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Word Crimes: The Hall of Fame — arguably — made a grammatical error on Greg Maddux’s plaque

Jul 28, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT

As Greg Maddux is my favorite player of all time, I obviously took a close look at his Hall of Fame plaque when it was unveiled yesterday. And when I did, something stood out:

source:

It’s the “less than 1,000 walks” that bugged me. I am of the view that it should be “fewer” not less. So, as Deadspin noted, I tweeted it out. This, as most grammar disputes do, led to some pretty impassioned debate.

Most people (myself included) are of the view that one uses “fewer” if one is referring to things in the plural which can be counted and “less” if you are referring to something that either doesn’t have a plural or can’t be counted. Examples: “fewer kids in this class than that class,” “fewer hot dogs on his plate than her plate” vs. “less time left in the game than we thought” or “I have less respect for the guy who puts ketchup on his hot dogs.”

Now, as is the case with all rules, there are exceptions. If the number stands alone without the noun named in reference to the lower quantity, you can use “less” (e.g. “He had 10 dogs, I had less”) or when you are referring to geographical distance or measures of time. Of course in this case such obvious exceptions do not apply. Walks are a finite thing which do not refer to distance or time, they do have a plural and they are mentioned properly at the end of the sentence.

Of course, just as there are always general exceptions, there are always increasingly obscure exceptions — or, short of that, traditions and customs of usage — which one can, if one is so inclined, find to justify their preferred usage. As this conversation evolved yesterday afternoon, many did find some slot in which to (arguably) place the Hall of Fame’s choice of “less” over “fewer” on Maddux’s plaque. I’m not suggesting it’s the easiest call on the planet. This isn’t an out or safe call here. It’s more of a first base ump’s call on a check swing. But I do think the majority of people who care about such rules — and the majority of the rules relating to the topic itself — falls in the “fewer” camp.

And to be 100% clear: my pointing this out was not borne of some “ah ha!” moment nor do I think it says anything negative about the Hall of Fame, the person who forged the plaque or anything like that. There’s no point other than to say “hey, that’s interesting.” And, obviously, I do not stand on some pedestal of grammatical superiority when I note all of this. I’m a low-A grammarian at best with tremendous holes in my game. Indeed, even my tweet pointing out this grammatical error had a typo in it.

But then again, my tweets aren’t literally forged in metal and placed on the wall of a museum for all eternity. Which is why I even brought this up to begin with.

  1. jarathen - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:28 AM

    You are fighting the good fight; keep it up.

    • SocraticGadfly - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:14 AM

      Fewer’s correct, Craig. We have one grocery in my area that actually gets this correct on express checkout lanes. That said, as I noted yesterday, the AP recently caught up with actual English history and “over” instead of ‘more than,” for the likes of “over 300 wins,” is correct, too.

    • f.verd - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:59 PM

      Maybe if he “walked less men….” they were missing some important parts…

  2. sdelmonte - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    Roger Angell was there. Maybe someone should have asked him to proofread it? Or get one of the crack proofreaders from The New Yorker to pitch in?

    (Why did it take them so long to honor Angell, anyway?)

    • hep3 - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:41 PM

      I think it was because Angell was never in the Baseball Writers Association. To qualify back in his day, I think you had to spend like ten years as a team’s beat writer. Angell was way above that standard.

  3. jrbdmb - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:34 AM

    But isn’t the entire text of the plaque made up of improper sentence fragments with no subject?

    • Paul White - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:57 AM

      This, this, a million times this. The opening sentence of the plaque has a grammatical error in the first three words. The closing sentence is a fragment. And everything in between is similarly crafted based on saying the most about the player while conserving words because each plaque is a predetermined size and can only say so much. To pick out one just of those errors or fragments and write tweets and articles about it seems pretty silly.

    • pwshrugged - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:58 AM

      Technically yes, but in reality, each sentence begins with an implied “Greg Maddux is/was/had” since the text comes after the introductory stuff.

    • chadjones27 - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:08 AM

      It’s a list of accomplishments. Bullet points, so to speak. Not really a paragraph. So, they can be sentence fragments. Doesn’t change the fact that one should still follow basic grammar principles, even within the contect of sentence fragments.

  4. chadjones27 - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    I vote for “fewer.”
    Even though if I was saying it, I probably would have said, “less than” since to me, it’s more of a stat thing and not grammatical. In math you say, “6 is less than 8″ so I can see that argument carrying over to baseball stats. To me, the “1000 walks” isn’t so much a quantity of walks, it’s a feat. He either completed the task with greater than or less than 1000 walks. I don’t think I’d have said “fewer than” or “more than.”
    But, from a pure grammar stand-point, it’s “fewer.”

