Dan Shaughnessy

The language of baseball: Often crude, sometimes comical

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt is issued a warning by home plate umpire Tom Hallion during Game 5 of the NLDS.
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt is issued a warning by home plate umpire Tom Hallion during Game 5 of the NLDS.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/Getty Images

There was no profanity in the house when I grew up. Folks were pretty religious and swearing was prohibited. It was a sin to take the Lord’s name in vain. There was no “hell, yeah,’’ or “damn right.’’ Nobody would have ever said, “This sucks.’’ That would have gotten you a week in solitary.

An F-bomb was more powerful and unspeakable than the atomic bomb. Dropping an F-bomb would have been risking eternal damnation in you-know-where.

So it was quite an ear-opener when I started working in Major League Baseball clubhouses at the age of 21.

Earl Weaver? Billy Martin? Yikes. It was “bleep this” and “bleep that.’’ You bet your bleeping bleep it was. And if it offended you, that was too bleeping bad.


In this environment, you go numb fairly quickly. You stop hearing it. Maybe you even start doing it yourself. But you don’t ever do it in front of your parents or (later) in front of your own children. It’s like an embedded censor. You have your workspeak and you have your familyspeak.

All of this came to mind this past week when the St. Louis Cardinals clinched the NLDS over the Braves. The series was hotly contested and emotional. When the Cardinals won it, St. Louis manager Mike Shildt delivered a “Bull Durham”-esque postgame clubhouse speech, unaware that one of his players (rookie outfielder Randy Arozarena) would post it on his Instagram account.

“They [the Braves] started some [bleep],’’ yelled Shildt. “We finished the [bleep]. And that’s how we roll. No one [bleeps] with us. Ever. Now, I don’t give a [bleep] who we play. We’re going to [bleep] them up.’’

OK, so it was not Winston Churchill exhorting, “We shall fight them on the beaches . . .” to the House of Commons in 1940.


No. This is baseball. There are no Robert’s Rules of Order. No Parliamentary Procedure. You can take your decorum and stick it up your bleep.

Clearly, Shildt was bleeped by one of his players. It was a breach of the century-old clubhouse code. If a Patriot player pulled a stunt like this, he’d risk getting released by Bill Belichick.

In the old days, Weaver or Martin would have told the offended public that it was too bleeping bad if their choice of words offended anybody. In 2019, a chagrined Shildt was forced to grovel.

“I apologize if my language offended anyone,’’ said the manager. “I am flawed and have my moments. I grew up in a clubhouse. I try to represent this organization with class and dignity.

“I will not apologize for having passion about our team.’’

The key line there is “I grew up in a clubhouse.’’

It’s baseball.

It’s the way they talk.

Like Shildt, Indians manager Terry Francona grew up in a big league clubhouse. Francona’s dad was a major leaguer for 15 seasons. Unfiltered Titospeak is very much like Shildt’s postgame valedictory. Francona and I did a book together in 2013, and the manager’s college coach refused to read it because it had more than 100 F-bombs.

I called Tito Friday to talk about clubhouse dialect.

“I don’t even know where to begin,’’ he said. “There are things you can say in the clubhouse that would get you arrested or at least fired from a job if you said them on the street. But in the clubhouse, nobody will even blink.


“As a manager, sometimes you’re up there and you don’t even know what you are saying. I’d go on a rant and after I’d ask Millsie [coach Brad Mills], ‘What did I just say?’ ”

“It was shocking to me when I got to the minor leagues,’’ said Dwight Evans, a 67-year-old veteran of 20 big league seasons. “You get acclimated to it a little bit. I always felt that some people use four-letter words to embellish things, and I never thought that needed to be done.

“I don’t care if people swear. I don’t really enjoy it, but it doesn’t really faze me. If you’re smart enough, I really don’t think you need that.’’

Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer worked under the combustible Weaver in Baltimore for the bulk of his career.

“It’s just the way it was,’’ said the three-time Cy Young Award winner. “My pitching coach was George Bamberger and [10-letter bleep] was a term of endearment. If he called you pal, that meant he was really mad at you.

“Everything else was just gutter language. [Cleveland manager] Birdie Tebbetts had one rule about it. You could swear, but you just couldn’t say [a 12-letter bleep]. That was a $100 word.”

Like Evans, Palmer steered clear of the crude clubhouse dialect when he got back home. It made a better impression on his two daughters.

“One of my girls said bleep one time,” he said, “and I said, ‘I understand that you like the shock value in that, but we’re sending you to private school so you’ll actually have a vocabulary and you won’t have to speak like that.’


“In baseball, there is no shock value to it because that’s the way they talk. It’s accepted.’’

Bruce Hurst, a devout Mormon who pitched 15 years in the majors, remembered, “It was eye-opening. Words were used as parts of speech that I wasn’t taught at school. It was interesting for me to hear how certain words were used.

“The religious words were the ones that were most offensive to me, and I never got comfortable with it. Some of the other ones I found almost comical how they were used. The intensity of it could be remarkably funny. It wasn’t meant to be offensive.

“For some people, it was the best way to communicate their emotions and their feelings. In a funny way, you kind of learn to respect it.’’

The late Ken Coleman, voice of the Red Sox and a perfect gentleman, called me in 1990 when he was hired to read the audio version of “The Curse of the Bambino.’’

“Dan,’’ he started, gently. “I’ve got a little problem. I am going into the studio to read your book tomorrow, but I’ve been going over the text and noticed there are some ‘bleeps’ in here and I’m not sure how to handle that.’’

“Just skip over them, Kenny,’’ I told him. “Pretend they are not there.’’


It was a matter of public safety. Any Red Sox fan driving around listening to that book would have run off the road if they’d heard Ken Coleman dropping bleeps.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.