Baseball: A Game of Words
By: Marty Winkler
Joaquin Andujar was a Major League pitcher known as much for his fiery demeanor on the field as he was his consistency and durability in the 1970s and 1980s. Before each start, on his last warm up pitch, Andujar would go into his full wind-up, and rocket the baseball as hard as he could over the catcher’s head and into the backstop, simply to show how hard he was able to throw and declare that he was now ready to face a batter.
Andujar was dominant in his prime, particularly during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1981 – 1985. During this time, Andujar won two National League Pennants (1982, 1985), one World Series Championship (1982), made two All-Star teams (1984, 1985), won a Gold Glove (1984), and lead the National League in wins (1984). He also averaged 36 starts per season, a feat that would be unheard of by today’s standards. No player since 1991 has had more than 36 starts in a season, much less averaged 36 starts for four straight full seasons. Andujar was every bit a work horse. And he was valued for it.
While Andujar’s on-field accomplishments are certainly notable, his biggest contribution to baseball came off the field. In a 1987 interview with Sports Illustrated, Andujar was reflecting on his career and why he loved baseball. He stated, "This game can be described in one word: Youneverknow."
Andujar’s quote quickly made the rounds and is now well established in the baseball lexicon. It was also one of the times a player successfully delivered his thought to the media while also showing some of his personality.
This balance is something that many ballplayers (if not all of them in today’s professional game) struggle with. They want to tell it like it is and say what is on their mind, but don’t’ want to throw anyone under the bus or create a media frenzy around themselves because something is considered "controversial." This often results in dry interviews that is filled with cliché after cliché, leaving the media and fans alike with the job of having to translate what the player is trying to say:
CLICHÉ: It’s a beautiful day for baseball.
TRANSLATION: It’s 99 Degrees outside with roughly 200% humidity, but the field looks terrific!
CLICHÉ: He had the batters eating out of his hand.
TRANSLATION: Those were some pretty hard hit line drives right at people, but hey, a zero in the hit column is a zero in the hit column.
CLICHÉ: We played a hard nine.
TRANSLATION: Batters forced every at bat to a full count before inevitably striking out, dragging the game out to a total of 4 hours, 17 minutes.
CLICHÉ: He’s got good mechanics.
TRANSLATION: He throws 100mph and has not had Tommy John surgery…yet.
CLICHÉ: He’s a gritty player.
TRANSLATION: He’s Ben Zobrist.
CLICHÉ: We got a real pitcher’s duel going on right now.
TRANSLATION: This game is really, really boring.
CLICHÉ: This game is a real slugfest.
TRANSLATION: Many home runs have been hit this game, making the announcers talk about launch angle non-stop.
CLICHÉ: He’s trying to pitch out of a jam.
TRANSLATION: Jason Isringhausen is trying to close out a game.
CLICHÉ: That’s a home run in any other ballpark.
TRANSLATION: This game is being played in Comerica Park.
CLICHÉ: We’re happy to make it out of here with a victory.
TRANSLATION: We lost the first two games of the series by a wide margin, but we squeezed out a victory this afternoon on a throwing error by the shortstop.
CLICHÉ: It was a total team effort.
TRANSLATION: Our ace was on the mound and we just stayed out of the way.
CLICHÉ: We’re going to savor this victory.
TRANSLATION: I’m stopping by Taco Bell on the way home to get some nachos and then I’m going to bed because we play the same team again at noon tomorrow.
CLICHÉ: They caught us on an off-night.
TRANSLATION: The opposing team somehow managed to score 5 runs before the first pitch was even thrown.
Cliches play an important role in baseball. While they are severely overused (hence being clichés), they allow players, managers, and announcers alike to make a statement, without really saying anything at all. It makes the moments of honesty and quick wit, like Andjuar’s, that much more special and memorable.
Shortstop Ozzie Smith was Andujar’s teammate in St. Louis for four seasons. Smith, a switch hitter who is certainly more known for his glove than his bat, probably had his most famous moment during Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship Series when he hit the game winning home run from the left side of the plate, despite having never homering in his previous 3,009 left-handed major league at bats.
After the game, manager Whitey Herzog was asked if he was surprised by Smith’s sudden surge in power. "Absolutely not," quipped Herzog. "I figured he was due."