Maybe more than any other sport, baseball is defined by its vernacular. Subsets of baseball's language are (1) terms that sound like pure gibberish and (2) sabermetrics, which we won't discuss in this post.
Then there's the phrases that send cold chills down a baseball fan's spine. They spell trouble on the horizon if not imminent doom. Here are the most frightening, in no particular order.
1. "Closer by committee"
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It bears no resemblance to football's "running back by committee." More like a "quarterback competition" or most congressional "special committees." Mayhem and uncertainty.
A manager will invoke the "closer by committee" when the presumptive closer has collapsed, or nobody has proven capable of shutting the door while keeping fans' blood pressure out of the hypertension range.
The closer job suffers more turnover than any other position. Recently the Houston Astros turned to a committee after incumbent closer Luke Gregerson blew five saves in three-plus weeks. The demotion-turned-committee actually worked out well for the Astros as Will Harris has converted 7 of 7 save opportunities in June and appears to be the guy. For now.
2. "That's a live ball!"
It may mean that (1) a batter hit a rope near the foul line that came down in fair territory but then bended into foul territory, perhaps leading to some hysteria; (2) an outfielder, typically, got confused about a ball's status after some quirky event like a ball striking a catwalk in Tampa Bay; or (3) a fielder loses count of outs and tosses a live ball to a fan in the stands. The worst "that's a live ball!" scenario occurs when a fan interferes with a play. Sometimes the excitement of capturing a ball melts down the circuitry in a baseball fan's brain and causes him or her to seize on the ball, forgetting ballpark norms (clear the way for the hometown player) and/or the rules of the game. To wit, this guy:
3. "Experiencing some forearm stiffness"
Or "elbow flaring up." Pick your poison because that whole area is the locus of baseball's throwing arm epidemic. A number of forearm muscles connect to the elbow near the UCL (ulnar collateral ligament), which is the ligament that gets reconstructed when Tommy John surgery is performed. While "forearm stiffness" doesn't always mean a pitcher is headed to the operating table, it signals the Tommy John alarm and often does result in the procedure.
At this point Mets fan must get twitchy if they hear "elbow" or "forearm." Noah Syndergaard is the latest Mets starter to experience elbow discomfort. He's currently pitching with a bone spur in his right elbow. Matt Harvey had Tommy John surgery in 2014. Jacob DeGrom had it in 2010. Also Steven Matz got his Tommy John scar in 2010 and is currently pitching with a bone spur larger than Syndergaard's. Righty Zack Wheeler underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015 and was expected back sometime around the All-Star break but he got shut down recently with more elbow discomfort. Even the magical Bartolo Colon had to overcome elbow issues in his pre-Mets days.
4. "Dr. James Andrews"
He's a hybrid of Doc Hollywood and the Grim Reaper. Baseball fans know that if a player on their favorite team is going to see the Alabama-based orthopedic surgeon, there's a decent chance he's going to be out of action for at least 10-12 months. Alas, it also means he's in good hands.
5. "Joe West's crew"
He's the longest-tenured umpire in the game and probably the most detested by players and fans alike. Fans don't come to the ballpark to watch Joe West umpire but he often makes his presence felt. According to Sports Illustrated poll of players in 2011, West was voted the worst in the league by a wide margin. It's hard to sympathize with Jonathan Papelbon but Joe West made it possible in 2014 when he grabbed him during an argument (resulting in a one-game suspension).
6. "The Mendoza Line"
If the month is still April or May, hovering around .200 isn't a big deal. But when June rolls around, if the number still comes up Mendoza, things are not going well. Case in point: Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. As recently as June 15 he was batting .194 before bouncing back with six multi-hit games and three homers, raising his average to .228. That's more like it. But before that, questions abound about the player's swing, his health, unreported injuries, is he eating his Wheaties?
7. "Can't find the strike zone"
But, but it's right there! Often when a pitcher loses control in a game, it's not coming back that game. The culprit might be a blister, mechanics gone haywire, humidity or heat, maybe he's a guy who regularly struggles with control.
By contrast, if a flamethrowing pitcher has a ball "get away from him" by accident, it can actually work to his advantage by thoroughly terrifying a batter. Case in point: Randy Johnson and John Kruk at the 1993 All-Star Game.
8. "Service clock"
Recently Kris Bryant and George Springer battled "service clock" considerations. When you hear the ugly phrase, typically a team is delaying a talented young prospect's promotion to delay his eligibility for free agency by one year. It's unpleasant for the fans, the player and the team, but the system incentivizes the delay, so it's hard to fault a team much for waiting.
9. "10-year contract"
Representing the decade-long albatross contracts that will keep Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Joey Votto on their respective teams' rosters into their forties, earning at least $20 million each year. A decade is just too long. In 10-12 years, Kanye West might be the Kanye Party U.S. presidential candidate and Mike Trout could be a professional weatherman. It's some rich dude's money, not yours, but do you truly want your franchise committing $20-30 million a year to any player from now until 2026? Some teams have wised up -- and some players like like Yoenis Cespedes have looked to cash in more than once -- opting for larger annual sums over shorter terms.
10. "Represented by Scott Boras"
Results say baseball's superagent is good for clients but a nightmare for general managers, and generally not a positive for the fans, who tend to root for the jersey not the player's bank account.
11. "The yips"
Nervousness manifests itself a bit differently in every sport. In baseball, the yips most commonly involve a player's inability to throw the ball to first base from a range that pretty much every pro can manage with great ease. But the yips wield great power over the athlete's mind, and the problem only compounds as it persists. "We really don't talk about it as baseball players," Jason Giambi said in 2013. "It's just this unwritten rule. You feel terrible for [those experiencing it]." Former second baseman Chuck Knoblauch has an entire section of his Wikipedia page discussing the yips. Detroit Tigers pitchers combined for five errors in five games in the 2006 World Series. Jon Lester may have a latent case the yips and if it shows up in the playoffs, Cubs fans might need some Xanax.