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Original Issue


Labiomancy is dirty work when viewing jocks on TV

I tell the professional lipreader I am disgusted. I have watched the baseball playoffs and the World Series, and I have never seen so much swearing. The cameras followed the ballplayers and managers and umpires everywhere except the bathroom. The close-ups were closer than ever. If the words that were being spoken were copied onto a printed page, the publication would not be carried by a single public library. Maybe you could find it in the back rack at some convenience store, tucked away with all those magazines with the foldout nude women, but I doubt it. Rap singers have been put on trial for the same words I saw on television.

"You're crazy," the lip-reader says. "You're imagining things."

I say I am not crazy. Just the other night, in Game 2 of the Series, I saw Cincinnati Reds manager Lou Piniella become very upset when Billy Hatcher was not sent home from third base on a fly ball to Jose Canseco in right. Piniella strung together some words that were collected from a public phone booth and a David Mamet play. Piniella was very angry. I would hate to be in a two-car collision with that man.

"You're dreaming," the lip-reader says. "Did you actually hear the words? I saw the same game. Piniella was asking if anyone knew a good Northern Italian restaurant in the Bay Area. The Reds were leaving, remember, for Oakland the next day. He wasn't mad. He was hungry."

I say I saw Rickey Henderson say some terrible things after being called out on strikes. I saw Canseco scream something from the dugout that would have had either of my children sent to his or her room. Every close-up made me cringe. I heard more words about body parts and bodily functions than I ever did in biology class. I must be getting old. I don't remember seeing Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays saying these kinds of words. In their close-ups they mostly were just smiling after hitting another home run.

"Henderson was asking the umpire what kind of mileage he could expect from a Maserati if he gets one for breaking the alltime stolen base record, O.K.?" the lip-reader says. "Canseco actually was just singing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. That was it. No one was talking dirty. No one was even close to dirty. These are the same pure-of-heart ballplayers you've always loved. There never have been bad words on the playing fields. Never."

I say there is a trend here that I have watched grow for the past few years. As soon as an athlete fails in any way, the cameras focus on his face from a dozen angles. If he acts normal, the cameras go away. If he starts to move a foul mouth, they stay with his rage until it ends. The directors revel in it. They not only show the entire outburst, they repeat it on the postgame highlights show. Then it is picked up on the evening news. There are 10 seconds of base hits, then 30 seconds of cursing. The sportscasters usually chuckle with the anchors at the end.

I have seen this in all sports. Football coaches. Basketball forwards. Hockey defensemen. How many times have you seen this one? The hockey player gets a penalty. He goes to the penalty box. He throws his stick. He throws his gloves. He says the same words that have brought Andrew Dice Clay a lot of trouble.

"The player usually is asking for a glass of water," the lip-reader says. "He's tired. The football coaches and basketball players are idols for our youth. Would idols be cursing? Your problem is that you don't know how to read lips. You just think you do. You don't know technique. You don't know what to watch. You anticipate. You get everything wrong."

I say I know how to read lips well enough to know that Roger Clemens was not thrown out of the fourth game of the American League Championship Series in Oakland for reciting Trees by Joyce Kilmer. I saw a fine combination of words coming out of his mouth. The footage was even played at slow motion so I could understand better. I don't know if the umpire should have thrown him out, but I do know he would have been thrown out of a four-star restaurant for saying those things.

"It was all a big joke," the lip-reader says. "Roger, in fact, told a joke. The one about the moron tiptoeing past the medicine chest because he didn't want to awaken the sleeping pills. The umpire said, 'Get outta here.' Roger misinterpreted the remark and left. You got it all wrong again."

I say I know what I know. I can stare at a guy's mouth and know what he's saying. Especially with the bad words. I'm not looking for them. I simply see them when they come out.

"O.K.," the lip-reader says. "When was the last time you were asked, specifically, to read someone's lips?"

I think. I say George Bush, campaigning for president, asked me to read his lips. He said, "Read my lips."

"And what do you think he said?" the lip-reader says.

I say, "No new taxes."

"There you go," the lip-reader says. "He couldn't have said that, could he? You just don't get it right."

I say that I thought I did, but I guess not.