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Can you talk a good game?

April 28, 2008

by Matt Kane

The first month of the Major League Baseball season is coming to an end Wednesday, and it seems like it just started.

I, myself, have no problem transferring from bright white sheets of ice at the hockey arena to the plush green grassy (preferably real grass) landscape of the baseball diamond, but, for those of you who are a little slow off the baseball season starting line, here is some help with reacquainting yourself with the sounds of the game.

Bullpen — According to several web sites, relief pitchers always warmed up in the outfield, often behind billboards for Bull Durham tobacco. Hall of fame manager Casey Stengel suggested the term came from managers who were tired of hearing relief pitchers “shooting the bull” in the dugout during games, so they sent them to an area away from the other pitchers. Another theory says that when the Giants were in New York, they played at the Polo Grounds. When the stadium opened in the 1880s, there was a stockyard, or pen with bulls, beyond the left field wall.

Southpaw — This term, that refers to a left-handed pitcher, came about because ballparks are often built so that a right-handed batter faces east when he is in the batters’ box. That means, a left-handed pitcher would be throwing with his south-side arm.

Around the horn — This term describes a double play ball where the ball is thrown from the third baseman to the second baseman, and from the second baseman to the first baseman. The term is also used to describe throwing the ball around the bases when an out is made and no runners are on base. The term originates from sailing. Before the Panama Canal was built, ships wishing to go from the North Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean had to sail around Cape Horn, which is the southernmost point of South America.

Texas Leaguer — The Texas League was a Minor League Baseball league located in the South Central United States that ran from 1888 to 1890. It was then reborn in 1902, and currently has eight teams making up two divisions. The slang term “Texas Leaguer,” refers to a single that drops between an infielder and outfielder. There is no evidence that the term came from the actual Texas League, but an anecdote from the Civil War says a Union soldier, who was playing outfield, was shot and wounded by a sniper while chasing a batted baseball over his head. After that incident, hits were only rewarded for balls that landed between infielders and outfielders.

Bush League — refers to an action that is less than high-class. This term originated from the minor leagues, where ball fields were often ringed with bushes and shrubs, making them less than pristine.

These terms are just a small sampling of baseball slang phrases. There are plenty more that I couldn’t find origins for.

Hearing these words at the ball park is just a part of the game of baseball. So, too, is heckling the umpire. In no way do I encourage fans to do so, but here’s a small list of one-liners fans have used to express their distress at the men in blue.

— Hey ump, is that a dinner plate? Apparently it has no corners!

— I’ve seen better calls at a square dance!

— I’ve seen better calls between two tin cans and a piece of string!

— I’ve seen better blue in a toilet bowl!

— It really is hot today - that strike zone is melting!

— It’s a strike zone, not an end zone!

— Come on blue, turn that mask around and get a GOOD look!!

— What were you, a lookout at Pearl Harbor?

— I forgot the Milk-Bone for your seeing-eye dog!

— If it was a donut you would have gotten there! (Umps out of position)

— Can I pet your Seeing Eye dog after the game?

— Have they stopped printing the rule books in Braille?

— Don’t donate your eyes to science – they don’t want em’.

— I thought only horses slept standing up!