy Brett Lawrie face at you, it wouldn’t matter how many witnesses there were. You’d probably think he was going to assault and, perhaps, murder you. You’re a man. You do pushups. You’ve fantasized about getting pushed too far and fighting back. But in this moment, you’re quite reasonably scared. What does a man say when he’s super scared in front of several thousand people? You know what a man says. He says the same thing he says when he accidentally pulls into a gas station that has gone out of business. He says it in a different tone, though. He says it in this tone:

The Manager Profanity
If Dusty Baker were a crazy person, a truly crazy person with schizophrenia, how different would he look on TV? Chewing a toothpick. Staring straight ahead. Talking to himself. Shaking his head. Shouting the F word.

Just being a manager, doin' manager things.

The Injury Profanity
Bobby Wilson’s cerebral cortex:

“Fffffffffff

 

ffffff what was I saying?”

The Fightin’ Words Profanity
Pablo Sandoval thinks Willie Bloomquist, at second base, has relayed signs to the hitter.

Pablo Sandoval: F*** you.
Willie Bloomquist: You talkin’ to me?
Willie Bloomquist: You talkin’ to me?
Willie Bloomquist: Then who the hell else you talkin' to?
Pablo Sandoval: F*** you.
Willie Bloomquist: You talkin’ to me?
Willie Bloomquist: Well I’m the only one here.

Pablo Sandoval: You. You.
Willie Bloomquist: Awww crud, I was hoping you were talking to somebody else.
Willie Bloomquist: I'm so weak :(

The Resigned-To-Fate Profanity
A lot of profanity comes during intense action—just as a ball lands safely or is caught, just after a strike is or isn’t called. Some of it comes many minutes afterward, when the player has time to reflect and take inventory. The pitcher walking back to the dugout at the end of an inning, finally extricated from a run-scoring rally, often swears. The batter sitting ponderous and alone in the dugout after a strikeout will often expel a cuss or two. Here, we see Hamilton caught at the very instant when in-the-moment becomes reflection.

Hamilton: That’s bulls***.
Umpire: What? He tagged you.
Hamilton (internal): No way. No way he tagged me. Maybe he did, but I didn’t feel it. But maybe he did. I don’t know. Either way, the umpire has called me out, and my brief opportunity for glory has expired. Thankfully, there are more innings in this game, and there are more games to be played, and I will have more opportunities. But to what end? Who will remember me when I’m dead? Oh, but who will remember me when those people are dead? And when they’re dead? If I’m doomed to be forgotten, am I really even alive? Am I any more alive than this bat here on the ground? [Kicks bat.] F***.

The Persuasive Profanity
John Farrell is basically calm. 

Hey, look, he’s not yelling. Nobody is raising his voice here. If he’s using some profanity, well, it’s just because you’re not getting it, you hear me? He tried to explain it, but he wasn’t getting through, so now he’s just trying to emphasize the point that you’re just not getting. Are you listening? It’s pretty clear, if you just listen to me, you moron.

The Fleeting Expletive

Here is Josh Donaldson, after an error. This is, I believe, mostly for show, a verbal extension of the Pained Grimace that we talked about when we talked about error faces. Sometimes players have to swear so that everybody knows they take their jobs seriously. Baseball players have the weirdest jobs.

The Happy Profanity
McSweeney’s once ran a bunch of (fake) kids letters from terrorist summer camp. This was the best:

Yesterday, at automatic-weapon practice, I won the marksmanship medal. Afterward, I was so happy, I kept firing my gun into the air. Then today ... my stupid Kalashnikov jammed and I wound up losing. I was so mad, I kept firing my gun into the air.

This is J.P. Howell firing his gun up in the air because he is …

happy! Howell has made 15 appearances this year and allowed baserunners in all but three. This was one of the three. The Rays were winning by five runs. He was very, very happy that he pitched a scoreless inning with his team up by five.

We scream profanity when terrible things happen because it is hard to accept that happiness cannot be permanent. We scream profanity when good things happen, though, because we realize happiness is an act of grace, a grace that is out of our control, a gift that flutters above us and decides to descend on us only on its own schedule. In each case, we are coping with the inevitability of disappointment and death. J.P. Howell always makes me think about life. He also makes me think he's a crazy ... uh, a crazy ... he's a crazy something. I just can't think of the word.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

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