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Quotable!
"It's a mere moment in a man's life between an All Star Game and an Old Timers Game."
--Vin Scully

 

Deadball Era Terminology

By Hugh S. Fullerton

We at BaseballChronology have already compiled a list of "early baseball" terms and were planning on creating a list of similar terms for early 20th Century baseball when chanced upon such a listing written by perhaps the greatest sportswriter of the era: Hugh Fullerton. So it was a no-brainer to simply republish his work below as no one had a better grasp of the baseball terminology of the era.

See also: "Early Baseball" terminology.

The Baseball Primer by Hugh S. Fullerton

BASEBALL needs a Webster and a standing-Revision Board to keep the dictionary of the game up to date. The sport is building its own language so steadily that, unless some step soon is taken to check the inventive young men who coin the words that attach themselves to the pastime, interpreters will have to be maintained in every grand stand to translate for the benefit of those who merely love the game and do not care to master it thoroughly.

Joe Campbell, the Chaucer of baseball literature, was sitting in his office one evening, lamenting to me that his paper (The Washington Post) would not permit him to write as he pleased, but insisted that he confine his writings to straight English. I reached over and took the sheet he just had finished. "And Amie Rusie" it ran "made a Svengali pass in front of Charlie Reilly's lamps and he carved three nicks in the weather." What could be plainer or more expressive of the fact that Rusie had hypnotized Reilly into striking out? Or what could be more graphic than Lennie Washbum's description of a ball that was hit hard and instead of bounding, "hugged the dirt," as the players say, and tore its way through the grass?

The following does not pretend to be a complete dictionary of the baseball language. It merely is the primer, containing some of the commonest words and phrases, with an explanation of their meaning.


CHANCE, of the Cubs. Who had to give up playing last summer because he had been "beaned" so many times

Agreement (National)—The Constitution of Organized baseball. The contract entered into by the American and National leagues and later subscribed to by the minor leagues, numbering about forty, to insure peace, protect property rights and assign territory as well as to prevent competitive bidding for the services of players.

Air (Up in)—Excited, unnerved. A term used to describe the condition of a pitcher who loses his courage or presence of mind at critical stages of a contest.

Alley—Imaginary lanes between the right and center and right and left fielders down which hard hit balls go between the fielders, usually for home runs. "Down the Alley" means a home run hit.

Bean (N)—The head of a player (V) to bean—to pitch or throw and hit the batter in the head.

Bean ball—A fast ball pitched at or near the head of a player who is standing too close to the plate with intent to drive him back. Often used to drive timid batters away from the plate, after which the pitcher usually throws a fast curve.

Beany— Slightly erratic mentally, a condition attributed to being hit on the head by pitched ball, or beaned. Condition similar to "The Dance" a disease among prizefighters who have been struck on the head often.

Big One (The)—The third strike. After two strikes are called the "big one" is left. The percentage of safe hits made by batters after two strikes are called is extremely high, and the term probably results from that fact.

Bingle—A clean base hit, the ball being driven clean over or past the fielder without presenting a chance for any possible play.

Bite—A term applied to batters who are weak in that they cannot resist the temptation to strike at a curve ball, especially at a slow curve. The message "He will bite" passed through a league among the players generally means the end of the usefulness of that player.

Bleachers—Uncovered field seals on baseball parks. Term originated in the south where the colored spectators were forced to sit in the sun, and were "bleached."


HUGHEY JENNINGS
Whose antics on the coaching line have won many games and amused fans

Bleacherites—Patrons who occupy the open seats; the hoi polloi among spectators. The bleacherites usually are much better posted on the game than those patrons who occupy the grand stand boxes and seats and are much more dreaded by the players because of their caustic criticism. Many of them occupy seats in certain sections to be near the fielder they admire most.

Boner—A stupid play; a blunder in the science of the game. Term adapted from the idea that a player making a stupid play has a head composed entirely of osseous tissue.

Bone-head—A player noted for making stupid plays; one adapter spoke of a player's head as his "armored turret."

