“There it goes … deep fly ball, way back in left field … aaaaand it falls harmlessly into the waiting glove of Scott Hairston on the edge of the warning path, and the Padres escape further damage.”
Perhaps you’ve heard that call — or one like it — from Dick Enberg, who has been announcing Padres games for the past five years. Enberg will call 60 or so games next year, then give way to Don Orsillo and call it a career. It’s been a brilliant run, mind you, but his late-career send-off in San Diego has come with mixed reviews. Sure, he’s still got that good, big game voice, and he calls a fine game for the most part, but the strange quirks — the warning paths, the hubba-hubbas (oh my, the hubba-hubbas), the occasional mispronounced name — seem to annoy more than they endear. I’d argue Enberg has actually improved a great deal throughout his gig with the Padres, particularly in his on-air chemistry with partner Mark Grant, a major credit to a man who has been in broadcasting for nearly 60 years. Forget that, though, we’re here for one reason.
What’s the deal with warning path?
Enberg has used the term warning path to describe the warning track — that strip of dirt that surrounds the fence, warning players (sometimes, anyway) when they’re about to go clunk — almost exclusively since joining the Padres broadcast team in 2010. It’s weird because nobody else uses the term — not announcing games, not in print or online, not even ironically during highlight shows or anything. There’s Enberg, and then there’s hundreds of other announcers and writers and insiders (and fans, too), and Enberg’s staunchly remained in the warning paths corner, alone, isolated, but seemingly unaware of the whole quagmire he finds himself in.
Did Enberg just make up the term? No, it doesn’t appear so. While warning path doesn’t have an entry in either Merriam’s Online Dictionary or the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, it is included as a synonym in both places. Further, with a little Googling and online database searching, I
tracked down found plenty of older references to the warning path. Here, for example, is one instance from the Times Record in Troy, NY, going back to September, 1966:
Let’s bring in the big guns. There are at least three articles in the New York Times that used warning path, probably more — two are from the 1970s, one from the early ’80s. The Boston Globe used warning path a few times, too. Here’s one from August of 1961, as Roger Birtwell beautifully describes an inside-the-park grand slam by Gary Geiger:
Here’s another, from 1962, also by Birtwell and also involving Geiger. And here’s one from the Chicago Tribune, from 1970, describing a no-hit bid by Ken Holtzman. Then there’s the poem “Catch,” written by Tom Clark and published in 1974, which uses warning path to help document a Joe Rudi home-run-saving catch.
We could keep going, of course, but the point is clear: warning path had its place in the world of baseball lingo, but that place was primarily in the 1960s and ’70s, shortly after that dirt strip was mandated by Major League Baseball. Enberg, perhaps not coincidentally, was coming of age as a broadcaster in those decades, particularly in baseball. He called California Angels games from 1969 through 1978, and he worked play-by-play for NBC from 1977-1982. By 1990, Enberg was, like the “warning path,” gone from baseball altogether. He called just about every other sport — seriously: horse racing, football, basketball, the Olympics, golf, tennis, fly fishing (probably) — but he largely stayed away from baseball for two decades before returning in 2010.
Enberg came back into a different world. While he was off watching Roger Federer and Desmond Howard, “warning path” lost its vernacular battle with “warning track,” and maybe Enberg never got the memo. That doesn’t mean he can’t use the term, though. There’s nothing particularly awkward or wrong about it — it provides as good a description as track, maybe better, it’s a letter shorter, and, like track, just one syllable. Heck, I’d argue it has a little panache to it, a little added flair.
Maybe I’m stretching it. The warning path has an established history in the baseball world, though, and Enberg appreciates that history. That or he’s just pulling off an epic troll job. Either way, I’m okay with it.