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.

No comments: