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August 7, 2013

The Lineup Card

Nine of the Worst Baseball Clichés

by Baseball Prospectus

1. It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Nothing against the sentiment, which is true in its way, it’s just that the language is imprecise and, in relative terms, unconvincing. The NBA and NHL calendars are longer {lockout joke} than MLB’s. So is the Premier League’s. The point made by marathon-not-sprint isn’t actually about duration, it’s about frequency: you have to play baseball almost every day, whereas the other sports give you more days off than on—that “padding” what makes their seasons longer. The cliché’s intent, which includes mild disdain for the sporadic scheduling of other sports, would be better expressed by something like: “It’s a job, not a hobby.” —Adam Sobsey

2. The Improper Use of "Patient" and "Disciplined" to Describe Hitters
Patience is a virtue, or so we're told. And when announcers tell us that a hitter is patient, it's usually meant as a compliment. Or at least it's supposed to be. See also: disciplined hitter. The thing that always grinds my gears is that patience and discipline have come to be exclusively synonyms for hitters who take a lot of pitches and have high walk rates. That can be the mark of someone who is patient and disciplined. If the ball is three feet outside, a player should have the discipline to let it go by. But suppose that the ball is a nice hanging curve about belt high. There's no discipline in letting that one sail by.

The point of plate discipline is not letting pitches go by for the sake of letting them go by. It's recognizing what you are capable of and then figuring out whether a particular pitch is worth swinging at. If you recognize the first pitch in an at-bat as one that you can deposit in left field for a single, then by all means, swing. Walks and high pitch counts (while they have their benefits) are not necessarily signs that you are a patient or disciplined hitter. It might simply mean that you are a passive hitter. It might also mean that pitchers don't want to really challenge you because you might hit the ball a long way. On the flip side, if a hitter is capable of reaching a lot of pitches (a la Vladimir Guerrero about 10 years ago) and getting hits on them, then that's disciplined as well. The point of the exercise is not to walk in every plate appearance. It's to do something productive with your at-bat. And while we might all worship at the altar of "drive up the pitch count," if you can score 10 runs and the pitcher only throws 60 pitches, you'll still be okay. —Russell A. Carleton

3. Must-Win Games
Undeniably, there are games of greater importance or added significance than others. Rarely, however, are there true must-win games. The term implies a do-or-die dynamic, and is overused and, in a literal sense, misused. Games are said to be must-win so often that the actual must-win games almost have to be called something else in order to differentiate them from the imposters. —R.J. Anderson

4. Professional Hitter
There is no shortage of baseball terms that we all know the meaning of, even though they might not make the most sense in the world. The one that bothers me the most is when (usually) veterans who step to the plate are referred to as "professional hitters." We get it, they are often players who have at some point either hit for high average or seen a lot of pitches in their plate appearances. They probably also fouled a lot of balls off. Maybe they can still be productive, but they're likely past their primes. With that said, literally every player who has an at-bat in the major leagues (or minor leagues, for that matter) is a professional hitter. Let's go to the video tape:

pro·fes·sion·al [pruh-fesh-uh-nl], adjective:
  1. following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain: a professional builder.
  2. of, pertaining to, or connected with a profession: professional studies.
  3. appropriate to a profession: professional objectivity.
  4. engaged in one of the learned professions: A lawyer is a professional person.
  5. following as a business an occupation ordinarily engaged in as a pastime: a professional golfer.
Last I checked, everyone who comes up to bat in a major-league or minor-league game is there because it is their occupation, not out of the goodness of their own heart. There has to be a better term for this that we can all start using for guys like Paul Konerko, Michael Young and the like. We can't just call them veteran hitters, as that's just "a person who is long-experienced or practiced in an activity or capacity," and it has no direct ties to performance. I mean, Yuniesky Betancourt is a veteran for crying out loud. We can't call them good hitters, as while there may be a decent amount of overlap in that Venn diagram, it's certainly going to be inappropriate some of the time.
My proposition: let's just label the good ones as good hitters and the ones who used to be good as pesky hitters. Maybe the professional broadcasters will heed the advice. —Bret Sayre