    • paperlions - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:43 AM

      I use stats in my work and despite mathematical convention wrt greater than or less than signs, for count data I always use fewer as does most everyone else….it is notable (and painful) to see “less” used in the literature wrt count data as most copy editors will change it if they are paying attention.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 31, 2014 at 9:40 PM

        Good God, the trade stuff brings out the trolls. I don’t think I’ll be sad to take another break from here when I move. There’s only a few people I can’t talk to off of here that I’d miss anyway. Eeesh. And, then we’ll be into the playoffs soon — and that definitely brings out the yahoos. :(

      • Paper Lions - Aug 1, 2014 at 3:31 AM

        Just ignore the stupidity….living in OK, I’d think you’d be well practiced.

      • historiophiliac - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:29 AM

        I’m not in the mood.

      • Paper Lions - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:30 AM

        Well, you live in a state where you can walk into Walmart and walk out with an amory, right? Problem solved.

      • Paper Lions - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:31 AM

        …and congrats on getting Price for pennies on the dollar. Does Dombrowski have jedi mind powers or something?

      • historiophiliac - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:32 AM

        Well, he did marry a gal from Oklahoma, so…. He was just luring everyone in with the Fister trade.

      • historiophiliac - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:29 AM

        WTF with the name change?

      • Paper Lions - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:42 AM

        Formerly COPO complained about the lack of spaces or capital letters and the difficulty of telling apart people…in this case, making it look like I was talking to myself….so I changed the “display name” option.

      • historiophiliac - Aug 1, 2014 at 12:21 PM

        What?

      • Paper Lions - Aug 1, 2014 at 12:21 PM

        Exactly.

      • historiophiliac - Aug 1, 2014 at 12:40 PM

        IDK what you did to paperlions, but I’m not up for BS today.

      • historiophiliac - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:10 PM

        seriously, wtf with the name?

      • Paper Lions - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:23 PM

        I already told you.

        The only reason it was all lower case with no spaces was because that is required for registration….didn’t know you could change the “display name”.

        I just got home….and I’m really more concerned with WTF happened to Wainwright tonight. Even with the moves, this team just seems destined to suck.

      • historiophiliac - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:24 PM

        Ok, I got asked.

      • historiophiliac - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:31 PM

        and, sorry, I’m suspicious

      • Paper Lions - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:33 PM

        No problem….it’s me. Really, it is. COPO said that when proudlycandian and I replied to each other it looked like I was talking to myself (or that he was) as the names looked superficially similar…so I made the stylistic change.

        If it really bothers you….I can change it back.

      • historiophiliac - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:37 PM

        No, I just wanted to make sure it was you. Sorry.

      • Paper Lions - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:38 PM

        No problem.

      • Paper Lions - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:39 PM

        I just occurred to me…was there a fake historiophiliac account some dickhead made at one point?

      • historiophiliac - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:41 PM

        Yes, someone tried to rip off me — that’s part of why I was suspicious. ha ha Keeping tabs on you.

      • Paper Lions - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:35 PM

        I actually didn’t even realize that you could have a different “display name” from your log in name.

      • historiophiliac - Aug 1, 2014 at 10:38 PM

        I think cur said before that he changed his around. Are you gonna change it to something like Xanadu? wink, wink

        I miss cur.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Jul 28, 2014 at 3:23 PM

      Chad: Fortunately, they did get 1,000 correct, with the comma. The comma is properly left out only for years.

  5. paperlions - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    The biggest problem with the plaque is that the caps lock was on….either for emphasis or because the plaque is yelling accomplishments at us.

    • asimonetti88 - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:11 AM

      LOUD NOISES!

  6. paperlions - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:45 AM

    As long as were are here, am I the only one bothered by the fact that they are called “gold gloves” rather than golden gloves”? Yes, technically, either way is proper, but golden seems more appropriate within the context.

    • nbjays - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:30 AM

      Depends whether said gloves are gold coloured (gold gloves), or made of gold (golden gloves). You never hear of a band or a singer getting a “golden record” do you?

      • paperlions - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:47 AM

        Aren’t the awards are called that because of the metaphorical allusion to a players defense being golden (i.e. exceptionally valuable)?

      • nbjays - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:53 AM

        That can’t be true, Paper, since EVERYONE knows that offense trumps defense any day of the week – as evidenced by the Trout vs Miggy MVP debates of the past couple of seasons.

        If your assertion were true, then the GOLD Glove would trump the SILVER Slugger, which would be against the unwritten rules or something.

    • stlouis1baseball - Jul 28, 2014 at 2:01 PM

      When I think of “golden gloves” I think of a boxer.
      When I think of “gold gloves” I think of Ozzie Smith.

      • paperlions - Jul 28, 2014 at 7:00 PM

        Dang….so boxing uses the better term? I thought that sounded familiar.

  7. chadjones27 - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:06 AM

    My next question is, “what do the other plaques have on them? This can’t be the first time less/fewer showed up on one.

  8. renaado - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    “Than”… maybe?

    • renaado - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:10 AM

      Dangit… Too late to cancel this post.

