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Exploring Baseball's Batty Lingo


Napoleon Lajoie
Image ID: 56207. New York Public Library Digital Collections

We're a little over a halfway done with the 2017 Major League Baseball campaign, and it's been a good one! We've had some exciting walk-offs, some immaculate innings, guys do know what those are right? Hey, I get it. Sometimes I probably have a tendency of using terminology that only those who've been watching baseball forever would know. So I decided a fun idea would be to create a blog post with some of baseball's more irregular language, and letting you in on the background of those terms. This should be fun: I live and breathe this game, so let's get started!

Walk-off: This is a pretty common term you hear when a home team wins the ballgame in their final turn at bat.  The term comes from the fact that once the home team/winning team has plated the game's winning run, the visiting team/losing team walks off the field in dejection. A visiting team is unable achieve a walk-off. As for who coined the term walk-off, it was Dennis Eckersley! The Hall-of-Famer first utilized the term in 1988. Now, while you may think he first used it here, when he surrendered one of the most famous "walk-off" home runs in baseball history, he didn't. He actually used it after a game on July 29th of that year, when Steve Balboni of the Mariners took him deep for the win. After the game, Eckersley referred to the home run as a "walk-off piece", and the term has been a part of baseball jargon ever since. (suggested reading: Baseball: A Literary Anthology)

Immaculate inning: These are certainly less commonly seen in comparison to the 'walk-off' victory. Pitching enthusiasts may even argue that it is more exciting too. An immaculate inning occurs when the pitcher strikes out all 3 batters he faces in an inning, on 9 consecutive strikes. It's difficult enough throwing 9 strikes in a row, but racking up 3 strikeouts to go along with those 9 strikes certainly calls for some notice. As of this writing, there have been 86 immaculate innings in baseball history. With strikeout totals on the rise nowadays due to both pitchers having filthier stuff, and hitters taking larger swings in attempts to lift the ball more, 5 immaculate innings have taken place in 2017 alone. 4 pitchers have achieved the feat twice, with Sandy Koufax actually achieving it three times. The first recorded immaculate inning took place on June 4, 1889, by future Hall-of-Famer John Clarkson of the Boston Beaneaters. (suggested reading: Baseball: An Illustrated History)

Baltimore chop: What's a Baltimore chop, and why is it called that? It used to happen more often when a lot of the stadiums deployed artifical turf as their playing surface. But a Baltimore chop is when the batter hits a ball that lands right on home plate, or right around that area, then takes an extremely high bounce way above the heads of the infielders on the field. This in turn becomes and extremely tough play to throw the runner out due to the height the ball reaches. The term originated in the late 19th century when the Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s used some unorthodox tactics to gain a competive edge. Revealed in then-Baltimore Oriole third baseman John McGraw's book My Thirty Years in Baseball, then-Oriole manager Ned Hanlon had their groundskeeper Tom Murphy packed that area with clay, and didn't apply water to it. As a result, the Orioles built their team around speed, and it ended up paying off. The 19th-century edition of the Baltimore Orioles won the National League pennant three consecutive years from 1894-1896. And in the process, created the "Baltimore chop", a term that still holds relevance today. (suggested reading: The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches

Cup of coffee: A cup of coffee in the major leagues is a funny little term.  So when do you apply this term? It's used when a player arrives on a team's roster, is there for what ends up being a short stay, and then is removed from the main roster.  You often hear broadcasters say when a particular player comes to the plate, "So and so had a cup of coffee with (whatever team) in (whatever year)"  The implication is that the player was on, then off the roster so quickly, he barely had time to drink a cup of coffee before he was removed from the roster! One noteworthy cup of coffee in the big leagues would be Moonlight Graham! He played in one game for the 1905 New York Giants without taking a trip to the plate. His story was made infamous by the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams. (suggested reading: A History of Baseball in 100 objects)

Dying quail: The term 'dying quail' was, like Moonlight Graham, also made popular thanks to a piece of baseball cinema. This time, it was the film Bull Durham. In it, the veteran ballplayer Crash Davis explains to young pitching sensation Nuke LaLoosh what the difference is between hitting .250 and ,300 is (Crash's answer: 25 hits). While Crash lists off the different kinds of ways an poorly hit ball might luck into a hit, he mentions the term dying quail. Which may not be the most elegant of terms, but I like it, so we'll roll with it. A dying quail is when a fly ball falls quickly and lands in front of the outfielders for a base hit. The term's name is derived from a quail is shot as game, and immediately loses all its altitude  and falls straight down back to earth. If a fly ball drops quickly enough in a similar manner with the outfielder playing back enough, they may not be able to cover the ground, resulting in a "dying quail" single! (suggested reading: Baseball: An Encyclopedia of Popular Culture)

Eephus pitch: Ah, the old Eephus pitch! Always entertaining when a pitcher breaks out one of these guys. So an Eephus, is more or less an arching pitch thrown at a very low speed, designed to catch the batter off guard and hopefully generate either a called or a swinging strike. Sometimes it works out! Sometimes it doesn't. I never knew the term's origin until now, and it is an interesting one. In an article written in the New York Times a while ago, the pitch was invented by Rip Sewell, a pitcher who pitched 385 of his 390 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  However, the term Eephus pitch was coined by his teammate, Maurice Van Robays. He described Sewell's pitch as one during an exhibition game in 1942 as when pressed for a meaning, Van Robays responded, "Eephus ain't nuthin'." The term then stuck, and is now used for describing pitches that come in at an excessevely low velocity with not a whole lot on them. (suggested reading: Baseball: A History of America's Favorite Game)

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dying quail!

lollll.. "wachu got meat?!"

I absolutely loved this Joe!

I absolutely loved this Joe! I watch the Mets religiously but know so little about the "language of the game". Fabulous article. Thank you

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