Thursday, September 30, 2010

Enjoying a Little 'Yard' Work

A decade ago, Mike Piazza divulged that his true wish in life was to create a baseball cliche that would live on well after his hitting records did. Hitting 427 homers in the major leagues is tough, but creating a baseball expression that lasts in perpetuity may be even tougher.

You need a clever phrase, for starters, and a gigantic media platform from which to send your new phrase into millions of pairs of eyes and ears.

Batter Chatter, unfortunately, is not that media platform. (Yet?)

ESPN, on the other hand, is.

Take "going yard," for instance, which everyone who knows a walk from a balk knows means hitting a home run.

That came from SportsCenter...I mean, it had to, right? I can't seem to find proof online, but I think it's got to have come from SportsCenter, same as "cooler than the other side of the pillow" and "Boo-Ya!" and other trademark catchphrases.

Wikipedia's Glossary of Baseball says the phrase has roots in Baltimore, where the park is of course called Camden Yards, and plenty of balls have "gone yard" since the park opened in 1993.

Writes the Glossary:
To "go yard" is to hit a home run, i.e., to hit the ball the length of the baseball field or "ball yard".
A discussion on on, of all things, the movie Inglourious Basterds, centers around a  character exclaiming "Teddy Ballgame goes yard!" while beating a Nazi with a baseball bat.

One excerpt reads:

In 2005, William Safire [former writer of the "On Language" column in the NYT] said he couldn't find the origin. The speculation is Camden or the fact that playing fields were often called "ball yards." Someone found a reference to Comiskey being called "The Yard."

The post also notes that Dickson Baseball Dictionary author Paul Dickson says a home run was occasionally called a "yardbird"--which may have helped spark "going yard."

All I know is, "going yard" is a widely used--and perhaps overused--baseball expression. Not only does every local TV sports guy in America use, it, but "Going Yard" is the name of a baseball blog, a baseball camp, and even a real estate firm in Kissimmee, Florida ("We hit it out of the park everytime!"), among many, many other outfits.

So much a part of the modern baseball vernacular is going yard that SI ESPN writer extraordinaire Rick Reilly introduced a variation of it in June, noting that Jamie Moyer had tied former Phillie Robin Roberts for allowing the most home runs in MLB history.

Wrote RR:

The Phillies now have the two greatest yard salesmen in MLB history -- Moyer and Hall of Famer Robin Roberts.

Alas, I don't think that one really caught on.

I'll check in with Dickson and with ESPN and see if anyone can confirm the origin of "going yard." If anyone out there has any insights, it would be cooler than the other side of the pillow if you could share them.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ahhhhh, Wipeout Slider! (Cue the Surf Music!)

The slider has become the most multi-faceted pitch in recent years. There's the back-door slider, sneaking into the far end of the strike zone like the neighborhood tomcat stealing into the house to visit a cuckolding missus.

Earlier this season, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer spoke of Justin Masterson's "lefty slider," as the righty hurler calls his devastating pitch.

Wrote the PD over the summer:

Masterson also mixes in a four-seam fastball and changeup -- and, for good measure, a pitch he calls "the lefty slider." It is a pitch Red Sox slugger David Ortiz thought he could hit until the ball ran so far down and away that he ended up coming nowhere close.

And don't even get us started on the "slurve." (Speaking of the slurve, is there a less euphonious mash-up known to man, barring, perhaps "jeggings"?)

Anyway, we digress. The slider has lots of offshoots. And add to it the "wipeout slider," as baseball wiz Kevin Towers describes Padres late bloomer Luke Gregerson. Actually, the term comes from former Padres outfielder John Vander Wal:

“[Vander Wal] said he had a wipeout slider for righties and lefties and was ready now,” Towers told the NY Times. “When I hear that from a guy who made his living as a pinch-hitter against the top relievers in baseball, that’s music to my ears. I’m going to take a chance on that guy.”

UPDATE: The NY Times had it again in Tuesday's paper, talking about CC Sabathia. Obviously scribe Tyler Kepner liked the phrase so much after hearing it from Towers that he used it again.

Twice [Sabathia] humbled the major league home run leader, Jose Bautista, with his signature wipeout slider.

Ihave no idea what a "wipeout slider" is--if it cuts, darts, dives or tumbles. I can only assume a wipeout slider is a very good one.

Keep in mind everyone involved in the above excerpt has San Diego roots, so I'll assume it's some surfer thing.

Yet Google shows that the term pops up a handful of times around the country, dating back at least a few years. Over three years ago, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story on Pirates draftee Daniel Moskos reported:

He has a "wipeout" slider, according to one evaluator, that he throws at 85-87 mph.

