List of baseball jargon

From Academic Kids

The following is an alphabetical list of selected unofficial terms, phrases, and other jargon used in baseball, and explanations of their meanings. See also baseball slang for slang in general usage that originated in baseball. For an exhaustive list, see The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary, by Paul Dickson.

Contents

0-9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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0-9

0-1 (i.e., "oh and one"), also, 1-0, 0-2, 1-1, 2-0, 1-2, 2-1, 3-0, 2-2, 3-1, 3-2
The possible instances of the "count", the number of balls and strikes, in that order, currently totaled for the batter.
6-4-3 double play
A common combination resulting in a double play: A runner is on first base and a ground ball is batted to the shortstop (numbered 6 in scorekeeping). He throws to the second baseman (4) who steps on second base to force out the runner from first, then throws to the first baseman (3) standing on first base to force out the batter. A famous infield trio for the Chicago Cubs is remembered by this sequence: "Tinker to Evers to Chance." A similar combination is the 4-6-3 double play.

A

AA or A.A.
Abbreviation for American Association, the name of a major league of the 1880s and of a minor league for much of the 20th century. Also the abbreviation of the modern organization Alcoholics Anonymous, a possibly amusing coincidence in that the Association's critics (notably the rival National League) referred to the AA as "The Beer and Whiskey League".
AL or A.L.
Abbreviation for American League, the newer of the two existing major leagues.

B

balk
Any pitching motion that violates the rules and is noticed by an umpire. Typically it happens with one or more runners on base and the pitcher is in the stretch position. It could be a quick pitch, or any other motion that could deceive the runners, such as a slight jerk of the hands that looks like it could be a pickoff attempt. When a balk is called, each runner can freely advance one base.
Baltimore chop
A ball hit so that it makes contact with home plate, then takes a high bounce over the infield, usually for a base hit. Named for hitters on the Baltimore Orioles of the National League in the 1890s, who frequently attempted this kind of hit purposely.
battery
The pitcher and catcher.
beanball
A pitch intentionally thrown to hit the batter if he does not move out of the way, especially when directed at the head (or the "bean" in old-fashioned slang).
bonehead play or just "boner"
A mental mistake that changes the course of a game dramatically. See "Merkle boner".
bottom of the inning
The second half of an inning, during which the home team bats.
brush-back
A pitch intentionally thrown close to a batter to intimidate or misdirect, i.e. to "brush him back" from the plate. Also chin-music. A batter targeted by such a pitch is sometimes said to have had a "close shave". 1950s pitcher Sal Maglie was called "the Barber" due to his frequent use of such pitches.
bunt
To bat the ball weakly and deliberately, by holding the bat nearly still and letting the ball hit it, trying to place the ball in a particular spot on the infield. Also, the play resulting from that action. Typically, a bunt is used to advance other runners and is then referred to as a "sacrifice". When done correctly, fielders have no play except to retire the batter-runner. Speedy runners also bunt for base hits when infielders are playing back.
bush-league
A slang term used to describe play that is of inferior or unprofessional quality.

C

Cactus League
The group of teams that conduct their pre-season exhibition games in Arizona.
can of corn
An easily-caught fly ball. Supposedly comes from a general store clerk reaching up and dropping a can from a high shelf. It may also be used in reference to acknowledging something or used when one is in mild excitement.
catbird seat
A desirable or auspicious situation. Popularized by Red Barber, longtime broadcaster for the Brooklyn Dodgers. James Thurber wrote in his short story of the same title: "[S]itting in the catbird seat" means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him. The catbird is said to seek out the highest point in a tree to sing his song, so someone in the catbird seat is high up.
chase after
To swing at a pitch well outside of the strike zone.
check the runner
When the pitcher looks in the direction of a runner on base, and thereby causes him to not take as large of a lead as he would otherwise have taken.
cleanup
The fourth batter for a team, usually a power hitter. The idea is to get some runners on base for the "cleanup" hitter to drive home.
closer
A relief pitcher who is consistently used to "close" a game by getting the final outs. Closers are often among the most overpowering pitchers.
clutch
Good performance under pressure or when the chips are down/when good performance really matters (such a period is referred to as being "in the clutch.") May refer to a player (a good "clutch hitter") or to a team as a whole. For example, a player who hits many home runs but strikes out in crucial win-or-lose moments "can't hit in the clutch." (See Sammy Sosa.) The existence of "clutch" hitting is a controversial and divisive topic among baseball fans. Obviously, clutch hitting in and of itself exists. The debate arises because no one has been able to devise a baseball statistic that incontrovertibly demonstrates its existence for specific players.
collar
Symbol of going hitless in a game, suggested by its resemblance to a zero, along with the implication of "choking"; to wear the collar.
cup of coffee
A short time spent by a minor league player at the major league level.
cut off
Refers either to a cut-off man who shortens the throw or to cut off the ball.

