With spring training underway and the 2014 baseball season
looming, names and nicknames and terms from the national
pastime’s history are cropping up. How did this language
originate? Many would pass a quickee quiz on the topic.
But for those of you who wonder about the grade you would
get – here are the answers.
The first run they ever scored came in on a balk. They lost
the first nine games they ever played. They finished last
their first four seasons. Once they were losing a game,
12-1, and there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth
inning. A fan held up a sign that said "PRAY!" There was a
walk, and ever hopeful, thousands of voices chanted, "Let's
go Mets." They were 100-l underdogs to win the pennant in
1969 and incredibly came on to finish the year as World
Champions. They picked the name of the best pitcher in their
history (Tom Seaver) out of a hat on April Fools' Day. They
were supposed to be the replacement for the Brooklyn Dodgers
and the New York Giants. They could have been the New York
Continentals or Burros or Skyliners or Skyscrapers or Bees
or Rebels or NYB's or Avengers or even Jets (all runner-up
names in a contest to tab the National League New York team
that began playing ball in 1962). They've never been
anything to their fans but amazing-the Amazin' New York
BAT DAY In 1951 Bill Veeck ("as in wreck") owned the
St. Louis Browns, a team that was not the greatest gate
attraction in the world. (It's rumored that one day a fan
called up Veeck and asked, "What time does the game start?"
Veeck's alleged reply was, “What time can you get here?")
Veeck was offered six thousand bats at a nominal fee by a
company that was going bankrupt. He took the bats and
announced that a free bat would be given to each youngster
attending a game accompanied by an adult. That was the
beginning of Bat Day. Veeck followed this promotion with
Ball Day and Jacket Day and other giveaways. Bat Day, Ball
Day, and Jacket Day have all become virtually standard major
league baseball promotions.
BIG POISON and LITTLE POISON Paul Waner's rookie year
with the Pittsburgh Pirates was 1926, when he batted .336
and led the league in triples. In one game he cracked out
six hits using six different bats. In 1927 the second Waner
arrived, brother Lloyd. For 14 years, the Waners formed a
potent brother combination in the Pittsburgh lineup. Paul
was 5'8l/2'' and weighed 153 pounds. Lloyd was 5'9" and
weighed 150 pounds.
Paul was dubbed Big Poison even though he was smaller than
Lloyd, who was called Little Poison. An older brother even
then had privileges. But both players were pure poison for
National League pitchers. Slashing left-handed line-drive
hitters, the Waners collected 5,611 hits between them.
Paul's lifetime batting average was .333, and he recorded
three batting titles. Lloyd posted a career average of .316.
They played a combined total of 38 years in the major
BONEHEAD MERKLE The phrase "pulling a bonehead play,"
or "pulling a boner," is not only part of the language of
baseball, but of all sports and in fact, of the language in
general. Its most dramatic derivation goes back to September
9, 1908. Frederick Charles Merkle, a.k.a. George Merkle, was
playing his first full game at first base for the New York
Giants. It was his second season in the majors; the year
before, he had appeared in 15 games. The Giants were in
first place and the Cubs were challenging them. The two
teams were tied, 1-1, in the bottom of the ninth inning.
With two outs, the Giants' Moose McCormick was on third base
and Merkle was on first. Al Bridwell slashed a single to
center field, and McCormick crossed the plate with what was
apparently the winning run. Merkle, eager to avoid the Polo
Grounds crowd that surged onto the playing field, raced
directly to the clubhouse instead of following through on
the play and touching second base. Amid the pandemonium,
Johnny Evers of the Cubs screamed for the baseball, obtained
it somehow, stepped on second base, and claimed a forceout
on Merkle. When things subsided, umpire Hank O'Day agreed
with Evers. The National League upheld O'Day, Evers and the
Cubs, so the run was nullified and the game not counted.
Both teams played out their schedules and completed the
season tied for first place with 98 wins and 55 losses. A
replay of the game was scheduled, and Christy Mathewson,
seeking his 38th victory of the season, lost, 4-2, to
Three-Finger Brown (q.v.). The Cubs won the pennant.
Although Merkle played 16 years in the majors and had a
lifetime batting average of .273, he will forever be rooted
in sports lore as the man who made the "bonehead" play that
lost the 1908 pennant for the Giants, for had he touched
second base there would have been no replayed game and the
Giants would have won the pennant by one game.
BOO Name for a day in 1979 of Giants shortstop
Johnnie LeMaster, who heard the boo-birds in San Fran. He
took his field position wearing "Boo" on his back. LeMaster
switches back to his regular jersey after one game.
CAN'T ANYBODY HERE PLAY THIS GAME? In 1960 Casey
Stengel managed the New York Yankees to a first-place
finish, on the strength of a .630 percentage compiled by
winning 97 games and losing 57. By 1962 he was the manager
of the New York Mets, a team that finished tenth in a
ten-team league. They finished 601/: games out of first
place, losing more games ( 120) than any other team in the
20th century. Richie Ashburn, who batted .306 for the Mets
that season and then retired, remembers those days: "It was
the only time I went to a ball park in the major leagues and
nobody expected you to win."