5. Even the best hitters fail 70 percent of the time
“Baseball is a game of failure,” people sometimes say, and while trite, there’s plenty of truth to that. The real problems pop up when people try to quantify that failure. A 70 percent failure rate suggests that a hit is the only positive outcome of a plate appearance. It’s a relic of an era when batting average ruled the roost and no one worried about walks or on-base percentage. Sixty percent would be better, though even that might be an exaggeration; Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera, for instance, make outs about 55 percent of the time. And maybe “making an out” is itself too broad a definition of failure: a hard line drive that lands in a glove is in some sense a success for the hitter, who did everything right and was robbed. (Though you could say the opposite about a blooper that falls in.) No matter where you put the percentage, it’s potentially misleading. Let’s just leave it at “game of failure.”

(Then again, what sport, or human endeavor of any kind, doesn’t involve failure? And isn’t every failure someone else’s success? Maybe it’s time to rebrand baseball as a game of success.) —Ben Lindbergh

6. Selective Aggression
Admittedly, my hated for "selectively aggressive" is irrational. I know what it means, I understand the deeper concepts, but it drives me nuts.

If you're a poker fan you probably know what "selective aggression" is. More than an oxymoron, it's a philosophy that encourages players to go for a pot when they have a chance.

Maybe the concept makes sense to you, but there is a problem with oxymorons: they can lead to confusion, especially when translating the concept to another language.

So, why is the term used when it comes to hitting? Well, hitters want to find pitches they can do damage with, and lay off of ones they can't drive. It makes sense, and it avoids the confusion created by a clumsy figure of speech. —Mike Ferrin.

7. "You Talk About ______"
I am actually not talking! I am listening. You are the one talking. Continue with your thought, Mr. Broadcaster. —Matt Sussman

8. Bryce Harper Plays Too Hard, Unlike Mike Trout/Pete Rose
Now that Bryce Harper is in his second season and new exciting rookies have appeared on the scene, the wunderkind is expected to mature and round out his potential. One aspect of Harper’s play—one of Harper’s defining aspects, it seems—that has been under discussion this season is whether he plays too recklessly and aggressively. In an earlier Lineup Card, no fewer than four esteemed BP colleagues cited Harper’s forceful style of play as an injury risk that would lead them to take Mike Trout as a franchise player over him.

Harper’s aggressiveness has been compared many times to that of Pete Rose. Rose himself weighed in on this topic with BP’s own Mike Ferrin last week: “There’s a difference between playing hard and playing recklessly. And Bryce plays recklessly.” This is coming from the guy who dislocated Ray Fosse’s shoulder in an exhibition game. Rose bruised his knee on that play and missed three games as a result.

The misadventure that sticks out most in people’s minds is when he crashed into the Dodger Stadium wall. But there’s nothing wrong with Harper’s “mindset” or “style” that will have him colliding full-steam with unpadded walls his whole career. He got a bit lost in the outfield—which, as Rose pointed out, is still a fairly new position for him. Less than two weeks later, the mortal Harper may even have cost himself an important catch because the Dodger Stadium episode was still in his head.

I have not seen Bryce Harper play recklessly this year. In fact, Harper has matured in much the same way people expected he would. Last year, he was prone to high-intensity, low-percentage throws when there were smarter plays available. (Adam LaRoche gave him a talking-to in the dugout after one error on an overthrow led to a run against Colorado on June 26 last year.) This year, he’s been throwing back to the infield more often instead of trying for every play at home.

Harper has proved that concerns about his emotional maturity from the minor leagues were overblown. People will hopefully soon realize that he’s not a danger to himself physically, either. —Dan Rozenson

9. Change-Piece, Slide-Piece
I’ll start off with a confession: I’ve caught myself using a couple of the clichés chosen by my colleagues here. In fact, while working TV color commentary for the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate just last weekend, I described Rangers prospect Luis Sardinas as having a “professional approach,” or being a “professional hitter,” or something of that sort. It’s vague and carries little meaning, but my brain was running on autopilot in an attempt to fill the three-hour telecast. I cringed a bit as the words left my mouth, at least. Sorry, Bret.

