"I don't think baseball is real life. But (labor) strikes are real life. It took up seven weeks of real time. That's a fifth of a pregnancy."
--Dan Quisenberry, Kansas City Royals pitcher - on the 1981 baseball strike
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.
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
(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.
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.
head of a player (V) to bean—to pitch or throw and hit the batter in the
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.
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.
clean base hit, the ball being driven clean over or past the fielder
without presenting a chance for any possible play.
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.
field seals on baseball parks. Term originated in the south where the
colored spectators were forced to sit in the sun, and were
Whose antics on the coaching line have won many games and amused
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.
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
player noted for making stupid plays; one adapter spoke of a player's head
as his "armored turret."
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
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.
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."
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"
Major league term of scorn applied to players from the smaller leagues,
especially to those who have but recently been promoted to the higher
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."
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
term of contempt used among players toward weak players, insinuating that
they rank below all organized clubs.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
two base hit, or "Two bagger."
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.
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
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.
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
Who invented the "fadeaway"
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
'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.
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.
base on balls.
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''
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.
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.
something on it—Manipulating the ball so that it will curve,
break, float or revolve in the air, rather than throwing it naturally.
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.
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.
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
SALLEE of St. Louis The greatest "southpaw" in the
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.
"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.
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.
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
hit which enables the batter to reach third base before the ball returns
to the infield. Also called Three Bagger.
—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
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.
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.
throwing arm. Also called Wing and Soup-bone.
LARRY DOYLE Who led the National League last year year in making
NOTES: Originally published in the September, 1912 edition of The
Our sites have always been by you and about you. If
our TV Forums or our Technology & Science forums, you'll find literally thousands of messages from fans
of 1970s TV shows, survivors of hurricanes or aircraft accidents, etc. from all over the world sharing their memories, asking
questions, making comments. Our baseball section is new, but don't let
that stop you from sharing
your memories of the first game you went to, your favorite player, a
now-forgotten stadium, etc. Of course you can also ask questions, post
trivia, tell the world what you think of Barry Bonds, or just read what
others are saying.
Logos and team names may be trademarks of their respective franchises or leagues. This site is not recognized, approved, sponsored by, or endorsed by Major League Baseball nor any sports league or team. Any marks, terms, or logos are used for editorial/identification purposes and are not claimed as belonging to this site or its owners. Any statistical data provided courtesy of Retrosheet (see credits).