D

Dead Ball Era
The time period prior to the Lively Ball Era, when the nature of the ball along with other rules tended to limit the power game, and the primary batting strategy was the inside game of baseball.
diamond
The layout of the four bases in the infield. The infield is actually a square 90 feet (27 m) on each side, but from the stands it resembles a parallelogram, or "diamond".
dinger
Home run. Also homer, round-tripper. See more nicknames in the article home run.
down the line
On the field near the foul lines, often used to describe the location of batted balls.
down the middle
Over the middle portion of home plate, used to describe the location of pitches.
drop off the table
When a pitched ball (e.g., a curveball) breaks extremely sharply.
dying quail
A weak fly ball that lands just past the infield, appearing to "die".
defensive indifference
A play in which a runner advances to the next base without a throw from the catcher or without any fielder attempting to cover the bag to accept a throw from the catcher. The runner then does not get credit for a stolen base because his action was not challenged in any way. This usually occurs in a game in which the score is heavily favored towards one team and a runner advancing a base will not make a large difference in the expected outcome of the game... specifically, the ninth inning with two outs, where the objective is simply to focus on the batter and induce him to make the final out.
double play
Any sequence of defensive plays in the same continuous playing action resulting in two outs.

E

early innings
The first, second and third innings of a regulation nine-inning game.
extra innings
Additional innings needed to complete a game which is tied at the end of the regulation number of innings, typically 9 (nearly all levels of the sport), possibly 7 such as in the second game of a doubleheader (minor or amateur leagues only).

F

fan
A strong supporter of a player, a team, or the game in general. As Paul Dickson explains, this term originated in the sport of boxing. Those who followed or "fancied" boxing in the 19th century were called "the fancy". The segment of the public that followed boxing tended to also follow baseball. "The fancy" was shortened to "the fans", was adopted into baseball (replacing the 19th century term "kranks" or "cranks"), and was reinforced by its apparent connection to the word "fanatics".
FL or F.L.
Abbreviation for Federal League, a major league that existed for two years, 1914-1915.
fly ball
A ball hit high in the air, as opposed to a ground ball.
fouling off
Batting a pitch foul with two strikes, in order to keep the at bat going, in part to help wear down the pitcher. Luke Appling was said to be the king of fouling them off.
full count
A count of 3 balls and 2 strikes, that is, no more balls or strikes can occur without a result.

G

Golden Sombrero
One who strikes out four times in one game is said to have gotten the Golden Sombrero.
golfing
Swinging at an obvious ball, particularly one pitched low or in the dirt. Also, golfing can be used to describe actual contact with a pitch low in the zone (he golfed that one for a home run).
Grapefruit League
The group of teams that conduct their pre-season exhibition games in Florida.
ground ball
A ball hit on the ground, i.e. bouncing repeatedly in the infield.

H

high and tight
High, or above the strike zone, and close to the batter, used to describe the location of pitches.
hill
Referring to the pitcher's mound.
hit and run
Offensive play executed jointly by a baserunner (usually on first base) and batter. At the pitch, the baserunner begins to run towards second as if to steal the base. The second baseman must move towards second base to catch the catcher's throw and attempt to tag out the runner. This creates a gap between first and second base, and the batter attempts to hit the ball into this gap (so contrary to the name, the hit follows the run). A successful hit and run can avoid a double play and advance the first-base runner to third. The hit and run is usually ordered, or put on, by the manager.
hit 'em where they ain't
Said to be the (grammatically-casual) response of late-19th-century / early-20th-century playerWillie Keeler to the question, "What's the secret to hitting?" in which "'em" or "them" are the batted balls, and "they" are the fielders.
hit for the cycle
To hit a single, double, triple and home run in the same game. To accomplish this feat in order is termed a "progressive cycle."
hook foul
When the batter "pulls" the ball down the line, starting fair and ending foul, on the same side of the diamond that the batter is standing. Contrast with slice foul. Both terms are also used in the game of golf.
hot box
Same as rundown or, specifically, the area occupied by the runner while he is being "run down".
hot corner
The third base fielding position, so called because many batted balls arrive very quickly at the position.

