Posted: Friday October 27, 2006 10:09AM; Updated: Monday October 30, 2006 9:10AM
Mike Tyson throws a haymaker at Brian Nielsen during their 2001 bout.
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Welcome to the inaugural edition of "Ask The 10 Spot," in which we answer readers' inquiries as to the origin of sports idioms by relying on the vast resources of the SI library (and where necessary, a little thing called the Internet). Since all these questions were submitted by more than one reader, they've been paraphrased here for simplicity's sake. Expect a second edition of "Ask The 10 Spot" soon (perhaps Friday, Nov. 17) since 10 spots aren't enough to satiate your admirable curiosity.
1.In boxing, why is a big punch known as a haymaker?
Answer: According to author Robert Hendrickson, the term probably derives from the expression to make hay, meaning "to take full advantage of one's opportunities," and the hay, "sleep or unconsciousness." It also suggests the idea of a farm worker swinging a scythe in a wide arc while haymaking (i.e. cutting tall grass or alfalfa in huge swaths, then setting it out to dry so it can be eaten by farm animals). The expression was popularized by radio boxing announcers, when apparently one needed more creativity than simply bellowing "Let's get ready to rummmmble!" before every fight to get famous. Boxer "Gentleman Jim" Corbett used the expression several times in his 1925 autobiography, The Roar of the Crowd, to mean a heavy blow, usually a knockout punch.
2.In baseball, why is a bloop hit called a Texas Leaguer?
Answer: Hendrickson, author of The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins as well as Grand Slams, Hat Tricks & Alley-Oops: A Sports Fan's Book of Words, traces this term to 1886. In that year three players who had been traded up to the majors from a Texas League team enabled Toledo to beat Syracuse by repeatedly getting bloop hits. After the game, Hendrickson wrote, the disgusted Syracuse pitcher described the hits as just "little old dinky Texas Leaguers," and the name stuck. (Sadly, Toledo and Syracuse didn't stick in the bigs.) But Paul Dickson, author of The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary -- which makes for fascinating reading, by the way -- offers no less than six plausible origins, each with citations. The most intriguing is the Gulf Stream theory, attributed to Giants infielder Larry Doyle (who played from 1907 to '20). Doyle told a writer in 1948 that the Gulf Stream (the ocean current, not the fancy private jet) often affected fly balls in Texas League cities. A ball would seem to be hard-hit enough that it would be certain to reach an outfielder and too far for an infielder to get, only to get knocked down by the stiff wind and fall between them.
3.How did football's flea-flicker get its name?
Answer: In a flea-flicker, the quarterback typically hands off or laterals to a running back, who after running several steps turns around and laterals back to the quarterback, who then heaves the ball downfield to a (hopefully) open receiver. The play and its name are both credited to legendary University of Illinois coach Bob Zuppke, who intended the phrase to evoke the quick, flicking action of a dog getting rid of fleas. (We got that from the 1967 book Football Lingo, co-authored by none other than SI.com's own Dr. Z, so you know it's right.) Zuppke wrote in a 1951 letter that he introduced the flea-flicker while coaching at Oak Park High in 1910 before he arrived in Champaign, though his description ("a short forward pass ending in a lateral, with interference for the ballcarrier") sounds more like a hook-and-ladder or hook-and-lateral. The prevailing modern version of the flea-flicker might actually be closer to another Zuppke innovation involving a "multiplicity of passes" that he dubbed the "flying trapeze." I'd ask Dr. Z myself, but frankly, the man terrifies me.
4.Where does "getting off the schneid" come from?
Answer: The term comes from gin rummy. In that game, a "schneider" or "schneid" is when one prevents an opponent from scoring a point in a game or match. In sports, the "schneid" has become a general term for being scoreless, winless, hitless or other unsavory "-less" states. Thus when one achieves that first run, point, win, hit, etc., one is said to have "gotten off the schneid." The actual word originates from the German and Yiddish term schneider, for one who cuts cloth, i.e. a tailor. Sadly, we could find no proven link to the handyman from One Day at a Time.
5.Where does the expression "ducks on the pond," referring to men on base in baseball, come from?
Answer: The term was popularized by longtime Senators broadcaster Arch McDonald, an Arkansas native who first called games in the nation's capital from 1934 to '56. Exactly what McDonald had in mind, alas, is something of a mystery. One theory (Dickson's) is that runners on base are "bobbing about," waiting for a hit to send them home. Another theory, and frankly I'm making this one up as I go, is that the southern-bred McDonald was mixing his baseball metaphors with hunting. Indeed, "like shooting ducks on the pond" is an established idiom with a meaning similar to "shooting fish in a barrel." In other words, when a bunch of ducks are sitting together and floating in/on a pond, they're a lot easier to shoot than when they are flying through the air. Thus for a batter, having several runners on base might provide a similarly appetizing opportunity. Alas, McDonald passed away in 1960 and nobody thought to ask him and/or record the answer for posterity.