The Phraseology of Baseball
By Eric Leary
Date Written: 5-7-10
Have you heard any good games lately? That’s right, I said heard. No, not on the radio – which by the way, I love listening to baseball on the radio … very nostalgic – or even on the TV – coincidentally, I often watch games on TV without the sound … figure it out. I am talking about the sounds of the game at the park. You hear all sorts of stuff while watching a game. Beyond the cracks and pings of the bat, the roar of cheering crowds or even the forceful calls by the ump, are the host of one-liners spewed by fans, players and coaches, from little league fields to big league parks.
Recently, I took the opportunity to listen at a game with a fine tuned ear and noted some frequent – and not so frequent – comments and projected announcements. These ranged from true encouragement to obvious information. The list was HUGE. Then I consulted other observers of the game … the list grew even more. By the time IMPACT honcho, Andy Partin, weighed in … the collection had taken on an identity of its own. I had to divide (and conquer) … and portion this analysis into parts – I hope you’ll excuse me for this. So, for installment number one I’ll focus on the “general” and “offensive” categories of comments and phrases. Of course, many of these come with commentary and explanations … many of which are just light reflections. If you use any of these that I poke fun at … don’t take offense, I’m sure I’ve said most of these at some point … although now, I may watch my mouth!
• “Humm Babe” … Why do we say this almost with automatic reflex when a player is on center stage? I understand that it is an abridged encouragement of “come on you can do it,” but if the phrase were to be analyzed without the context of the events, wouldn’t it sound ridiculous?
• “Come kid” … Just a derivation of “humm babe.” I like to hear the player that alternates between the two … they are showering their teammate with a plea of fortune. Almost a “please do good, please do good, please do good.”
• “Whataya say Johnny?” or “Whataya say (pick a number)?” … Here the encourager is placing hope in the player’s ability to respond to the situation with positive results. But the player of focus has an opportunity to answer in a number of alternative fashions – isn’t that nice and thoughtful.
• “Thatta boy!” or “Thatta baby!” … Jubilation! This affirms the attempt by the player … as if to say “do this more often.” I use this one a lot with my lab when playing fetch.
• “C’mon BOYS!” … This is the pivotal RALLY cry by the self-promoted leader of the masses. It is meant to unify in the face of adversity. Every time I hear it though, it reeks of desperation.
• “TEAM on 3 … 1-2-3 … TEAM” … You could replace “team” with anything – hits, runs, applepie … it is symbolic of the groups unity. It is usually done with all hands merged together in a huddle – the caller in the middle – and most of the players’ eyes are scouring the crowd, the horizon, or the ground looking for … urr, something.
• “___________! ____________!” … What? You don’t get this one? It’s the repeater syndrome. You can put any line or phrase of choice into the blanks and quickly recognize the phenomena. Watch. “Come kid. Come kid.” See? I knew you’d get it.
I’m sure that more comments could go in this set, but I’ve run out … for now.
• “Ducks on the pond.” “Don’t leave ‘em out there.” … Just two of a gaggle-load of encouragements for the hitter to get the runners in scoring position to the plate. Translation: don’t let us, our fans, and the game of baseball down by squandering this opportunity to score some runs.
• “Trade places right here.” … Similar, but very situation specific. Runner at 2B. We want the hitter to smack a double – drive him in. WHEN it does happen, the one that spoke the line usually pushes his shoulders back with an I-knew-he-could-do-it smirk. Whatever.
• “Good hold.” … Heard this one this year from a coach proud of his batter for not swinging at a ball. I thought he was coaching wrestling for a minute. Geez. I’ve also heard in recent years, 3B coaches say “NO” to a batter with the ball in flight and halfway to the plate. The results would bring responses of “good job” or “why did you swing at that?” Definitely an example of high level obedience when successful.
• “Good eye.” … I guess this means the same as “good hold,” but it provides that batter with a sense of judgment. Almost as if to say, “he has a very good eye for …” – like art.
• “Let’s get the bats going.” … Translation: We are not doing very good at the plate, boy this pitcher is good, I wish we could hit better – all rolled into one phrase.
• “Drive the ball now.” … This is always said from coach to player with a huge tone of confidence and clarity. Once, I want the player to turn and pop off, “oh, is that what we’re supposed to do?” Just so it’s not my player.
• “Don’t try to kill it.” … Translation: stop trying to swing so hard, you aren’t going to hit the ball out of the park! You’re 5’5” and weigh 120!
• “Be a tough out.” … To me this says – overachieve … you haven’t done so well today … but right now, play over your head. Maybe I’m reading too much here. I definitely have used this one … it is encouraging to a point. Don’t you think it has that daddy-wants-his-boy-to-be-a-man type tone?
• “Be tough with two.” or “protect the plate.” or “don’t let ‘em in.” … These are for the hitter facing the two strike count. Those saying the line are trying to be “there for you man,” … but really, it’s a “sorry I can’t do anything, but I’m pulling for you” sort of line.
• “It’s gotta be perfect.” or “one spot, one speed.” or “sit on your pitch here.” or may fave, “it’s gotta be on a tee.” … All are aimed at the batter facing the to-good-to-be-true opportunity of a 2-0 or 3-1 count. Translation: don’t screw this up by swinging at something you can’t hit.
• “Be a lead-off”… At the start of any inning, to a guy that is 8th in the line-up. For a reason. C’mon.
• “Be ready for the curveball.” or “here comes the deuce.” … This is the announced by the seer – the crystal ball holder – the back-to-the-future time traveler that knows a breaking ball ALWAYS follows the first pitch fastball at many of our lower level contests. After a whiffing swing, often we get, “why’d he swing at that.” OR, or … after the curve drops in for strike two … wait for it … “I told you it was coming.”
• “Keep your back elbow up.” … I have so many issues with this one, I’m moving on …
Common phrases to baserunners … everyone wants to coach 3rd sometimes.
o “Get dirty” … after the pick-off was TOO close. Even better is, “I’ll wash the uniform.” Clever.
o “Break up two” … a good reminder in the double play situation. Something to say when we don’t have anything to say.
o “Turn the page” … after a pick. Didn’t get this one for a long time … still think it’s hokey.
o “Probably not his best” … Nope, I was wrong, this one is definitely hokey-er.
o “Get a lead” … Before saying this, consider that a reason for a lack of a lead may exist. Because invariably after a close call on a pick-off you’ll hear, “DON’T GET PICKED!”
• Without fail, if a third base coach holds a runner with no outs, or even one down and the ball is inbounding to the cut – surely no way he’ll beat the throw, some expert will holler, “SEND HIM COACH.” But – but, if the runner is sent and the play results in an out, similar voices will chorus a, “what were you thinking?” Coaching third can be lonely business.
• Another situation that brings a combo of phrases is the ever embarrassing dropped foul pop up. I’ve gotta give AP the credit for this one. As soon as the ball hits, like popcorn from the masses and the dugout we’ll get a tag team on “new life” … followed by “make it hurt.” I never knew we could combine relief and revenge so eloquently.
Again, these are just a small collection of the gargantuan sea of baseball phraseology. It’s part of the game. We’ve been doing it since, “heyyyy, batta batta swing.” I’ve not intended to offend anyone. I’ve actually said most of these I’m sure. All I’ve done is call to attention what an observer hears at the park. Without a prior base of knowledge on the game, most of these really sound silly I think. Sometimes it’s good to laugh at ourselves … I tend to find lots of opportunities personally. It sure is a funny game … in so many ways.
Be on the lookout for my pitching/defense list … coming soon.
Thanks to Andy Partin, my wife Tracy Leary, and countless others that offered a few phrases for consideration.