Boot—An error, in the making of which the player fumbles with his hands and allows the ball to bound off his feet or legs, kicking or "booting" it. "Why does he waste his efforts booting baseballs" inquired Boze Bulger of a new infielder, "when Yale is mourning the lack of a punter."

Break (The)—The turning point of a game of bull; the crucial play which starts a stampede of the defendant team and a fusillade of hits by the attacking club. Also "the breaks" are used to express the luck of the game." The breaks were all against us" means that in every instance in which luck entered into the play, it favored the opposing team.

Bumps—Overwhelming defeats. A pitcher gets his "bumps" when his delivery is hit hard, a team "gets its bumps" when it is badly beaten. Synonymous with "Gets his," "Gets his trimmings," "takes his beatings."

Bunt—A ball, struck with the bat with the intention of dropping or rolling it onto fair ground and only a short distance, forcing the infielders to hurry the play to throw out the runner. It is used chiefly to advance runners who already are on bases. The invention of the play generally is attributed to Dicky Pearce, who used it successfully in 1866. Batters formerly turned their bats quickly and struck the ball with the small end, dropping it to the ground. Later many held their bats loosely in the hands and merely let the ball hit it and fall. The faster ball now in use compelled a change and now most of them push or hook the ball with their bats, striving to control its direction and to roll it at medium speed past the pitcher, yet so slowly the infielders have difficulty in reaching and handling the ball. See Sacrifice.

Bunt and run—The term used to designate a play much used in the more finished teams. The batter and base runners exchange signals and as the pitcher starts to deliver the ball to the batter, the runner or runners start for the next base at full speed. The batter bunts as they go, and if he pushes the ball fair the play obviates the chance to force the other runners. The play is extremely dangerous to bad bunters, as a double play is almost certain if they bunt a fly into the air.


SNODGRASS, of the Giants A very successful "crowder"

Busher—A Major league term of scorn applied to players from the smaller leagues, especially to those who have but recently been promoted to the higher class.

Bushes—Any place outside of the Major leagues; as anything outside of New York is a "Camping place," or anything outside of California is "China" to residents of those places. All minor leagues are "Bush" leagues, as they are supposed to be in the "deep bushes," the "high grass," or the "tall timbers."

Classification—"Organized baseball": that is, leagues belonging to the National agreement, are classified on a general population basis for purposes of fixing salaries and prices of players. The classes are the Major leagues (American and National), and Classes AA, A, B, C, D, and E. As the draft price of players taken from clubs depends upon their Classification there is much argument among minor leagues as to their respective classes, such cases being decided by the National Board o f Arbitration and approved by the Major leagues.

Class F—A term of contempt used among players toward weak players, insinuating that they rank below all organized clubs.

Coacher—A player or manager who, from the coacher's boxes back of first and third bases, endeavors to guide and advise batters and base runners, warning them of the movements of the enemy and flashing the manager's signals to players, as orders for certain plays. In the early days of the game the duties of coachers were to play clown, make noise and strive to excite or anger opposing players. The coacher in the modern game usually is quiet, studying the movements of the opposing pitcher and catcher and assisting base runners.

Commission (National)—The Supreme Court of baseball, a body composed of three men, the presidents of the American and National leagues and a chairman chosen by them. The Commission is vested with legislative, executive and judicial powers, and the added power of making rules to punish offenses by players, owners or managers, not against existing law. They rule about 42 leagues, composed of about 338 clubs, and over 10,000 players.


CHIEF BENDER of the Athletics The greatest curve ball pitcher in the world"

Control—Ability to throw a baseball where it is directed to be thrown, and to pitch it over the plate between the batter's knees and shoulders when necessary. Control is the pitcher's principal stock in trade, as a pitcher who can throw the ball near where he wants it to go needs few curves and not much speed.

Crab—A crabbed player, a "grouch." The verb to crab means to show a quarrelsome or complaining spirit. Many of the worst "crabs" in baseball are the pleasantest and most genial when off the field, their crabbedness evidently being the result of the nervous strain of playing.

