Feedback

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

Go deep with MVP idioms

Batter up! Baseball has been a mainstay in American life for nearly 200 years. The sport of baseball is hailed as America’s pastime, and you can really see why given how deeply baseball has impacted our language. Let’s step up to the plate and take a swing at exploring how some common terms and expressions are linked to the old ball game. 

grandstanding

Baseball fans are often divided 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.

Do you know why you say “achoo!” when you sneeze? Learn more about this onomatopoeia.

curveball

Didn’t see that one coming! A curveball is an unexpected event or something that is intended to trick someone or throw them for a loop. The term is directly based on the curveball in baseball, a pitch that curves as it approaches the batter in an attempt to throw them off so they miss. If someone throws you a curveball, it means that they gave you a challenge or difficult problem unexpectedly.

The curveball isn’t the only type of ball to enter popular slang, though.

A screwball is a person who acts irrationally or tends toward zany antics. Screwball can also be used as an adjective to describe something eccentric or kooky. In baseball, a screwball is similar to a curveball except that it curves in the opposite direction of most pitches.

A softball is something that is easy to solve or an easy problem to deal with. If someone throws you a softball, they are pulling punches and going easy on you. Softball is also the name of a sport that is a variant of baseball that uses different balls. Interestingly, the science suggests that a softball is actually harder to hit than a baseball.

On the other hand, hardball is an adjective that describes someone as being ruthless or something as being difficult. If someone is playing hardball, it means they aren’t giving an inch and are acting aggressively. The word harball is sometimes used as a synonym for baseball (especially really competitive baseball) to differentiate it from softball.

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, A+, and A classes.

Those Minor League teams were usually outside the major cities in areas that were more “bush”—a bit of slang from earlier 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.

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 it’s as embarrassing as being off base when 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, and some speculate the term was borrowed from the navy, with the pilot on deck 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 psychiatric hospital 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 term 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 a couple’s date is another question.

How would you fare in a challenge on golf terms? Take a swing at popular golf slang here.

"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: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” “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.

home base

In baseball, the home base or home plate is the spot where the batter starts from and returns to in order to score a run. In everyday language, a person’s home base is the place they live or spend most of their time. Home base is also used to refer to a central operating place or the place where all the important work will be done. For example, the president’s home base is the White House in Washington DC.

ballpark figure

The place where baseball (or another ball game) is played is the ballpark. A ballpark figure is an estimate that is reasonably close to the actual amount; you may not know exactly how much money a baseball player makes, for example, but you might be able to give a ballpark figure. Generally, the larger a number you are dealing with, the larger the reasonable range gets for a ballpark figure.

Ballpark figure emerged in the 1960s and is based on the earlier expression of in the ballpark, meaning within a reasonable range. This expression is also still used today as in I’m guessing her cat is somewhere in the ballpark of three years old.

strike out

In baseball, a batter strikes out if they get three strikes by failing to hit three pitches, which means the other team never even had to worry about catching a ball or trying to tag them out. In everyday usage, a person is said to strike out if they completely fail at something as in We hoped to catch lots of fish but we struck out and came home empty handed.

rain check

If you can’t make it somewhere or need to postpone something until later, you give somebody a rain check. This phrase actually comes from a baseball practice that dates back to the 1880s. If a game was canceled due to rain or other bad weather, the spectators would be given a ticket stub, a rain check, that they could use later to watch the postponed game at another time. This term spread to refer to similar tickets given for postponed concerts and other events before being used generally to refer to anything a person can’t do at the moment but promises to do later.

Want to explore more baseball slang only an avid fan would know … or will you take a rain check on that?

closer

It is the bottom of the ninth and you’re two runs ahead. Your starting pitcher is exhausted, so you take them out and bring in the closer. In baseball, a closer is a relief pitcher who comes in to hang on to a team’s lead; they try to successfully close out the game. Outside of baseball, the term closer is used to refer to a person who successfully brings something, especially an important business deal, to an end.

wheelhouse

The batter likes what he sees. In baseball, the wheelhouse refers to the area in which a particular batter is most likely to hit a home run. If a pitcher throws a ball into the batter’s wheelhouse, the batter is really happy, and the pitcher is probably not going to like what is about to happen.

