Tag Archives: New York Yankees

How to Get Your Juju Working

Hart Seely’s The Juju Rules: Or, How to Win Baseball Games from Your Couch has received many deserved accolades since its publication in April 2012.  Part personal memoir, part ode to the New York Yankees and part manual for obsessive fan behavior, The Juju Rules is a book any fan of baseball writing would enjoy.

Juju has a long tradition in baseball and in baseball literature. It was a favorite topic of Henry “Author” Wiggen, the pitcher-writer-narrator of The Southpaw and other Mark Harris baseball novels. To Seely, “Juju is the anecdotal science of influencing the outcome of sporting events through seemingly unrelated acts, in the comfort and privacy of your home. ”

This got me to thinking, though: Does juju differ from mojo? After moving into Safeco Field in 1999, the Seattle Mariners used the slogan “Sodo Mojo” for a few seasons, and it worked better than any other slogan they’ve had before or since (including the ill-timed “Believe Big” (2008), which resulted in a 101-loss season and declining attendance). With Sodo Mojo, the Mariners won 116 games in 2001, an all-time record for Major League Baseball.  On the other hand, the Mariners are one of only two major-league franchises never to have reached the World Series, let alone win it (with better juju, the Yankees have won 27).

Muddy Waters

When the Mariners introduced their slogan, few fans understood it without a dictionary. “Sodo” refers to the area where Safeco Field is located (SOuth of the demolished KingDOme,  or alternatively, SOuth of DOwntown). “Mojo” is more-or-less a synonym for juju.  Wikipedia notes that mojo  is “a magical charm bag used in voodoo, which has transmuted into a slang word for self-confidence, self-esteem or sex appeal,” as in blues guitarist Muddy Waters’ signature song, “Got My Mojo Workin’.”

My exhaustive research could only deduce that both mojo and juju can refer to a spoken or otherwise transmitted spell or to an object manipulated for that purpose. Both of African origin, the words mojo and juju can denote a magic spell or hex, a magical power (as in he works his mojo on the tennis court, or the blues band has lost its mojo), or  to a fetish, charm or amulet and the magic they possess.

Well, Frank Sinatra called it “Witchcraft,” Dr. John called it gris-gris, the Mariners called it mojo, and Seely is calling it juju.   “All thinking fans instinctively recognize the secret influence we wield over sporting events,” Seely writes in an essay on Foxsports.com. “We know enough not to change seats during a rally or to announce that our favorite point guard hasn’t missed a free throw in his last 40 tries. We never mention the no-hitter in progress, and we keep doing whatever it takes, as long as the dice are rolling our way. We practice juju, a mystical connection to the sports universe that has been around since the first foot-race between man and lion.”

Juju or mojo? If you can’t pick the right word on your own, hire an editor.

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Filed under Behind the Words, Commentary, Friends of Mike, Strokes & Plugs, Uncategorized

Sorting Out a Real Dilemma

Spring training in Arizona.

Baseball’s spring training is in full swing, giving followers of our national pastime their annual opportunity to blow the dust off their stable of  horsehide clichés for another season. From every training camp in Florida and Arizona, including that of my adopted team, the perennially woeful Seattle Mariners, local media coverage will be full of  “things have never looked better,”  “he showed up in the best shape of his career” and “the offense will improve. These are major-league hitters.” Even if they hit .188, apparently.

In the Washington Post, baseball beat reporter Adam Kilgore tried to display overwhelming optimism for the hometown nine when he wrote the decision by the Washington Nationals (or “Natinals,” as the jerseys of two players read during one game in the 2009 season) to limit pitching wunderkind Steven Strasburg  to 160 innings this season might cause “a pleasant, yet thorny, dilemma”  for the Nats if they find themselves in a playoff race next September.  A playoff appearance would be their first since moving to Washington from Montreal in 2005; would they risk Strasburg’s future to get a playoff berth now?

Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.

However,  Nats fan and self-appointed Proofreader General of the United States Roland Sweet points out that  Kilgore’s copy editor should have trashed that description, specifically the “pleasant” part. Dilemma denotes a choice between equally unpleasant alternatives: a lose-lose situation.