Crash—Verb used in baseball, not to signify a single sound, but a series of hard hits. A team "starts crashing," when three or four batters in succession make hits.

Crowd (Verb)—To stand close to the home plate when batting, the purpose being to hamper the pitcher and sometimes to force him to hit the batter. The team that "crowds" persistently is a hard team to beat, as in many cases batters will be hit, and many times pitchers, over-anxious through fear of hitting them, will pitch outside the plate and give them bases on balls.

Curve—In professional baseball the only curve spoken of as such is the fast breaking ball, pitched overhand, that darts down and out from a right- handed batter. All other curves are qualified as sidearm, out, barrel hook, slow, drop. No one speaks of an in-curve among Major leaguers. See Putting Something on It, and The Jump.

Dirt (Hit the) Slide—Usually heard in connection with an order to a player. Managers always reprove players who " stop standing up," and order them to "hit the dirt," partly because standing up is a risky way of going into a base, and partly because so many players are injured by not sliding.


Ty COBB The leading two-base hitter in the world

Double—A two base hit, or "Two bagger."

Double play—A play in which two runners are retired or put out, before the ball ceases to move, or in one continuous play. The commonest double play is from the short stop to the second baseman to the first baseman.

Double steal—A steal of bases by two runners simultaneously. The steal when made with runners on first and second is seldom called a double steal, as the runner on second steals third and the other runner merely "trails." The double steal, as meant by the expression, is made with runners on first and third. The runner starts from first and, as the catcher throws to catch him, the runner on third tries to score before the ball can be returned to the catcher. The play is used chiefly when two are out and the chance of scoring in any other way is small.

Double Steal (Delayed)—With runners on first and third bases the runner on first pretends to start for second. About thirty feet from first he stops quickly and turns as if to go back. If the catcher relaxes from throwing position, he starts for second at top speed and, as the ball is thrown, the runner at third starts for the plate. The success of the play depends upon the element of surprise and except against experienced and cool-headed catchers it is likely to be more effective than the double steal made in the ordinary manner.

Draft—Under baseball law leagues of a higher classification may draft players from clubs in leagues of a lower class between certain fixed dates each autumn on payment of the price prescribed for players of that class. The drafting rule works to wreck strong clubs in the minor leagues and to lessen that evil a limit is placed upon the number of players that may be drafted from any club in one season.

Draw throw—Base runners are under orders to force opposing players to throw the ball as frequently as possible, under the theory that a certain percentage of thrown balls will be thrown wild. Each runner therefore goes as far as he safely can past a base, or gets as far away as he dares, to draw throws. Frequently a base runner will deliberately leave his base to draw a throw, the object being to afford another runner an opportunity to advance. Cobb perhaps is the most successful player in this respect, taking many additional bases by drawing a throw behind him and advancing before it can be relayed.


CHRISTY MATHEWSOX
Who invented the "fadeaway"

Fadeaway—A slow curve ball that loses speed suddenly as it approaches the batter and falls, or "fades" away at an unnatural angle. The fadeaway is accomplished by a jerking and holding motion of the fingers upon the ball at the moment of releasing it from the hand. Christy Mathewson developed the "fader" into its highest state of perfection.

Flat-footed—Unprepared, caught napping. Any player who is caught napping off a base by a throw from pitcher or catcher is caught "flat-footed." The opposite of "on the toes." Flat-footed also is applied to runners who do not rise on the balls of the feet in sprinting but allow their heels to touch. Also, such runners are kidney-footed or slough-footed!

Farming—The practice of major league clubs in placing players in clubs belonging to minor leagues for the purpose of developing and gaining experience. Efforts have repeatedly been made to prevent the major league clubs from "farming out" young players and then recalling them, but with no success and the evil was recognized and the "optional" system substituted. The clubs still farm players to friendly minor league clubs, and the growing practice of the larger clubs owning clubs in smaller leagues has complicated the problem.