And Baseball America described ballyhooed Cardinal farmhand Mitch Boggs thusly:

He has ditched his curveball and developed a wipeout slider that ranks as one of the best in the system

Sounds like scout-speak--or a true inside-baseball--term to me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Spy, With My Little Eye, a Hit for Kyle Kendrick

Phils pitcher Kyle Kendrick was up against the Mets Saturday, and squirted a ground ball past a diving David Wright, then, a split second later, past Jose Reyes and into left.

"A seeing-eye single!" hollered Mets announcer Gary Cohen.

We watched the replay and saw just how perfectly the ball was placed.

"That one really did have eyes," added Ron Darling.

The seeing-eye single. The heretofore unknown "Lingo" page offers this for the SES:
A soft ground ball that finds its way between infielders for a base hit. 

Wikipedia's "Baseball Glossary" prefers "seeing-eye ball" and defines it thusly:

A batted ground ball that just eludes capture by an infielder, just out of infielder's range, as if it could "see" where it needed to go. Less commonly used for a ball that takes an unusual lateral bounce to elude an infielder.

Many years ago, when Tim McCarver was announcing for the Metsies, he used to refer to such Manny Trillo-ian swats as "38-hoppers."

The seeing-eye single of course lends the term's creation to seeing-eye dogs, as if one of those wondrous labradors was out there on the field, guiding the ball through a narrow channel of defenders and into safe ground.

Ironically, seeing-eye single may have outlived its creator; I believe seeing-eye dogs are now called "guide dogs", perhaps a victim of political correctness centered around the handicapped handicapable in recent years.

"Seeing Eye Single" kicks up 6.8 million links on Google, but surprisingly, just a handful relating to baseball.

Wrote the Denver Post way back in April:

The proper way to act after reaching safely on a seeing-eye single? A sheepish smile and half-hearted fist-bump with the first-base coach, of course. After all, as the old baseball saying goes, it looks like a line drive in the box score.

Friday, September 24, 2010

There is No Clever Play on Words for 'Eephus'

With Dodgers pitcher Vicente Padilla currently on the shelf with back trouble, I don't know that we'll have the pleasure of seeing any more eephus pitches this season.

The eephus pitch is, of course, the cartoon-slow lob that pitchers sometimes try to sneak by hitters.

According to the book Big Hair and Plastic Grass, the eephus dates back to 1930s pitcher Rip Sewell.

Padilla would rely on the pitch now and then, prompting broadcaster extraordinaire Vin Scully to call the pitch the "soap bubble."

So where does "eephus" come from? From Hebrew--and the 1940s Pirates, apparently. Writes Wikipedia:

According to [Pirates] manager Frankie Frisch, the pitch was named by outfielder Maurice Van Robays. When asked what it meant, Van Robays replied, "'Eephus ain't nothing, and that's a nothing pitch." Although the origin is not known for certain, Eephus may come from the Hebrew word "efes" (pronounced "EFF-ess"), meaning "nothing."

The cool thing about the eephus, at least for those who are obsessed with the language of baseball, is that each practicioner of the funky slowball gets his own nickname for it, courtesy of, presumably, the local beat writers.

Bill "Spaceman" Lee threw one in the 1975 World Series, the pitch dubbed the "Leephus." (Big Hair and Plastic Grass calls the Leephus "a psychedelic variation" on Sewell's original Eephus.)

Says Wikipedia, Casey Fossum owns the "Fossum Flip," Dave LaRoche famously threw the "LaLob," and Dave Stieb had the "Dead Fish."

Wikipedia says Mark Buehrle is among the increasingly short list of current guys with an eephus. Whether Mark throws a Buehrle Bleeder at the Red Sox Monday will be determined.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Fighting Phils Play 'Dirty'

As we know, pitchers with truly devastating stuff--Halladay, Lincecum, A.J. Burnett when he's not in a horrible funk--are filthy.

What do you call a pitcher who's not quite in the filthy category?

He's dirty, of course.

Like Brad Lidge.

“Watching from center field, he looks like he’s back to the stuff he had in ’08 — same slider action,” Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino told the NY Times over the weekend. “And we need that out of him. I get the best view of all the pitchers, and when he’s got his stuff, the guy’s dirty.”

You don't hear dirty much in baseball. Football players are dirty, and basketball players can be dirty too.

But not so much baseball guys, even if Nyjer Morgan has been pushing the envelope a bit of late.

