What Do a French Restaurant, Linda Ronstadt and a Mexican Hat Have to Do with Baseball?

Because baseball has been around for over 150 years, it is associated with more interesting slang terms and expressions than any other sport. There are the old phrases—you’ll hear them used now and then by a seasoned broadcaster or on a baseball talk show (like “stepping in the bucket” or a “can of corn”)—and new terms that are springing up all the time. We all know that “PED” stands for “performance-enhancing drug,” for example.

Here’s a look at a handful of baseball expressions you’ll hear and some background on where they came from. Test your baseball knowledge and see if you know their origin and what they mean.

 

Where did “southpaw” come from?
A southpaw, as you probably know, is a left-handed pitcher. The term was first used around 1891, but it wasn’t seen in print until the 1940s. At first, “southpaw” was used as a substitute for the left hand, as in: “He throws with his south paw.” But how did that come about? Long ago, so it’s said, baseball parks were laid out so that the setting sun wouldn’t be in a batter’s eyes. If you think of the diamond as a compass, with the pitching rubber in the center, that would position home plate on the west. That way, the sun would be high in the sky in the afternoon and set in the west, behind the batter. With that setup, when a left-handed pitcher stood on the mound facing home (that is, facing west), his throwing arm was “south.” (His back would be to the east.) Now, a story once popped up that a left-handed rookie from “Southpaw,” Illinois, was trying out for the team, and that’s where the term came from. Sounds reasonable…except there is no town of Southpaw.

What is an “eephus pitch”?
Last year in Japan, pitcher Kazuhito Tadano, who had once pitched for the Cleveland Indians, threw a slow, high-arching, floating pitch that baffled the batter and even froze the umpire. It made headlines because it was a crazy-yet-remarkable pitch that you rarely see today. But that type of pitch has a name—it’s called an “eephus pitch” or “eephus ball.” In the ’40s, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates named Rip Sewell started throwing a slow, high-arching pitch. He claimed he developed it after he’d hurt his foot and couldn’t plant it as he had before. The first time he threw it in a game, it caused quite a fuss. In the clubhouse, his manager asked him what he called the pitch and an outfielder shouted out, “It’s an eephus!” Rip Sewell himself had to ask, “What’s an eephus?” The outfielder, Maurice Van Robays, supposedly answered, “Eephus ain’t nothin’.” Well, for being nothing, the name for the pitch stuck for good. Sewell’s eephus pitch became immortalized when he threw it three times in a row to Ted Williams in the 1946 All-Star Game. Ted hit the third one out of the ballpark.

Why are some plays called “bush league”?
Chances are you know calling someone’s play or behavior “bush league” (or just “bush”) refers to unsportsmanlike or unacceptable behavior or play. You have to wonder…was baseball in the Bush Leagues that bad? Here’s the surprising answer: There never was a “Bush League.” The expression came from pro ballplayers or team executives who looked down on minor-leaguers that came from small towns “way out in the bushes,” where there probably wasn’t even a fence in the outfield. To them, “bush league” described a style of baseball that was inferior or mediocre.

What is “rotisserie baseball”?
One statistic estimates that more than 40 million people were in a fantasy sport league of some sort in 2014, including baseball. But in the beginning, fantasy baseball was called “rotisserie baseball.” Why? Various forms of fantasy leagues (making your own team in competition) had been done before, but in 1980 a group of friends got together at a New York City restaurant to create their league, led by a sports editor named Daniel Okrent. The friends created a set of rules and a system to create the teams and track their performance. The name of the restaurant where they’d meet was La Rôtisserie Française. And that’s where the name came from.

What is a “golden sombrero”?
In hockey, when a player scores three goals, it’s called a “hat trick.” In baseball, if a player strikes out four times in a game…well, that’s deserving of a special label too. It has to be much more than a plain old hat though, so how about a big “golden sombrero.” The term originated in San Diego and was first seen in sports pages in 1984. So a player is “wearing the golden sombrero” if he strikes out four times in a game…but what if a player strikes out five or six times? Then it’s time to grab the platinum and titanium sombreros!

What is a “Linda Ronstadt”?
That’s when a pitcher’s fastball comes down the middle so fast, the hitter has no chance. Strike three. Going back to the dugout, someone might say to the hitter that the pitch “blew by you.” Or did they say the pitch “Blue Bayou”? That’s the funny term sportswriter Dave Scheiber of the St. Petersburg Times introduced to fans in the mid-’80s. Suddenly, Linda Ronstadt was more than a famous singer—a “Linda Ronstadt” became a sizzling, unhittable strike that you watched as it just Blue Bayou.

Reference information: Dickson Baseball Dictionary
Photo Credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/50/LindaRonstadtPerforming.jpg/220px-LindaRonstadtPerforming.jpg