Sunday, August 19, 2012

James Carville Stays Abreast of Current Events

A creative entry to the offbeat (and, relatively off-color) baseball lexicon came from a most unlikely source, as political strategist James Carville tells Rolling Stone magazine that President Obama extending his predecessor's tax cuts for the not terribly wealthy is a "titty high fastball."

If I'm understanding the Bayou boy correctly, Carville is saying that doing so was, to mix sports metaphors, a slam dunk for our president. A no-brainer. In baseball terms, a cookie or a meatball.

"This is what they call in baseball a 'titty high fastball,'" says Carville. "You better swing at it."

I'm not exactly sure who the "they" that Carville refers to are--it's hardly a mainstream term. Googling "titty high fastball" yields but three results.

One site,, recounts Ernie Banks speaking to a room full of kids.
Hopefully nobody's parents got too uptight when Banks humorously recalled Satchel Paige asking him if he could hit a "titty high fastball," especially as far more exuberantly than when discussing his diamond exploits, Ernie urged the youngsters to "learn something new every day."

Another, a chat room on South Carolina sports, features a discussion on fastballs that come in north of the chest, but south of the eyes.

It's all about eye level. The funny thing is that a titty high fastball is meat but a chin or eye high fastball is unhittable, unless you're Ron Gant.

[image: nytimes]

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Making Sure the Melk Stays Cool

Melky Cabrera had a helluva All-Star Game, as befits a man having a helluva season.
The man once dubbed "Leche" by then-teammate Derek Jeter, Cabrera was labeled a "six-tool player" by another former teammate, Alex Rodriguez.
Any fan of the game knows what a five-tool player is: a guy who hits for power, average, can run, can field and can throw with the best of them.
A six-tool player, said Rodriguez, according to the All-Star announcers, can play in New York.
Alas, Melky didn't fare quite so well in New York. His best season in Gotham, far as batting average is concerned, saw him hit a respectable .280 in 2006. Best RBI year? Seventy three rib-eye steaks a year later.
Jump ahead to his time in Kansas City last year, and San Francisco this year, where he is on pace to obliterate those marks.
A-Rod could've expanded the geography of the sixth tool; if you can succeed in New York, conventional wisdom says you can succeed in Boston, and vice versa.
Says Paul Konerko of new mate Kevin Youkilis in today's NY Times:
 “I think we knew that eventually, whether it took a couple of weeks, he would do his thing because he’s a good player and he’s always been really good. He’s won the World Series, and if you can play in Boston and play in New York, you can play anywhere.” 
Youk would probably be considered a five-tool player: hits for power and average, fields and throws well, and can succeed in Boston.
Speed? Not so much.       


Monday, June 18, 2012

Surely You Own a Shirsey

Posey Shirsey

I was checking out the Met game on the Gamecast last week, and trying in vain not to follow the real-time Twitter feed on the right of the screen.
One tweeter mentioned a guy sitting in front of him, wearing a Carlos Beltran "shirsey."
So I Googled "shirsey," a nice diversion from another Met loss.
"Shirsey" is, in fact, a real thing, with its own website selling, yes, shirseys.
You've seen shirseys before. Perhaps you even own a few. It is the team jersey-styled t-shirt--a shirt-jersey, of course, for those who perhaps can't quite afford a full-on replica jersey.
The @Shirseys Twitter feed even acknowledges its budget-minded focus.
"When you've only got $20 to spend on your favorite player," reads its tagline.
The beauty of the shirsey is, while it is styled after the baseball jersey, you can grab a shirsey bearing the name and number of your favorite hockey guy, hoops dude, or footballer. founder Jake Fehling explains what the heck a shirsey is on his site:
I asked myself the same question two years ago when my cousin-in-law (if that’s even a thing) Alex from South Jersey told me how excited he was with his new Phillies Chase Utley shirsey. All I could offer back on the other end of the phone was dumb-founded silence. Did he just say an “Utley purse key”? No, that makes even less sense. An “Utley hershey?” Mmmmmm, but no.
An Utley shirsey.
I finally responded with an “ohh, yeah…hell yeah, nice, man,” but it wasn’t until about five minutes into the call that I finally did the math:
T-shirt + jersey = shirsey. I dig it.
Over the next several months I heard the word used 3-4 more times. I had gone nearly 30 years of never coming across “shirsey” — calling the ones I owned at the time: “t-shirt jerseys” — and now within three months I’ve got family members and buddies from different parts of the country throwing around the word as if it was commonplace. Maybe these people are all onto something, I thought…