Of course, Shane the Pain is not like other guys. He's Hawaiian, he looks a bit like Kazoo from Flintstones in that giant batting helmet, and he gave fellow Hawaiian President Obama a container of macadamias--and a big ol' soul hug--when El Hefe visited the National League locker room at the 2009 Mid-Summer Classic, even though the players were under strict orders not to give the president gifts. (Disobeying the Secret Service? Now that's dirty! Video here.)

Lidge is getting better as the season goes on, and is certainly way better than his dismal (and injured) 2009. But he blew five saves in 28 chances as of Sunday--and still isn't near his fireballing form from his perfect 2008.

But if he continues the momentum through the end of the regular season, Lidge might just elevate his game from dirty to filthy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Texeira Brings Unique 'Rep' to Baseball

It's hard to feel bad for guys making several million a year, but this time of year, when most teams are simply playing out the string and sports fans' passions turn to football, one feels a slight pang of sorrow for the guys plodding around the ballfield. Baseball can suddenly seem slow and boring.

And it seems fans aren't the only ones thinking of football. Reading into a Mark Texeira quote in the NY Post yesterday, Big Tex--who's built more like a tight end than a first baseman--has pigskin on the brain too.

With several of the aging/aching Yankees getting some pine time in these dog days of summer, Texeira said it allowed the scrubs to get vital in-game action.

"What the injuries have done is create depth for us," he told the Post, "it has allowed guys to get reps."

Reps. A football term! A quarterback gets reps--short for repetitions, of course--in practice. He grabs the snap from the center and, well, does something with the ball. A lineman gets reps to get his timing down at the line of scrimmage.


Tubby tackle Albert Haynesworth looked forward to getting reps as the pre-season drew to a close.
Haynesworth expected to get reps in final exhibition, wrote the Sporting News.

Some Cowboys still got reps even as a few key starters came back from injury.
As Starters Return, Backup Line Get Reps Too, said

We've noted in this cyber-space how baseball players, unlike their football counterparts, are not permitted to make plays. But now they can at least get reps.

UPDATE: Perhaps it's a trend, as an writeup of last night's Rays-Yanks game said the struggling A.J. Burnett "could have used the reps as he continues to claw back from an awful August." (By the way,'s game reports, which offer separate summaries for both teams in the game, are excellent.)

Texeira of course has a rep as a stand-up guy: Plays the game, stays out of trouble, good teammate.

Yet he's not the player rep on the Bombers--that honor goes to Curtis Granderson, whose reps in the cage with hitting coach Kevin Long led to two dingers against the Rays last night.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Screwball 'Fades' Away

I enjoyed the Babe Ruth bio The Big Bam, and some of the baseball anachronisms that it offered up. One is a pitch called the "fadeaway."

A young pitcher called Hub "Shucks" Pruett--apparently, "Hub" wasn't enough of a nickname, so the boys called Hub "Shucks"--could throw a pretty mean fadeaway, which did the opposite of a curveball, breaking in toward a righty batter's hands from a righty pitcher, and vice versa.

Writes Big Bam author Leigh Montville:

As a kid, Shucks had idolized Christy Mathewson, the master of the fadeaway. The pitch, later known as the screwball, was basically a curve in reverse, thrown with an unnatural twist of the wrist and elbow.

So the fadeway, at least in name, disappeared in favor of the screwball. These days, the fadeaway pops up in basketball--a jumpshot where you fade away from your defender. (Not to get all Pop-Up Video on you or anything, but "Not Fade Away" is a 1957 single from Buddy Holly employing Bo Didley's trademark riff. It was later covered by everyone from the Grateful Dead to the Rolling Stones to Bruce Springsteen.)

But what the heck ever happened to the screwball or, as it was known on the street, the "scroogie"?

Who do you think of when you think of the scroogie? I think of Fernando Valenzuela, eyes to the skies as he twisted, turned and then dealt his nasty scroogie toward the plate. That was, of course, the early '80s.

I honestly don't know that I've heard of anyone throwing a screwball since then, the pitch losing favor to new-fangled offerings such as the sinker and the splitter and the circle change.

Wikipedia spells scroogie "screwgie." I don't know that either of us are right or wrong, seeing as it's a made up word, but I think Batter Chatter is more correct, as "scroogie" coughs up 45,000 links on Google, and "screwgie" just 2,000.

Wikipedia too offers up Christy Mathewson as the master of the screwball--and its fading predecessor.

One of the first great screwball pitchers was Christy Mathewson (1900–1916), whose pitch was then labeled as the 'fadeaway'.