Fungo—A ball batted by a player who holds it, tosses it in the air and then strikes it with his bat, as in practice before games, to give the fielders a warming-up exercise. Great skill is shown by some players in this kind of hitting. Ed Walsh, of the Chicago White Sox, holds the official record for  long distance fungo hitting made in competition. His record has been exceeded in unofficial trials by himself, Harry Mclntire, Wagner, and others. Perhaps the longest driver was "Monte" McFarland, an old-time pitcher.

Groove—An imaginary passage from the pitcher's hand over the center of the home plate. When a ball comes "down the groove" it is pitched at the natural angle (that is, without "anything on it") over the plate and therefore is easy to hit. Grooves also are the spaces between the fielders and between the fielders and the foul lines through which batted balls usually pass out of the possible reach of the players.


Ed WALSH Of the White Sox Champion distance "fungo" hitter

Hit and Run—One of the most effective styles of attack devised in baseball. The object is concerted action on the part of the batter and the base runner, that the runner on the bases may take two bases instead of one on a hit, or reach the next base before he can be forced. The batter and base runners exchange signals and the runners know what ball the batter intends to hit. They start running as the ball is pitched, pulling the infielders out of position to cover the bases and doubling the chances for a batted ball to get through the infield. The batter is supposed to hit the ball at all hazards to protect the runners, and if it is impossible to hit the ball, to hit at it, so as to hamper the actions of the catcher and delay his throw to catch the runner.

Hold up—Perhaps the most important part of the inside work of the pitcher, catcher and basemen is to "hold-up" runners, or prevent them from "getting a lead" off the bases. If pitchers do not hold up runners they can steal bases almost at will, and the object of the numerous throws to first base really is to prevent the runner from gaining a flying start rather than to catch him. With runners on second base the short stop and second baseman maneuver to get behind them and compel them to remain near the base. Holding runners up closely frequently prevents them from reaching third from first on hits, or from scoring from second because they have failed to get the proper start. One of the chief values of left-handed pitchers is their ability to watch runners at first, and to throw there quickly.

Hole (In the)—In difficulties; in dire straits. Either the pitcher or batter may be " in the hole" as the batter is "in the hole" with one or two strikes and no balls called, and the pitcher when he has pitched two or three wide balls, and has none or one strike on the batter. The object of every good batter is to get the pitcher "in the hole" so that he, in fear of giving a base on balls, will pitch a straight fast ball over the plate, giving the batter much better chance of making a safe hit.


WALTER JOHNSON' Whose "hook" curve is a terror to batsmen

Hook—A fast overhand curve that breaks downward and outward at an unusually sharp angle. The hook curve is accomplished by a sharp snap of the wrist at the finish of a wide swing of the arm, which accentuates the sharpness of the curve. The hook curves of Brown and Overall, of Chicago, Joe Corbelt, Tom Ramsey, Bill Donovan, Bill Terry, Walter Johnson, and others have become famous for their width.

Hook Slide—Also called the "Chicago slide"—A method of sliding to bases which was perfected by Mike Kelly, of Anson's White Stockings, and taught to all the Chicago players. Later it was adopted by all good base runners. The slide consists of doubling one leg under the other and sliding on the hip, with one leg extended toward the base. The body is thrown away from the baseman who is striving to touch the runner, while one foot is extended and the purpose is to hook that foot onto the base and bring the body to a stop—hence the name.

Inside—A pitched ball that passes between the plate and the batter is "inside" whether the batter is right or left-handed, but the "out" corner of the plate is the corner toward first base, and vice versa, when there is no batter up.

Jump on the fast one—Sometimes pitchers throw much faster than at others, and on such clays they have "the jump on the fast one" which means that the ball, revolving rapidly, piles up a mound of compressed air and actually jumps over it, rising sometimes, it seems, an inch or two during its sudden leap before resuming its way to the plate. When a pitcher has such speed his delivery practically is unhittable.