In baseball terms, the opposite of a dilemma would be the New York Yankees trading their expensive yet ineffective left-hander A.J. Burnett and nearly $20 million to the Pittsburgh Pirates for two minor leaguers. This action not only cleared space in the Yankees’ starting pitching rotation for better alternatives, but also allowed the Bronx Bombers enough payroll space to sign two-time Seattle Mariner Raul Ibanez, a mainstay of the Philadelphia Phillies’ championship season, as their primary designated hitter. Dump a chump, sign a champ. That’s what’s known as a win-win proposition.

Home of the Washington Natinals.

Back to dilemma.  According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “Although some commentators insist that dilemma be restricted to instances in which the alternatives to be chosen are equally unsatisfactory, their concern is misplaced; the unsatisfactoriness of the options is usually a matter of how the author presents them. What is distressing or painful about a dilemma is having to make a choice one does not want to make.

“The use of such adjectives as terrible, painful and irreconcilable suggests that dilemma is losing some of its unpleasant force. There also seems to be a tendency toward applying the word to less weighty problems (the New York Rangers solved their goaltending dilemma).

When you can’t sort out your own writing dilemma, perhaps a professional editor can help. When it comes to predicting baseball’s pennant races, however, you’re on your own.

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Bob Sheppard’s Legacy: Clear, Concise, Correct

I have never been a fan of the New York Yankees, but I’ve never been a Yankee hater, either. After all, both sides of my family lived in the Bronx, just a few stops up the Jerome Avenue el from Yankee Stadium. Although my family lived there until I reached in kindergarten, my first team was the Giants, probably because the first player I idolized was Giants Hall of Fame centerfielder Willie Mays. But my beloved Giants and the despised Dodgers deserted New York for the West Coast after the 1956 season, and the Yankees were the only team in town until the Mets arrived in 1962. The Mets became my favorite team, but since I  grew up in one of the Yankees’ golden eras (unfortunately, there have been too many), I had to admire the Yankees, their lore and their continued excellence.

Bob Sheppard Day at Yankee Stadium, 2008. (AP Photo)

Their tradition extended off the field. One of my earliest and most vivid memories of the first Yankee Stadium is what it sounded like. Not just the roar of the crowd after a homer from Moose Skowron, Yogi or the Mick, but the sonorous elocution of  public address announcer Bob Sheppard as he welcomed them to Yankee Stadium, read the starting lineups and introduced each player as he came to bat. Each position, name and number, each and every syllable, perfectly pronounced, echoed around the park.

“Now batting for the Yankees, playing center field, No. 7, Mickey Mantle.  No. 7.”

In the news coverage and many tributes following his July 11 death, the 99-year-old St. John’s University linguistics professor Sheppard was remembered as “the voice of God” (attributed to Reggie Jackson) for his work with the Yankees, the New York Giants NFL team and St. John’s. Shepperd himself, in an interview rebroadcast on ESPN, called attention not to his voice, but to the words he spoke. In contrast to the bombastic home-team enthusiasts who rule the P.A. system at most U.S. stadia and arenas today (“EEE-CHEE-RO SOO-ZOO-KEY!!!”), Shepperd said he wanted all his announcements to include three key elements: Be clear, concise and correct. He consistently delivered the same information, always impeccably, from his first Yankee game in 1951 to his last in 2007. (He also read the starting lineups for the last game played in the old Yankee Stadium on Sept. 21, 2008.)

“Now batting for the Yankees, the shortstop, No. 2, Derek Jeter.  No. 2.”

Clear, concise, correct. Not only are those three words a well chosen standard for player introductions at Yankee Stadium, but it’s also a grand trio to govern all written and verbal communication. Whether you deliver your message in a press release, an e-mail alert, an ad, a personal letter or all of them and more, making your copy clear, concise and correct is always the right place to start. If your words need some fine-tuning for discriminating audiences, a professional editor can help. 

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Filed under Behind the Words, Commentary, Editing Tips, Writing Tips