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?


Will Braund said...

I hadn't heard a couple of those. Interesting to hear the origins. There are so many ... Texas Leaguer, heater, chin music. I think part of the explanation is the amount of time broadcasters need to fill between pitches and during delays as well as their desire to add colour. The players on the bench have time to come up with names for things too. And some new things need names. Before there was a name for a knuckleball Rube Waddell called his a wobbler.

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