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Home > Baseballology > BASEBALL LINGO: WHAT THE EXPRESSIONS MEAN, HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY (Part II)

BASEBALL LINGO: WHAT THE EXPRESSIONS MEAN, HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY (Part II)

Reactions to Part I were so effusive, that Part II is here for your enjoyment. Reactions always welcomed. 

THE WALKING MAN    Eddie Yost played nearly two decades in the major leagues. His lifetime batting average was only .254, but that didn’t keep him off the bases. Yost coaxed pitchers into yielding I,614 walks to him—almost a walk a game through his long career.

WEE WILLIE   He was born March 3, 1872, in Brooklyn, New York. He died on January 1, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York. William Henry Keeler made his debut at the Polo Grounds as a member of the New York Giants on September 30, 1892. He singled off the Phillies’ Tim Keefe for the first of his 2,926 career hits.  The son of a Brooklyn trolley switchman, Keeler Two years later became a member of the famed Baltimore Orioles.

A lefty all the way, he weighed only 140 pounds and was a shade over 5’4″. His tiny physical stature earned him his nickname, but pound for pound he was one of the greatest hitters baseball ever produced. Keeler played for 19 years and recorded a lifetime batting average of .345, fifth on the all-time list. He collected 2,962 hits in 2,124 games, spraying the ball to all fields. Wee Willie’s greatest year was 1897, a season in which he batted .432, recorded 243 hits and 64 stolen bases, and scored 145 runs. He swung a bat that weighed only 30  ounces, but as he said, he “hit ’em where they ain’t’.

In 1897, Keeler batted an incredible .432. A reporter asked the diminutive batter, “Mr. Keeler, how can a man your size hit .432?”

The reply to that question has become a rallying cry for all kinds of baseball players in all kinds of leagues: “Simple,” Keeler smiled. “I keep my eyes clear and I hit ’em where they ain’t.”

The Sporting News offered this mangled prose about Keeler as a fielder. “He swears by the teeth of his mask-carved horse chestnut, that he always carries with him as a talisman that he inevitably dreams of it in the night before when he is going to boot one – muff an easy fly ball, that is to say, in the meadow on the morrow. ‘All of us fellows in the outworks have got just so many of them in a season to drop and there’s no use trying to buck against fate’.”

William Henry Keeler played 19 years in the major leagues and finished his career with a .345 lifetime batting average. Quite justifiably the little man was one of the first to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hal of Fame in 1939.

THE WHIP A 6’6″ right-hander, Ewell Blackwell had a sidearm motion and a crackling fastball that terrorized National League batters in the 1940s and 1950s. The former Cincinnati star’s right arm seemed to “whip” the ball in at the batter, and that’s how his nickname came to be. Winner of sixteen straight games in 1947, he struck out almost a batter an inning during his ten-year career.

WHIZ KIDS   There is no clear explanation as to how the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies baseball team earned its nickname. Some ascribe the name’s derivation to the club’s youth and newness: only one regular on that team that won the National League pennant was over 30 years of age. Some claim the nickname was a spinoff from the phrase “gee whiz,” since the Phillies of that year seemingly came from nowhere to challenge and defeat the great Brooklyn Dodgers for the pennant. It was a team that because of its youth, its underdog role, and its past history of failure, attracted national attention and fused its personality to its nickname.

WILD HORSE OF THE OSAGE  Johnny Leonard Roosevelt Martin, better known as Pepper Martin, starred for 13 seasons with the National League’s St. Louis Cardinals. He could hit, he could run, he could field, he could throw, he could win—and he did all of these things with wild abandon, with elan and a verve that earned him his nickname. If he couldn’t stop a hard smash down to his third-base position with his glove, he would stop the ball with his chest. If he could not get into a base feet-first, he would leap into the air and belly-flop his way there. Martin took the extra base, risked the daring chance, played with fire and fury. Three times in the mid-1930’s he led the league in stolen bases, and throughout that decade he functioned as the horse that led the Cardinal “Gashouse Gang” (see GASHOUSE GANG).

WIZARD OF OZ   An abbreviation of his first name and tip of the cap to Ozzie Smith for his peerless fielding skills. No other shortstop could get to the ball as fast as, and utilize the fielders around him like Ozzie.

WORLD SERIES  In 1903 the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League won their third consecutive pennant. Owner Barney Dreyfuss was instrumental in arranging for a set of postseason games with the American League champion Boston Somersets (later Red Sox). The teams played a nine-game series, with Boston winning five of the games (one of their pitchers was Cy Young) and the World Championship. There was a one-year interruption in the competition because the 1904 National League pennant-winner was the New York Giants, whose owner, John T. Bush, refused to allow his team to oppose an American League entry. Part of the reason behind Bush’s refusal was the existence of a rival American League team in New York City. By 1905 Bush had changed his mind and even helped shape the new format for the World Series—a best-of-seven competition—and behind Christy Mathewson, who pitched three shutouts, the Giants defeated the Philadelphia Athletics in five games. Dubbed the Fall Classic, the World Series year in and year out has become an integral, appealing part of the American sports scene.

YA GOTTA BELIEVE In 1973 the New York Mets bolted from last place on August 30 to win the National League Eastern Division title on the final day of the season. Pitcher Tug McGraw had coined a slogan, “Ya gotta believe,” which acted as the team’s battle cry and motivation. Lacking a .300 hitter, a 20-game winner, a 100-RBI man, the “believing” Mets swept by Cincinnati in the playoffs and battled Oakland to the seventh game of the World Series before finally losing (see AMAZIN’ METS).

YANKEE CLIPPER Joseph Paul DiMaggio was one of nine children of a fisherman father who had emigrated from Sicily. It was all planned for Joe to become a fisherman like his father, but Joe could not abide the smell of fish.

In 1934, he was playing baseball about as well as it could be played when his contract with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League was purchased by the Yankees. The deal contained the clause that the graceful outfielder is allowed to play one more season for the seals. His 1935 season gave the people of San Francisco something to remember – he batted .398, recorded 270 hits, and drove in 154 runs.

Permission was granted for DiMaggio in 1936 to drive cross-country with fellow San Franciscans Tony Lazzeri and Frank Crosetti to the Yankee spring training camp in St. Petersburg, Florida. Lazzeri turned to DiMaggio after the trio had concluded one day of driving and said, “You take over, Joe.”

“I don’t drive,” DiMaggio answered

It was reported that these were the only words he uttered during the entire three-day automobile trek.

In DiMaggio’s time, 13 seasons,  the Yankees won 10 pennants. In 1951, the man they called the Yankee Clipper, retired at age 36. Management attempted to get him to perform in pinstripes for one more season. But he had too much pride and too much pain. He knew it was over.

Like the famed Yankee clipper ships that sailed the oceans riding the winds and the tides, DiMaggio moved across the reaches of the center-field pastureland of Yankee Stadium flawlessly playing his kind of game—steady, stoical, dependable. His nickname accentuated his role and style.

ABOUT HARVEY FROMMER

One of the most prolific and respected sports journalists and oral historians in the United States, author of the autobiographies of legends Nolan Ryan, Tony Dorsett, and Red Holzman, Dr. Harvey Frommer has been a professor for more than two decades in the MALS program at Dartmouth College. Dubbed “Dartmouth’s Mr. Baseball” by their alumni magazine,  he’s also the founder of www.HarveyFrommerSports.com.   Books for Father’s Day (and special days, discounted, mint, signed and deeply discounted are available from his books page http://frommerbooks.com/  

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