  9. philliesblow - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:10 AM

    They might have used “less” for spacing purposes. Add one more letter on that line of the plaque and the words get a little closer together.

    • umrguy42 - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:32 AM

      I was thinking that originally, but I just took one last look at it, and it does look like you could maybe squeeze one more letter in – the spaces between words in that line look a little bigger than say, the line above.

  10. raysfan1 - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    Certainly less egregious than giving out t-shirts to celebrate your star shortstop and misspelling his name.

    • paperlions - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:22 AM

      Sure, but the T-shirts were probably farmed out to a company that has HS kids do the printing. Poor form to not proof the shirts ahead of time though.

  11. NatsLady - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:35 AM

    Baseball is ruining the English language. No one “flew” out, they all “flied” out. I even saw “he striked out” in a game report the other day.

  12. barrywhererufrom - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    Mrs. Crabtree will see you now. Part of the reason I love baseball so much is that so many people are passionate about the game. This story takes it to a new level. Mrs. Crabtree would be proud!

  13. stupidusername - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    Fewer sounds better to me. But it’s now written in stone, sooooo… Funny thing about that stat is that he had 999 BB’s. And the only 300-game winners with fewer BB’s (and a lower BB/9 rate) were all born before 1890.

    “I have less respect for the guy who puts ketchup on his hot dogs.”
    Hotdog snobs! How dare anyone put ketchup on a tube of ground pig snout, ears, lips, and tongues.

  14. pwshrugged - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    Yeah, fewer is proper in that context, and your explanation about countable plurals versus abstract plurals is dead on, well done.

    The usage of “less” there is becoming more common, though, despite prescriptive arguments against it.

    • chadjones27 - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:25 AM

      I always use this to remember which to use:
      There is less water in the glass
      There are fewer ounces of water in the glass.
      You would NEVER say “There is fewer water in the glass.”
      Now for me to learn who/whom, usage, and maybe I’ll be able to pass a high school English class.

  15. rje49 - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    You’re all correct of course, but ‘fewer” than one in a thousand people who will view the plaque at the HOF would know the difference – or care.

  16. tvguy22 - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    I’m impressed that everything on the plaque is spelled correctly.

  17. gnashbat - Jul 28, 2014 at 10:34 AM

    I agree that fewer should be used, but what I found more bothersome is the hyphens used in “part-artist” and “part-scientist.” The hyphen would is appropriate to use as a link for compound words, but in this case that would mean they are stating Maddux was an artist of parts.

  18. politicalknife - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    I couldn’t get past “One of Game’s”, at which point my internal voice switched to caveman voiceover.

    • uwsptke - Jul 28, 2014 at 3:04 PM

      That’s the one that stood out to me, but maybe that is somehow correct. I’m not sure why it says that rather than “One of the Game’s”.

  19. jm91rs - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:09 PM

    Made me think of the new Weird Al song…

    • infieldhit - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:19 PM

      Yeah, I think Craig had that in mind with the title.

    • stlouis1baseball - Jul 28, 2014 at 2:06 PM

      Alright then. That settles it for me. I retract my last post.
      jm made this all worth while for me. Weird Al. Lol! Thanks 91!

  20. jcarne9014 - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:45 PM

    This isn’t a case of “I vote for fewer,” or “fewer sounds better.” Or, it’s a sentence fragment or a bullet point. The bottom line is that “less” in incorrect. No debate.

  21. abaird2012 - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    I don’t recall anybody seriously calling him “Mad Dog”, either.

  22. lawson1974 - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:45 PM

    I don’t really care, but as a certified English teacher, the correct word in this instance is fewer and every grammar text will tell you so.

  23. stlouis1baseball - Jul 28, 2014 at 2:04 PM

    I am more put off by the fact there are 147 posts and a specific article on this subject.
    The entire plaque is grammatically incorrect. And you people wanna’ have a pissing match over “fewer” and/or “less than?” Jeesh…take up dungeons and dragons. When that fails…bring your GI Joe’s out of the closet/basement. Or possibly bury your face in a sudoku book. Or crossword puzzles.
    Or I don’t know…go outside and walk around in circles.

  24. philj2014 - Jul 28, 2014 at 3:10 PM

    You are quite right, Craig. Here at ProofreadNOW.com, we would have changed to “fewer.” We also would have unhyphenated PART-SCIENTIST and PART-ARTIST. At least they kept the apostrophe from 1920S!

    Keep swinging that grammar bat!

    Phil J.

    • dfj79 - Jul 28, 2014 at 4:02 PM

      I actually find the unnecessary hyphens far more distracting than the “less/fewer” mistake.

  25. rempokesfan - Jul 28, 2014 at 6:01 PM

    Fewer deserving Braves there are,
    And most, save one, less brave by far,
    Than those, today, who stand before.
    And Smoltz, next year, makes Braves times four!

    But, when you’re contemplating things,
    Or counting valor or Series rings,
    Remember eaches end in “s,”
    User fewer, only, never less!

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