Knuckle Ball—A slow ball pitched with the knuckles of the three middle fingers turned under and pressed into the ball, which is gripped with the thumb and little finger

Lead—The distance from any base that a base runner can gain before the ball is pitched. To "get a long lead" is the object of every runner. only. The knuckle ball is extremely deceptive as it is delivered with a show of great speed and comes with extraordinary slowness. Summers, of the Detroit team, perhaps is its greatest master.


MARQUARD of the Giants Whose "jump on the fast one" made him the leading pitcher of the National League last year

Liner—A hard driven ball that is hit on a straight line to or past the infield before it touches the ground.

Make it be good—The war cry of coachers and the order of managers to the batter when the opposing pitcher shows signs of wild- ness, the meaning being that the batter is not to hit the ball unless it is a perfect strike, whether or not he hits.

Meat Hand—The throwing hand of a player, the term resulting from the fact that the throwing hand is bare while the other is protected by a glove or mitt.

Mound—The pitcher's foot plate, or slab. Derived from the fact that on most grounds the plate is higher than the rest of the infield, to give the pitcher an advantage through pitching downward at the batter. The " mound" is elevated or depressed by some clubs, high plates being used for tall overhand pitchers while low ones are preferred for sidearm or underhand pitchers.

Nile Valley league—A mythical league in which all the wonderful plays ever heard of took place. Whenever a player tells some extraordinary yarn concerning a play the other players instantly inquire if it happened in the Nile Valley league.

Outlaw—The 'club, league or player who offends against baseball law is punished by being "outlawed" or blacklisted. The alleged benefits of "protection" are withdrawn as punishment to offending leagues or clubs while players are blacklisted. There are several hundred players on the blacklist at present who cannot play in any clubs belonging to the National Agreement until reinstated by the Commission.

Outside—The side of the home plate opposite to that occupied by the batter. If the term is used without regard to the batter the first base side of the plate is the outside.

Pass—A base on balls.

Pebble Hunter—A player who makes excuses for making errors. The term arises from the fact that one old-time player was caught carrying pebbles in his pocket to drop on the ground after he fumbled, and then find, claiming each time that the ball struck a pebble and bounded wrong.


JOHN KLING Who broke up many "hit and run" plays by his signal for a "pitch-out''

Peg—To throw, except in the act of pitching. The catcher pegs to second, the pitcher pegs to first, the infielders all peg, but long throws and the pitch are not so designated— why no one explains.

Pitchout—The most effective method of meeting and breaking up the hit and run play. The ball is pitched rather high and on the outside of the plate, to prevent the batter from hitting it and at the same time to permit the catcher to receive it in perfect position for a throw. When a signal is detected, or when the catcher and pitcher suspect that either a steal or the hit and run is to be attempted, the pitcher pitches out to balk the play.

Putting something on it—Manipulating the ball so that it will curve, break, float or revolve in the air, rather than throwing it naturally.

Reserve—"Organized baseball" depends upon a clause in the players' contracts, whereby the club "reserves" their services for the following season. The reserve clause really acts as a perpetual contract and the legal advisers of players declare the contracts would not hold in law. The reserve clause was placed in contracts to prevent the wrecking of leagues by competitive bidding for the services of the best players — whereby the richest club always could win.

Scout—A supposed judge of ball players employed by the larger clubs to watch the playing of men in small leagues, colleges and in independent clubs to recruit good players.

Slider—An injury to a player caused by scraping a segment of skin off the leg or thigh in sliding to bases. Many players suffer much from these injuries, often having the skin torn off their limbs in patches four or five inches square.


SALLEE of St. Louis The greatest "southpaw" in the business

South Paw—A left-handed handed pitcher. The term is derived from the fact that most baseball grounds are laid out so the pitcher faces west, and a left-handed pitcher's arm is to the south.

Spikes (To sharpen)—The pretense of a player to sharpen the triangular toe and heel plates he wears on his shoes, is a threat to "cut his way around," or to spike certain antagonists if they attempt to stop or touch him. Chiefly a form of braggadocio, and seldom carried into effect.

