Just to follow up on some of the ideas I was discussing last week: I'm a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees. (You may despise me all you like, but I'm not changing my affiliation. Deal with it.) And, since I am not nearly wealthy enough to buy season tickets (and uninterested in making the two-hour hike to and from the Bronx 81 times a year), I watch almost every game on television, as the gods intended.
Hang on, writing fans. I'm getting there.
Seeing that number of games broadcast--and for us die-hards it's actually seven days a week for some stretches of the season--naturally we get to hear the announcers very frequently and pick up some of their verbal patterns. Each one has his own style (except Meredith Marakovitz, who has her own style). Some of the ex-players speak in such arcane detail about the swing of a bat or the release point of a pitch that I can feel I've never actually seen this sport before and must be watching it with the SAP button pressed on my TV because it's in a foreign language.
Others, the professional announcers who have not played the game themselves, are there to remind us there's a game going on sometimes (the ex-players tend to reminisce or explain a point for the next six plays). They usually provide play-by-play, telling you what you're seeing on the screen, rather than "color commentary," which is the inside story of the game, these days so overloaded with statistics it helps to be a mathematician to watch the Yankees play the Baltimore Orioles.
But the point to those of us who pay inordinate attention to words is that there are recurring patterns to the way people talk, particularly when they are required to do so for at least three hours at a stretch. Some of them are endearing (the genial and knowledgeable Ken Singleton shouting "Look out!" whenever a pitch gets a little too close to the batter), some are simply noteworthy (John Flaherty never says, "Joe Girardi should be pleased"; he says "If you're Joe Girardi, you're pleased." That would be fine, but I'm definitely not Joe Girardi). Some grate on the ear to the point of distraction.
The "TV voice of the New York Yankees," Kay possesses the voice we fans most often hear. Some adore him. Others want to run him out of town on a rail. The former must outnumber the latter, because he also has a radio show in New York talking about all sports, and he is certainly not in danger of dismissal from his TV job. I assume the same is true of the radio gig.
But he repeats certain words and phrases without mercy, and if you're listening closely, it can set your teeth on edge.
I understand the concept of signature phrases. Phil Rizzuto had "Holy cow!" (which was widely assumed to have been stolen from a previous sportscaster), and that never bothered me. Rizzuto was also the most idiosyncratic sportscaster in history and could be entertaining even --or perhaps especially--when he forgot there was a game going on. Which was not infrequent.
I get that every announcer is expected to have a home run call, although that seems odd to me. Why not just respond to the game as it happens? But okay, that's an industry standard.
The problem is, virtually every inning has a Kay trope. As the first pitch is being thrown, you can expect, "(Name of pitcher) is ready. (Name of batter) is ready. Let's do it!" Which is uncomfortable in and of itself. This is immediately followed by "and we are underway," in case you didn't know the game had started.
(Again, keep in mind that it's the repetition of the phrase, night after night, that grates. Doing it once would not be a problem.)
Each home run will be greeted with, "That's hit DEEEEEEP to (direction) field! Track! Wall! See ya!" Some of the wall scrapers, particularly in Yankee Stadium's right field, are not hit all that DEEEEEEP, but okay. The reuse of the same phrase every single time makes the moment less special instead of more. It's like each home run is the same as all the others because they will all be described the same way.
The whole "see ya" thing is I guess a trademark. Every announcer likes to have a signature call for home runs. John Sterling, the radio voice of the Yankees, is famous--not necessarily in a good way--for his home run calls, tailored to each Yankee batter. (But then, John Sterling's description of a baseball game is a surreal affair from beginning to end, leaving the listener with the unshakable impression that he has somehow crossed the space time continuum and is now listening to a present-day baseball game being described by a fan of odd commercial segues and musical comedy from 1948. That's another issue entirely.)
Even in the obligatory statement of copyright (repeated each night so people can't pirate the broadcast of the game), Kay sometimes feels it necessary to insert himself into the announcement. He can't tell us not to use anything in the broadcast "without the written consent of the New York Yankees" and just read the words. He adds the word "aforementioned," as in "the aforementioned New York Yankees," presumably to alert the viewer to the face that he knows a four-syllable word. The one area where the words SHOULD be the same every night, and he wants us to remember who's reading the boilerplate.
When the team behind in the score has two outs in the ninth inning, Kay will say--without variation--"the (Yankees or other team) are down to their final out." Followed, when the batter has a two-strike count, with "the (Yankees or other team) are down to their final strike." It's the word "final" that grates here, because it's never anything else. There is no word "last" in Kay's vocabulary. There is just "final."
The repetition of words has an effect on the listener. It's not soothing and it's not congenial. It irritates. In writing (you knew I'd get to it, right?) quite often an editor will suggest a change in the manuscript when the writer uses a word too often, or uses it more than once in a short sequence. That's because reading is in many ways something we do with our mental ear--we hear the words as we read them--and that repeated word quickly becomes abrasive to the reader.
When that repetition--and the lack of spontaneity it represents--continues over 162 games in six months, it compounds itself. Too many final outs, too many tracks, too many walls, too many aforementioneds, too many let's do it-s. It becomes an illustration of why the mute button was invented.
For a writer, that's something to keep in mind. Don't irritate your audience. Use all the words you can without becoming a walking thesaurus. Mix it up. Reread your work and see if you might add more variety. Talking for three hours a night isn't the same as taking your time to write. Michael Kay can't go back and edit himself, and he has to keep an audience entertained for long stretches when not much is going on (and no, baseball is not a slow sport if you actually understand the game).
But he still drives me crazy. "Last," Michael. It's a word. You can use it. Who knows; maybe you'll like it.