Cavan Biggio remembers the first time he used the phrase on a major-league field.
The New York Yankees were visiting Rogers Centre in early August of last year and had seized an 8-0 lead by the fifth inning. Because the Toronto Blue Jays were among baseball’s worst teams in 2019, there usually wasn’t much to celebrate. But fighting back against the first-place Yankees was reason enough.
Biggio was standing on second base when Lourdes Gurriel Jr. lashed a single to left field off starter Domingo German. He rounded third then dove head first into home plate, barely beating the throw and cutting New York’s lead to 8-3.
Flopped out on the dirt, Biggio looked over to his teammates in the dugout and yelled “Let’s Go!” as loud as he could. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ran over to him and gleefully repeated the idiom.
Similar scenarios are commonplace everywhere in baseball these days. When a hitter blasts a home run or a pitcher strolls off the mound after a key strikeout, pay attention to their celebration and chances are you’ll hear them utter “Let’s Go!” The 2020 MLB playoffs has been brimming with examples and while most of us have been watching from home, the empathic two words are pretty easy to lip read on the screen.
Where did this phrase come from and how long has it been around? And what exactly makes it so popular in the game today? We asked several current and former players, along with experts, in an attempt to find out.
BO BICHETTE, Blue Jays shortstop: I’ve heard it my whole life.
TYLER O'NEILL, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder: It’s gotta be since I was a young kid.
CAVAN BIGGIO, Blue Jays infielder: I think it’s a phrase that every athlete seems to use in the heat of the moment.
BICHETTE: It’s a pretty normal. It’s like saying good luck.
O'NEILL: Everybody wants to get the momentum going. You know, getting the boys up for action. So, it’s just a common term to get everybody fired up and ready to go.
TEOSCAR HERNANDEZ, Blue Jays outfielder: When I hit a walk off here [at Rogers Centre in 2019], that was the one time when I said ‘Let’s Go’ running around the bases. I was so excited. I must have said it four times running around the bases.
J.P. ARENCIBIA, retired player (2010-2015): My first year when I was with the Texas Rangers, fans were booing me when I came back [to Toronto]. And I hit a home run off R.A. Dickey. And I was rounding the bases going, ‘Let’s Go.’ When I hit home plate, I was like, ‘Let’s Bleeping Go,’ because people were talking crap to me when I was on deck.
O’NEILL: Whenever I hear some of the boys yell something like that it gets my adrenalin going a little bit. It makes me want to run on the field maybe that little extra harder.
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Rays' Manuel Margot celebrates at third after a Dodgers fielding error during Game 5 of the World Series. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
ARENCIBIA: [Former Blue Jay] Brett Lawrie overused it because that was him all the time. He would say it all the time. No one’s on Lawrie’s level because it’s tough to [get there]. That’s like the Red Bull level. But I mean, I don’t know if it’s overused in a competitive setting. Just because it’s like that language that is like me versus you. We’re in a competition. There’s a lot of different ways you can say, ‘Let’s Go.’
DEREK DENIS, assistant professor, Linguistics, University of Toronto: When we hear people using our in-group words and phrases, there’s a degree of comfort and familiarity and solidarity we feel. It tells us that we are part of the same group, have similar experiences, desires, interests, etc.
JOSE CRUZ JR., retired player (1997-2008): If I made a diving play, I would receive high fives. Maybe I would say ‘Yeah’ very emphatically.
JIM EDMONDS, retired player (1993-2010): We weren’t that excitable like these kids out there. We got a lot of flak from the older players if we ever got too excited. The game was so different back then and you were taught not to really go out of your way to show anyone up or really even have any fun. So, it kind of kept everything as business as usual. And you just went out there and did your job and came back and put your head down.
CRUZ JR.: I always joke with my sons because I notice it so much. Something happens and they’re like, ‘Let’s Go.’ And I’m like, ‘Where are you going? Is there no other phrase?’
EDMONDS: My son is 14. It’s like, ‘Let’s Go,’ for everything. And I’m like, ‘Let’s get a better catchphrase that fits offense and defence.’ But now I get it. Good for them. I think it’s exciting. Everyone’s been saying, ‘Let’s Go’ for years. But it seems like it’s more of a battle cry now.
ARENCIBIA: Lil Jon and Trick Daddy had a song in 2002 called ‘Let’s Go.’ Maybe that’s where that came from. I was a sophomore in high school then.
JESSE GOLDBERG-STRASSLER, minor-league baseball broadcaster: I worked with a guy named Adam Jaksa, he’s probably around 27 years old. And he would always shout, ‘Let’s Go’ for anything that he was celebrating, anything that he was amped about … I asked him when he first heard, ‘Let’s Go,’ and when he first started saying it and he said when he was in high school. So he’s talking about 2005, 2006, 2007. That was when it got really big in his high school.
DENIS: Some words/phrases do take off by means of being broadcast by celebrities or songs or TV shows. It’s often the attributes of the celebrity/song/TV show/character that ascribe value to the word/phrase that make it attractive for adoption.
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Former Blue Jay Billy McKinney celebrates with teammates after hitting a walk-off home run against the Los Angeles Angels. (Mark Blinch/CP)[/caption]
ARENCIBIA: There’s influential people on TV, whether it be fighting or UFC or football. When you’re at that level, people see that, then kids see that, and one kid does it. Then the kid on the other team does it.
DENIS: Just because a word or phrase is broadcast to a large audience, doesn’t mean the audience will adopt it. True diffusion still requires members of a speech community to come to a kind of ‘unwritten agreement’ that the new term will be used or not. It’s only when everyone agrees to take it up that it spreads.
CRUZ JR.: ‘Let’s Go,’ is the actual translation of ‘Vamos’ in Spanish.
HERNANDEZ: I use ‘Vamos.’ I use, ‘Let’s go.’ Whatever comes first.
BIGGIO: We play so much with Latin players where you almost say ‘Vamos’ as much as ‘Let’s Go.’ So yeah, those words are used [simultaneously].
HERNANDEZ: Jose Bautista was a guy who would say it a lot. I heard him say it a lot of times in the little time we played together. Whenever we make a good play or to get a good base hit.
GOLDBERG-STRASSLER: Speaking as a broadcaster, we don’t have words to say unless they’re already there on the tip of our tongue, or on the surface of our subconscious. Like, when I need a word to say as a broadcaster, I’m going, ‘My words have gotten stale. I need to freshen that up.’ I have to write it down in front of me just to get it ready for when there’s an explosion of emotion [in the game]. It has made ‘Let’s Go’ the most natural thing for players to explode with when they just need to shout something.