Baseball and softball have their own language. In previous language chats we’ve talked about pitching lingo. We also covered a long list of cheers for fans to use, and avoid, when teams are at bat. Today we’re taking a closer look at some of the comments you might hear coming from the bench, or a play-by-play announcer, when a team is at the plate.
Let’s start with some words used to describe spots on the field.
Alley: When you hear someone yell, ‘Bowl it down the alley’, what they are saying is hit it to the space between the outfielders.
If you’ve ever watched a game and wondered what the numbers on the wall, 350 or 400 mean, you are looking at the distance between home plate and the fence. These spaces are called the power alleys because they are the spots where power hitters, who we’ll soon define, usually place balls. Because most players won’t hit deep these area are often left behind a fielder so they can cover more ground quickly. When a batter can place the ball deep enough, the chase is on and the advantage goes to the runners.
Gap: More often than alley, you will hear the bench yell, ‘Find the gap’, or ‘Hit to the gap.’ The gap is any empty space between two outfielders. You are most likely to hear this term used by a play-by-play person in this context, ‘That’s a gapper.’ This means the ball landed between the fielders and allowed the runs some breathing room on the bags.
At the plate there are a few terms to describe what the batter is doing or is expected to do.
If the coach tells a player to choke up on the bat s/he’s instructing them to grip the bat higher on the barrel to try and increase their control of the bat.
When you hear someone tell a batter to stop chasing the ball, they are telling the person at the plate not to swing at pitches outside the strikezone. Some power hitters love to swing at those outside pitches. It is a reminder to them not to swing at what would otherwise be a ball.
A patient batter can work the count to their advantage. This means they stay ahead in the count, getting more balls than strikes, by being selective in what they swing at, forcing the pitcher into the strikezone rather than swinging, expecting every pitch to be a strike.
A batter who is impatient at the plate and swinging at everything might be instructed by teammates to, ‘Wait for yours.’ This is a gentle way of saying, ‘Sit back. Make her pitch to you.’ It is a way to remind the batter to take control of the at bat and decide if what is being thrown is worth the swing.
When a batter has been instructed to bunt and then the bunt is off, it is said they are given permission to swing away. This means they are free to, once again, swing at any pitch that looks good to them. Another term for this is a green light.
A whiff is a no contact swing and a miss that results in a strikeout. The wiffle ball is named after this term that the inventor’s son and friends used to describe a strikeout, so it has been a part of the game at least since the early 50s.
A punchout means the batter was 'caught looking' and the umpire ‘punched him out’ referring to the signal the umpire uses to make the call. This means that the batter did not swing at the final pitch that resulted in their called strikeout.
A free pass means the batter is, ‘Taking a walk’ to first. The pitcher threw four balls.
When a batter makes contact there are a variety of ways to define that contact.
If they hit a chopper that means they’ve hit a ground ball that hit the ground hard and bounced back at the fielder high in the air. When an announcer describes it you might hear them say, ‘That ball took a high hop making it tough for Smith to get a glove on it.’
A frozen rope refers to a solidly hit line drive. This term was popularized in the early 1990s by a line of baseball-themed Ts put to market with a Frozen Rope logo.
When a player hits for the cycle, this means they have hit a single, double, triple and a homerun in one game.
Dinger, four bagger, go deep, go yard, no matter how you say it you’re talking about a home run. When the announce says ‘He touched them all.’ You know he’s saying the ball has left the park.
A grand slam is a supped up homer. It means the player hit a home run when the bases were loaded resulting in four runs crossing the plate.
There are a few terms to describe the type of batter someone might be at the plate.
A slugger or power hitter is a person who tends to hit with power. They generally strikeout a lot but, when they make contact, what they hit is very rarely a single.
A cleanup hitter is a person with a lot of power who generally hits well enough to clean up the bases, meaning bring anyone who is on base in to score.
A contact hitter is a batter that consistently puts the ball in play but generally doesn’t have a lot of power in their swing. They are often used as the ‘easy out’ to advance runners into scoring position so somewhere in the later part of the middle of a lineup. This gives them a lot of RBIs which help to keep their batting average in a reasonable spot in spite of the outs.
When a team bats around, this means they have gone through the full lineup and the batter that started the inning is, once again, at the plate for the second time in the same half inning.