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Slumping Batter May Have a 'Screw' Loose

You hear it fairly frequently--So-and-So batter is really hitting the ball on the screws.
In Sports Illustrated's season preview, Prince Fielder's "bat speed looks good this spring," noted a scout. "He's hitting the ball on the screws."
Last spring, a hard luck Derek Jeter was finding his hard hit balls beelining straight to someone's glove.
Wrote ESPN NY:
With two out and a runner on first in the seventh inning of a relatively close game, Jeter again hit the ball on the screws only to see it disappear into the glove of first baseman Miguel Cabrera.
Even at the high school level, they are screwing around on the diamond. Noted Huntington (SC) High school coach Brandon Cassell a few weeks ago:
"Really, two and a half or three weeks ago, we just started hitting the ball on the screws."
It is akin to, in more modern baseball parlance, "squaring up on the ball."
I just popped out to the garage to check out a baseball bat. I didn't find any screws.
While you can, of course, throw a screwball (though few pitchers do anymore), there are no screws in the ball either.
So why do we say "hitting the ball on the screws"?
Wikipedia's fairly useful baseball glossary offers what may well be a good explanation of the term's origins:
The phrase apparently derives from golf, referring to "a well executed shot. In the good ol' days, when woods were made of wood, club makers fitted a plastic insert into the club face as a safeguard against premature wear. These inserts were fastened to the club with screws. When a golfer would hit a good shot, he would say, 'I hit it on the screws'."[8]

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Project 'Runway', Starring R.A. Dickey

R.A. Dickey's autobiography Wherever I Wind Up elicited some emotion, some chuckles, and some good, fresh terms for the ol' language-of-baseball blog.

In one part where Dickey is ironing out aspects of his not yet famous knuckleball with a mentor, Dickey reveals some names for parts of the ball that I never heard before.

"He asks me to show him my grip, and I hold the ball up with the fingernail of my index and middle fingers bitting into the 'runway'--the part of the ball where the seams come closest together," Dickey writes.

"He suggests I move my nails to just underneath, the 'horseshoe.'"

("runway" to the left, "horseshoe" to the right)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Greinke Toys With Mets With 'Nintendo Stuff'

Perhaps the greatest compliment for a pitcher isn't that his stuff is "nasty" or even "filthy", but that he throws "Nintendo stuff."

Zack Greinke has been hot and cold the last few years, but last night it was (video) game on for the lanky Brew Crew righty.

Writes the NY Times:

In one particularly nasty sequence, in the third, Greinke struck out [Metsies catcher Mike] Nickeas on a 70 m.p.h. curveball, an 83 m.p.h. slider and a 94 m.p.h. fastball.
"He’s 95 and then comes at you with that curveball at 70,” Nickeas said. “It’s Nintendo stuff.”

"Nintendo stuff" came to be, 1, because ballplayers get to play video games all day long, and 2, because Stephen Strasburg and his one in a billion arm defied all flesh and blood description.

Drew Storen, then of the Harrisburg Senators, said this of Stras at the time.

He’s got Nintendo stuff. You create a player on a video game, and that’s what he has. The ball just comes out differently from his hand. He does something that nobody else can do.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tongue in Cheek, Axford Pens Cliche After Cliche After Cliche

John Axford, the Brewers' stellar closer and wearer of the finest 'stache in baseball, poked some fun at the cliche-filled post-game comments from his ball-playin' ilk while ducking out to tend to his very pregnant wife over the weekend.

