Old Time Baseball Terms

worm-burner-3

Some came from the players, coaches, and stadium fans. Some came later from the early radio broadcasters in their invention of phrases that might help the radio fans at home to see what was going on at the game this moment without the help of instant eye-flash vision.

Searching for the etiology of each is recommended only to those with great intuitive and research talents, plus the patience to undergo frustration and the presence of conflicting opinion from others who never admit to being wrong about anything.

For us here at The Pecan Park Eagle, we will be content with the simple compilation of an ongoing list that highlights those terms that truly do help us see a play on the field in a game that we were not actually present to see with our own eyes. And that statement alone reveals both our bias that they probably did come to life originally through the spoken words of a radio broadcaster – and that no such list of its kind will ever be offered as a complete display of all terms imaginable. So many of these phrases already have been floated into common usage. Add to that idea the fact that, even in this highly digital eye covered era, that human imagination will continue to interplay with the minds of others to come up with new popular terms and phrases.

The following is a list of some favorites we’ve known since our Post-WWII childhood. We welcome additional contributions and even credit for same, if you think you know who originated any of them. Except for entry number (6) below, we simply like these favorites for the “eye presence” they gave us on radio game events we could not see on summer nights from our bedrooms at homes across America during the middle of the 20th century.

Our Eleven Favorite Visualizing Baseball Phrases

  1. Seeing Eye Single. A seeing eye dog allows a blind person to escape a crowded store of people without running into anyone or anything that might trap his exit. A seeing eye single is a batted baseball that behaves as though it were in the company of a fast and tiny seeing eye dog as it eludes the grasp of two enemy infielders (to the left, right, or up the middle) as it bounces or rolls unobstructed between their cross-reaching gloves and finds life in the outfield as a rolling base hit.
  2. Worm Burner. A worm burner is a hard hit single through the infield that seems to never bounce on its way to the outfield surface as it quickly makes its way to hit status. As the phrase implies, it is a ball that should have badly torched the oozing skin of any near earth surface worm that may have been crossing its direct exit route during its speedy exodus. What do we call “worm burners” that are trapped by an infielder’ glove? Nothing fancy. If they are well -played, we called them “hard hit ground outs”. If they are misplayed on the infield throw attempt, we call them “errors”.
  3. Frozen Rope. A hard hit line drive that seems to either maintain its shoulder-high trajectory in a straight lightning-speed path to the outfield wall for a double – or else – the ball rises only enough to barely clear the outfield wall for a home run. Former Chicago White Sox, Houston Buffs, and Baltimore Orioles hitter Bob Boyd won his nickname as “The Rope” for being this kind of hitter.
  4. Can of Corn. A lazy fly ball to the outfield that’s as easy to catch as opening a can of corn. This one escaped my understanding as a literal-thinking little kid. “Wow! If I have to open my glove with a can opener before I catch a fly ball,” or so I first thought, “I’m not going to catch too many balls for outs!” Once I grew to understand the meaning of the phrase, all others like it also became a “can of corn” to my new powers of symbolic comprehension.
  5. Greased Lightning. Power fastball pitches that left a trail of sparkling stars and shards of electricity in their wakes. The picture in my radio mind was better than any pitch that I ever saw Bob Turley of the San Antonio Missions pitch at Buff Stadium. I kept the literal imagery by choice when listening to Buffs radio games at home. And these were much more beautiful than any of the “greased lightening” pitches I saw in person at Buff Stadium.
  6. Courtesy Runner. Never saw or heard of any “courtesy runners” in my early times, but I had learned of the term on the sandlot. We all understood it there. A “courtesy runner” was a guy who took over as the base runner when the actual player that got there on batting merit got suddenly called home by his mother.
  7. Pinch Runner. Saw and heard of these guys all the time at Buff Stadium in Houston, circa late 1940s and early 1950s. These were fast runners, usually pitchers, that came into games when a guy on base either got hurt or was considered too slow to be of much help in a critical late game situation. Never held the next thought seriously, but always thought of it as a young kid: ” Wouldn’t it be funny if ‘pinch runner’ meant that the first baseman better watch out for wherever the pinch runner puts his hands when they are both standing together near the bag.You never know when he might actually try to pinch you as a distraction to the fact that he was just about to make an attempted steal of second base.”
  8. Grand Slam. It is the sight and sound of eight feet triumphantly trotting in unison around the bases. If you need further explication, you probably would not be reading this far into day’s column anyway.
  9. Fadeaway. A pitch that falls low and fades away from the batter’s reach. If not invented by the man who made the pitch famous, it was most probably first described as such by the great Christy Mathewson after the turn of the 20th century.
  10. Rubber Arm. A virtually extinct sub-species of pitcher in this era of controlled pitch count usage of pitchers in MLB games. Rubber Arms like HOF lefty Warren Spahn were once capable of pitching 16-18 innings in tight games of the 1950s and 1960s. No more. Today’s MLB clubs pay millions to starters who can most often only keep the game close through five innings of play.
  11. Frog Strangler. Not unique to baseball, but it has one clear meaning as a rain upon a scheduled uncovered MLB baseball game. It means No Game Today.

