The Giants Won the Pennant

On Thursday, in the National League Championship Series game between San Francisco Giants and the St. Lous Cardinals, Giants outfiender Travis Ishikawa came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Jon Miller was announcing the game on the Giants’ radio affiliate. “Now the stretch,” Miller said. “Here it comes. There’s a drive, deep into right field, way back there. Goodbye! A home run. For the game. And for the pennant. The Giants have won the pennant and Travis Ishikawa is being clobbered as he comes down the third-base line and he is mobbed at home plate. It’s Travis Ishikawa. Travis Ishikawa with the Bobby Thomson moment.”

Joe Buck, calling the game for Fox television, was more concise: “Hits one into right! The Giants win the pennant.”

Buck’s second sentence, as all true baseball fans recognize, was an allusion to perhaps the most famous call in baseball history. Russ Hodges made it 63 years ago:

Lockman with not too big of a lead at second, but he’ll be runnin’ like the wind if Thomson hits one … Branca throws …

There’s a long drive … it’s gonna be, I believe … THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they’re goin’ crazy, they’re goin’ crazy!

(It’s interesting to me that Hodges would have said “not too big of a lead” rather than “not too big a lead.” I had the idea that “big of” was a more recent thing. Further research is called for.)

Both Buck and Miller were aware of the parallels with Thomson’s 1951 “shot heard round the world,” hit against the Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca. Of course they were. Baseball is that sort of game

Buck said in an email to The New York Times’s Richard Sandomir that the win-the-pennant line was “was bouncing around in the back of my mind” before the home run. “How can you not? Even if it hadn’t gone out of the park, I was still going to say it ’cause it applied. It just made it cooler that the ball got out. You have to anticipate those moments.”

Sandomir’s article ran through a couple of other calls of Ishikawa’s shot, including the desultory one by the Cardinals announcer, Mike Shannon.  On Fox Deportes, both the announcer Pablo Alsina and his partner, Jose Tolentino, referenced Hodges, though not by name, which made it more awesome. Alsina said in Spanish, “And Ishikawa says …” And then in English:  “Bye-bye, baby.” I didn’t know till I read Sandomir’s piece that Ross Hodges’s trademark home-run call was “Bye-bye, baby” (he didn’t use it on the Thomson shot).

Tolentino also went from Spanish (“Say it, Pablo”) to accented English: ‘The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

While reading and listening to all those calls, one of the things that struck me was their tense: exclusively present, with the exception of Miller’s one oddly formal-sounding foray into the past perfect (“the Giants have won the pennant”). Sports broadcasting is one of an odd series of arenas in which the present tense flourishes; some of the others are screenplay and play-script stage directions, magazine profiles (though not in The New Yorker), contemporary fiction (most definitely in The New Yorker), song titles, and newspaper headlines (but not the articles they are on top of).

I believe I was the first observer to describe another present-tense hotbed, which I dubbed the “sports present.” It shows up  in post-game quotes from athletes and coaches, talking hypothetically and conditionally. I identified this more than 25 years ago, but it’s still going strong, as shown by the examples provided by my colleague McKay Jenkins, another devotee of the tense. This playoff season, Nelson Cruz of the Baltimore Orioles said,  “If you tell me before the series we’re going to sweep, I don’t believe it.”

A Philadelphia Eagles player, talking about one time in college when he changed the strategy for a play in a huddle, recently executed a rare triple-present:

“That doesn’t get quantified, but if I don’t change that call, we don’t get the play.”

Back to announcing, great calls aren’t always in present tense. Perhaps the greatest of all time is an interrogatory: Al Michaels’s “Do you believe in miracles?” And I thought of one that’s great, in my opinion, because it is in the past tense. That is an accurate speech act, after all, because the event being described has passed, and truth is power. Does anybody know the call I’m thinking of? (Hint: the sport is basketball.)

Update: As two astute commenters almost simultaneously pointed out, the present-tense call I had in mind was indeed JOhnny Most’s “Havliceck stole the ball!”

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