When the Sports World Spoke Eloquently

It is often said of baseball that the game hasn't changed much over the past century or so. Three strikes, three outs, nine men on the field, nine innings, and various other constants of the game have been, in a changing world inclined to move too quickly, reassuring, at least to some.

On the other hand, the manner in which the players themselves have talked about the game at which they make their living has changed a good deal, and not, it might be said, for the better.

Consider, for example, the words the most successful pitcher in baseball history, Cy Young, used to describe his catcher on the Boston club of 1903, Lou Criger. "it means a lot to a pitcher to know that the man behind the gun will nab your ball, provided that he can get one hand on it," opined Cy. "And many a time I have known him to arrest the progress of a widely pitched ball I believed he would be unable to reach at all."

Some of the prose from the press box was similarly grand. Having witnessed a sparkling play during the 1903 World Series by Boston left fielder Pat Dougherty at the expense of the Pittsburgh club owned by Barney Dreyfuss, the Globe's Tim Murnane wrote: "the fielding of the Boston men was a bit too speedy for the Dreyfuss crowd, which has had a season of easy mutton, and Dougherty rose to the occasion yesterday like a trout to fly in spring time."

These samples come from Boston Globe writer Bob Ryan's splendid book about the first World Series of the so-called modern era, the best-five-of-nine contest won by the Boston club in 1903. Intriguingly, at least according to one small newspaper story which appeared mere weeks before the historic confrontation, the match-up was initially known — modestly, accurately - as "the championship of the United States."

Mr. Ryan may not have intended for his entirely entertaining book to raise the questions that occurred to me when I'd finished when Boston won the World Series, but I couldn't help but wonder...when did players stop bothering to speak in complete sentences? When did sportswriters begin to rely so heavily on cliches? And how was it that an autumn contest between two teams in the eastern United States became known as the World Series?

This program aired on May 7, 2003. The audio for this program is not available.


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