Inside Baseball Lingo (Part 3)
The words and phrases are spoken and written day after day, year after year—generally without any wonderment as to how they became part of the language. All have a history, a story. Now with the 2013 baseball season with us—some more language of baseball to savor, to enjoy.
For those of you who liked Part I, Part II and wrote in to offer suggestions and ask for more, here is more—Part III. As always, reactions and suggestions always welcome.
THE BABE: George Herman Ruth probably leads the list for most nick-names acquired. First called “Babe” by teammates on the Baltimore Orioles, his first professional team because of his youth, G.H.Ruth was also called “Jidge” by Yankee teammates, short for George. They also called him “Tarzan.” He called most players “Kid,” because he couldn’t remember names, even of his closest friends. Opponents called him “The Big Monk” and “Monkey.”
Many of Babe Ruth’s nick-names came from over-reaching sports writers who attempted to pay tribute to his slugging prowess: “The Bambino”, “the Wali of Wallop”, “the Rajah of Rap”, “the Caliph of Clout”, “the Wazir of Wham”, and “the Sultan of Swat”, “the Colossus of Clout”, “Maharajah of Mash”, “The Behemoth of Bust”, and “The King of Clout.”
His main nickname was rooted in President Grover Cleveland’s Baby Ruth. Perhaps the greatest slugger of all time and also one of baseball’s most colorful characters, Ruth set some 50 records in his 22 years as a player. His accomplishments, his personality, his nickname-all combined to rocket major league baseball firmly into the nation’s psyche.
In spring training 1927, Babe Ruth bet pitcher Wilcy Moore $l00 that he would not get more than three hits all season. A notoriously weak hitter, Moore somehow managed to get six hits in 75 at bats. Ruth paid off his debt and Moore purchased two mules for his farm. He named them “Babe” and “Ruth “for Ruth.
CHIEF BENDER: Charles Albert Bender won 210 games and compiled a 2.45 lifetime earned-run average in 16 years of pitching. He was admitted to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1953. His nickname came from the fact that he was a Chippewa Indian.
CLOWN PRINCE OF BASEBALL: Al Schacht performed for only three seasons as a member of the Washington Senators (1919-21), but he still was able to make a mighty reputation on the baseball field. Schacht was a comic and his routines centered on the foibles and eccentricities of the National Pastime. It was said that nobody did it better, and that’s why Schacht was dubbed the Clown Prince.
DAFFINESS BOYS: Also known as Dem Brooklyn Bums, the 1926 Brooklyn Dodgers wrought havoc on friend and foe alike. The hotshot of the team was free-swinging, slump-shouldered Babe Herman, dubbed the Incredible Hoiman, who bragged that among his stupendous feats was stealing second base with the bases loaded. Once Herman was one of a troika of Dodger base runners who found themselves all on third base at the same time. A Dodger rookie turned to Brooklyn manager “Uncle” Wilbert Robinson on the bench. “You call that playing baseball?” “Uncle” Robbie responded, “Leave them alone. That’s the first time they’ve been together all year.”
“DON’T LOOK BACK. SOMETHING MIGHT BE GAINING ON YOU”: This line of homespun wisdom formed the sixth rule of a recipe attributed to former baseball pitching great Leroy “Satchel” Paige. The other five rules were (1) avoid fried meats which angry up the blood; (2) if your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts; (3) keep your juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move; (4) go very gently on the vices, such as carrying on in society—the social ramble ain’t restful; (5) avoid running at all times. It seems that most of us have managed to break all of Mr. Paige’s rules more than once. As for rule 5-don’t tell it to your neighborhood jogger.
DOUBLE NO HITTER: It’s almost a baseball cliché. A no-hitter is tossed. And the next time that pitcher takes the mound, there is all the talk and speculation about the possibility of a second straight no-no taking place. And always what Johnny Vander Meer did 75 years ago comes back into the public consciousness.
On June 11, 1938, the Cincinnati hurler no-hit the Boston Bees, 3-0. Four nights later, he was tabbed to start against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first night game ever in the New York City metropolitan area. To that point in time, only two pitchers had ever recorded two career no-hitters. No one had ever posted two no-hitters in a season. No one had probably even contemplated back-to-back no-hitters.
More than 40,000 (Fire Department rules notwithstanding) jammed into Ebbets Field to see the first night game in that tiny ball park’s history and also bear witness to Vander Meer questing after his second straight no-hitter.
Utilizing a one-two-three-four pitching rhythm that saw him cock his right leg in the air before he delivered the ball to the plate, “Vandy” featured a fast ball that was always moving and a curve ball that broke ever so sharply. Inning after inning, the Dodgers went down hitless.