Spit Ball (The Spitter)—The most effective ball in the pitchers' repertoire. It is executed by putting heavy friction v on the under side of the ball by gripping the thumb into the seams, while the friction on the upper part is lessened by the use of saliva, slippery elm or some such oily substance. The spit ball is used most effectively by Walsh and Ford and its modern development was due to Elmer Stricklett who re-introduced it into the Major leagues. The discovery of the spit ball is a matter of much argument. Some claim the honor for Al Orth, who used it in underhand pitching twenty years ago. It is claimed that Tom Bond, the famous old time pitcher, pitched the ball in New Bedford in 1876, and used glycerin, which he carried in his pocket.

Stuff—The "English," twist or reverse which causes the ball to curve or perform other unnatural movements in the air. When a pitcher "has a lot of stuff" he is making the ball curve or break more than he ordinarily can do.

Swinger—A batter who strikes at a ball with a full, long, sweep of the bat and arms, instead of "choking up" or shortening his grip and "just meeting it." The "swinger" is a type of player not wanted in finished ball clubs. They usually are long distance hitters, but uncertain and usually finish with low averages.

Texas Leaguer—A short, weak fly that drops safe just over the infield and too close in for the outfielders to reach it. Usually an accident, but sometimes accomplished purposely by good batters who merely tap the ball and float it safe. The term originated from the fact that Ted Sullivan, the veteran player-manager-magnate, had a team in the Texas League that was noted for that kind of batting.

Toes (On the)—Meaning sprinting or ready for a quick start. The player who is "on his toes" all the time, is one ready to seize any opportunity.


FORD of the Yankees The leading "spit-ball" artist

Triple—A hit which enables the batter to reach third base before the ball returns to the infield. Also called Three Bagger.

Triple play —A play which retires three runners before the ball ceases to move, or in one consecutive play. There are records of eight triple plays made by one man unassisted, and about twenty triple plays are made in each league every season.

Two fingers only—The signal for a fast ball usually is one finger while two fingers indicate a curve. A pitcher is said to have two fingers only when he has nothing with which to deceive a batter except his curve ball.

Waste—Pitching high or wide to batters purposely. The pitcher often will, when he has the advantage of the batter in the matter of balls and strikes, waste a ball, either trying to tempt the batter into striking wildly, or striving to allow the catcher to make a play to catch a base runner.

Water Bucket (Spiking)—Drawing away from the plate as the ball is pitched. Many batters draw back the foot an entire step, out of timidity or through nervous habit, and those who step far back are said to spike the water bucket.

Whip—The throwing arm. Also called Wing and Soup-bone.


LARRY DOYLE Who led the National League last year year in making "triples"'

 

NOTES:
Originally published in the September, 1912 edition of The American Magazine.

National Association of Base Ball Players sources/bibliography:
Baseball: The Early Years by Harold Seymour.
Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search For The Roots Of The Game by David Block.
Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War by George B. Kirsch.
Baseball (1845-1881): From the newspaper accounts by Preston D. Prem
But Didn't We Have Fun?: An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneer Era, 1843-1870 by Peter Morris
Early Innings: A Documentary History by Dean A. Sullivan
The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870 by Marshall D. Wright.
Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball by Warren Goldstein.
When Johnny Came Sliding Home: The Post-Civil War Baseball Boom, 1865-1870 by William J. Ryczek

General Baseball History sources/bibliography:
Baseball: A History of America's Game
by Benjamin G. Rader.
Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns (PBS DVD)
The Formation, Sometimes Absorption and Mostly Inevitable Demise of 18 Professional Baseball Organizations, 1871 to Present by David Pietrusza.
The Great 19th Century Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, 2nd Edition by David Nemec.
Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908 by Dean A. Sullivan.
Middle Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1900-1948 by Dean A. Sullivan.
Late Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball 1945-1972 by Dean A. Sullivan
Past Time: Baseball as History by Jules Tygiel
America's National Game: Historic Facts Concerning the Beginning, Evolution, Development and Popularity of Baseball by Albert Spalding
Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia by John Thorn, et al.

 



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