It’s fun to talk like an insider, yelling that a play was Prime Time, baby. Or that Pujols just mashed a tater. Or even that a scrum half wiggled his way upfield like a baggy up a Border burn. The folks in Hawick were chuffed when rugby commentator Bill McLaren offered that analogy – even if you and I would not have a clue what this means.
Cliches are fun to say, but difficult to understand, especially to readers who have just started following a sport. We can’t write just to insiders, otherwise newer fans will get frustrated and confused. That’s why sports journalists need to be more precise. To assist in that quest, here are some tips to improve writing about baseball:
- Do not feel compelled to add ‘inning’ throughout a game story. Using it in first reference is sufficient. For example, you can write that “Eastern held a 4-2 lead in the eighth.”
- Home run is two words. (And it is not a ‘dinger nor ‘tater.’)
- Fielders do not ‘gun out’ runners on the bases, fortunately. Otherwise, that would be the story. Instead, you should write that someone made a strong throw from right field to third that beat the runner for the final out. In a one or two-run game, you could spend even more time describing this place, perhaps making the play the lead.
- Spell out numbers under 10. A team collects eight hits, not 8. A player drives in four runs. A pitcher strikes out nine batters. A team scores two runs in the third inning. Unless the number is 10 or larger, do not use numerals.
- You can use numerals for numbers that would appear awkward or lengthy written out. For example, cite a player’s earned-run average as 2.86 and a player’s batting average as .385.
- Use fractions to address partial innings for pitchers. In a box score, you might see that C.C. Sabbathia pitched 6.2 innings. Do not use that shorthand in your game stories, because that really means that C.C. pitched two-tenths of an inning, which is impossible since there are three outs. Instead, write that Sabathia pitched 6 2/3 innings.
- Use words to convey when a pitcher completed less than one inning. For example, “Jamie Moyer lasted one-third of an inning” or “Mariano Rivera pitched two-thirds of an inning for the save.”
- Runs ≠’pushed across the plate’, nor ‘plated.’ Avoid these like a slider on the outside of the plate. Keep repeating: Cliches suck.
- By the way, home runs are not mammoth (or woolly). If you want to convey that a home run went far or high, estimate how far it traveled. For example, “Rodriguez belted a two-run homer that carried well beyond the 420-foot wall in left-center field.”
- Introduce speakers after the first quoted sentence, otherwise readers will have to guess who’s talking. “The elbow is under stress every time a pitcher throws a pitch,” said Dr. John Deitch, who directs the sports medicine discipline for WellSpan Orthopedics in York. “Recent research suggests that the fastball is as stressful on that ligament as an off-speed pitch. Every time a pitcher cocks his arm back, every single pitch, the elbow is under stress. The way this ligament wears out is repetitive stress.”
- Tell the reader more than who won the game in the lead. Find a story angle that might revolve around a key play, trend or stat – or around a storyline off the field.
- Use active voice. Instead of stating that a player had four hits and two RBI, write that a player rapped four hits and drove in two runs.
- Team records are not that important in most baseball stories, so insert those beyond the opening paragraphs. And when you do, you can set them off with parentheses. For example, “Eastern Illinois (13-10) used four pitchers in the game.”
- Get comments from coaches and players from both teams.
For more help in learning how to use sports terms, you can check out the Field Guide To Covering Sports. The Associated Press stylebook also offers some examples in a back section.
Remember, precise language conveys information far better than vague cliches. Always.