Off-Day Offerings: Baseball Vernacular Edition (#BaezBomb & More)

Off-Day Offerings: Baseball Vernacular Edition (#BaezBomb & More)
From 2010 Spring Training: You can't quiet The Riot. Theriot works to avoid being TOOBLAN.

I’m pretty random.  As such, it’s just as likely that I’ll wax poetic about Shakespeare as tell a story about my youthful shenanigans.  Probably in the same column or even the same paragraph.

I can’t promise that the content in ODO will be any less scattershot than my typical ruminations, but both the timing and delivery should be enough to corral my thoughts to some extent.

The goal here is to establish a semi-regular series that will cull news, video, and links from around the information superhighway (thanks, Al Gore!) in quick-hitter fashion.

And, as the name indicates, the goal is to bring it to you on Thursdays and/or Mondays when the Cubs aren’t busy earning themselves a high draft pick.

I think most of our readers here at CI are seasoned baseball fans with a strong grasp of the history of both the game and the Chicago Cubs.  But even the most knowledgeable among us take things for granted from time to time.

So it is that I set out to find the origin of some popular baseball terms that we all use without thinking twice.  As an apprenticing wordsmith, I have a deep and abiding love for etymology.  And any chance to combine that with baseball is one that I have to take advantage of.

#BaezBomb

Okay, this one isn't in regular circulation in baseball circles...yet.  If you're confused by the #, don't worry; it's just one of those crazy things from the Twitter.  But those who were following last night's Cubs/Mariners game, either on MLB Network or online, saw the freakish, violent swing that is fast making Javier Baez a folk hero.

After missing on a couple hangers, he terminated an off-speed pitch from Randy Wolf with extreme prejudice, spawning more hashtags than just the one above.  Mike Olt went yard twice and still played second fiddle to Baez; I'll put it this way: even Chuck Norris was jealous* of the feat.  It's impossible to appreciate the ridiculousness without actually seeing it for yourself.

Thankfully, one of the advantages of social media is the ability to have a variety of forms of evidence almost immediately.  It's probably a bad idea for me to place these videos at the start of my column, as I'm reasonably sure everyone will be mesmerized by what they witness.  But by all means, feel free to bask in the glory of this #BaezBomb for as long as you like.

Vine posted by Frederic:

Twitpic courtesy of The Chicago Homer

I...I just...no words.

Can of corn

This one certainly appeals to the one-time farmboy in me, but I never understood how it applied to baseball.  Used to indicate a lazy pop fly that makes for an easy catch, I would think snagging a flying metal can would be anything but.

I mean, consider the physics involved in the flight of an actual can of corn.  Its shape isn’t aerodynamic, it’s bigger and heavier than a baseball, and the shifting, fluid internal mass would certainly cause an irregular trajectory.

Not even Brant Brown could be blamed for dropping a real can of corn, right?  Well, in the days of the days of yore, grocers were forced to stack their wares vertically due to a lack of overall depth and horizontal shelf space.

As such, grocers were required to knock canned goods loose with a stick in order to make an easy catch with their apron.  The specificity of corn likely came from the fact that ball diamonds were being built in corn fields long before Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta came around.

Frozen rope

Before it inspired the name for my one of my homebrewed IPAs, this phrase meant a hard-hit line drive or even a great throw from the outfield.

I’ve seen actual frozen ropes before, though they were never as straight and true as a whistling liner.  The origin of the term in a baseball sense is a bit ambiguous, but the Dickson Baseball Dictionary has a credit.

According to that source, Baseball Digest may have defined the term in 1963, when Leonard Schecter used it.  The Harrison Ford version of Jack Ryan (quick, without Googling, can you name the other 3 actors to play that role?) also used the term in Clear and Present Danger, as it’s spy-ese for “a very important signal intercept.”

He’s got a hose

Since I referenced a strong throw earlier, I though it fitting to research the origin of the use of “hose” to indicate a strong arm.

I was unable to find a satisfying answer to this one and would welcome input.  The closest I can imagine is that, while in the throwing motion, the arm appears to bend like a hose.

Wheelhouse

This is another that’s somewhat difficult to pin down, but appears to originate from the nautical context that refers to a ship’s wheel

To wit: A pirate walks into a bar and the bartender says: “Hey, you’ve got a wheel attached to your belt.” The pirate answers: “Arrr, and it’s drivin’ me nuts!”

So this idiom, which may or may not have spread from baseball into popular nomenclature, basically means the spot at which you have the most power or control.

Duck snort

Again, the actual origin appears to be somewhat amorphous, but this description of a soft pop-up that just clears the infield for a hit appears to be another word for passing gas.

The assumption is that when a duck broke wind, its feathers would make said flatulence as soft as the hit. I only wish my son would take a cue from them, or that he'd at least adopt some form of early-warning system.

At some point, political correctness necessitated the change from “fart” to “snort,” perhaps in the wake of P.K. Wrigley’s Ladies Days.

Southpaw

Along with most folks, I have long labored under the falsehood that this term came from the fact that ballparks were designed with home plate to the west.  Thus, a lefty’s lobbing limb faced south.

In his World Wide Words site, Michael Quinion debunks this theory:

Nobody conversant with the history of the game now believes this. It seems likely, Dickson comments, that the story was the invention of either the political humorist Finley Peter Dunne of the Chicago Newsor Charles Seymour of the Chicago Herald. Dunne’s biographer says that Dunne invented it about 1887 because the Chicago ball park happened to be laid out that way; H L Mencken noted in The American Language that Richard J Finnigan, publisher of the Chicago Times, attributed the term to Seymour.

Though he goes on to reference several possible origin stories, Quinion can provide no plausible birthplace for the term.

Punch and Judy hitter

While this phrase has largely gone the way of the stolen base under Dale Sveum’s management, it’s still an interesting research topic.  Even as a kid, I was able to infer its meaning by the derogatory way in which it was ascribed to certain players.

Punch and Judy is actually a traditional puppet show that dates back to the 16th century and typically features the violent Mr. Punch interacting with one other character at a time.  As his name indicates, Punch is not above physical violence, regardless of the intended target.

And while we often associate swings by the likes of Gary Sheffield and Javier Baez with violence, one doesn’t closely link puppets with power.  Tony Gwynn made quite a career out of being a “Judy,” but it’s a term typically used to deride a player’s ability.

The term’s first known use is attributed to Walter Alston, then the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who used in in describing Willie McCovey.  Of course, in that instance, he was saying that McCovey was NOT and Punch and Judy hitter.

TOOTBLAN

This is a relatively new entry into baseball's nomenclature, and one that many might not be familiar with.  Along with “gritty,” “gutty,” and “sneaky athletic,” (all of which seem to be tried-and-true euphemisms for the types of players who try really, really hard and for whom Cubs fans have great affinity), Ryan Theriot was often associated with TOOTBLAN.

Coined in 2008 by Tony Jewell in his blog, Wrigleyville23, TOOTBLAN means Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop.  What many fans saw as The Riot’s hustle and guile, Jewell correctly attributed to poor baserunning.  Sadly, the phenomenon didn't stop when the diminutive middle infielder left town.  No, despite tutelage from Bobby D and others, the Cubs' navigation of 360 feet of basepaths is still vexing at times.

Well, that's it for the opening round; I hope you were able to learn a little something today, or at least confirm some of the vast knowledge you already possess.  There are infinitely more possibilities to explore, so be on the lookout for the next edition of ODO.

*I sincerely hope Chuck Norris isn't reading this.  If so, I'll kindly ask Tom to post my remaining drafts posthumously, like Suge Knight did for Tupac.

Follow me on Twitter: @DEvanAltman

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