Baseball-ese

Baseball-ese

What they say versus what they may mean.

As I read the stories about the Matt Morris signing in San Francisco, I was captivated by the glorified terms used to describe him by the local writers who have not yet experienced even one patented roller-coaster ride with Matty Mo.

This flowery phenomenon is not unique to writers, however. Think of your favorite broadcasters, or even manager, pitching coach and general manager. Such are the kind of words that have and will be flowing from their mouths.

You know, the baseball lexicon is truly unique. I flipped open my copy of The Sports Junkie's Book of Trivia, Terms and Lingo and checked out definitions of some often-heard terms. While I am sure they are accurate, they didn't seem to quite fit what I was looking for.

So, here are a few examples (ok, two dozen in fact) that in my estimation are what public figures really mean when they use some common baseball-related terms.

Feel free to join in on the fun with this. Post your personal favorites on our Message Board to share with others.

"Innings-eater".  A long-suffering starter most likely found on poor teams. Every see the Yankees looking to sign innings-eaters?  I saw this term being attributed to Morris in one of the San Francisco stories after his signing as if it was a compliment. Look out!

 

"Workhorse".  As in "Brett Tomko is a…"  Similar to innings-eater. The former Cardinal has often received credit for pitching a lot of innings, but that doesn't mean he was very good when doing so. As an aside, Tomko left the Giants rotation just before Morris entered.

 

"Gritty".  As in, "Bo Hart is a gritty player."  Plays hard, but not necessarily well.

 

"Gamer".  Always plays whether injured or not feeling well or whatever.  Again, not always necessarily great results come from the gamer, but he always looks good in doing so. Jim Edmonds has been called a gamer by some.

 

"Knows how to win".  Another backhanded compliment. Average pitcher on a good team who is fortunate to rack up a lot of wins. There are those who lump Mark Mulder, Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis in this category, as if ability has nothing to do with it.

 

"Plays the game right".  Unspectacular player who performs without showing off, but again, the results may or may not consistently be there. So Taguchi and any other "fundamentally solid" player come to mind. Japanese imports always receive the benefit of the doubt here, at least until the honeymoon is over. See Kaz Matsui.

 

"Throwback".  A reference to a player who plays like they did in the "good old days", as if players always did before, but never do today.  Often also "plays the game right" and is a "gritty" player. Regularly "gets his uniform dirty", making this type of player universally disliked by clubhouse attendants throughout the game.

 

"Makes the difficult plays look easy".  Well, maybe those plays WERE easy?  Also, sometimes these same players make the easy plays look hard.  Edmonds is accused by some of fitting this characterization.  

 

"Gold Glove-caliber defense".  Either the player has a Gold Glove or he doesn't. In this case, doesn't. This term usually sprouts up when teams are lobbying in the court of public opinion for their favorite player. Mark Grudzielanek had a nice 2005 season, but hadn't earned a Gold Glove in any of his ten previous seasons, either.

 

"Clutch hitter".  Often based on reputation, not fact. Here is a classic example. Who could ever forget renowned clutch hitter Tino Martinez' .210 average with runners in scoring position for the 2003 Cardinals? That would have to be more accurately characterized as a slipping clutch.

 

"Second-half hitter".  Commonly heard during the first half of the season when a hitter is performing terribly. Wouldn't it be great if these guys would receive second-half salaries only?

 

"Playing for a contract" or in a "salary drive".  When a player is in the final year of his current deal, it is implied that he will try harder than usual and achieve better numbers as a result. Statistics don't support this, though it is commonly assumed. Just ask Morris and Julian Tavarez about their second halves of 2005.

 

"In a zone at the plate".  Used when a hitter is on a hot streak. Apparently, they are in a different zone (ozone, perhaps?) the rest of the time. Or, as in the case of Einar Diaz, at least a different area code.

 

"Fireballer".  A hurler who throws very hard, but not necessarily accurately. Reference as "Exhibit A" the pitcher formerly known as Rick Ankiel.

 

"Future Ace".  A young pitcher, usually a fireballer, who has not yet proven over a period of time whether or not he can stay healthy long enough to consistently get hitters out. Anthony Reyes has clearly been anointed as the Cardinals' Future Ace.

 

"Closer of the future".  Used for the guy who may have formerly been the Future Ace, but had to be converted to relief. Unfortunately, for whatever reason (injury, trade, ineffectiveness or a combination thereof), the closer of the future usually never becomes the all-important "Closer of the Present". With his departure, Jim Journell has formally vacated his long-held title to Mark Worrell, perhaps.

 

"He's a player."  Hard to argue with this nothingness.  It seems like we often hear this exclamation from an announcer about one of his favorite players who has absolutely no distinguishable characteristics otherwise. But, hey, that Kerry Robinson; he's a player! That, he is. 

 

"Toolsy".  A reference to a prospect's five-skill potential, though all the tools may not be sharp. Minor leaguer Shaun Boyd is one of the few toolsy players I can think of in the Cardinals' organization.  Unfortunately, these guys often seem to get lost on the way in from the shed and as a result, never make it to "The Show", otherwise known as "Tool Time".

 

"Stud".  A generic, cross-sport term. Though more often heard in football, it also generates some attention in baseball, especially when describing certain players' prolific off-field exploits. Child support payments often accompany studliness later on.

 

"Money player". Along the same line as "playing for a contract" but not tied to an imminent contract deal. This could refer to an athlete who is "clutch" or "brings his game up a notch" when the pennant chase is underway or when the playoffs are in full swing.  Being called a "money player" is definitely a distinguishing factor, since the all rest of those guys play for free, right? 

 

"Clubhouse guy". It is good that teams don't discriminate against age. After all, how many times have we seen a washed-up veteran signed as a "clubhouse guy", apparently just for his presence? As if the 25-man roster has extra room for another mascot. Heck, I'll be a clubhouse guy! I could even pass out towels.

 

"Grizzled veteran".  How about developing a metric to measure "grizzledness" where the more grizzle, the higher the score? Lots of one-year contracts moving around the league would increase the grizzle factor. Reggie Sanders would register off the top of the grizzle scale.

 

"Trusting your stuff".  Maybe there is a reason coach and player can't communicate. Imagine this completely hypothetical exchange occurring last season. Writer: "Dave Duncan, what happened with Marquis out there on the mound today?" Duncan: "He wasn't trusting his stuff. I went out and told him that he had a world of talent, but he just needed to trust his stuff.  Once he started to trust his stuff, he was much better..."  A lot of words used to say absolutely nothing.

 

"Crafty veteran."  Former Cardinal Jeff Fassero is the poster child for this.  Usually reserved for an older pitcher, often a lefty, whose fastball maxxes out at about 80 miles per hour, but "knows how to pitch" and "trusts his stuff" while he "eats up innings".  

 

Ok, enough already!

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

 

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