Collier: Should sports be mind over chatter?

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Here's the one I never really got: "Humm Babe!"

Who's Babe?

Babe Ruth?

Humm what?

Humm where? Over the rainbow?

The catcher said it over and over. "Humm Babe! Humm Babe!" He appeared to be encouraging the pitcher, so we did it, too, from our various positions, rather than just stand there silently and risk being considered thoughtful.

"Humm Babe! Humm Babe!"

It was essential chatter, for some reason, and I bring it up today not just to see if I can get through an entire column without saying much other than "Humm Babe!" but because, according to my colleague Paul Daugherty, of the Cincinnati Enquirer, youth baseball players in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky will observe a new rule this season that effectively outlaws chatter.

No more "Humm Babe!" No more "Swing Batter!" No more "Your big sister wears falsies!" OK, maybe that was just in my league.

In any case, Paul laments this separation from what might be considered part of baseball's time-honored oral history. I, on the other hand, say "Allelujah!" a word we often used when our pitcher, on those rare occasions, threw a strike.

The apparent reason for this significant cultural change is that chatter, 90 percent of which originally was intended to encourage the pitcher, apparently has swung too hard toward a heckling of the batter, which is considered hurtful for players of such a tender age.

For me, that's reason enough to abolish all chatter, but I like the new arrangement mostly because the old yammering was just so darned stupid.

"Swing batter!"

No doubt, this was aimed at the batter in a heckling intent. No one ever said why. I thought the batter wanted to swing anyway. No one ever had to yell, "Swing batter!" at Jose Castillo, I can tell you that. Unfortunately, it seems no one ever yelled, "For God's sake have a little patience!" either.

Even as a Little League pitcher, I found chatter annoying at best, distracting at worst.

"C'mon, Gene, shoot the dark one!"

The dark one? It's all I can do to keep from peeing myself out here. If I fail to do so, then you'll see, in the form of a spreading stain, the dark one. And stop saying my name. I won't be yipping yours when the next two fair balls go between your legs, will I?

"No battuh no battuh no battuh no battuh no battuh!"

Yeah, that's a good one. I remember busily chanting that one during an All-Star Game when the hitter calmly homered to a distance none of us had ever imagined.

"Some battuh some battuh some battuh some battuh."

Yeah, maybe we should shut up.

"Walk's as good as a hit!"

Really. Well, I'd hoped one day to actually hit a double, but, if a walk's as good as a hit, I mean, why bother?

"Good eye!"

Ah, yes, the ultimate example of praising with faint damns. You didn't do anything. Way to go. Walk's as good as a hit.

The practice of chattering robotically from your position probably started with baseball, probably because there's just not that much to do out there. Far back into the previous century, chatter was elevated to a high art in the major leagues, where so-called "bench jockeys" were valuable components of almost every team.

Bench jockeys were coaches or extra players who'd try and distract the opposition, with agitating catchers operating as their on-field ambassadors.

But big-leaguers don't chatter any more, owing to their terminal coolness, in large part, but also because there's a rule against "language which will in any manner refer to or reflect upon opposing players."

This doesn't mean they are completely silent. First baseman Sean Casey, for example, talks to everyone who comes by, and to the first base coach if no one else is around. Though Casey no doubt enjoys the employ of the American League champion Detroit Tigers nowadays, he loved the part of last season he spent with the Pirates. With the Pirates, there was a runner on first nearly all the time.

Any conversation on the field today is preceded by the players' precaution of putting their gloves over their mouths. This is because someone got that idea that the opposing dugout is crammed with fully accredited lip readers when, in fact, most everyone in the opposing dugout is preoccupied with even more sophisticated baseball stuff, such as looking for women in the stands.

There's no rule in the NFL against chatter, and pro footballers have taken their freedom in that regard as a license to gently needle the opposition, you might have noticed.

A sampling of NFL chatter.

"GET THAT #$@% OUTTA MY #$@%ING HOUSE YOU #$%&

#$% #$%$#$% #$%$%er OR I'LL CRUSH YOUR #$%@# like a #$%#$% #$%$#$% #$%#$%#% with a #$%@#$ #$%@@!

And that's before the coin flip.

Chatter is virtually absent in basketball and hockey, where the participants take every idle opportunity simply to catch their breath.

Unfortunately, some sports that probably could benefit from chatter simply don't allow it, owing to some dubious historical protocols.

Personally, I'd love to hear some golf chatter.

"No puttuh no puttuh no puttuh no puttuh!"

Or ...

"Swing Tiger!"

Can you imagine? The marshals would calmly surround you, and calmly beat you to death.


Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283.


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