I heard an announcer the other day chide a struggling team by saying, "They're not playing that good baseball right now." This doesn't sound grammatical, but my ears have deceived me before. Of course you could say instead, "They haven't been playing well of late," but I want to know if the first statement is grammatical as is.

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    To be clear, it didn't sound like the announcer was using "that" in a way that suggested he was referring to a specific kind of "thing" (not "THAT old time rock n' roll"). He meant "that" in an adverbial way. – David Marlowe Sep 8 '16 at 21:20
  • The baseball they are playing is not that good. The level/quality/kind of baseball they are playing is not that good. – Drew Sep 8 '16 at 21:57
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    This reminds me of your previous question: If I can say “not that good a review,” does that mean I can say “not that good reviews”? Was my answer there useful at all? I realize it might not clear up this issue completely, but it seems to be about the same structure. – herisson Sep 8 '16 at 23:49
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    The intersection of baseball announcing and "grammatical" is the empty set. (Seriously. Baseball announcer lingo is well known for torturing the language.) – Hot Licks Sep 8 '16 at 23:53
  • Yes it was, Sumelic! Only here it seems the noun "baseball" is more abstract because it isn't the physical baseball to which the announcer was referring. Maybe I'm just thinking about it too hard. – David Marlowe Sep 9 '16 at 1:29

It is from the idiom The baseball is not (all) that good, The house is not (all) that big, The monkey is not (all) that clever.

It is a valid idiom where the all that substitutes as a less emphatic form of very or much.

From this we derive They are not playing (all) that good, The new house is not (all) that bigger than the old one. She is not (all) that taller than her sister.

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As usual there are two kinds of 'grammatical'. There is the more formal school book grammatical, used by school teachers and newspaper editors and news announcers. Then there is how people speak informally.

'That good baseball' is either wrong or infelicitous in formal speech. It could only mean 'The good kind of baseball playing that I am referring to there'. But in context that is surely not what the baseball announcer intends.

In a less formal context, like baseball announcing, 'that' is an adverb like 'very' or 'such a', modifying 'good'. It means 'good to that extent'. This sounds infelicitous even in the informal setting because you really feel like saying 'that good a game', but 'baseball', referring to the general metaphorical idea, is a more abstract thing than a particular game.

The end result is that you probably don't want to use this formation in writing a school paper (eg 'The trade agreement didn't lead to that terrible economic conditions') but is OK informally eg 'Why you cooking that harsh a meth?' (and the syntax of it is rule based to 'that ADJ a NOUN')

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Maybe throwing an "of" in there will improve it: "They're not playing that good of baseball right now." Generally "that good" followed by a noun seems to need an "of" like "She's not that good of a secretary." I was also thinking "He didn't do that good of a job," but "He didn't do that good a job" also sounds grammatical to me.

Of course, there is what I think is an unquestionably fine alternative:

They're not playing very good baseball right now.

But the announcer could have intended "that good baseball" as noun itself, i.e. that particular type of baseball, something like:

They're not playing "that good baseball" right now.


They're not playing that "good baseball" right now.

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    Adding the of makes it into an American idiom. Including of renders it stylistically awkward to most British ears. Not suggesting it's wrong, of course. I would never do that! – WS2 Sep 8 '16 at 21:43
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    @WS2 well, this is baseball :) – hobbs Sep 8 '16 at 22:00
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    @WS2--My American ear doesn't like "of" in that phrase at all. Maybe with a count noun ("He's not that good of a player") but that's still very informal. – Steven Littman Sep 9 '16 at 1:23
  • @WS2 Canadians would also object to the of---it doesn't just sound awkward, it sounds illiterate; but that's what most baseball announcers are. – David Handelman Sep 9 '16 at 2:07
  • It's not just "of" but "of a" and you can see that in your other two examples "that good of a job" and "that good of a secretary". However if you say "playing that good of a baseball" the ridiculous image of using the ball as an orcarina pops into your head, so you'd further modify this phrase into "that good of a game of baseball" in this case. Exactly how this functions is something that presently eludes my understanding, but it seems as if the indefinite signification is important here. – Tonepoet Sep 9 '16 at 2:53

It could be grammatical. Context would help. If he means something like

that good baseball (that is a characteristic of winning teams)

then it's grammatical.

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