Let us hear of your own contributions or comments upon those offered here.

____________________

eagle-0range
 Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

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12 Responses to “Old Time Baseball Terms”

  1. Mike Mulvihill Says:

    Bill
    Here are few:
    Baltimore Chop
    Punch & Judy Hitter
    Dieing Quail
    Rag Arm
    Stick a Fork In Him
    Submarine
    Spitter
    Slider In Shoot
    Humpback Liner
    Mike

  2. David Munger Says:

    Blue Darter-Line Drive
    Two from Loel Passe:
    An Astro Orbit-An Astro Home Run
    The Bases are FOB-Full of Buffs.
    We could go on and on with Loelisms.

  3. Fred Soland Says:

    Painting the black – pitch on the corners

    Slitty – a slider

    High cheese – high fastball

    Chin music – a high and tight pitch
    Low Bridge- same thing
    Beanball – same thing

    Seed – a well hit ball

    Bloop hit – ball hit weakly over the infielder

    Going yard – a home run
    Bomb – same

    Salami – grand slam HR

    Heater – fastball

    Deuce – curve ball

    Dipsy doodle – off speed pitch

    Get in his kitchen – throw inside at the waist

    Dropping the bottom out – a drop curve
    12 to 6 – same

  4. Wayne Chandler Says:

    Red Barber, when he was an announcer for the Cincinnsti Reds back in the “30s: There’s a lazy can of corn to center field. Kiki Cuyler takes out his camping stool and waits on it, and the side is retired..”

    • Tom Hunter Says:

      While recording a baseball book at Talking Book Publishers Inc. in Denver, I learned that Hazen Shirley “Kiki” Cuyler’s nickname was pronounced KEYE-KEYE (not KEY-KEY) because of his stuttering problem when saying his last name. Seems cruel, but there you have it.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      So, maybe it was the “Ole Redhead” Barber that got me in trouble with a visual that made that kind of grab harder, rather than easier, given the quick time demands on any kind of “flying things” catch. I still would not have heard it on a 1930s Reds game radio broadcast. Even ancient me is not that old.

  5. Cliff Blau Says:

    Re: worm burners- I’ve always called those “grass cutters”.

  6. Oscar Mary Sicola Says:

    please add emai fn2721@gmail.com to the mailing list as i am deleting this email. Thank you, Oscar

  7. Bill Hale Says:

    I’ve always heard that “can of corn” came from old grocers knocking off a can from the top shelf with a stick and catching it easily.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Bill, Your version of the “can of corn” metaphor makes far more visual sense than the story I got as a kid. My easy guess now is that your grocery store model is what the originator had in mind.

  8. Michael McCroskey Says:

    Here’s a few:

    “Goin’ or Swinging for the Downs” – Trying to hit a home run

    “Meat Ball” – an easy pitch to hit pitch

    “Gopher ball” – a pitch hit for a home run

    “Uncle Charley” – a curve ball

    “Throwing BB’s” – a fastball pitcher on a really good day, think
    J.R. and Nolan.

    and “Hot Dog!” – Carlos Gomez among others

    Mike

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