Axford had just blown a save, snapping his 49 game save streak against the Cubs Friday. He wasn't avoiding the press afterwards so much as he was hustling to the hospital because his wife was in labor.
"Ax" was good enough to leave a note for the press. With a large "Media" scrawled on the top, Axford wrote, "All I can do is begin another streak and keep my head up! Cliche...cliche...Another cliche. Gotta go!"
Ax then signed it "Love," the O a heart.
We [heart] him for that.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mo Hurts Himself 'Shagging'

To be sure, there's nothing funny about Mariano Rivera, pure class on and off the field, sustaining a season (and nearly career) ending injury. Even for the Yankee haters out there--sorry, rooting for Rivera's misfortune is off limits.

OK. Once that is clear, let's consider how it happened, and a delicious double entendre involved.

Rivera was, of course, shagging flies, as he does before every game, when his knee buckled.

As any fan of the game knows, that means catching BP fly balls.

It's known, simply, as "shagging," which has a much different meaning across the pond, as any fan of Austin Powers well knows.

"I'm glad it happened when I was shagging," said Rivera after announcing he would play next year. "That's what I love to do."

C'mon, at least that injects a hint of humor to an otherwise sad situation.

I've reached out to Paul Dickson, author of the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, to find out where the term "shagging" comes from.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Keith Hernandez: My Way Was the Highway

Jamie Moyer is five years younger than I-95. Seriously.

Is there a more frequently cited baseball person on Batter Chatter than Keith Hernandez?
Perhaps not.
Keith makes our hallowed cyberpages once again following a discussion with boothmate Gary Cohen out in Colorado yesterday.
The Metsies were facing the Ancient (former) Mariner, Jamie Moyer, who's so old that Hernandez the player amassed a body of work against him.
In fact, Keith hit a mere .200 against Moyer.
That was actually better than his performance against some other hurlers.
"I was Interstate on quite a few," said Keith. "Tom Seaver..."
"Interstate" is anything a tick, or more, below the Mendoza Line.
The Mendoza Line, as any baseball fan knows, is the .200 batting average equator named for paltry batsman Mario Mendoza.
Go below that, and your average starts with a 1, which makes your average look like I95 or other iconic federal roadways.
The Mets pulled it out against the Rocks in 11 innings, then hopped the charter for Houston.
Had they opted for the Interstate, they were looking at around 400 miles on I70, then long, long runs on both I35 and I45.

Tito Speaks From Heart, Pitcher Throws From Uniform

I heard this, wrote it down, and lost it.
A cool expression I never heard before, from Terry Francona on the Sunday night ESPN broadcast a few weeks back.
My memory is shot. I don't even know who was playing, or who he was talking about when he said the pitcher "throws out of his uniform." (It may have been "throws out of his jersey". I know, this is starting to be the worst-reported post ever.)
Francona was saying that a pitcher was particularly hard to hit because he held the ball against the backdrop of his jersey, which is white half the time, making it harder for the batter to pick up the ball, compared to a pitcher who holds it against the black batter's eye or the blue sky.
The phrase does not appear to Google. Maybe Batter Chatter is the first to write about it.
Wish I could find those damn notes.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The BATTER CHATTER Book Review: Wherever I Wind Up