The online resource offers up more modern names regarding the screwball, including John Franco, Pedro Martinez, Jamie Moyer and Dallas "Stay the F*** Off My Mound" Braden.

But clearly the art of the screwball has been lost; perhaps the peculiar throwing motion--remember, author Montville called it "unnatural"--meant it was a grave arm injury waiting to happen.

Indeed, closer inspection of Dallas Braden's repetoire indicates that he's largely abandoned the screwball for health reasons--though he did throw one during his perfect game, when he'd tried just about everything else to get Gabe Kapler out.

"I was thinking maybe the knuckleball, the gyroball, the behind-the-back pitch, because I'd tried everything else," Braden said. "I threw him a 64 mph screwball and he fouled it off. I threw him one more pitch and it was the correct location."

Web tutorial outfit E-How, not to be confused with former Mets skipper Art Howe, shows how to throw one. E-How also warns of its dangers to young, impressionable arms:

You don't have to be a screwball to throw this pitch, but not knowing how to do it properly may screw up an otherwise perfect arm.

These days, "screwball" is used more to describe a crazy person or the latest Farrelly brothers movie (a "screwball" comedy!) than a pitch. Here are a few synonyms from blockhead, bonehead, bozo, character, crackpot, dingbat, dumbbell, eccentric, fanatic, goof, kook, lunkhead, numbskull, nut, saphead.  

Those put-downs are just a taste of what screwballing screwball Pedro Martinez would hear when venturing into Yankee Stadium a few short years ago.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Batter Chatter Word of the Day

I'm going to CitiField tonight, thanks to birthday tix from The Missus. I will not bring an umbrella, because I didn't check the forecast of thunderstorms. Neither will I bring my mitt, because I am a grown man.

With that, your inaugural "Batter Chatter" Word of the Day:

OPTIMITTS: Grown-ups who still bring baseball gloves to the ballgame, despite the infinitesimal chance of actually being in a position to catch a game ball.

If Laurel and Hardy Were Around in the Era of the Relief Pitcher

My mother was talking to my father the other night, as they are prone to do.

They were talking about baseball, as they are prone to do. In light of K-Rod's recent legal/physical issues, Mom asked Dad who the Mets' new closer is.

"Committee," Dad answered.

"What's his first name?" Mom asked.


First of all, full props to M and D for still following our beloved Metsies as the Mets play out the string and fail to play "meaningful games" in late summer once again. Further indicating their fan-tastic fanaticism, they follow the games on the internet since retiring out of the Gotham market.

Back to closer-by-committee.

What we've learned from doing Batter Chatter blog for the past four months: if a baseball term doesn't come from the food world, it probably comes from the business world, and "committee" very definitely has its roots in the corporate culture.

Closer-by-committee of course refers to a gaggle of relief pitchers aiming to get those crucial last 3...or 4, 5 or even 6...outs, managers going with specific matchups based on which side of the body you arm is on in relation to which side of the plate the batter stands on, and a pitcher's statistical record against a given batter.

Closer-by-committee usually results after the closer has been injured. The hope is that one of the three or four guys in the closer rotation will rise above, show he can get righties and lefties alike out, and claim the job outright.

The Twins tried it at the beginning of the season, with Joe Nathan on the shelf.

"We are a committee," manager Ron Gardenhire told "Our closer role is a committee."

The Orioles did it for a bit, then gave the job to Koji Uehara recently

The strategy worked pretty well for much of last year for the Rays and the Braves, writes

Two contending teams are closing games by committee, and no one has cried heresy

Alas, the strategy never seems to work for long. The Twins opted for Jon Rauch just after the season started, then acquired Matt Capps when Rauch proved to be less than Nathanesque. The Braves have Billy "Know Your Place Rook" Wagner at the tail end, and the Rays have Rafael Soriano, who shut the Yanks down last night to preserve a tight win.

Over in Camp Flushing, Hisanori Takahashi seems to have chosen committee chairman. Despite lacking the mid-90s fastball and peculiar facial hair/haircut of typical closers, Takahashi shut down those pesky Pirates last night (OK, they're not really all that pesky) to tally his seventh save.

A few more lights-out closes, and my mother might even remember his name.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Food For Thought--Where Baseball and Noshing Intersect

Just how much does baseball terminology borrow from the world of food? Consider this fictitious account of a Yankees-Twins game we dreamed up today. (My dreams don't usually feature home runs from A-Rod...not sure what happened here.)

Bases loaded, Swisher steps to the dish for the Yankees. Swisher already has three rib-eye steaks on the day against the Twinkies, he’d love to make it four.