A bumbling collection of castoffs, not-quite-ready
for-prime-time major league ball players, paycheck
collectors, and callow youth, the Mets underwhelmed the
opposition. They had Jay Hook, who could talk for hours
about why a curve ball curved (he had a Masters degree in
engineering) but couldn't throw one consistently. They had"
Choo-Choo" Coleman, an excellent low-ball catcher, but the
team had very few low-ball pitchers. They had "Marvelous
Marv" Throneberry, a Mickey Mantle look-a-like in the
batter's box-and that's where the resemblance ended. Stengel
had been spoiled with the likes of Mantle, Maris, Ford,
Berra, etc. Day after day he would watch the Mets and be
amazed at how they could find newer and more original ways
to beat themselves. In desperation-some declare it was on
the day he witnessed pitcher A1 Jackson go 15 innings
yielding but three hits, only to lose the game on two errors
committed by Marvelous Marv-Casey bellowed out his plaintive
query, "Can't anybody here play this game?"
When he was about 12 years old, Charles Davis was given a
not too attractive haircut which led to his getting the
nickname "Chili Bowl," later shortened to "Chili" as the boy
became the man and the baseball player "Chili" Davis.
An area on each side of home plate where players stay while
their team is at bat. There is a visitor's dugout and a
home-team dugout. They were originally dug out trenches at
the first and third base lines allowing players and coaches
to be at field level and not blocking the view of the choice
seats behind them.
One sultry summer's day in 1885, Jim Mutrie, the
saber-mustached manager of the New York Gothams, was
enjoying himself watching his team winning an important
game. Mutrie screamed out with affection, "My big fellows,
my giants." Many of his players were big fellows, and they
came to be Giants. For that was how the nickname Giants came
to be. And when the New York team left for San Francisco in
1958, Giants, Mutrie's endearing nickname, went along with
JUNK MAN, THE
Eddie Lopat was the premier left-handed pitcher for the New
York Yankees in the late 1940's and through most of the
1950's. He recalls how he obtained his nickname: "Ben
Epstein was a writer for the New York Daily Mirror and a
friend of mine from my Little Rock minor league baseball
days. He told me in 1948 that he wanted to give me a name
that would stay with me forever. 'I want to see what you
think of it-the junk man?' In those days the writers had
more consideration. They checked with players before they
called them names. I told him I didn't care what they called
me just as long as I could get the batters out and get paid
for it." Epstein then wrote an article called "The Junkman
Cometh," and as Lopat says, "The rest was history." The
nickname derived from Lopat's ability to be a successful
pitcher by tantalizing the hitters with an assortment of off
speed pitches. This writer and thousands of other baseball
fans who saw Lopat pitch bragged more than once that if
given a chance, they could hit the "junk" he threw.
ONE-ARMED PETE GRAY Born Peter J. Wyshner (a.k.a.
Pete Gray) on March 6, 1917, Gray was a longtime New York
City semipro star who played in 77 games for the St. Louis
Browns in 1945. He actually had only one arm and played
center field with an unpadded glove. He had an intricate and
well developed routine for catching the ball, removing the
ball from his glove, and throwing the ball to the infield.
During the 1880's, the National League baseball team was
known as the New Yorkers. There was another team in town,
the New York Metropolitans of the fledgling American
Association. Both teams played their season-opening games on
a field across from Central Park's northeastern corner at
110th Street and Fifth Avenue. The land on which they played
was owned by New York Herald Tribune publisher James Gordon
Bennett. Bennett and his society friends had played polo on
that field and that's how the baseball field came to be
known as the Polo Grounds. In 1889 the New York National
League team moved its games to a new location at 157th
Street and Eighth Avenue. The site was dubbed the new Polo
Grounds and eventually was simply called the Polo Grounds.
Polo was never played there.
He was also nicknamed the Thumper, because of the power with
which he hit the ball, and the Kid, because of his
tempestuous attitude-but his main nickname was perhaps the
most appropriate. Ted Williams was one of the most splendid
players who ever lived, and he could really "splinter" the
ball. The handsome slugger compiled a lifetime batting
average of .344 and a slugging percentage of .634.
Williams blasted 521 career home runs, scored nearly 1,800
runs, and drove in over 1,800 runs. So keen was his batting
eye that he walked over 2,000 times while striking out only
709 times. In 1941 he batted .406 - the last time any player
hit .400 or better. One of the most celebrated moments in
the career of the Boston Red Sox slugger took place in the
1946 All-Star Game. Williams came to bat against Rip Sewell
and his celebrated "eephus" (blooper) pitch. Williams had
already walked in the game and hit a home run. Sewell's
pitch came to the plate in a high arc, and Williams actually
trotted out to the pitch, bashing it into the right-field
bullpen for a home run. "That was the first homer ever hit
off the pitch," Sewell said later.
"The ball came to the plate in a twenty-foot arc," recalled
Williams. "I didn't know whether I'd be able to get enough
power into that kind of a pitch for a home run." There was
no kind of pitch Williams couldn't hit for a home run.