9 All-Star Baseball Terms We Can’t Live Without

Go deep with MVP idioms

Over the years, baseball has given us a ton of expressions and new meanings for words, many of which have become so common that you may have forgotten they got their start in the nation's pastime. Here are nine of our favorites, one for each inning of the old ballgame.

Grandstanding

One notable controversy in baseball over the last couple of years has been about whether bat flips (when the hitter ostentatiously throws their bat into the air after a home run) are good showmanship or poor sportsmanship. This type of behavior in baseball is nothing new: grandstanding entered the game way back in 1888 as a way of describing somebody hamming it up for the fans in attendance. These days you’re more likely to hear of a politician grandstanding, while in baseball they might say the player is showboating.

Whiff

Whiff. That’s the sound your bat makes when you take a big swing at the ball and hit nothing but air. Sometimes you’ll hear of a pitcher whiffing a batter—that is, striking them out—but usually it’s the batter who whiffs. This second, “swing-and-miss” sense is how whiff is usually used outside of baseball, either as a verb or a noun. Either way, it’s a great onomatopoeia for a spectacularly failed attempt at something.

Threw them a curve

MLB.com says that “When pitchers first began throwing the curveball in the mid-1800s, it was considered deceptive and dishonest, but because it could not be outlawed with a specific rule, the pitch persisted.” You might call a fastball a more “honest” pitch, because it comes straight at you. Today, if somebody throws you a curve, you usually expected one thing from them and got something else. Maybe they weren’t trying to deliberately fake you out … but then again, maybe they were.

Bush-league

At the top of professional baseball in the US are the Major Leagues, followed by their Minor League affiliates, today broken down into AAA, AA and A classes. In the olden days, around the turn of the last century, Major League clubs utilized amateur teams to develop their young prospects.

Those ragtag teams were usually outside the major cities in areas that were more “bush”—a bit of slang from those times that meant “rural” or “provincial.” While it wasn’t intended as a slight back then, if somebody calls you bush-league nowadays, they’re basically calling you an amateur or a hack.

Alex Rodriguez, pictured here, committed an infamous bush-league play during the 2004 American League Championship Series by slapping the baseball out of his opponent’s glove.

Off base

If you say something that somebody thinks is completely wrong or mistaken, they’ll likely tell you that you’re way off base. When you get caught off base in baseball, it means you stepped too far away from the bag (or base) and got thrown out. It’s one of the biggest blunders a runner can make, and is as embarrassing as being off base when, say, you try to guess somebody’s age.

On deck

If you thought this phrase, which means “next up” or “ready to go,” was a nautical term, you’re sort of right. On deck entered everyday usage from baseball, which borrowed it from the navy, with the pilot being the person who is next up to take off from the ship’s deck in his airplane.

By the way, the next batter in the lineup after the on-deck hitter is either “in the hold” or “in the hole,” depending on whom you ask (and that person might have some strong opinions about which is right). For the record, legendary Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully said it was “in the hold,” referring to the hold area of a ship below the deck, so that should be the final word on the matter.

Out of left field

This term has come to mean something unexpected or a non-sequitur, as in, “His response came from out of left field.” Some believe the phrase came from “way out in left field” and refers to a mental institution that used to be behind the left field fence of the Chicago Cubs’ former stadium, the West Side Grounds.

More likely, the idiom comes from the really rare occurrence of a runner getting thrown out at first base from left field, or a throw from left field to the catcher to get a runner out at home. That ball would appear over the runner’s shoulder, seemingly out of nowhere.

Home run

Alright, you didn’t forget this one came from baseball, but it’s an interesting one anyway. It’s so common, you’ve probably never stopped to think about what an odd phrase it is. After all, every run in baseball is scored at home, so why this term for a ball that has left the park?

Well, in the early days of the sport, the ball rarely did leave the park. Instead, most home runs were of the inside-the-park variety, in which the ball stays in play but the hitter is still able to run all the way home. How home run and the other bases got to be units of measure for how successful a date went is another question.

"It ain't over till it's over"

New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra had an amazing Hall of Fame career, but he might be better known for his quirky quips. Most of them were goofy by design: “It's like déjà vu all over again,” “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” or “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical,” or “It's like déjà vu all over again.”

His truest and most universal quote, however, has to be “It ain't over till it's over.” While Yogi was talking about the fact that baseball has no time limit (so the trailing team always has a chance to catch up with their three outs left in the inning) this quote has become a battle cry for anyone trying to rally back from any adversity.