A trip to/from Vegas this week gave me the time to read R. A. Dickey's Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest For Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball.
As we've noted in these cyber-pages before, Dickey is a cool dude--a guy with eloquent and offbeat observations in his post-game interviews, a guy who climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro against his club's wishes in the offseason, a guy who reads challenging books and enjoys writing.
So I dove into Wherever I Wind Up, co-authored by Wayne Coffey, with considerable enthusiasm.
It's a pretty fascinating tale of just how much Dickey has struggled as a professional baseball player--the endless stops in minor league backwater towns (I believe he had seven stints with the Oklahoma City Red Hawks, his numerous epic failures on the big league stage, his rough ride in learning the pitch that paved the way for Dickey's late blooming success--the knuckleball.
Dickey's yarn about having an $800,000 bonus rescinded due to him lacking a ligament in his elbow--the Rangers front office noticed Dickey being short one ulnar collateral ligament by the bend of his elbow in a cover photo in Baseball America (headline: "Armed For America")--has been told frequently, but is no less fascinating. (He's second from left, below, and his arm is just not bending right.)

Much has been made of the book's painful revelations--that Dickey was repeatedly molested by a teenage female babysitter as a young boy, and was raped by an older boy as well. For a guy who's so open, and who has the balls to reveal such things while inhabiting the macho environment of the MLB clubhouse each day, I was actually a little disappointed to see him hold back a bit.
Both of those assaults, as well as his admission that he cheated on his wife, are told in extremely brief passages. I don't want full chapter and verse about awful sex crimes, or sex with hotel lobby groupies, but Dickey prides himself not only in putting it all out there, but the spiritual value of putting it all out there, and I felt he came up short in that regard.
In a scene with a therapist, Dickey writes:
"I give him all the hideous details, moment by moment, feeling by feeling, violation by violation. Deeper and deeper into the story we go."
Yet I felt he failed to do so in these life-altering passages.
Nonetheless, it's a fun read. It's fun to hear about Dickey's troublemaking ways as a youth, including breaking into and sleeping in empty rental houses to escape a miserable home life. It's entertaining to hear about Dickey's friendship with college mates Peyton Manning and Todd Helton. It's cool to see A-Rod making a few cameos in the book, playing his own oblivious self: Taking credit for a standout Dickey pitching performance with the Rangers by noting how he called the pitches from shortstop, and tossing the ball from Dickey's first major league appearance into the crowd as the heartbroken pitcher watched it unfold in slo mo.
It's interesting to see just how long it took Dickey to develop a Grade A knuckleball. (It's also worth noting that, just as I was finishing the book 30,000 feet above the U.S., Dickey was getting rocked in the rain in Atlanta for his worst start in years, then claiming he was throwing "water balloons" at the Braves lineup.) He details sessions with fellow knuckleballers Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro and Tim Wakefield, and describes exactly what piece of critical advice he learned and adapted from each one.
He writes of sharing a throwing session with Wakefield before a Mets-Sox encounter:
"Here's the knucklehead brotherhood in play again: there's no chance that an opposing pitcher, no matter how nice a guy, is going to invite me to watch how he grips and throws his split-fingered fastball or his slider. Those are state secrets.
Knuckleballers don't keep secrets. It's as if we have a greater mission beyond our own fortunes. And that mission is to pass it on, to keep the pitch alive."
Perhaps the most entertaining part, at least for Met fans, are the diary excerpts, shaded in gray, from his more recent playing days. Dickey offers compelling profiles behind the scenes, including Mike Pelfrey as a competitive guy who bets David Wright he can kick a series of 50 yard field goals in spring training, and Carlos Beltran as the kind of teammate who bought expensive suits for rookies, and took the team out for an $8,000 dinner on his last night as a Met--hardly the picture of the aloof outfielder some fans of the Metsies have in mind.
Dickey's take on Jose Reyes' last game, where Jose stepped off the field in the first inning to preserve a battle title, is less flattering.
Wherever I Wind Up is a deeply Christian book from a deeply Christian guy; Dickey even fingers the moment of his professional turnaround to a time when he foolishly attempts to swim across the Missouri River in front of minor league teammates, fails, almost drowns, and sees the experience as something of a baptism.
If a Christian book doesn't sound like a lot of fun, think otherwise--Wherever I Wind Up is fresh and funny, and offers intriguing insights into the life of a major league ballplayer, and a way offbeat one at that.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dickey's Prose is Light and Sweet

As I am sipping a cup of coffee, and baseball begins in earnest tomorrow, I thought it was appropriate to look at the baseball phrase "cup of coffee."

