Post to the Host

Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.

Send GK Your Question »

August 10, 2007 | 5 Comments

Post to the Host:
The subject of Little League baseball chatter, i.e., "hey battah-battah" and "we want a pitcher, not a belly itcher," has come under scrutiny lately and it's been suggested that to eliminate it would be a good thing since it leads to verbal taunting of the opponent. I recall an essay of yours entitled "Attitude" which had to do with how a ballplayer, even an amateur softball player such as yourself, conducts himself on the ballfield. In it, you stressed the importance of chatter, spitting, rubbing dirt, etc. Would you continue to stand by that assertion or now, being the parent of a youngster who might soon if not already be involved in organized sports, would you reconsider the value of baseball chatter?

Jim S.

Hey hey letter poster, stick your fingers in the toaster!!! Chicago, Chicago, what can I say? It's not New York and it's not LA. Chatter and insult are part of the game, Jim: that's how you know it's not golf. Dignified men sit in the stands and the umpire calls a strike and the men yell, "WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?" They bellow and boo and holler, "You're missing a good game, Ump!" and things are earthier and funnier. Of course Little League is different, being for the pleasure of children and all, and you don't want oafish parents embarrassing the kids, but I'd hesitate to squash the players from expressing themselves. The verbal harassment I've heard on ballfields doesn't rise to the level of "taunting," it's all pretty formulaic stuff, and it's simply meant as a bond with your teammates and a way to work off some nervousness. My youngster is nine and has a pretty good arm and a good eye but her competitive urge is low, so I doubt we'll be pushing her into Little League. I wouldn't want to be the umpire who has to stifle whispering and muttering among the infielders. On the other hand, anybody who taunts my child — I will follow them home and put giant fruit bats in their porch and kill their grass. I will haunt them for years. I will never forgive. I will make their lives pure misery. Next question?


Hey Jim, form the mosquito and poison ivy rural area capital of Etowah County, AlaBAMA. No chatter???Well they might as well be no one on the field. It's part of the game. A tradition started by one of the forefathers of the game. Distract the opponent just a bit so he may not have his full attention on the game. Possibly to throw him out at first or delay his attempt to steal a base or get a hit.The kids have learned to ignore the adults in the stands already, just like at home with their parents. As they get older the skillful ability to create chatter diminishes, just like the ability to walk when they start to close in on their 16th birthday and a driver's license looms near. They consider it childish and not cool, hip, in style or what ever the term may be these days. The pros's have a different form of chatter, they use the number of and the dollar amounts of endorsement deals and the contract amounts to intimidate their opponents.
Think about it, how intimidating would it be for a multi-million dollar a year player, wearing his sponsors shoes, shirt and gear to be struck out by a relief picture from the farm using a worn glove, tattered shoes and a left over uniform that didnt fit anyone.
Think about it, don't we get chatter from all sides in everyday life?? When the supervisor doesnt have the ability to do the job much less explain it to the people under them?? Our co0workers give us chatter all the time about work, decisions we make and life in general. Whether to plant roses or daisies along the drive and the ridicule for choosing peach to accent the off white soffit above the red brick face. We get all the time when you think about it.
Call it chatter, criticism, ridicule, advice it's just part of the game we play all the time. Hope yall have a Gud-Un now, James.

When I was working for a large corporation, we had a special interest committee consisting of 3 African Americans, 3 immigrants and 3 women - the 333. One of the topics we discussed was the Glass Ceiling - the difficulty some of us have in advancing into upper management. Imagine our surprise when we learned that one thing almost all executives have in common is a history of Little League participation! And one of the important factors in this managerial training school is chatter! It introduces young people to that all-important corporate concept: male-bonding. Women may think it's good to be polite to one other, but American men seem to need to call each other names, even if they do it in a good-natured way. It serves the purpose of saying "You're my buddy." So, let's hear it for the Gray-Flannel Suit Team, yeh, yeh, yeh!

The funniest taunt I ever heard at a ballgame was back in the early 1980s at a Durham Bulls game (yes, in the great old "Bull Durham" park). The right field umpire had casually inserted both his hands into his waistband, thumbs curved over his belt, and a big old bear of a man in overalls and Caterpillar hat sitting behind me shouted in the cadences of a thick N.C. accent, "Take your hands out of your pants, (umpire's name), your MOTHER would NOT be PROUD!" Even the umpire cracked up at that one.

I also enjoyed the Duke law students, who always sat in the (cheap) third base bleachers. Any time a call at third went against the Bulls, they would stand en masse, jab their fingers in the air at the umpire in rhythmic unison, and chant, "We beg to differ, we beg to differ."

What adults will know how to do any of this in the future if kids aren't allowed to practice in Little League, and how much poorer will the game be without it?

Alan B.

In the musical "RAGTIME", based on the E. L. Doctorow novel, there's a fine song/scene at a baseball game where the guys get to let loose with a lot of invective.

Chatter: of course it's part of the game. However, 45 years later I'm still feeling guilty about things I said on the ball field. I was catching, I job I rarely had, which gives you an up close and personal chance to taunt the batter. The kid at the plate was smaller than the rest of us, and as he stepped up I noticed that he had a big dark stain around his crotch. As the pitcher wound up I said something like, "I see you wet your pants, batter." I didn't let up on him till he'd struck out. God I was cruel. I'd like to apologize, if I had any idea who he was, but I suspect he killed himself long ago.

Previous Post:

Next Post:

Post to the Host Archive

Complete Post to the Host Archive

American Public Media © |   Terms and Conditions   |   Privacy Policy