Sunday, 26 August 2007

A Must-Win Cliché Situation

To stretch things, the only connection this piece has with the Western International League is "Suds" refers to the Seattle Rainiers, the parent club of the Vancouver Capilanos. You see it often in headlines of PCL newspaper stories of the era. All too often, it appears, for someone.

This is a guest sports column written, not by a journalist or sports guy, but by a staff photographer, Al Kreig, while the sports editor was on holidays. I thought it was cute, as clichés remain a constant in sports copy today. After all, what else can you write when a deadline approaches and your "backs against the wall"? Al gave it 110% to swat the sphere to the centre garden and race to the initial pillow to raise the gonfalon when he wrote this in the 'Second Guess' column of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Sunday, July 30, 1950.

The newspaper reader who is disheartened by the bad news on the front page, frightened by the rising prices in the advertising columns, bored with the social comings and goings and titillated to a minimum by the comics finds his patron saint among those scriveners whom the trade has seen fit to label sports writers.
Now what is it that makes sports writing such appealing reading to the customers? Without going into a psychoanalysis of the sport-writer or a survey of the economic habits or a random sample of readers I (a pox on the editorial “we”) believe I have found the answer in the printed words themselves.
It's the friendly old cliche, the stereotype, the trite phrase that gets 'em every time.
Where would the sportslover be without "hurler," "went the route," "gridmen," "pigskin," "boys of the maple court" and "thin-clads" ? For that matter, where would the sportswriter be without "the fifth frame," "Suds," "aerial attack," "hoopsters," "netmen" and "spikeshoes"?
I'll be the compilers of "The American Thesaurus of Slang" would throw in the towel if they were to read on these pages “...Glotz, the Pewees' backstop, got life in the top of the seventh when moundsman Smrergf tried to loaf on a sleeper and it looked like he'd go the route but was tagged by the Dinosaurs' hot corner man, O'Gillicut, to put an end to the Pewee Giants' tallies.”
Whence came this gibberish? Someone has suggested that the first sports editor was public information office for the tower of Babel but I doubt it. More than likely, some sports hack in the dim, dark past got tired of writing "pitcher," "batted a home run," "football players," etc. over and over again, from one edition to another. Who can blame him for scrounging around for some colorful substitute, a typical American trait, putting something in a new package?
By repetition on the nation's sportspages these bromides have become time-worn friends of the athletic-minded public. The sports reporter's philosophy might be summed up in a bit of doggeral:
      A cliché in time
      Keeps readings in line.

It is like the language of the circus or the Latin cipher messages we transmit from physician to phramacist.
Cliché's Days Number
The lien holder of this column, Ken Benham, assures me that the day of the cliché is coming to an end in sportswriting and, like the fine print in a questionable contract, "is used to add color."
But I think the cliché will always be with us and with futility can only say with Shakespeare: “What needs this iteration, woman?” and as a reader, who doesn't know a birdie from a Gold Award jackpot, being disheartened, frightened, bored, titillated to a minimum and one of the uninitiated, I turn to the 'personal' column of the big city dailie for divertissement.

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