The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

THE OCCASIONAL BASEBALL GLOSSARY: A careful reading of Neil's attempts to explain baseball to the always lovely Sophia has convinced me that a glossary of baseball terms is necessary for those of you who are not familiar with the game. As I do not have the time to do a complete glossary, I will do the occasional definition and, of course, I will be more than happy to answer any of your questions.

1. Balk: No one really knows what the hell a balk is; even the umpires aren't all that sure and they've read the rule book, or so they say; sometimes you get the impression they just looked at the pictures; but like pornography, we all know a balk when we see it. Balks have something to do with the pitcher, who is the gentleman standing on that mound of dirt in the middle of the field, moving and then stopping or stopping and then moving without checking if there's a red light at this intersection, thereby causing gridlock from one end of town to the other. Before you try this in your own automobile I suggest you check the traffic conditions in your area.

2. Bat: The bat is the piece of wood with which a batter tries to hit the ball. The bat is usually hewn from Canadian maple or Kentucky ash and should be a solid piece of wood and should not be hollowed out to contain tennis balls, cork, metal, or any other foreign substance that gives the batter an unfair advantage over the pitcher...okay, I can hear you snickering out there, knock it off.

3. Batter: A man who makes what I make in a year for the amount of time it takes him to adjust his jockstrap, and that's without him trying to hit a ball. If he manages to do this three times out of every ten times attempted, he is a good hitter. This may work in baseball, but if the doctor your best friend recommends has a similar average vis-a-vis the survivability of his patients, you may want to get a second opinion about that growth on your left leg.

4. Battery: Oddly enough, batters don't have anything to do with the battery, other than stand between the two people that comprise the battery. For reasons lost in the mists of time, the pitcher and the catcher together are called the battery; no one in the game is called the assault or even the unsalted. No, I don't know why.

5. Ball: There is a difference between the literal ball and the descriptive ball, as you might imagine. The literal ball is the ball with which the game is played. The descriptive ball needs a little explanation.

The batter stands in the batter’s box next to a house shaped plate that is set into the ground. This is home plate and is not available in china or in stoneware, although you could probably pick up a set of them cheap on eBay. The zone between the batter’s knees to the point just under the name of the team on his shirt and extending out to the other edge of the plate is the strike zone, so-called because of baseball's neverending class struggle the player proletariat against the capitalist bastards who ruthlessly exploit them. The American readers will now please stop saying, yeah right. Thank you.

Now, strikes come in a variety of forms. You could not swing at a ball thrown (or pitched, as the process is called in baseball) through the strike zone or you can swing at a ball and miss it entirely or you can swing at it and hit the ball foul, which is to say, on either side of the playing field; this, however, only counts as a strike the first two times you do it—after that you can hit as many foul balls as you want and they don’t count for anything except as a gauge of the pitcher’s frustration. A ball, on the other hand, is any pitch that goes below the batter’s knees or above the letters on the front of his uniform or does not cross over some portion of home plate. The person who determines all of this is the fat guy who stands behind the catcher. This is the umpire, whose job it is to decide whether the pitch was a ball or a strike and to enforce the rules of the game on a bunch of overpaid egomaniacs. The umpire is either, depending on which team you support, a judicious and serious solon carefully and correctly applying the standards of the game, or a stupid, fat, blind as a frigging bat jackass obviously taking money from someone somewhere to make sure your team loses. The general rule of thumb in these cases is that if everyone is mad at the umpire he must be doing something right, and my apologies to Neil for lifting this from his comments section. I just didn't feel like thinking of something fresh.

6. Fly out rule: On a ball hit into the air, the runner cannot advance to the next base until the ball is caught. To advance, the runner must return to his base and touch it, or tagging up, as it's called, and then wait for the opposing player to catch the ball. The runner can use this time to ask the opposing infielder for some money, maybe ten or twenty bucks, you know, just enough to tide him over until payday, or for the loan of his comb, since running the bases does tend to make you look scruffy and this is hardly the image you want to present to the television audience. Once the opposing player catches the ball, the runner can advance if he thinks he can do this safely. Sometimes a batter will hit a fly ball far enough into the outfield that a player can tag up and then run to the next base in relative safety. When this happens, the batter is credited with a sacrifice fly, which, despite its name, has no religious implications whatsoever.

7. Infield fly rule: When there are fewer than two outs and men on first and second base, the umpire may call out a batter who hits a fly ball to one of the infielders. He does not do this because he dislikes the batter, although he could, I suppose, if he really wanted to. The infield fly rule is invoked in order to prevent the infielder from dropping the ball, thereby compelling the runners to advance into a double play, of which more later. This sort of thing was very common in the 19th century, when baseball was not the genteel sport it is today; no one in today's game would think of doing such a thing. You know, I can still hear you people snickering.

8. Double play: A defensive play in which a ball hit by the batter causes two outs instead of the usual one. The ways you can come up with a double play, but the classic one is the 6-4-3 play, in which the shortstop, the player defending the area to the left of second base, fields a ball hit to him and throws the ball to the second baseman, the player defending the area to the right of second base, who then steps on second base, forcing out the runner coming from first, and then throws the ball to first base before the batter can get to it, forcing him out as well. Triple plays exist as well, but they are exceedingly rare, and an unassisted triple play, a play in which one player causes all three outs in a single play, is rarer than chicken teeth; I think there've only been like twelve or thirteen of them in recorded baseball history.

9. Infield: The inner part of the baseball field, where the bases are. You can tell where the infield is by that big stretch of dirt usually a third of the way out in the field. Everything from there in to where the batter stands is the infield. Those lines you see converging at the point where the batter stands are called the baselines; everything inside those lines is fair territory, everything outside those lines is foul territory. It is called foul territory because this is where the players spit their tobacco juice. For all the millions the owners make every year, Major League Baseball is still skimpy about providing the players with spittoons.

10. Outfield: The large prairie beyond the infield, inhabited largely by cud chewing ruminant millionaires.


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