I

infield fly
A call made by the umpire signaling the the batter is out when he hits a fly ball that can be caught by an infielder with runners on first and second or with the bases loaded and less than two outs. This rule is intended to prevent the fielder from intentionally dropping the ball and getting force outs on any or all of the runners on base. The rule is sometimes a little mystifying to casual fans of the game, but it has been a fundamental rule since 1895, presumably to prevent the notoriously tricky Baltimore Orioles from doing it.
inside baseball or inside game
Playing strategy that focuses on teamwork and good execution. It is a double-meaning term in that such strategy usually centers around the infield - the walk, the base hit, the bunt, the stolen base, etc. The last of the ninth inning in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS is a perfect example: a walk, a steal and a single to tie the game. The game was tied by the inside game, but was won by the power game, in extra innings, when slugger David Ortiz hit a walk off home run. The inside game was the primary approach to playing baseball during the Dead Ball Era.
in the hole (1)
On the infield at a location nearly exactly between fielders, used to describe the location of a batted ground ball, or the location a fielder as he runs to to try to retrieve that ball. Used most often in reference to the space between the first and second basemen, or between the shortstop and the third baseman. A ground ball hit between second and short is more apt to be described as "up the middle". The term is also occasionally used to designate the space between any pair or group of fielders. In any case, "the hole" is "where they ain't" as Willie Keeler famously stated. Term similarly used in football.
in the hole (2)
Due to bat third in order; batting immediately after the on-deck batter. Presumably derived from card-playing terminology.

J

Jack
A Home Run, as in, "Hitting a jack" or "Jacking one out of here"
jam
As a verb, to throw a pitch far enough inside that the batter is unlikely to make good contact if he hits it. "The pitcher jammed the batter". As a noun, a situation where there are runners on base in scoring position, 1 or none out, and good hitters coming up. "The pitcher is in a jam."
Junior Circuit
The American League, so-called because it is the newer of the two major leagues.

K

K
Strikeout. A backwards K is sometimes used to denote a strikeout looking and forwards to indicate a strikeout swinging. Originating from the last letter of "struck" (as per Henry Chadwick, inventor of baseball scorekeeping techniques) and reinforced by inference of "knockout" or "K.O."
keystone sack
Second base. Like the keystone of an arch, second base is "key" to both scoring (a runner on the base is in "scoring position") and preventing scoring (by defensive "strength up the middle").

L

late innings
The seventh, eighth and ninth innings of a regulation nine-inning game.
lead off (batting order)
The player who is first in the batting order for a given team. Also, the first batter in any given inning.
lead off (base running)
When a base runner steps off of the base in order to reduce the distance to the next base, before a pitch is thrown.
Lively Ball Era
The time starting around 1919 (many say 1920) when several factors came together to shift baseball away from the time-honored inside game to the power game. Following World War I, the construction of the baseball improved significantly, with a cork center and tighter-wound yarns that made the ball inherently "livelier". Also, there were significant rules changes that abolished abuse of the ball (such as the spitball) and also required substition of a new ball when the previous ball became dirty or scuffed. This gave a great advantage to hitters, especially power hitters. Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby were most notable among those who took full advantage of these changes and rewrote the record books.
load the bases
The act of causing runners to occupy the three numbered bases (first, second, and third bases).

M

Mendoza line
A batting average of .200. Batters hitting below .200 are colloquially said to be below the Mendoza line. Named for Mario Mendoza, a notoriously poor hitter of the 1970s.
Merkle Boner
Mental error that causes cost team the game, a good example would be forgetting the number of outs and tossing the ball into the stands, allow runners to advance.

Origin: During a game on September 23, 1908, rookie Giant first baseman Fred Merkle singled to right field with two outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied. The next batter, Al Bridwell, hit a single to center which scored the baserunner Moose McCormick. Seeing McCormick cross the plate, Merkle - as was the custom of the time in such situations - headed for the Giant clubhouse in center field. Cub second baseman Johnny Evers - a stickler for rules - noticed that Merkle had not gone on to touch second. Evers called for the ball (whether it was the genuine ball that was hit is debatable), tagged second and appealed to umpire Bob Emslie who did not see the play and refused to make the call. He appealed to his partner, the famous Hank O'Day who granted Evan's appeal and called Merkle out on a force play. The Giants had left the field, celebrating their victory when umpire O'Day declared the game a tie. When the game was made up on October 8th with the Giants and Cubs tied in the standings, the Giants lost the game - and lost the pennant.

