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Posted: Friday October 27, 2006 10:09AM; Updated: Monday October 30, 2006 9:10AM
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6. Why is a home run known as a tater?

Answer: Several theories here. Dickson notes that it might have originated in the Negro leagues as "potato" and "long potato," but slugging first baseman George (Boomer) Scott popularized the term when he was mashing homers and calling them taters from 1966 to '79, most notably with the Red Sox. Hendrickson, meanwhile, offers that tater "possibly derives from the admiring expression that's some potatoes that fans early in the game's history would shout out after a player got a good hit." Those of you befuddled as to why "good" and "potatoes" might be used as synonyms obviously aren't Irish.


7. Why is the area that baseball relief pitchers warm up in known as a bullpen?

Answer: Again, several plausible explanations. The most felicitous theory, and the most widely accepted, comes from the Bull Durham Tobacco signs featuring a large, brightly colored bull that ringed many outfield fences early in the 20th century. Any batter whose home run hit the bull would win $50 and two bags of Bull Durham. Since pitchers often warmed up near the Bull Durham sign, the area became known as the bullpen. Then again, a "bull pen" was an established term for a stockade or log enclosure for holding either cattle or prisoners since the early 19th century. Dickson also cites two other interesting theories. First, legendary manager Casey Stengel said that managers got sick of all the extra pitchers sitting in the dugout "shooting the bull" because they weren't playing, so they confined the chatterboxes to an outfield enclosure. Finally, relief pitchers might be viewed like the "reserve bulls" in bullfighting, which are penned near the arena in case the "starting" bull lacks spunk and needs replacing. Indeed, fans have wanted to see many a lousy closer gored.

8. Why is the deciding game or match in a tied series, such as the third game of a baseball series in which each team has won once, known as the rubber match?

Answer: Though the phrase dates back to the late 16th century according to Hendrickson, nobody is certain of the etymology or in what sport it originated. The earliest recorded use of it appears to be a 1599 reference to the game of bowls cited in the Oxford English Dictionary. (Bowls, or lawn bowling, is a sport similar to bocce.) It was used in card games by the mid 18th century, again with the current meaning of a deciding contest between two tied opponents. The word "rubber" here also seems to derive from a word of unknown origin, not the bouncy substance called "rubber" or the verb "to rub." Thus there's no connection either to the pitching rubber, or whatever it is that Kenny Rogers rubs on his pitching hand.

9. Why is "K" the scoring designation for strikeout?

Answer: Dickson offers two theories. First is that when Henry Chadwick invented his baseball scoring system in 1861, that was what he picked for "struck out." In 1883 Chadwick explained his decision thusly: "It was the prominent letter of the word 'strike,' as far as remembering the word was concerned." The second theory is similar but gives credit to M.J. Kelly of the New York Herald and not Chadwick for picking the letter. Hendrickson offers another version, citing the baseball commissioner's office. When a hitter in the early days struck out, it was said that "he struck." Perhaps because "S" was already designated for "sacrifice," the last letter of "struck" was used for strikeout. Remember too (and this is me speculating) that in early baseball, the bunt was more popular and the strikeout much less frequent than in the modern game. That could be why "sacrifice" beat "strikeout" to the "S." Besides, who would want to call Dwight Gooden "Doctor S"?

10. Why is a pitch into the batter's prime hitting zone said to be "in the wheelhouse"?

Answer: Dickson defers to the informed speculation of Peter Tamony, who wrote about the "wheelhouse" for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1959 and miraculously avoided a jail sentence in the process. Tamony suggested that batters "wheel" at the ball ("take good, level, 'roundhouse' swings") and that such wheels "probably suggested the word association, 'wheelhouse.'" Nautical buffs will note that the wheelhouse, or pilothouse, is the place from which a vessel is controlled. When a batter gets one in his wheelhouse, he is indeed the captain (i.e. in control) of the at-bat.

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