Saturday, November 22, 2008

yo la tengo!

I've heard that the members of the band Yo La Tengo got the group's name from a wonderful anecdote often told by baseball's best language guy, Roger Angell. The story is about bad defense, about the bumbling '62 Mets (they lost an all-time record 120 games!), about the early days of Spanish-speaking players - and (after all) about language.

There's a web page honoring Elio Chacon, the Mets' Venezuelan shortstop that year, a mediocre player at best. On this page are some loving comments about Elio, including one that quickly retells the famous story, so let me defer to this fellow for the summary:

My favorite Met story of all-time involves Elio Chacon. Stop me if you've heard this one... It seems that in 1962, Chacon and CF Richie Ashburn were having a communications problem. On short fly balls they would inevitably collide even after Ashburn would scream "I got it!" After the third or fourth time this happened Ashburn takes Chacon aside and asks him, "Elio, how do you say 'I got it!' in Spanish?" Chacon replies, "yo la tengo!" So the next day a batter hits a short fly to center field. Chacon runs out and Ashburn runs in and Ashburn yells, "yo la tengo! yo la tengo!" So Chacon backs off. Ashburn gets set to make the catch -- and left fielder Gus Bell smashes into him!

In the great Ken Burns 9-part (9 innings, 9 parts) documentary Baseball, Angell re-tells the story. Here's the Angell excerpt (audio only).

As some readers of this blog already know, I had the huge pleasure of hosting Angell's visit to the Writers House a few years ago. There are video and audio recordings of his talk and my hour-long interview with him the next day. Go here. Earlier I wrote something about Angell's wonderful appreciation of the most intimidating pitcher of all time, Bob Gibson.