Now that we’re beyond that, I’ll talk about my pet peeve: adding “-piece” when referring to an off-speed pitch. It doesn’t add anything, it means nothing, and it actually makes the original word longer, yet I often hear people––including players and coaches––saying “slide-piece” or “change-piece.” I also heard an AZL Angels pitcher say “changy” last week––that’s a new one for me. In the long run, this is harmless and it’s nothing more than a personal pet peeve. Perhaps I’ll eventually be sucked in. Anybody else see Verlander’s fastball-piece last night? —Jason Cole

Related Content:  Cliches

49 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


Not a baseball cliche per se, but it seems the majority of former players in the booth or studio have to begin a comment with, "I'll tell you what ...."

Aug 07, 2013 05:32 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Dan Rozenson
BP staff

Yeah, it's a verbal tic some people have in the booth. Bill Clinton used to always begin sentences with "Let me just say this," as though anyone would dare interrupt the President!

Aug 07, 2013 07:02 AM

John Hart: "Look,..."

Aug 07, 2013 10:49 AM
rating: 2

95% of (insert pluralized position player here) would not have been able to make that play.

Aug 07, 2013 06:11 AM
rating: 0

How about "a tie goes to the runner"? There is no such rule.

Aug 07, 2013 07:23 AM
rating: 4

True. Technically the runner has to BEAT the force at any base, so a tie (assuming that's even theoretically possible) would actually go to the fielder.

Aug 07, 2013 09:51 AM
rating: 2
Isaac Lin

There are three relevant rules, two of which could be interpreted as the fielder must tag the base before the runner touches it, and one that could be interpreted the other way:


(Note one of the links in this article is to a Baseball Prospectus interview with umpire Jim Evans.)

As I understand it, umpires are taught that there are no ties: they must decide who reached the bag first and make the call accordingly. (In essence, their decision defines who was there first.)

Aug 10, 2013 00:07 AM
rating: 0
Bob Stocking

How about a pitcher "bearing down" to retire a hitter? Because usually they're not trying ...?

Aug 07, 2013 07:40 AM
rating: 0

I see your point, but not totally sure I agree. There's a fair amount of evidence that pitchers do NOT (probably cannot, particularly starters) give max effort on every pitch. So there is some truth to guys "bearing down" in tight situations.

Aug 07, 2013 09:55 AM
rating: 1

I can't believe I'm saying this, but Rose might have a point: In the 9 seasons where he primarily played the OF, he rarely missed a game. The Fosse play might well be the outlier.

Aug 07, 2013 07:51 AM
rating: 0

I liked the article; Sobsey gave 110%. Carleton's a gamer. No one wants it more than R.J. Anderson.

Lindbergh plays the game (of writing) the way it was meant to be played. Ferrin's a great clubhouse guy. Sussman's a scrapper.

Rozenson is, pure and a simple, a baseball player (writer-about.) Cole keeps it light, helping the whole ballclub.

I thought maybe Mike Fast would have one here, but he gone.

Aug 07, 2013 08:16 AM
rating: 30

My particular hated baseball cliches is any variation on the phrase about "old school" baseball.

It is possible that over the years styles and priorities have changed somewhat, and sometimes it is used to praise a particular player, but ordinarily the phrase is used as a swipe at current ball players suggesting they do not try as hard or are less interested in fundamentals or some such nonsense.

What is particularly galling when I hear this is that it is now uttered by players who retired a few years ago, the very players who were the object of the same derisive comments when they played, as has every generation of players.

Aug 07, 2013 08:23 AM
rating: 2

Actually laughing at "changy". I actually kind of like it.

Aug 07, 2013 08:46 AM
rating: 2

How about when a batter doubles in a runner from second and the announcer says they have traded places? I always thought a player went into the dugout after scoring a run and not back to the batter's box.

Aug 07, 2013 08:49 AM
rating: 4

What about The Hawk's TWTW, Can't measure that with your sabermatronics! The will to win is what every ball club needs!