There are three terms often used to discuss the batter’s situation at the plate in relation to the pitcher.
If a pitcher throws some chin music, he is throwing close to the batter’s head. This is often done to move the batter back off the plate. Some batters crowd the plate, meaning they move in closer to it, to try and force the pitches to come on the outside corners or to other spots where they prefer to hit. It is also done in an effort to shrink the pitcher’s strikezone and increase the likelihood of getting a ball or hit by a pitch. If a pitcher likes to throw inside, it can be done as a strategic move serving no other purpose than to simply throw them off their rhythm.
Rather than hit a batter, which would be a reward as the batter will get 1st base, the pitcher will cut it close up high to tell the guy at the plate to play fair. It’s one thing to get hit by a baseball to your side, an entirely different story to be willing to take one to the helmet and most batters will get the message without contact being made. It is never acceptable to actually hit someone with a pitch but it is especially not okay to throw at a guy’s head. That’s why it’s called chin music. It’s close enough to make the batter take notice but never intended to make contact. These are moves, both as a batter and a pitcher, generally reserved for professionals as it takes a great deal of control and finesse, on both sides, to avoid any problems.
Used to describe the same scenario you might hear people say, ‘That pitch was a brushback.’ This is another way to describe a pitch thrown high and tight, meaning thrown high in the strikezone and in tight to the batter. It is an intentionally thrown ball specifically thrown, again, to get the batter to stop crowding the plate.
Both chin music and a brushback are different than a beanball. A beanball is thrown with the intent of hitting the batter. They are most often thrown with the batter’s head as the target. This is a forbidden pitch as it the risk of damage is too great. A ball to the head, helmets and all, can be fatal. If intent is suspected, a pitcher will nearly always be immediately ejected.
Here is the exception. Sometimes a beanball is thrown because a batter on that pitcher’s team was hit the previous half inning. One hit-by-pitch won’t usually escalate this situation. It is generally when there is a pitcher who is going after guys, one after the other, up around the shoulders. These pitchers are called beanballers and it is the pitcher on the other bench’s job to let their team know ‘If you keep going after ours, we’re coming after yours.’ When a batter on your team is harmed, it is the unwritten rule in baseball that you ‘defend’ him in a sense by throwing at one of their batters.
In these cases, the pitcher tries to throw soft simply to make the point. He knows it's not the batter's fault, and the batter generally knows it's coming. Most players walking up to bat directly following a bad scenario in the previous inning will tend to have their back turned out a bit more, giving the pitcher a welcoming target to do their job for the team from the mound but also letting them know where they’d rather the pitch land. It’s a way of saying, ‘I understand what you have to do now. Tell you what, you hit me here and I won’t charge the mound. Deal?’ When the next batter happens to be that pitcher, well... All bets might be off then.
These situations will nearly always end with the pitcher being ejected and can lead to fights on the field, depending on the scenario, so best to aim for the strikezone and play the game straight.
When a batter or pitcher are behind in the count, this means that they are losing the battle at the plate. A pitcher with more balls than strikes during an at-bat, or a batter with more strikes than balls, are behind in the count.
The final batter/pitcher term we’ll leave you with today is walk off. When a hit ends the game by creating the go-ahead run at the end of the 9th, it is called a walk off. This is a very recent term in baseball history. It was only coined in the later half of the 20th century by pitcher Dennis Eckersley. The meaning has recently been changed as well. According to MLB records, “the term walk-off was originally coined by pitcher Dennis Eckersley to describe game-ending home runs that were so deep, you didn't have to look at them as a pitcher. You just "walked off."
You will hear a distinct age divide between announcers and journalists who use walk off to describe this play and those who simply use the age-old term game winning. Like the bat flip and watching your homerun, using the term walk off to describe a winning run today implies showmanship and that is not really baseball.
There are a myriad of ways to describe what's happening at the plate. These are some of the ones that have stood the test of time. You'll hear them at the park and on the air and you'll likely read them on the sports pages. Many announcers and writers alike are on a quest to coin the next great phrase so you'll no doubt, always be updating your sports vernacular. No matter the new kids on the block, these seem to stand the test of time so you should always be understood if you reference any of them when discussing the game.