The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
The Language of Baseball Has Evolved with the Times

“Mr. Bates had already poled two bingles, but here was a time of need and he did not rest on laurels already won.  His sharp drive to center field wafted the speeder across the rubber and the game was as good as won.”

If you saw this sentence in an article of a newspaper’s sports section today, you might be wondering what sport it was describing.  The word “center field” might be the only clue that it was baseball, but you still might be scratching your head over what the author was actually describing.

In my research activities for some SABR-related writing projects, I’ve been poring over many pages of newspaper archives, searching for details of players and games I have been writing about.  It’s been pretty interesting reading accounts of games, like the one above from 1912, where the writing style and language are very different from what we are familiar with today.

I’m not sure in what time period journalists became dedicated to full-time coverage of baseball.  However, reading the rest of this article from 1912 seemed to indicate that its writer might have also been employed to write for the society pages of the news.  The game account used flowery language and contained a limited amount of baseball terminology.  It was almost like he was describing a social event, including how the fans were dressed and which dignitaries were attending the game.

Going back even further to one of the games I was researching in 1891, the game account described the fans’ reaction to a baserunner who wound up scoring after his stolen base attempt that involved multiple errors as “a delightful exhibition thoroughly appreciated by the spectators.”  The team that was error-prone in this game was characterized as having “very bum fielding.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised about the written portrayal of the sport many years ago.  I guess it’s really not dissimilar to reading some of unfamiliar language William Shakespeare expressed in his legendary plays four hundred years ago.

One of the other things I’ve noticed over the years of reading about baseball history is the use of demonstrative words and phrases to describe different facets of the game.  But we don’t hear them very much anymore.

Players were often referred to as flychaser, first sacker, backstop, stopper, and battery mates to mean outfielder, first baseman, catcher, closer, and the pitcher/catcher combination, respectively.  Umpires were referred to as arbiters, and managers were called skippers.

Heavy hitters who were likely to hit the long ball were often called big boppers or sluggers.  On the other hand, a “six o’clock hitter” was one who batted well during batting practice but not during the game that followed.  Players adept at stealing bases were called base thiefs, while pitchers were often referred to as hurlers and twirlers.

Pill was a term used for a baseball.  Lumber referred to bats.  Gloves were often called mitts.  A sack was a base.  “Tools of ignorance” collectively referred to a catcher’s face mask, chest protector and shin guards

Different pitches acquired some unique monikers over the years, but they have largely been eliminated from the current jargon.  Inshoot and outshoot were some of the earliest names for breaking pitches.  “Uncle Charlie” was a nickname for curveball.  A heater was a fastball.  (Recall the Charlie Sheen baseball movie Major League, where the crusty old manager admonishes his pitcher Sheen, “Forget the curveball, Ricky; throw him the heater.”)  A flutterball was a type of knuckleball.  A “change of pace” is now just a change-up.  The pitched called forkball evolved into a split-fingered fastball, but we really don’t hear the latter term anymore either.  A scroogie was another name for a screwball pitch.

Batted balls also had their share of imaginative names.  Bloop single and Texas League single were terms used for poorly hit fly balls that barely cleared the infielders’ reach.  A Sunday-hopper was a ground ball that takes only one bounce before being caught.  A high fly ball that allows a defensive player to stand under the ball and easily catch it was called a “can of corn.”  A skimmer was a batted ball that skims across the grass.

Areas of the baseball diamond had descriptive names like hill and bump (pitcher’s mound), hot corner (third base), dish (home plate), and garden (outfield).

While the language of baseball was highly colorful in earlier days, now it seems the language has evolved to be more technically-based.

Nowadays new technologies, such as STATCAST, PitchFX, BAM, and Blast Motion, are changing how the game is played.  They have become integral in the new lingo of baseball today, as they are introducing new terms like launch angle, exit velocity, spin rate, and pitch framing.

SABRmetrics have also become a major influence on the game over the past decade or so and have had a definite impact on the language of baseball with terms like Wins Above Replacement, Fielding Independent Pitching, Runs Created, and Defensive Runs Saved.

Baseball fans from a hundred years ago would definitely be scratching their heads if they read a present-day game account that contained this type of technical terminology.

A hundred years from now, what will followers of baseball think of today’s descriptions of the game?

2 comments | Add a New Comment
1. john malatesta | August 28, 2017 at 11:01 AM EDT

Richard, enjoyed blog. Some of old terminology was still used in 60's.

2. Richard | August 28, 2017 at 01:23 PM EDT

John, Thanks for the note. You're right! My brother Jim, a catcher on the Shaw High team, says he remembers the position being called the \seat of ignorance\, I guess a variation of the catcher's equipment being called the \tools of ignorance.\

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