Sunday, June 16, 2013

Archaic baseball terms

With its long and fabled history, the players of the game of baseball have had time to develop some unique vocabulary. As is usual with these things, they move in and out of fashion. If you currently follow baseball, you’re probably familiar with the meaning of terms like “cheese”, “Mendoza line”, or “bleeder”.

But if you’re a fan from way back when, or an expert of baseball’s history (like our Mr. Braund), you no doubt have a completely different glossary of baseball terms in use “back in the day” that would be real head-scratchers to current fans. We won’t even talk about those who know nothing about the game. For them, we fans might as well be speaking a foreign language.

Here are a dozen old bits of baseball slang that I find fascinating and evocative. I’ve gotten the explanations of the terms from various books and on the Internet.

Can of corn: A high, easy-to-catch, fly ball hit to the outfield. The phrase is said to have originated in the nineteenth-century and relates to an old-time grocer’s method of getting canned goods down from a high shelf. Using a stick with a hook on the end, a grocer could tip a can so that it would fall for an easy catch into his apron.

Nickel curve: A slider. Also used to mean an average or possibly “hanging”

Catbird seat: A desirable or auspicious situation. Popularized by Red Barber, longtime broadcaster for the Brooklyn Dodgers. “Sitting in the catbird seat” means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him. The catbird is said to seek out the highest point in a tree to sing his song, so someone in the catbird seat is high up.

Jake: Half-hearted or lazy effort by a player, i.e. “He jaked that play.”

Dirt dipper: Someone who places the dirt from a baseball infield in his mouth. (?!)

Lawn dart: Blooper hit over infielder.

Unhitch his ice wagon: which means a player can't run fast.

Baltimore chop: A ball that is hit sharply downward to produce a high bouncing ground ball. An ideal chop will bounce so high that the batter can leg it out for an infield single by the time the ball has come down for a fielder to field it. The Baltimore chop was named because it was a favorite weapon of the 1890s Baltimore Orioles.

Pearod: A hard line drive batted back at the pitcher.

Public enemy number one: A good curve ball.

Rag arm: A pitcher (usually) with a weak throwing arm.

Blue darter: A batted ball that moves quickly and closely to the ground, behaving almost as though it possesses special powers of vision and intuition for the job of avoiding a fielder’s glove.

And if you know anything about the history of our favourite game, you know that I just scratched the surface on this topic. Anyone have a favourite term they’d like to share?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Do Umps Need iPads?

This is a follow up to Rick's latest rant about the need for video replay and for more intelligent use of it. It was indeed bizarre that an obvious home run was taken away from the A's. Of course in keeping with the umpire's need to defend the indefensible the A's manager was ejected from the game for arguing the rotten call.

Coincidentally, the manager who benefited from the screwed up call was Tribe skipper Terry Francona, who got thrown out of a game on Sunday for using video himself. As readers will know, players and managers cannot, at least at length, argue ball and strike calls. There are just too many of them and the games are too long anyway.

Check out how much Michael Brown is enjoying it all.
So when Francona, who the game before had questioned a call made on the base paths by Sunday's plate ump Bill Welke, stormed out of the dugout to argue a strike call on Nick Swisher that looked outside you knew he was gonna be tossed.

What made things considerably worse for Francona was that he told Welke that he had gone into the clubhouse to look at some of his previous ball and strike calls and believed a lot of them were also wrong. Talk about pissing an ump off before you even begin!

I've been a pitcher, hitter, third baseman, and umpire and I really believe that the umpire has the best angle, even though he can be blocked somewhat by the catcher and may be to the left or right of the middle of the plate to see around him. 

The thing is that the decision is supposed to be made on the basis of where the ball was when it crossed over the plate and television cameras just do not show that very well. Even on calls that seem obvious to the viewer - because the balls ends up high or outside - the 95 mph pitch may have actually been a strike a split second before it ends up seeming four inches outside. 

If you want to take the time, here is where you can see the call and the argument.

Baseball, which has so many plays in a game, may never figure out a solution. Tennis and hockey have done pretty well, football not badly, but baseball may just have to put up with being officiated by fallible human beings. A golfer who tees off at 8 a.m. may not experience the same weather as another who tees off at 11. Is that fair? Probably not. Is there a solution? Not really. And if, as Rick demonstrates, they can't even call home runs correctly will baseball ever find the answer?

Monday, June 3, 2013

And the beat goes on in major league umpiring

One of our most popular posts on Late Innings last year was my piece on shabby umpiring at the Major League level.

We’ll folks, I’m here to say that the picture hasn’t improved at all since the last time I wrote on this topic.

I’m the first to admit that it’s impossible to get every single call right in a ball game. Ever try to follow the flight of a 98 mph baseball? An 80 mph baseball? A 60 mph one? It’s darned hard. Now add to that you’re behind someone who’s crouching and would dearly love to mess up anything you observe. There’s also a guy standing to your left or right who’s swinging a big chunk of wood. And then there are the 40,000-plus fans all hurling insults at you. It ain’t fun.

But hey, no one forced you to sign up for this, did they? You’re not indentured to Bug Selig, are you?

When you get out into the field, there are still things to overcome in order to make the proper call, but it is a lot easier than calling balls and strikes.

The thing I don’t understand is why the MLB is so reticent to make use of emerging technology. When you’re sitting at home and the ball is clearly right over the plate and the ump calls it a strike, there’s gotta be something wrong. When replays from three or four different angles show that the first baseman didn’t have his foot on the bag when the out was recorded, it sort of leaves a bad taste in a fan’s mouth.

They do use replays for home run calls now, so you figure we’d be moving ahead, wouldn’t you? To answer that, I submit this:

This was clearly a homer and yet, even with help from replaying the tape, they still got it wrong. The really ridiculous thing is that MLB admitted the call was wrong, but let it stand. You can see the dilemma, but it’s a ridiculous outcome.

So it seems we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Even with electronic help, bad calls are going to remain in the game.

Maybe we’d all be a lot happier if they only broadcast games on the radio. That way there would be no visual evidence of all the bad calls. You’d just have the announcers’ and the teams’ version of what may or may not have happened and no endless replays to watch until the cows come home.

Even so, I’m sure there’s a better way to do this.