First rule of baseball: Deny, deny, deny

Gene Weingarten on

WASHINGTON -- This has been a particularly invigorating baseball season for me because it has proved a gold mine for one of my favorite phenomena: P.U., which is Preposterous Understatement.

Baseball is played over a gruelingly long season, so it is particularly susceptible to fluctuations in Momentum, which is in turn affected by Morale. Like an enraged chimp at the zoo holding his feces, Morale is not something you want to mess with, so managers and owners are highly reluctant to say anything that might be discouraging to players, however dreadfully they are playing. As I once noted, this has given rise to a strange lexicon of euphemisms unique to baseball, the two most common of which are "scuffling" and "grinding."

When a player is said by his teammates or manager to be "scuffling," or, more often, for even greater Morale-sustaining delicacy, "scuffling just a little bit," it generally means he is stinking up the joint like stinkweed in a reefer. "Grinding" is a verb used ostensibly as a compliment, meaning "at least the big schlub is trying," despite repeatedly scuffling more than a little bit.

What has made this season so great for Preposterous Understatement is that there are not one but two players -- both former stars, both of whom play for Washington-area teams -- who have been having some of the worst years, statistically, in baseball history. Washington Nationals relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal early this season found it nearly impossible to get any batters out. At one point he was "Mr. Infinity," because that was his earned run average. If you don't know anything about baseball, having an earned run average of infinity is a degree of professional incompetence similar to a pharmacist who accidentally puts massive quantities of laxatives in every drug he dispenses.

Then there is Chris Davis, unfortunately nicknamed "Crush" Davis, for his erstwhile ability to hit the ball hard and far. This fabulously remunerated first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles was, as of this writing, hitting .189. That would be the batting average of a man forced to swing a balloon bat.

Naturally, at various times, both of these players have been described as "scuffling" and/or "grinding."

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I actually like Preposterous Understatements. Consider the most heroic of all time, by Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell: "Uh, Houston, we've had a problem."

So there's no reason baseball should monopolize this resource. Imagine the possibilities.

"The Nazis were rude."

"OK, Mrs. Jones, you need to bear down now. When the baby arrives, you might feel a little unpleasantness."


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