Baseball is not without its charms

Jim Bouton in 1969

Born in New Jersey in 1939, Jim Bouton spent six years pitching for the New York Yankees in a career that spanned the sixties and seventies. However, it is for his diary that Bouton is now widely remembered—an amusing and candid record of the 1969 season that disrupted the sport’s guarded image, lifting the lid on its players’ drunkenness, drug use, and marital infidelity. For exposing the game’s underbelly, Bouton was ostracised by the baseball community and pilloried in the press; however, the backlash only served to alert the wider public to his diary, and soon Ball Four became one of the fastest selling sports books in history.

The Diary Entry
A page from the draft of Ball Four  
Jim Bouton Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

July 22

I take this opportunity to present a lexicon of words and phrases encountered around baseball that are, more or less, unique to the game. There are a great many phrases having to do with a pitcher throwing at a batter. Among them are:

Chin music, as in “Let’s hear a little chin music out there,” this being a suggestion that the pitcher throw the baseball near the hitter’s chin.

Purpose pitch, which is a pitch that knocks a batter down purposely, or perhaps may just

Spin his cap.

Keep him honest, which means, make the batter afraid if you can.

Loosen him up, meaning that if enough baseballs are thrown close to a hitter, he’ll fall down easily.

Other phrases that often come up in conversation are:

Tweener, any ball hit not especially hard but directly between two outfielders, neither of whom can reach it in time.

Take him over the wall, hit a home run, as in “Horton took Bouton over the wall in the fifth.”

Down the cock is the quintessence of the hitting zone. Any pitch like that is bound to be Juiced, with some kind of power.

Parts of the body also have special appellations:

Boiler, as in “he’s got the bad boiler,” or upset stomach. Hose is arm.

Moss is hair.

Shoes are kicks and clothes are vines, and when the bases are loaded they’re drunk. A good fielder can really pick it, and if you want to tell a guy to go sit down, it’s Go grab some bench. Organized baseball is O.B., and a stupid player has the worst head in O.B. Wheels are legs, and an infielder has the good hands or the bad hands as girls have the good wheels or the bad wheels. For some reason the definite article is important there. An angry man has the red ass or the R.A. 

Camp followers, whether they’re eleven or sixty-five or somewhere in between, are called Baseball Annies. And if a player, coach or manager should bring a girl with him to another city, she’s called an import. If an import is a mullion, she may have to pay her own way.

A pimple or boil is called a bolt, as in “get a wrench for that bolt.” A hard line drive is a blue darter, frozen rope or an ungodly shot. To think is to have an idea, so that when a pitcher seems to be losing his cool a coach might shout at him, “Have an idea out there.”

And a fellow who talks big but appears to lack courage is said to have an alligator mouth and a hummingbird ass.

Baseball is not without its charms. 

Further Reading

Jim Bouton’s papers, including drafts of the Ball Four manuscript as seen above, are held at the Library of Congress. Ball Four was first published in 1970, edited by Leonard Shecter, and various updated editions have since followed. I don’t follow baseball but thoroughly enjoyed Bouton’s diary.


Diary entry excerpted from Ball Four by Jim Bouton. Page 332. Copyright © 1970, 1981, 1990, 2000 by Jim Bouton. Turner Publishing Company, LLC. Reproduced with permission.

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