As any fan of the game knows, the proverbial cup of coffee is a very short stint in the Major Leagues; such as, Mike Baxter had a cup of coffee with the Mets last year, before the Columbia grad was shipping back to Buffalo.
Wikipedia has a nice little roundup of the great cups of coffee in baseball history, including those from Mike Piazza (1992), Francisco Rodriguez (2002) and Bumpus Jones, who pitched one game in 1893, and twirled a no-no.
I was pleased to grab R. A. Dickey's autobiography, Wherever I Wind Up, yesterday, anticipating that the erudite, and colorful, Dickey will put forth something vastly more interesting than the typical jock bio. Dickey, a disarming writer (and frequent habitue on Batter Chatter), has Wayne Coffey as a co-author.
And Wayne Coffey, of course, brings us back to our topic of the day.
I suspect I will be pulling lots of phrases and terms from Wherever, and indeed--right on page 4, Dickey says, "And then it all goes haywire. Fiver years pass before I made the big leagues, a cup of coffee so brief I don't even have time to add cream and sugar."
With Dickey's resurgence, and the Mets' shallow pitching this season, he can enjoy all the coffee, cream and sugar he can get his mitts on this year.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Baseball Brains Smitten With Sittin'

For a huge guy that really needs to be in top shape by early April, new Yankee hurler Michael Pineda sure is doing a lot of "sitting" down in Tampa.

It appears the new cool baseball jargon involves fireballing pitchers "sitting" at a particular speed.

Think of sitting like cruise control for pitchers--a fast, but not dangerous, speed they are comfortable at.

And the new lingo, which seems to be a bit of scout-speak that crept into the front office and the press box, seems to be used primarily to describe Pineda, whom the Yankees got from the Mariners in the Jesus Montero trade, and who has been attracting a lot of attention this spring for not throwing hard enough in March--and not sitting the way he used to sit.

Writes March 22:
For better or worse, much has been made about Michael Pineda’s velocity so far in Spring Training. Last year, the young righty burst onto the scene as a fireballer, sitting in the mid-90′s and blowing guys away with that.

And, later, in the same darn paragraph:

We’ve seen velocity drops from Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain in the past, so we’ve got reason to be wary. But, Pineda was apparently sitting at 93 during Tuesday night’s game and was solid outside of a rocky, 38 pitch first pitch inning.

And, finally, toward the end of the same post:

One thing to remember, too, Pineda may not be gunning it up to 95 every time he throws number 1, but it’s not like he’s sitting 84-86 and struggling to touch 90.

In face, seems particularly smitten with sitting. Back in December, it wrote of Hector Noesi:

Reports of his performance this offseason in the Liga de Beisbol Dominicano should perhaps make Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett start to watch their backs. According to tweets from David of Yankee Source, recent reports had Noesi sitting consistently 93-95 with his fastball as a starter in the DR.

YA is not alone. Here's what Baseball America said of prospect Carson Baranik back in February 2011:

"He's sitting 91-93. He's not staying 95, but he's been there," a National League area scout said.

The Cleveland Indians blog Diatribe used the term to describe Trey Hurley earlier this week:

Trey Haley was lighting up the radar gun in his two innings of work Saturday in the intersquad games. His fastball was sitting consistently between 94-97.

The splendid Yankee blog River Avenue Blues caught onto the phrase early. The site mentions Baseball America saying how then prospect Joba Chamberlain was sitting in the mid 90s way back in the mid 2000s:

During his 2006 appearance in the Hawaiian leagues, Joba was, according to Baseball America’s 2007 prospect list, sitting at 94-97 with his fastball.

Sadly, Joba is doing a lot of sitting now, after wrecking his ankle in a trampoline accident over the weekend.

