Last Sunday's New York Times had several stories designed to warm up our appetite for the post-season. It's only natural that the sports section would provide an overview of the season's top pitchers and players. But the fun story of the week appeared as an item on the front page, an entertaining riff on the way baseball commentators use that most elastic of words, "stuff."
It was the second-to-last weekend of the regular season, a pivotal moment for baseball’s pennant races. Pitching was scrutinized. Analysis was deep.
“His stuff was really good,” Cubs Manager Joe Maddon said of one pitcher, adding of another, “I’ve never seen anything like this — a combination of pure stuff and results.”
It's the kind of baseball lingo we've heard all our lives so that we pretty much take it for granted. John Branch, however, decides to drill down. Whereas jargon like "set the table" and "shoestring catch" and "sitting on a pitch" are perfectly discernible when used in context, the word "stuff" has an altogether different character. It's a wonderful catch-all term that seems to mean everything and nothing. And Branch has a blast pointing this out.
"He's got great stuff" has become a descriptor as common as a Minnesota loon. Or, "he's lost his stuff." Or, he just didn't have his stuff tonight.
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The article reminded me of a story someone once told us about a woman from France who came to visit them for a while. After about a week she got a perplexed look on her face and asked, "What does this word stuff mean? You say, 'put your stuff over there,' and 'I have stuff to do.' I can't figure out what it means."
Our friend explained that it was one of those words you can insert just about anywhere when you don't have a better word. "It can mean anything really."
The visitor from France pondered this, and finally broke into a grin, eyes sparkling. "Ah... Stuff! I really like this word."
For a good read check out "The Mysteries of Pitching, and All That Stuff." Then sit back and enjoy the Playoffs. Unless you've got other stuff to do.