Baseball Metaphors

CUBS WIN IN WALK OFF!
Pease Note: It’s the loser Phils doing the “walk off”.

Baseball often is referenced by philosophical writers as a metaphor for life, and why not? A full life itself, for better or worse, is very much like the long season of baseball, and it even comes with its own daily grind and periods of variable product outcome and happiness, just as baseball does. So, it’s no big wonder that baseball itself should both lend and feed upon metaphors from other actions in life to sharpen our perspectives on what’s actually happening on the field.

One of my favorite baseball metaphors goes back to the early 20th, or possibly even the 19th century. We never really know for sure when any metaphor is used for certain the first time. They are like unregistered, swift of mind and foot, unregistered guests at some of the biggest hotels in the largest cities in North America. By the time anyone even asks, “where did that guy come from,” they’ve already pulled up and hit the road again, knowing that their names will not be forgotten by anyone whose now heard them. The character I’m thinking of here is “worm burner”.

“Worm Burner”, by the way, was never any biggest voice in the room guy. He was just the name some writer, fan, or player used one day to describes a ball that had been hit back through the infield on its way to the hinterlands at a scorching hot speed without apparently ever elevating one iota of measurable height of distance from the grass.

Then one day, one of those things happened, and some anonymous poet called it what it really was in a mentally visual sense. – This visually literate soul called it a “worm burner” – virtually perfect descriptive metaphor for the action and species of life that had just been most directly affected by such a smashing, low traveling ground ball.

Somebody said it and remembered to say it again. Or somebody else heard or read it and liked it so much that they repeated it and used it elsewhere. And over time, it got so popular that it never lost its home among the vernacular of baseball. And even if it now sits most often on a shelf in the library for archaic expression, it still pops out among all of us who speak, read, and write in baseball English.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how important an expression like worm-burner was to radio broadcasters during an era in which most fans could listen, and probably rarely so, to big league ball as it reached them by radio.

This brings us to two more contemporary metaphors that probably only became such because of the broad-based high quality opportunity that almost all of us now have to watch MLB in HD quality television. Those are two I’ve included in the following simple table – with one cell that shows where they’ve originated – and a second cell which depicts how they have come to be expressed as contemporary baseball metaphors.

I’m not here to argue their exact dates of origin – for all the good reasons previously expressed – but I will say that they each have a good chance of being original to the 21st century. I don’t remember either being in use twenty years ago and they are so dominant today.

Two Contemporary Baseball Metaphors

# From Early Times   To 21st Century
1 Game Winning Play   “Walk Off”
2 Pitcher Throws Strike Out   “Punch Out”

Because modern TV so dominates everything it does with multiple angle and capacity high quality pictures at different speeds, we now are able to watch baseball mechanically at home in ways that will always be superior to the one-place  / one-distance perspective will each will have at the ballpark. Irony: Whereas, radio cried out for metaphors that provided pictures, television 2018 now cries out for pictures that validate what viewers are seeing on the screen.

“Walk Off” is an appeal to the sight of a losing team walking off the field – something we now see far more often with the growing ubiquity of MLB.Com. The winning team isn’t walking anywhere. They are celebrating all over the place. It’s the losers’ “walk off” that signifies that a game-winning play has ended the game early. The visitor losers are the ones walking off quietly in the background as the home team winners celebrate.

“Punch Out” is a more aggressive expression of what the pitcher’s strike out of a batter has done. And that’s an even longer subject for another time. Television wants to portray pitchers who deserve it to be seen as every ounce and inch the equivalent to offensive home run bombers as players of aggressive intent – and “punch out” carries with it that idea quite clearly.

“Punch Out” may loosely come from boxing’s “knock out”, but let’s face it, if heavyweight champions Muhammed Ali or Rocky Marciano been able to get 12 “punch outs” in a single evening, as Justin Verlander does fairly often, either would have wiped out all his competition for good in three months.

 

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2 Responses to “Baseball Metaphors”

  1. Larry Dierker Says:

    As early as the 1940s and maybe before strikeouts were known as ponchars in Cuba. Probably spanish for punch out.

  2. Tom Hunter Says:

    Bill: I assumed the adjective “walk-off” refers to the winning team, as in “The Astros won in the bottom of ninth with a walk-off home run by . . .”

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