The phrase is now common enough to work in the past tense as well. Yankees GM Brian Cashman acknowledged the mystery surrounding Pineda's velocity, or lack thereof, in the NY Times yesterday:

“I can understand the questions considering the fact he sat at 94 last year and was as high as 98,” Cashman told the paper. “So I think it’s a fair question."

Friday, March 9, 2012

David Wells is Svelte...Get the 'Yoke'?

Modern ballplayers are ripped. They are stacked. They are cut.

However you choose to term it, baseball players lift a lot of weights and generally turn up for camp in February in good shape.

In other words, they are "yoked," according to David Wells, a guy who most definitely was not yoked during his career.

Wells' description came in a New York Times story about the Yankees' outsize rotation--large not just in salary, but in physical stature.

Reports the Times:

"They’re ginormous,” marveled the beefy Wells, now an instructor at Yankees camp. “I’ve never seen a rotation that big, and that includes me. I mean, I wasn’t yoked like most of these guys; I was just fat. But with that size, it can be intimidating.”       

The story notes that players' listed weights can sometimes be off a bit. Wells himself, pitching in at Yankee camp these days, can confirm that.

Wells, who is still almost comically listed as 6-3, 187, said the most weight he ever carried to the mound was 278 pounds — almost none of it muscle.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Further Proof That A-Rod is 'Nuts'

There was a funny little exchange between A-Rod and the beat reporters Sunday in Tampa.

Alex had a dreamy start to spring training, taking none other than Doc Halladay deep on the first pitch he saw in 2012. (Last pitch he saw in 2011 was missed, thus ending the Yankees' season.)

A-Rod was asked Sunday if he believed in omens.

"In almonds?" he shot back, incredulously, as reported in the NY Times. He'd thought he'd heard everything from the press corps.

"Omens," he was told.

"Like Gregg Allmann, and Duane Allmann, and the month-long residency at the Beacon every March? Ramblin' Man and all that?" he said.

OK, A-Rod did not say the above. He said this:

"You mean like a foreshadowing?"

Yes, that is it.

On the day, the Phightin' Phils shelled starter Freddy Garcia, as it were, though the Yankees took the game 7-4.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

'90 Reds Took it Down to the 'Wire'

The 1990 Reds became the last World Series winner from before the wild card era to get a guy into the Hall of Fame, but they got their guy yesterday when Barry Larkin earned a golden ticket to Cooperstown.

The team had some great, fiery personalities, from skipper Lou Piniella to the knucklehead bullpen trinity known as the Nasty Boys, in Rob Dibble, Randy Meyers and Norm Charlton.

Piniella gave the team its identity, says Larkin.

Reports the NY Times:
Larkin said that Piniella, a former Yankee, made some people nervous because he had not talked with many players before spring training in Plant City, Fla. In his first meeting with the team, Piniella surveyed the clubhouse and said, in salty language, that he hated to lose and would not accept it. Then he left the room.

“[Coach] Jackie Moore says, ‘O.K., boys, let’s go to work,’ ” Larkin said. “We went wire to wire that year.”

Wire to Wire means, of course, jumping out to first place from the get-go, and staying there for the remainder of the season. Not easy to do. It's also used in less dramatic fashion to describe a single game: taking the lead early on, and holding on for the win.

Wire to wire presumably takes its name from running races, and the metaphor is used in other sports too. Just last month, duffer Lee Greenwood went wire to wire in Thailand.

Reports the AP:
Lee Westwood completed a wire-to-wire victory in the Thailand Golf Championship, shooting a 3-under 69 in windy conditions Sunday to beat Masters champion Charl Schwartzel by seven strokes.
The third-ranked English star finished at 22-under 266 at Amata Spring Country Club.

The phrase is familiar enough, at least in baseball, to grace the cover of the book about, yes, the 1990 Reds.

It sounds as though baseball's newest Hall of Famer might even own a copy of it.