"Both bonehead, meaning "stupid," and boner, meaning "a ridiculous blunder," predate that fateful September day, but there's no doubt that Merkle's boner did a lot to solidify the place of both terms in our language." - Merriam Webster's Word For The Wise

middle innings
The fourth, fifth and sixth innings of a regulation nine-inning game.
middle of the inning
The few minutes that lapse between the top and bottom half of an inning when the visiting team takes the field to defend, and the home team prepares to bat. No gameplay occurs during this period. Television and radio broadcasts run commercial breaks during the middle of an inning. See also seventh-inning stretch.

N

NA or N.A.
Abbreviation for National Association. It could mean the long-ago amateur organization called the National Association of Base Ball Players; or the first professional league, called the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players; or the modern collective governing body of those minor leagues that are affiliated with the major leagues, called the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (also abbreviated NAPBL).
NL or N.L.
Abbreviation for National League, the older of the two existing major leagues.

O

Ofer
A player who goes hitless in a game, or wears the collar, as in "0 for 4" (spoken as "oh for four") or however many at bats he took in the game.
"Onion"
Derisive nickname of the short-lived Union Association.
outside corner
Over the edge of home plate away from the batter, used to describe the location of pitches.
on-deck
The next batter due to bat, after the current batter; the second batter in order. The designated area for the on-deck batter is a circle 5 feet in diameter, officially called the "next batter's box", and commonly called the "on-deck circle".

P

payoff pitch
A pitch made when the pitch count is full, i.e., when three balls and two strikes have been totaled for the batter. The implication is that much effort has gone into reaching this point (this is at least the sixth pitch of the at bat), and the pitch will either pay off for the pitcher (resulting in a strikeout) or the batter (resulting in a hit or a walk). This is not always so, though, as a foul would extend the length of the at bat. The term is most often used when whatever happens next will either score a run or end the inning.
pickle
Same as rundown.
pinch hitter
A hitter substituted, mid-inning, for the scheduled batter. Often, a pinch hitter is brought in during a critical situation (a "pinch", or "the clutch") to replace a weak batter (usually the pitcher, in the National League). Although that's the origin of the term, any batter substituting for another, for any reason, is conventially called a pinch hitter.
pinch runner
A runner substituted for another runner who is on base. Often, a pinch runner is brought in during a critical situation (just as with a pinch hitter), typically to replace a slower runner with a faster runner in hopes of gaining an extra base. However, any substitute runner, for whatever reason, is conventionally called a pinch runner.
pitch count
The total number of pitches a pitcher has thrown in a given game. The optimal pitch count for a starter is reckoned to be about 100. The near-obsession with pitch counts has resulted in a significant decline in complete games since the 1980s. Former major league pitcher and now Minnesota Twins broadcaster Bert Blyleven, who pitched many complete games in his time, has raised the sarcastic question, "What happens to you if you go over 100 pitches? Do you explode?" Statistically speaking, the answer is often Yes. Arguably the greatest pitching achievement in history was Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. In that game, he threw 97 pitches, an average of 3.5 per batter. In these days of more aggressive hitting, pitchers often hit the 100 mark by the middle innings.
pitch out
A pitch that is so far outside that it can't be hit. The catcher catches the pitch standing to allow a quick throw to try picking off a runner.
PL or P.L.
Abbreviation for Players' League, a one-year (1890) major league.
position player
A non-pitcher.
power hitter
A powerful batter who hits many home runs and extra base hits, but who may not have a high batting average, due to an "all or nothing" hitting approach. Also slugger.

Q

quick pitch
When the pitcher comes to a less-than-complete stop in the midst of the stretch position, in an attempt to throw off the timing of batter and runners. When detected, the umpire calls the pitch a balk, and all runners can freely advance one base.

R

reliever or relief pitcher
A pitcher brought in the game to "relieve" another pitcher.
rundown 
A play in which a runner is stranded between two bases, and runs back and forth to try to avoid fielders with the ball. The fielders (usually basemen) toss the ball back and forth, to prevent the runner from getting to a base, and typically close in on him and tag him, barring an error or the need to make a play on another runner. Also called a hot box or a pickle. Sometimes used as a baserunning strategy by a trailing runner, to distract the fielders and allow a leading runner or runners to advance.
Ruthian Blast
A home run that travels very far.