Mauer sets up inside, and Pavano unleashes some cheese.

Swisher ducks out of the way.

“He got in Swisher’s bread basket,” says Michael Kay. "That was some serious cheddar."

“Pavano’s fastball has some mustard on it today,” says Ken Singleton. “Bet the Yanks would’ve liked to see that when they were paying Pavano’s salary.”

Swisher steps back into the box and sets.

Pavano looks in for a sign.

Kay munched peanuts. Singleton had Cracker Jacks.

“He’s been attacking the hitters,” says Kay, “not his usual nibbling approach. Which is fine with Swish; fastballs are his bread and butter.”

The pitch comes. Swish swings. He hits a pea to right. Jason Kubel is in pursuit, and makes a nifty snow-cone catch in the gap.

“That was a seed,” says Kay.

“Indeed,” says Singleton. “It was hit too hard for Granderson to score.”

Up steps Texeira. Pavano starts him off with a fastball, high and tight. Texeira steps out of the way.

“Pavano got in Tex’s kitchen that time,” says Kay.

Pavano sets, deals. It’s an off-speed pitch. Texeira swings feebly and pops it up to second. Hudson grabs it easily.

Can of corn,” says Kay.

Two down, bases still loaded. Up steps Alex Rodriguez.

Pavano looks in and deals.

The pitch comes in, straight and catching too much of the plate. A-Rod swings mightily.

"SEEE YAAAA!." says Kay as the ball flies over the right-centerfield fence.

Oppo taco!” says Singleton.

“He threw A-Rod a cookie," says Kay. "Catchers don't catch too many of those."

A-Rod rounds the bases. The Twins fans boo.

“A-Rod’s first tater since August 28th,” says Kay. “A grand salami, no less.”

The boos get louder as A-Rod flips his helmet away and jumps onto the plate.

“Twins fans have no love lost for A-Rod,” says Singleton. “They think he’s a hot dog.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

I'm 'Locked-In'--And I've Never Been Happier!

Generally speaking, "locked-in" is not really a situation one wants to be in.

Locked in a subway car.

Locked in a closet.

If you were in a '70s sitcom, surely you were "locked in" a meat locker at some point, and it was probably the end of a workday on a Friday, with the shop closed for the weekend. Thank God Sam the Butcher left his bowling ball at the shop, and came back to find you -- cold and cranky, but otherwise fine.

Locked-In Syndrome is an actual medical condition that sounds like how you'd feel if no one found you in the meat locker for a whole weekend. Wikipedia describe LIS as "a condition in which a patient is aware and awake but cannot move or communicate due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body except for the eyes. Total locked-in syndrome is a version of locked-in syndrome where the eyes are paralyzed as well."

Yet being locked-in in baseball is a very, very good thing, as evidenced by a New Jersey baseball camp called, yes, Locked In.

A few months ago, Rockies hurler Ubaldo Jimenez looked like a sure thing for the Cy Young. "Ubaldo Jimenez Completely Locked In," wrote

Prior to the trade deadline, the White Sox front office was just short of obsessed with Nats tater-hitter Adam Dunn. "Chicago White Sox Locked In On Adam Dunn," wrote (The Sox, of course, ended up with another one-dimensional slugger in Manny Ramirez after being locked out by Dunn.)

Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson told the NY Times last week that, despite his improved hitting and new approach, the key to locking himself in continued to elude him.

The Times wrote:
The topic shifted to Granderson’s offensive surge and whether he felt “locked in” at the plate after adjusting his swing in the second half. “Not at all,” said Granderson, who raised his average to .252.

So who's locked in these days? Well, if it's mid-September, the Rockies, of course. Slugging outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, with 32 home runs and an even 100 rib-eye steaks. Eric Young Jr., hitting at a .462 clip over his last seven games.

Know what else is locked in in Mile-High Denver? Why, the baseballs for the big series against the Padres this week, of course, as they stay moist in a humidor.

Sure beats being locked in a meat cooler.

Friday, September 10, 2010

'Jimmy Jack' Cheese On Your 'Oppo Taco'?

Quick, "Oppo Taco" is:

1. A new limited time offering from Taco Bell.

2. A follow-up to George Harrison's 1982 album "Gone Troppo" from his son, Dhani.

3. An opposite field home run.

You probably guessed #3, seeing as this is a baseball blog and all. If so, you'd be correct.

