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language of baseball

America’s pastime: the language of baseball

Baseball fans, whether casual or diehard (such as sabermetricians), know that October means one thing: the World Series. First played in 1903, this “Fall Classic” series of games (which, this year, begins on 23 October) determines the World Champion of the professional sport. While its name implies an international contest, the competition actually only includes the North American teams that are members of MLB; Major League Baseball. MLB is divided into two leagues (and even further, into Eastern, Central and Western Divisions within each): the AL (American league) and the NL (National league), with the winners of each league vying for the Commissioner’s Trophy. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, when baseball started out it was known by a number of different names: “‘base ball’ in New York and the Great Lakes region, ‘town ball’ from Philadelphia southwards, and ‘round ball’ in New England. The game was formalized in New York City, and ‘baseball’ became the dominant form.” The first known usage of ‘baseball’ is from 1748: “Now, in the winter, in a large room, they divert themselves at base-ball, a play all who are, or have been, schoolboys, are well acquainted with.”

America’s pastime

Early April sees Opening Day, the first day of the regular season. From there, each team plays 162 games over the course of the regular season.  That’s a total of 2,430 in the regular season alone, a lot of opportunities for fans to spend a day at the ballpark. It is no wonder baseball is commonly referred to as “America’s pastime.” As autumn arrives and children enter a new school year, a ball player’s year begins to draw to a close. It’s at this point that things within MLB grow to a fever pitch. This homestretch towards the playoffs and ensuing games of the post-season are also known as the “pennant race.” The winners of each Division, plus two wild card winners (one team in each league with the best record who did not win their Division) compete for the Pennant, the honor of being league champions. This includes a best-of-five AL and NL Division series, the winners of which move on to a best-of-five AL and NL Championship series. Winners of each league Championship series then face off, at long last, in the best-of-seven World Series.

A league of their own

Diehard fans know all of this like the back of their hand. There are, in fact, different names for various types of serious fans. Those who continue to discuss the sport after the World Series, once the season has drawn to a close, are said to be in a hot-stove league (referencing a discussion taking place around a hot stove in a store, bar, etc., during the winter). Those in a rotisserie league will draft an imaginary team from the existing league players and score points based on the actual performances of those players (“Rotisserie” being derived from the name of the now defunct Manhattan restaurant where the first league discussed the game over lunch in the 1980s: La Rotisserie Française). If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is more commonly known as a fantasy league, which is now popular with sports other than baseball. To aid in the study of these ballplayer performances, a series of statistics have been established down to the science of sabermetrics, coined from the acronym SABR (Society for American Baseball Researchers, founded in 1971). Some of the most basic of these statistics, which you now can find in the box score  (tabulated results) of every game, include RBI (runs batted in, sometimes pronounced “ribbie ”), BA (batting average), and ERA  (earned run average).

No matter what kind of fan you may be, let’s celebrate the start of the World Series with a list of fascinating words and terms from the world of baseball:





bush league



farm team




palm ball



Wiffle ball

Extra Innings

Catch all the baseball wordplay and idioms mentioned above? You can catch even more in the previous OxfordWords entry, “America’s National Language?”


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