S

safety squeeze
A squeeze play in which the runner on third waits for the batter to lay down a successful bunt before breaking for home. Contrast this with the suicide squeeze.
Senior Circuit
The National League, so-called because it is the older of the two major leagues.
setup man
A relief pitcher who is consistently used immediately before the closer.
seventh-inning stretch
The period between the top and bottom of the seventh inning, when the fans present traditionally stand up to stretch their legs. A sing-along of the song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" has become part of this tradition, a practice most associated with Chicago broadcaster Harry Caray. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, "God Bless America" is sometimes played in addition to, or in lieu of, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in rememberence of those who lost their lives in the attacks.
shoestring catch
When a fielder, usually an outfielder, catches a ball just before it hits the ground ("off his shoetops"), and remains running while doing so.
slice foul
When a fly ball or line drive starts out over fair territory, then curves into foul territory due to aerodynamic force caused by spinning of the ball, imparted by the bat. A slice which curves to the right is not to be confused with a hook which curves to the left.
slide
A slide is when a player drops to the ground when going into a base to avoid a tag.
sophomore jinx
The tendency for players to follow a good rookie season with a less-spectacular one. (This term is used outside the realm of baseball as well.) Two of the most notorious examples are Joe Charboneau and Mark Fidrych.
squeeze play
A tactic used to attempt to score a runner from third on a bunt. There are two types of squeeze plays: suicide squeeze and safety squeeze.
starter or starting pitcher
The first pitcher in the game for each team.
submariner
A pitcher who throws underarm.
suicide squeeze
A squeeze play in which the runner on third breaks for home on the pitch, so that, if the batter does not lay down a bunt, then the runner is an easy out (unless he steals home). Contrast this with the safety squeeze.

T

take sign
A sign given to a batter to not swing at the next pitch.
Texas Leaguer or Texas League single
A weakly hit fly ball that drops in for a single between an infielder and an outfielder.
Tommy John surgery
A type of elbow surgery for pitchers named after Tommy John, a pitcher and the first professional athlete to successfully undergo the operation.
top of the inning
The first half of an inning, during which the visiting team bats.

U

UA or U.A.
Abbreviation for Union Association, a one-year (1884) major league.
Uncle Charlie
A slang term used to describe a curve ball.
up and in
Same as high and tight.
up the middle
On the field very close to second base, used to describe the location of batted balls. Also, in a more general sense, the area of the field on the imaginary line running from home plate through the pitcher's mound, second base, and center field.
upper decker
A home run that lands in the stadium's upper deck of seating.

V

W

walk-off home run
A game-ending home run. The walk-off derives from the fact that the victims of such a hit will often walk off the field, seemingly in disgust or despair. The most dramatic such homers were Bobby Thomson's in the 1951 National League playoff, Bill Mazeroski's in the 1960 World Series, Joe Carter's in the 1993 World Series, and Aaron Boone's in the 2003 American League Championship Series. In 1951, isolation on pitcher Ralph Branca shows him watching in stunned disbelief as the ball sails over the wall. He then reaches down behind the mound and grabs the rosin bag, gives it a squeeze or two, then bows his head and starts to walk off toward the clubhouse in deep center field, even as Thomson is still circling the bases.
warning track
The dirt and finely-ground gravel, as opposed to grass, area bordering the fence, especially in the outfield. It is intended to help prevent fielders from inadvertently running into the fence. 1950s and 60s broadcaster Bob Wolff used to call it the "cinder path". The first "warning tracks" actually started out as running tracks in Yankee Stadium and Cleveland Stadium. True warning tracks did not become standard until the 1950s, around the time batting helmets came into standard use also.
wave
As a verb, to swing and miss a pitch. As a noun, as in "doing the wave", a group of fans in one section will stand up, raise their arms, and yell. As they are sitting down, the next section will be rising, and so on around the stadium. This is most impressive in a stadium that is fully enclosed with seats and is filled to capacity.
WW
Scoresheet notation for "wasn't watching", used by non-official scorekeepers when their attention has been distracted from the play on field. Supposedly used frequently by former New York Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto.

X

Y

Yard -- To hit a home run as in "Go yard". "He went yard".

Z

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