In the seventh inning, Vander Meer walked two batters. But the fans of “Dem Bums” cheered the Cincinnati pitcher on, sensing they were witnessing baseball history. The ninth inning began with Cincinnati holding a 6-0 lead. Buddy Hasset was retired on a grounder. Then suddenly, Vander Meer lost control of the situation. He loaded the bases on walks. Reds manager Bill McKechnie came out to the mound to talk to his beleaguered pitcher.
“Take it easy, Johnny,” he said, “but get the no-hitter.” Vander Meer got Ernie Koy to hit a grounder to infielder Lou Riggs, who conservatively elected to go to the plate for the force-out for the second out. The bases were still loaded, though. Leo “Lippy” Durocher, the Dodger player-manager and a veteran of many wars, stepped into the batter’s box.
Only the “Lip” stood between Vander Meer and the double no-hitter. Durocher took a lunging swing and smashed the ball down the right-field line. But it went foul into the upper deck. Bedlam and tension intermingled at Ebbets Field as Vander Meer’s left arm came around and delivered the pitch to Durocher, who swung and popped up the ball into short center field. Harry Craft clutched the ball. Johnny Vander Meer had made baseball history.
Fans leaped out onto the playing field, but Vander Meer’s Cincinnati teammates had formed a protective shield around the exhausted hurler as he scurried into the relative calm of the dugout. His mother and father, who had come to see their son pitch with about 500 others from their hometown, were not as lucky. Swarms of well wishers and autograph-hunters milled about Vandy’s parents. It took about half an hour before they could be extricated from the mob of admirers. The event remains in memory as the miracle of 1938, consecutive no-hitters spun by John Samuel Vander Meer, the man they called the “Dutch Master.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent congratulations. Newspapers and magazines featured every detail of the event for months. For Vander Meer, the double no-hitters were especially sweet coming against Boston and Brooklyn – teams he tried out for and been rejected by.
Vander Meer performed for 13 big-league seasons, winning 119 games and losing 121. He perhaps would be remembered as a southpaw pitcher who never totally fulfilled his promise if it had not been for the epic moments of June 11 and June 15, 1938.
HITLESS WONDERS: The 1906 Chicago White Sox had a team batting average of .230, the most anemic of all the clubs in baseball that year. The team’s pitching, however, more than made up for its lack of hitting. The White Sox staff recorded shutouts in 32 of the team’s 93 victories. The “Hitless Wonders” copped the American League pennant and faced the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. The Cubs of 1906 are regarded as one of the greatest baseball teams of all time; they won 116 games that year, setting the all-time major league mark for victories in a season and for winning percentage. The White Sox continued their winning ways in the World Series, however, trimming their cross town rivals in six games.
HITTING FOR THE CYCLE: Hit a single, double, triple and home run in the same game, not necessarily in that order.
HORSE COLLAR: Describes a situation when a player gets no hits in a game.
KLU: Ted Kluszewski played 15 years in the major leagues. He pounded out 279 homers, recorded a lifetime slugging average of nearly .500 and a career batting average of nearly . 300. He was a favorite of the Cincinnati fans; at 6’2″ and 225 pounds, his bulging biceps were too huge to be contained by ordinary shirt-sleeves. Kluszewski cut off the sleeves and started a new fashion in baseball uniforms-just as fans and sportswriters cut off part of his name to make for a nickname more easily pronounced and printed.
LONSOME GEORGE: Former legendary Yankee General Manager George Weiss, for his aloof ways.
MAHATMA: Branch Rickey (1881-1965) was one of baseball’s most influential personalities. Inventor of the farm system, the force responsible for Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color line, the master builder of the St. Louis Cardinal and Brooklyn Dodger organizations, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1967. Sportswriter Tom Meany coined Rickey’s nickname. Meany got the idea from John Gunther’s phrase describing Mohandas K. Gandhi as a “combination of God, your own father, and Tammany Hall.”
NICKEL SERIES: Refers to old days when New York City teams played against each other and the tariff was a five cents subway ride.
NUMBER l/8: On August 19, 1951, Eddie Gaedel, wearing number l/8, came to bat for the St. Louis Browns against the Detroit Tigers. Gaedel, who was signed by Browns owner Bill Veeck, walked on four straight pitches and was then replaced by a pinch runner. The next day the American League banned Gaedel, despite Veeck’s protests. Gaedel was a midget, only three feet, seven inches tall.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 41 sports books including the classics: “New York City Baseball 1947-1957,” “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball,” “Remembering Yankee Stadium” and “Remembering Fenway Park,” his book on the first Super Bowl will be published fall 2014.