The myth of “sneaky power”

All the time… it doesn’t matter which sports network I’m watching, I hear pundits using the word “sneaky” to describe one of a given player’s attributes. In football, it’s he’s sneaky fast; in basketball, one might refer to a player having a sneaky good jump-shot; but, in baseball, a pitcher might have a sneaky good fastball, or a hitter having sneaky power.

What I wonder, rhetorically, is when did this phenomenon begin? And more importantly, what does it even mean to have a sneaky anything?

Most recently, I was watching Tom Verducci on MLB Network giving his hot take of Giant first baseman, Brandon Belt, when he said: “And this guy has sneaky good power, too.” That’s what got me thinking about sneakiness. Then it became more meta. And now here we are.

The way I see it, you are either fast or you are not fast, you either have a nice shot or you do not have a nice shot, you either have a good fastball or you do not have a good fastball, you either have power or you do not have power. Sneakiness, although it sounds cryptic and interesting, doesn’t really factor into the equation.

But it all sort of goes back to why people are on television in the first place. Most networks do not brand themselves as educational or informative; they are entertainment entities. Their job isn’t to create a cult following for a specific set of people, it’s generating mass appeal. When I hear sneaky, my first thought is [insert whatever sentence was just used] that makes no sense. Because it doesn’t. A baseball player, in particular, can’t sneak any of his skills in the big leagues after being combed up and down by every other organization’s scouts when playing in the minors.

But hey, sometimes sounding interesting is more important than being interesting.

3 responses

  1. In my experience, “sneaky” is usually applied to someone who has an attribute, but only gets to utilize that attribute in certain situations. A fast baserunner with poor baserunning skills is likely to be called “sneaky” fast, because he doesn’t steal or take extra bases very often. “Sneaky” power describes someone who really mashes the ball when the pitcher makes a bad mistake.

    • On a literal level, I agree with you. I understand when someone uses “sneaky” as an adjective that what they are REALLY saying is more along the lines of… “This person isn’t known for this particular attribute, but he still possesses it nonetheless.”

      As it pertains to ESPN, or MLBN, or NFLN, however, I’m not fond of how it’s used or how frequently it is used. To me it’s just a lazy descriptor.

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