Funny 'base ball' terms defined, 1870

On Saturday, May 21, 1870, the Cubs, then known as the White Stockings, defeated a local team known simply as the Amateurs.

The 49-4 romp improved the record of the first-year "Whites" to 12-0. All the wins had come against amateur clubs, by a combined score of 699-76.

"Something like two thousand persons were gathered in and about Ogden Park yesterday afternoon to witness the game," the Chicago Tribune said in its Sunday edition. "Perhaps half the spectators were within the enclosure and had paid to see the sport, while an equal number were perched upon adjacent lumber piles outside, and enjoyed the game gratis, though at a distance."


After describing some of the game's highlights, including a pair of home runs by the Whites, the paper printed this, under the subhead "INCIDENT":

"During the progress of the game, a hot ground ball batted by [Ned] Craver to Kennedy, who was pitching, struck that player on the long finger of the left hand, breaking and mangling it in a shocking manner. He was compelled to withdraw from the game, his place being filled by Budd, who went to right field.

"Another incident of an alarming character occurred. The platform on which were seated the scorers and reporters, together with thirty or forty of that class of individuals who generally contrive to worm themselves into places where they have no business to be, suddenly gave way, and the occupants were precipitated to the ground about six feet below. Fortunately and singularly, no one was injured in the slightest degree."


These glum tidings were followed by the box score -- and then something delightfully different. As with the game story, its author is not named. Here it is, in its entirety:


One of the peculiarities which can never be explained is the confusion of tongues. The Tower of Babel did well enough for its day in this respect, but big as that old tower undoubtedly was, it is not large enough to answer philosophically all that reason would like to know.

There are upwards of 4,000 distinct languages now spoken in the world, and science and pleasure are multiplying the number. It would seem that there could be no particular sport without its peculiar phrases, or science without its choice vocabulary of terms.

It is not to be supposed that in a city like Chicago, where base ball has heretofore been so unsuccessful, that the people will readily take to the rich nomenclature and phrases to which this masterly game has given origin. To remedy this difficulty, the following definitions of frequently-occurring terms are given:

Base ball -- The name of the game itself, is derived from the fact that the Captain of each nine is compelled to "bawl" himself into the "bass" key of voice for general effect during the progress of the play.

Bat -- So called, because always running against something.

Strike -- Is a voluntary action on the part of the man at the bat, which either does or does not send him to base.

Sky Ball -- Is the same as base ball -- only a little higher up in the world.

Daisy Cutter -- Is a ball propelled by the batsman at just a sufficient elevation from the ground to make the grass stand on end.

Hot Ball -- Is one sent from the striker directly at the abdomen of the pitcher or short stop, with fierce and malevolent intent.

Ground Ball -- Is one that strikes the earth about two feet in front of the striker, and is generally cultivated as a big improvement on scissors in taking off fingernails, as it sometimes takes the larger part of the finger along.

Foul Ball -- Is one of those chicken-hearted balls that never gets beyond a line drawn from first to third base, from sheer lack of force of character.

Called Ball -- Is one at which the umpire has "hollered" three times successfully, and at which the batsman has sworn a dozen times.

Swift Ball -- A ball that travels from pitcher to catcher so rapidly that the batsman "can't see it." It bears the relation to ordinary balls that the lightning express does to the accommodation train.

Slow Ball -- A ball that has a sore arm behind it, and three skillful fielders in front of it, to keep it from over the fence in case it hits the stick in the batsman's hands.

N.B. -- All of the above balls are limitations or extensions of the ball with which the game is played.

Bases -- Soft places to stop at when you get tired of running.

Batter -- The man who stands in between the pitcher and catcher, and decides whether the fielders shall have a chance.

Fly Catch -- Is where a fielder, who has had his mouth open for half an hour, suddenly, at seeing a little black speck in the air, which flew from the batsman's stick, starts, shuts his mouth, and then his hand, when the speck is generally found in the latter.

Inning -- Is where nine men take up sticks in the endeavor to secure employment for three fielders.

Foul Bound -- Is where a ball mischievously and premeditatively goes behind into the hands of the catcher when the striker calculated it would go into the field.

Pitcher -- The man who constantly tries to have the ball in his own hands and the catcher's at the same time.

Catcher -- The other man who wants to get hold of the ball before the pitcher is willing to part with it.

Basemen -- Men who have got soft places, and with a true spirit of human nature, are trying to prevent everybody else from getting into them.

Fielders -- Men who are put away out from the batsmen to prevent the ball from being hurt on the ground in case it should be knocked up in the air.

Umpire -- An outside individual who is kept on hand to get up a row on short notice.

The above are but a few of the technical phrases used in this "beautiful and noble game." A close study of this first installment of the new language which is about springing up, will enable the reader to read an account of the game with tolerable success.

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