Aug 07, 2013 09:05 AM
rating: 2

The aggregate record of the teams The Hawk played for was 232 games BELOW .500 during the 9 seasons he played. Moreover, the only teams he ever played on that finished above .500 were the 1967-69 Red Sox, and that gives him credit for the 23 games he played for them in '67 and the 10 he played for them in '69.

I guess he just lacked the will to win.

Aug 07, 2013 09:17 AM
rating: 9

I'm a White Sox fan so I consume a lot of Hawk BS. I can't stand when he says "That's a hang with 'em! He hit it right at 'em!"

No Hawk, the defense is usually positioned there because of evil sabermetrics.

Aug 07, 2013 10:44 AM
rating: 4

"I always played the game the right way..." always makes me cringe. Playing the game "the right way" means running out every ground ball and pop-up every time. The number of players who do that is surely much smaller than the number of players who claim to have "played the game the right way."

Aug 07, 2013 09:25 AM
rating: 0

I always felt like this quote only made sense for kids playing t-ball, where a kid might hit a ball and run straight for second base. That is playing the game the wrong way. I'm sure all players at the major league level are playing the "right way."

Aug 08, 2013 10:51 AM
rating: 2

"You can't teach that."

Aug 07, 2013 09:39 AM
rating: 3

Excellent one.

Aug 08, 2013 13:40 PM
rating: 0

"squared up the ball" two round surfaces can not be squared up

Aug 07, 2013 09:47 AM
rating: 1

"I battled out there, did my best to give my team a chance to win" is another doozy, recently spoken by John Lannan, after a mediocre pitching performance in a game he gave away via sheer baserunning laziness.

With two outs and Lannan on first, Chase Utley hit a shot to right center that seemed destined for the seats. Lannan jogged toward second, admiring the flight of the ball, until it hit the outfield fence. He then started running hard, only to be thrown out at home on a bang-bang play.

I'll concede that Lannan's no speedster, but still, if he had started running as fast as he could AT THE CRACK OF THE BAT, which is what you are supposed to do when there are two outs, he would have scored without a throw. Instead, his "I'll just jog because that ball's surely going over the fence" act would cost his team at least one run, which ended up being being a crucial factor in his team losing the game.

But hey, John, that's okay, you say you "battled out there?" You did everything you could to give your team a chance to win? I guess that's all anyone can ask, right?

Aug 07, 2013 09:48 AM
rating: 0

How bout this one: "It's a game of inches." What sport is NOT a game of inches?

Aug 07, 2013 09:51 AM
rating: 0

Canadian football.

Aug 07, 2013 14:52 PM
rating: 4

Actually, the CFL is not metric. They use yards, and by extension, inches.

Aug 07, 2013 16:40 PM
rating: 0
Randy Brown

I tried to come up with a cliche of my own, but I couldn't. I think that I was just trying too hard.

Aug 07, 2013 10:05 AM
rating: 7

Why do you guys hate fun?

Aug 07, 2013 11:03 AM
rating: 1

A couple of my own pet peeves:

1. "of late," as in, "he's been hitting well of late." What's wrong with "lately?" Or "recently? Is there anyone else on the planet, other than baseball announcers, who regularly say, "of late?"

2. when interviewing a player or manager, baseball announcers who don't ask questions but rather make a statement (e.g., "the team has been playing really good baseball of late, putting together clutch hits and picking one another up time and time again,") and then follow that with, "don't you think?" or sometimes with nothing else at all. Ask questions. That's your job as a journalist.

Aug 07, 2013 12:43 PM
rating: 2
Dave Scott

Sabermetrics and scouting have their cliches, too. I hope they turn to those next with great velo.

Aug 07, 2013 12:44 PM
rating: 3

Unlikely; too much swing and miss in their game.

Aug 07, 2013 22:06 PM
rating: 4
Jasun Lee

My biggest pet peeve for broadcasters is when they are discussing certain players and refer to them in a plural sense. "Your Mike Trouts and your Bryce Harpers" as an example.

Aug 07, 2013 12:45 PM
rating: 4
Pat Folz

AAAAAAAAA god this almost single-handedly made me stop listening to announcers at all.

