Why We Stopped Avoiding Clichés ... Like The Plague

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“Both teams came to play!” somebody blurted.

Then somebody else barked, “We’ll take them one game at a time.”

The fever was upon us in the corner of WBUR given over to Only A Game. The clichés were bouncing off the walls, threatening to careen into the news department…a development that would have loosed listener emails dripping vitriol on the reporters and producers had the clichés ever aired.

“You win some, you lose some,” said the intern.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover!” shouted some well-meaning clown who didn’t understand that we were limiting ourselves to clichés set in sports.

That set up the remedy for which we — and everyone else — can thank Ring Lardner.

“Shut up,” I explained. In quotes.

And then it was all downhill, or uphill, or something…to the show.

It was good times on the job that day, at least in part because we’d all been temporarily released from the injunction to avoid clichés like the plague. Or something.

Anyway, it was liberating, and somebody hit on the idea that after 22 years of avoiding clichés, it was time to embrace them. We would build a show around the most stale, hollow, dead expressions we could recall, recognizing that because practice might make perfect, we would not practice this, because we certainly didn’t want to get good at it, since, after all, winning isn’t everything.


Anyway, it was heartening to realize that avoiding sports clichés for all those years hadn’t dulled our collective ability to recall dumb language and wallow in it. Unless it wasn’t heartening.

Actually, dumb language is smart language if you are a player trying to avoid making news. Recall, if you will, the advice minor league veteran Crash Davis gives his rookie teammate, Nuke LaLoosh, about what he should say to the press in the movie classic, "Bull Durham:"


Crash Davis is right. You’ll never get in trouble providing your audience with clichés…unless you’re trying to create a sports radio program for listeners with opposable thumbs, as Charlie Pierce once put it.

So this week we’ve gotten “you lose and you go home” and “the ball’s in your court” out of the way…forever, I hope. And next week we promise we’ll give 110 percent…or maybe even a 120 percent…or maybe not, because anything over 100 percent and you’re not staying within yourself, which is important, especially when time is running out. Which it is. Thank goodness.

This segment aired on May 9, 2015.

Headshot of Bill Littlefield

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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