If something is said to be in someone’s wheelhouse, it means that it is within their area of expertise or is something that they are likely to be very good at. Just like a home-run hitter, a person who encounters something that is in their wheelhouse is most likely going to knock it out of the park.

heavy hitter

Going, going, gone. In baseball, a heavy hitter is a batter that is known to make a lot of big hits and is very capable of smashing a home run if given the chance. If something or someone is said to be a heavy hitter, it means that they are very important or have a lot of influence. For example, Apple and Microsoft are heavy hitters in the tech industry. Just as a heavy hitter can play a big role in the outcome of a baseball game, heavy hitters can greatly impact an industry or even society as a whole.

charley horse

Ouch! A charley horse is a cramp or spasm in the major muscles of the arm or leg. Charley horses really hurt and can result from excessive muscle strain or from being hit.

Although the origins of the term charley horse are obscure, the first records we have of the term being used come from baseball and describe muscle cramps and limb injuries. There are several explanations as to the origin of this term. One tale attributes the name to an old horse named Charley who pulled equipment for the Chicago White Sox. Another story says that the name refers to pitcher Charley “Old Hoss” Radbourn, who often suffered from leg cramps.

grand slam

This one is over! If a batter scores a grand slam in baseball, it means that they hit a home run while the bases were loaded. The batter scored four runs with a single big hit. Grand slams are rare and often play a big role in deciding the final score of a baseball game.

Appropriately enough for this exciting phrase, the term grand slam is also used to mean a complete victory or total success. If you managed to ace all of your final exams without a single mistake, you pulled off a grand slam. In other sports and competitions, the term grand slam is also often used to mean that a person or team has won every possible championship or accolade they can.

other terms

We haven’t even scratched the surface of all of the baseball expressions that we often use. Apparently, we love baseball so much that we can’t help ourselves from using tons of baseball metaphors and expressions.

 

  • step up to the plate: This phrase means to get ready to take action.
  • touch base: To touch base with someone means to communicate with them or discuss something with them.
  • right off the bat: This phrase means “instantly” or “immediately.”
  • out of your league: If someone says this unfortunate phrase to you, it means they think you are trying to compete with people much better than you. In dating, onlookers will say that a person is out of someone’s league if they think that person is much more attractive or desirable than whoever is interested in them. Doesn’t mean it’s true!
  • hit it out of the park: This phrase means to do something really well. You crushed it!
  • keep your eye on the ball: This phrase is often used as advice to mean to focus on the task at hand.
  • swing for the fences: If someone swings for the fences, it means that they try really hard to accomplish something.
  • play ball: If people are willing to play ball, it means they can cooperate or work together.
  • cover my bases: Someone who covers their bases prepares for every possible outcome or ensures their safety by resolving every problem.
  • three strikes and you’re out: This phrase means that a person is only allowed two mistakes; a person is given three chances to succeed before suffering a punishment or being forced to quit.
  • double-header: This term is used to refer to two things happening one right after another or two things happening at the same time.
  • swing and a miss: A swing and a miss is a failed attempt at something.

Take our quiz!

Batter up! It’s your turn to test your language skills. Review the many baseball terms used here with our handy word list, which has flashcards and a spelling quiz feature. Or go ahead and hit a home run with this baseball terms quiz.

🏏Pick up a bat for terms from another sport

We guarantee if you stick with this list of cricket terms, you’ll never be uncertain about the main points of the game.

Click to read more
Word of the Day

Sep. 29, 2022

Can you guess the definition?

saponify

[ suh-pon-uh-fahy ]

Word of the day
saponify

[ suh-pon-uh-fahy ]

Redefine your inbox with Dictionary.com!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.