It's also frequently combined Sussman's: "You talk about your Bryce Harpers, your Mike Trouts..."

I...don't...? But wait, you mean there are many Bryce Harpers? Did Mike Trout invent human cloning? Do they reproduce by mitosis? Have we built a porthole to a parallel dimension and are being invaded by evil dopplegangers? You're right, we all really should be talking more about that. Surprised it wasn't in the news...

Aug 07, 2013 15:49 PM
rating: 3

This may be a figure of speech known as synecdoche (pronounced sort of like Schenectady), in which a part is used to describe a whole. The quintessential example is "head of cattle."

If you see "your Bryce Harpers" as a general description of young, talented players, this fits the bill.

Or the speakers of the phrase could just be knuckleheads...

Aug 07, 2013 18:06 PM
rating: -1

"Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera, for instance, avoid making an out about 55 percent of the time."

I think the word "avoid" doesn't belong in this sentence.

Aug 07, 2013 13:34 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff


Aug 07, 2013 15:59 PM

Fan base is a dumb term in my view. What is a fan base? Are there fans who are not part of the base. Is it a place where fans go when they are not at the game?

Criminy, I feel like Jerry Seinfeld here.

Aug 07, 2013 15:02 PM
rating: 0


Aug 07, 2013 19:06 PM
rating: 0

^^^^^^ one of the funniest shows of all time

Aug 07, 2013 19:58 PM
rating: 0

Why not a substantive article on the top ten common misconceptions about baseball which are consistently passed on by clueless broadcasters despite a wealth of empirical research to the contrary? For example, the efficacy of lineup protection in "clutch" situations, the no-doubles defense, the importance of not making the second out at 3rd base (???), whether pitchers "pitch" to the score (Pitch F/X should answer this) or should they?, etc.

Aug 07, 2013 15:44 PM
rating: 3

Broadcasters need to broadcast to the 100IQ range, not the 120/130+ range. Advertising keeps them in business.

Aug 08, 2013 13:10 PM
rating: -1

I'd like to see which pet peeves were left on the cutting room floor here because I can think of a lot more that are overused/misused/flat out dumb.

Aug 07, 2013 17:05 PM
rating: 0

#9 "-piece" is of a piece with the persistent "golf shot" and Mike Shanahan being unable to mention his team without the word "football" in front of it, often three times in one sentence. What is it about these stupid phrases? Words are the business of announcers; why are so many of them so bad at their use?

Aug 07, 2013 23:03 PM
rating: 0

"We all feed off each other..."

Aug 08, 2013 01:24 AM
rating: -1

"How many times have you seen it? A guy makes a great play in the field and comes up to lead off the next inning."

The odds tell me I've seen it just about one time in every nine.

Aug 08, 2013 02:39 AM
rating: 1

Untracked as in "it took our starter a couple of innings to get untracked".

I *always* heard "on track" until sometime in the 90s when the malaprop become commonplace. I know the usage of "untracked" is decades old in some specific contexts (horse racing, understandably, is one), but I'm convinced dufus broadcasters and athletes corrupted "on track" to "untracked" without really thinking about they were saying. Now it is common usage, to the detriment of us all.

Aug 08, 2013 08:00 AM
rating: 1

I know that this is technically correct, but it bothers me when announcers say a team has an "anemic" offense. I know they mean the offense is listless or lacking power, but I can't help but think the offense has a reduced red blood cell count caused by a hemoglobin deficiency.

Aug 08, 2013 10:59 AM
rating: 3

one more "warning tract power"

Aug 08, 2013 13:12 PM
rating: 0
Roy in Omaha

Since improper use of a word is not a cliche' I feel obliged to weigh-in on my own pet peeve.

The miss-use of the words "cancelled" and "postponed".

How many times has some moron said "The game has been cancelled because of rain" when, in almost every case, it's just been postponed.

The cold blooded murder of the English tongue, indeed, as Professor Henry Higgins once so aptly pointed out.

Aug 08, 2013 16:02 PM
rating: 4
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