"Oppo Taco" just crossed the Batter Chatter transom yesterday, thanks to the eagle ears of reader Jon2Rock. It's California slang for an opposite field home run (tacos are presumably to California what the bagel is to New York). He heard it on MLB Network Tuesday night, from the effusive mouth of quintessential California boy Eric Byrnes.

But the phrase goes back a little further, and seems to stem from Los Angeles Angels broadcaster Victor Rojas. How popular is the Oppo Taco? It's got its own Facebook page, in fact.

Oppo Taco is not Rojas's only contribution to baseball slanguage. According to Wikipedia:

Rojas is most known for his invention of the phrase "oppo taco," which is used to a describe an opposite field home run, as well as "Three-Run Jimmy Jack," used whenever the Angels hit a three-run home run.

Various baseball chat rooms feature discussions on Oppo Taco, most commenters appearing as though they don't like the term. But I give Rojas credit--is there another phrase for opposite field home run, other than "opposite field home run"?

Let's not all hate on the Oppo Taco. The phrase just might help some special needs kids get onto the ballfield.

Writes is selling t-shirts featuring the play-by-play man's popular "Oppo Taco" home run call and donating the proceeds to Miracle League of Orange County, a baseball league that pairs special needs children with able-bodied helpers so that every child can experience the joy of playing America's pastime.
Not to be a cynic or anything, but how long before Taco Bell jumps on the Oppo Taco bandwagon and works the phrase into its local SoCal marketing? An angry chihuaha warning a frightened Bobby Abreu to "drop the Oppo Taco"?
I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What Color is Your 'Parachute Changeup'?

"Tanner Scheppers" might sound more like the kid whose books you used to dump in the junior high school hallway than the potential 2010 MVP and 2011 Cy Young Award winner, but Sports Illustrated says Scheppers might be the missing link the Texas Rangers are looking for as summer turns to fall.

Scheppers features a devastating batch of arrows in his quiver, says SI, including a "parachute changeup."

"With a high-90s fastball, a looping curve and a parachute changeup, the 23-year-old Scheppers has the repertoire to be a dominant starter."

Pitchers are known to "pull the string" on a good changeup, but it appears the "string" is sometimes a ripcord.

Scheppers isn't the only one with a parachute changeup.

Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano used to have one, and may have one again, wrote at the start of the season.

"Even with some of his velocity returning Liriano isn't the unhittable phenom who overpowered the league with a mid-90s fastball, parachute changeup, and high-80s slider of death in 2006."

When you think devastating changeup, you of course think of Liriano's old teammate, Johan Santana.

"He's a power pitcher, just like Randy Johnson...he's got a parachute changeup...he's definitely the best lefty in the league," Mike Sweeney said on

Then there's Cole Hamels, whom Denver Post described in 2009 as "World Series MVP a year ago with outstanding fastball and a parachute changeup he'll throw on any count."

While "parachute changeup" kicks up a modest 700-plus links in Google, the phrase actually goes back at least a decade. David Cone used the expression to describe the change-of-pace possessed by Pedro Martinez, then of the Red Sox, after a 17 K performance against the Yankees back in 1999.

Coming full circle to its Tanner Scheppers descrip, the Coney quote also comes from Sports Illustrated:

"He had three dominating pitches—an overpowering fastball, a knee-buckling curve and a parachute changeup. I don't think I've ever seen anyone with all three."
Scheppers and his sky-diving sinker may play a key relief role for the Rangers in the playoffs. And with Pedro having more lives than Jason from Friday the 13th, who knows if Martinez--and his paratropping pitch--will end up on the hill for a playoff team in October.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's Hip to be 'Square'

First off, sorry for getting Huey Lewis stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

Ted Williams famously described the difficulties of hitting by noting how you're attempting to strike a round ball with a round bat.

But what do you get when you add round to round?

A square, of course.

Increasingly, players talk of "squaring up" on the ball--MLB shorthand for hitting a ball solidly, the bat flat across the plate, its sweet spot hitting the fat part of the ball.

Last week's New York Times had Mets catcher Josh Thole talking about his fascination with Mark McGwire as a kid. McGwire's connection to performance enhancing drugs has not tamped down Thole's respect for Big Mac.

"You’ve still got to square the ball up and hit it,” he said in appreciation of McGwire’s 583 home runs. “So maybe he wouldn’t have hit the ball 550 feet. Maybe it only would have gone 490. He crushed balls, and they still would have been home runs.”

Over the weekend, the Times' baseball guy, Tyler Kepner, wondered if the most elusive of baseball achievements, the Triple Crown, would be won this year.

Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who plays with Triple Crown candidate Joey Votto and sees and awful lot of Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, says both guys "square up" enough on the ball to hit for average and power.

