Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wagner-ian Opera Comes to End; No 'Cupcakes' For Braves

We're sad to see the Braves' season end, because it brings Billy Wagner's career to a close. Wagner was a frequent, if unwitting, contributor to Batter Chatter, his outspokeness and dopey homespun manner always good for a memorable phrase or two.

It was Wagner, of course, who accused then-Mets teammate Lastings Milledge of "big-leaguin' it"--a serious charge in the big leagues.

And after the NY Times Magazine ran something on Francisco Rodriguez losing it after his common-law wife's father told him to "man up," we had a little email convo with the author of the column, Ben Zimmer. Zimmer told Batter Chatter he enjoyed the bit we did on Wagner and "big-leaguin' it", and said Wagner was also responsible for one of his favorite baseball expressions: "cupcakin' it" (Formula for a Wagner-ism: take a noun, turn it into a verb by pasting an -ing suffix on it, drop the g, and add "it.")

Cupcakin' it means taking it easy, handling with kid gloves, that sort of thing. There's no cupcakin' it in baseball, Wagner told then-Mets manager Willie Randolph back in 2006, after Randolph threw Wagner into a tight game to start the season.

"Might as well get thrown right into the fire," said Wagner. "No use cupcakin' it."

Wrote Zimmer:

I had never come across this use of the verb cupcake before, but its meaning was immediately obvious from the context. Wagner meant there was no point in trying to breeze through his assignment or get by with little exertion. There's a long tradition of similar dessert-related metaphors in American slang: piece of cake, cakewalk, pudding (meaning 'something easy'), easy as pie, etc. A little searching on Usenet newsgroups and other forums for sports talk turned up various uses of the verb cupcake, very often in reference to a team building up a deceptively good win-loss record thanks to an easy competitive schedule.

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