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Talkin’ Baseball . . . The Can of Corn Is Back on the Shelf

Can you speak baseball?

I thought I could, but reading a newspaper article the other day on how the language of teen-agers has changed in the last couple of years, it occurred to me that my baseball vocabulary might be a little outdated.

Teen-agers, according to the article, don’t say groovy anymore. They say fresh or legit or rad . A pretty girl or a handsome boy is a freak . This is important stuff to know if you’re a teen-ager and desperately want to be considered freakish or radish.

Likewise, a big-time sportswriter doesn’t want to embarrass himself when he’s hanging out at the ballyard by using obsolete terminology. So I set out to compile a list of some of the more common baseball terms, then decided to share them with a select group of readers. I talked to several Angels and several Dodgers, of all races, ages and positions.

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Most of the common terms, I discovered, are not new. I ran across only a few terms that weren’t around eight years ago, when I covered the baseball beat. An example of a fairly new term is the one for home run-- big fly .

The following words and phrases will bring your baseball vocabulary up to date:

For starters, one phrase that’s out is can of corn-- an easy, high, fly ball. This phrase, according to “The Language of Sport,” probably originated in the early 1900s, when grocers would store cans of corn on a high shelf. To get down a can, the grocer would tip it off the shelf with a rod or broom handle.

Several players warned me to stay away from that one. The rest of these phrases are guaranteed fresh and rad and legit.

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A home run is a dinger , tater or big fly . You don’t hit a home run; you go deep , go downtown, take (pitcher’s name) deep or downtown . You take him out of the yard . Latin players might say, Go deep in the bleech . On the bench, you exhort the ball to go over the fence by saying, simply, “Leave! " Then you call out, “Bat boy!

A line drive is a seed, pea, frozen rope, rocket, bolt or linea (Spanish for line). You don’t hit a ball hard, you scald it or kiss it .

A bat is lumber, timber, wood, a stick or a pole . To hit a ball solidly on the fat part of the bat is to hit it on the screws, joy spot or sweet spot .

A fielder’s glove is his leather or rag . Or, if he doesn’t catch very well with it, his glove might be referred to as a skillet .

If a player is a skillful fielder, he can pickett (pick it). Bill Buckner once named his first baseman’s glove Wilson Pickett. A skillful fielder has a good pair of hooks.

The major leagues is the show or the big time . A minor leaguer is a pineapple .

Big league players spend a lot of time discussing the relative attractiveness of fellow human beings, male and female. So they need a lot of ways to say someone is ugly. These terms vary, but generally, an ugly person is a mullion . Ballplayers might sit around the dugout or bullpen and select their major league all-mullion team.

An ugly person is also a ghost (scares people), minnion (uglier than a mullion), scullion or crow (scarecrow). One player told me that he once had a teammate nicknamed Buckethead who was also a mullion, and thus was referred to as Muckethead.

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Ballplayers commonly encourage an overweight person to lose weight by calling out to that person, “Hey, why don’t you mix in a salad?” When one former Angel player not noted for his power hitting yelled that to a large media person, the large media person shot back, “Why don’t you mix in an RBI?”

A fastball is a heater, gas, low-lead (very good gas), cheese, alto queso (high cheese--the high, hard one), the express . Scouting reports on a fastball pitcher: He’s nasty. He can hump it up there. He brings gas. He’s got a piece of cheese for you. Or you give an estimated radar-gun speed reading: “He’s throwing 87.” Enos Cabell refers to a supreme fastball pitcher such as Dwight Gooden or Nolan Ryan as a heater face .

A curveball is a yakker, yack attack, hammer or hook. And the ancient term for curveball-- Uncle Charlie --is still in use.

Darrell Miller refers to a curveball that is so effective it paralyzes the batter’s midsection as a bowel locker . If a good curve causes the batter’s knees to buckle, bench jockeys might cry out, “Get that man a knee brace.”

An unintentionally fat pitch is a chuck ‘n’ duck .

A couple of players told me that they refer to a situation in which the batter is badly overmatched by a fastball as a Linda Ronstadt , or a Louisiana . That refers to Ronstadt’s million-selling remake of Roy Orbison’s hit song, “Blue Bayou” (blew by you).

Reggie Jackson, the last word on words, has a few terms he uses that haven’t yet caught on throughout the majors. A curve ball is a Mercedes - Benz (bends). You look at a third strike, that’s a Polaroid. And his bat is the dues collector . In ’74, Reggie actually took a felt-tip pen and wrote “Dues Collector” on the sweet spot of his lumber.

That’s all. Have a groovy day.

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