Arroyo says:
"Joey and Albert can hit the ball out, almost accidentally, to the opposite field. So that’s the first thing. Now, you take that kind of power and add it to a guy who’s disciplined enough at the plate and can square it up enough to hit .300 — that’s where you get this package, that’s where you get the Barry Bondses of the world."

Since a lone "squaring it up" is not enough to describe the awesome power of Votto and Pujols, Arroyo takes another crack.

“If you take that same hitter without the power, you have Tony Gwynn. You add the power, it just doesn’t happen very often. There aren’t that many guys walking the earth who have that much strength, that much discipline at the plate and also square a ball up as much as they do.”

"Square up" appears neither in the Webster's dictionary nor Wikipedia's Glossary of Baseball Terms. Google doesn't reveal much either, at least in terms of baseball. Outside of our beloved pastime, "square up" looks like a knitting term ("squaring up your quilt"), as well as a printed message about social ills (drinking, sex) that would appear at the beginning of an exploitation film back in the '40s or '50s (From Wikipedia: She Shoulda Said No! contained a square-up concerning youth drug abuse, and Child Bride the issue of child marriage.")

The phrase appears to have a place in cricket too--or at least in the nations where cricket is popular. Last Sunday's Bangkok Post proclaims, "Pakistan cricketers square up amid fresh betting claims", while a NY Times last year said "Australians Rout England to Square Up Ashes Series."

We're unsure if it's kosher in cricket to square up on a wicked googly.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How 'Man Up' Led to 'Man Down!'

Just when we thought we were done with K-Rod for the season--done with him suiting up for the Metsies, done writing about him--Frankie Rodriguez is the star of a smart essay on, of all things, the intersection of language and baseball!

Ben Zimmer, "On Language" successor to the late, great William Safire, tackles the expression "man up" in the NY Times Magazine this week.

In fact, it was that same fateful phrase that Rodriguez's father said to the former Mets closer which precipitated the elder's beat down, according to the Daily News. I did not know that.

Zimmer writes:
The New York Mets lost their closer Francisco Rodriguez, a k a K-Rod, to season-ending surgery on a torn thumb ligament last month. But really the Mets lost him to two simple words: “man up.” According to The New York Daily News, that’s what Carlos Peña, the father of Rodriguez’s girlfriend, told him outside the Mets clubhouse, inciting an altercation that led to K-Rod busting his thumb and getting arrested on third-degree-assault charges for good measure.

The phrase is not a new one, notes Zimmer, but it--unlike K-Rod--seems to be growing in popularity. Guy products such as light beer and energy drinks are peppering their marketing with the phrase.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, a commenter told my four-year-old son to "man up" in an essay I did on parenting for the NY Times!

As we stumble out of Labor Day weekend, it's worth noting that "man up" has its roots in labor. The phrase was an early predecessor to "staff up."

Not too long ago, man up was simply an alternative to the verb man, in the sense of “to supply with adequate manpower.” The Oxford English Dictionary cites a 1947 letter to the editor of The Times of London from Henry Strauss, a Conservative member of Parliament, complaining about man up as an insidious Americanism. “Must industries be fully ‘manned up’ rather than ‘manned’?” Strauss asked.

The phrase is more common in football than baseball, where a defense is often commanded to man up, as in, guard your man, and do not let your opposite beat you.

Ben Zimmer also details the country cousin of man up: Kevin Millar and his famous "cowboy up" phrase from 2003.

One notable forerunner of man up as we know it today is cowboy up, a phrase that has been used in rodeo circles for decades. In Douglas Kent Hall’s 1973 book on rodeo life, “Let ’Er Buck!,” an old hand tells a rookie rider, “It looks like we’re going to have to cowboy up a little.” Another rider, in a 1975 article in The Reno Evening Gazette, talked about what it’s like to get clobbered in a bull wreck, with the rodeo instructor “right behind you saying: ‘Cowboy up. Get tough. Get tough.’ ”

Cowboy up wasn’t much known outside of rodeo country until 2003, when it became the rallying cry for the Boston Red Sox, thanks to the players Kevin Millar and Mike Timlin — both Texans, not coincidentally. Millar and Timlin injected this bit of rodeo slang into Red Sox parlance to fire up a team (and a fan base) that had long been ruled by mopey fatalism. As one T-shirt of the time put it, “Are You Gonna Cowboy Up or Just Lay There and Bleed?”

