The language of baseball is riddled with odd sayings, anachronisms, and quirky phrases that hold a very specific meaning to those who speak it. To those who don’t — you might call them “normal people” — it can be utterly incomprehensible. But these context-specific idioms are an integral part of the sport, and of our experience watching it; without them, it’s just another game.
Take, for instance, a can of corn. Not a literal canister of preserved vegetables, but the phrase: in baseball, this is one of the classic idioms. If you’re a fan, you’ve probably heard it a hundred times on radio or TV broadcasts. In most cases, it refers to a pop fly hit right into a fielder’s glove for an easy out. But where does a puzzling phrase like this come from?
According to Merriam-Webster (and the wonderful PL Podcast, “Short Hops and Tall Tales“), the origins of “a can of corn” in the baseball sense likely traced back to grocery clerks who used to stock canned goods on hard-to-reach shelves. To get them, they would use a stick to knock the cans down and catch them in their aprons. Corn, being the best-selling product and thus nearer to the ground, was the easiest can to catch.
The truth is, many of baseball’s greatest idioms are attributed to similar stories. “Around the horn” double-plays reference the sailing path of ships around Cape Horn in South America; left-handed pitchers are called “southpaws” because of an old boxing term. Other phrases, like “climbing the ladder” or “ducks on the pond,” are simply visual analogies invented by broadcasters to describe on-field situations.
These examples are all well and good, but they have another thing in common: they’re all old. It’s time we got some new baseball idioms in the ol’ zeitgeist. I’ve got a few ideas.
Tier 3: Ducks on the Pond
Here are a few softballs to get us started. Hear me out…
“Dodging the Sheriff”
Context: Pitcher intentionally walks batter to face less-threatening matchup.
This happened last week, and it backfired hilariously on Tony La Russa. Sometimes it’s best to face the justice, it would seem:
The guy screaming "He has two strikes, Tony!" after Tony La Russa intentionally walked Trea Turner on a 1-2 count to pitch to Max Muncy who proceeded to hit a three-run homer is peak chef's kiss. (via @NBCSWhiteSox)pic.twitter.com/C9yaR0ZdBU
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 9, 2022
Fun fact: this happened 120 times to Barry Bonds in 2004, an MLB record (obviously). Can you imagine how much more fun that season would have been if they called it “dodging the sheriff” every time? I’m thinking at least, like, 2% more fun.
“Walking the Plank”
Context: Losing manager baits ejection to fire up players.
I’ve always thought the game needed more piracy metaphors. This one leans into that vibe while catering to the swashbuckling types like La Russa, Dusty Baker, and Rocco Baldelli. Also, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Peppering the Omelet”
Context: Batter fouls off several pitches in a row to the same area.
Let’s get eggy! Ah, I already regret typing that. And yet, I’ll probably leave it in. I actually had a couple of egg analogies ready to go here, but this one seemed like the tightest. Let me know if you like “Poached Breakfast” or “Smuggling the Egg” better — and bonus points if you can guess what either one means!
Tier 2: Flashing the Leather
Alright, we’ve got a solid group of contenders so far. How about we get a little more creative?
Context: Pitcher lures a batter into an unfavorable position with the promise of cheese.
This is really just classic pitch-mixing shenanigans, with a little more specific nomenclature. Drop a slider on the outside corner, bait the hook with a high fastball, then drop the cage with a nasty curveball or changeup. If you fall for it, you deserve the demeaning nickname.
“Snuffing the Wick”
Context: Fielder attempts to push a rolling ball foul by blowing on it.
As you may know, this trick has been attempted a few times in MLB history. Including, quite famously, this play by Lenny Randle in 1981:
Everyone tried blow the ball foul as a kid, but Lenny Randle actually did it in the bigs. Unfortunately, it was ruled interference and it went down in the books as a single (1981). pic.twitter.com/aCRQVSJE8O
— Ben Porter (@Ben13Porter) December 10, 2019
Unfortunately, it is * technically * illegal. But I still like the spirit of it, and I wanted to work in the verb “snuff” somewhere.
Context: An older player who doesn’t bring much to the table, but always seems to appear in big spots.
Tier 1: Frozen Ropes
Okay, now that you get the idea, let’s get really weird. Welcome to the final frontier of ido(m)cy.
“Gobbling the Snitch”
Context: Fielder catches a fly ball in their mouth.
This has never happened in an MLB game to my knowledge, but it would be pretty neat. This is probably the closest we’ve come:
If it did happen, I can only assume they would be forced to end the game, quidditch-style. How is anyone supposed to top that? Plus, someone would have to go out there and collect the loose teeth in the grass.
“Going to the Basement”
Context: Batter descends imaginary steps in an attempt to make the pitcher throw low.
This is the diamond of the bunch, IMO. Think of it as the inverse of a pitcher “climbing the ladder:” you step out of the left-hand batters’ box, walk around behind the umpire, and return several inches shorter. The pitcher would be flabbergasted! Of course, the real trick would be convincing the umpire that it’s not a trick and that you are, in fact, in the basement. I can see Ángel Hernández falling for it.
Context: Online sports writer gets the green light to publish an outlandish post with no real purpose.
Have I mentioned how much I love PitcherListDotCom?
Featured image by Shawn Palmer (@Palmerdesigns_ on Twitter)