The 2010 Red Sox, plagued by injuries, look as though they've opted for the latter.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Welcome to the Big Leagues, Rook, Just Don't 'Big League' It

Here's a bit of advice for the September call-ups making their first appearance in The Big Show this week: don't be big leaguin' it now that you've made the big leagues.

It's a weird irony: You've made the big leagues, but don't by any means act like it.

What exactly is big leaguin' it? In the unpublished book of unwritten baseball rules, it means acting like a hotshot--every bit the no-no for rookies. (Speaking of the unwritten rules of baseball, the Marlins were not pleased that Washington's Nyjer Morgan stole two bases with his team down by 11. Trying to come back for a win? Here's a fastball in the back, pal. If you click on the link, count how many homerisms you hear from the FS Florida announcers.)

"Big leaguin'" does not appear in Wikipedia's Glossary of Baseball; nor do many links pop up in Google. Here's one from

Typically done when a person uses slightly relevant knowledge to demonstrate their superiority over someone. Usually intended to belittle a person and make them feel insignificant or "show them up"

Google also reveals the country singer Toby Keith updating the classic "Mockingbird" in his own inimitable way:

Yeah right, quit big leaguin' me, I said now, everybody have you heard...

This seems like one of the terms that one hears in MLB clubhouses, but hasn't made its way into the media or the modern vernacular. It was in the clubhouse that former Mets farm star Lastings Milledge, currently toiling on the Pirates, was charged with big leaguin' it by the Mets vets--or Billy Wagner, at least--after being brought up at 21 in 2006.

David Lennon listed Milledge's transgressions in a 2008 story in Newsday.

Milledge notoriously showed up only an hour before the game's first pitch during a series in Philadelphia, drawing harsh criticism from Wright at the time. Milledge also celebrated a bit too much when he high-fived fans along the rightfield line after a tying home run at Shea Stadium.

Such behavior may have annoyed the Mets, but Billy Wagner said that none of the players held a grudge against him. It was Wagner who hung a sign in Milledge's locker during a series in DC that read, "Know your place, Rook!" And he insists that was nothing more than the type of rookie hazing that everyone endures.

Here's a weird Milledge-related trade schematic for ya: Apparently tired of his big leaguin' ways and lack of big-leaguin' hitting, the Mets shipped Milledge to Washington for Ryan Church, who was later traded for Jeff Francoeur, who was just this week traded for some guy named Arias and a bag of balls from the Rangers.

In 2008, Milledge told he was happy to be out of Gotham:

"I can't go through anything worse than I went through in New York. It only gets better from here," Milledge said. "A lot of veterans didn't like the way I play the game. They thought I didn't respect it."

Milledge is now hitting a middling .268 with the Pirates. A more mature 25, he is free to haze the new arrivals to the Pirates clubhouse who he thinks are failing to respect the game.
[image: SI]

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

'Flying Open' and Other 'Prior' Offenses

I always get a kick out of hearing pitchers--and pitching coaches and managers, for that matter--describing the mechanics of pitching. Typically they are forced to discuss pitching mechanics when a pitcher is doing poorly. The usual culprit is concentration, but when the concentration seems fine, it's mechanical.

Then you hear a lot of talk about shoulders and legs "flying open".

Wrote about mercurial hurler Fausto Carmona:

By not rushing to the plate, he cuts down the chances of flying open with the lead leg. Flying open was a huge problem the past two years, especially when working from the stretch. The more open he got, the more command suffered. Plenty of hits and walks resulted.

Of course, the solution to flying open is staying closed.

Wrote of Josh Beckett, back when Beckett could actually go six innings and get people out:

Beckett is leading with his shoulder toward home plate, and is keeping his shoulder closed in until the last second...

Yet yesterday's NY Times, in a compelling story on Mark Prior's attempted comeback, offered the first true nomenclature of pitching mechanics I've ever seen: Scapular Loading and The Inverted W.

Both appear to have been responsible for Prior's quick demise from fireballing pitcher with what were considered picture-perfect mechanics, to sore-shouldered bust.

Writes the Times:

Scapular loading (pinching the shoulder blades together) and an inverted W (having the elbows higher than the shoulders when striding toward the plate) have been identified as possible culprits.

So that's what pitching coaches talk about when they visit the mound! I always thought it was something simpler, like, "Uh, let's get this guy out."

The Times story also featured the first time I've seen a shorthand version of the infamous Tommy John surgery, which wunderkind Stephen Strasburg--and countless other young pitchers--is to undergo.

Said Prior of Strasburg:

Hopefully, because the Tommy Johns are a better success rate coming back, he’ll be fine...