Come To Think of It: Baseball's Lexicon, When You Don't Mean What You Say

Bob WarjaSenior Writer IJune 29, 2009

The lexicon in the English language has been forever altered by the assimilation of social networking tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, and instant messaging into our everyday conversation.

Just as “idk” and “tmi” has forever altered the landscape of informal language, so too, has Major League Baseball always had its own paradigm when it comes to how things are expressed.

And it may not be surprising to learn that these phrases often hide the true meaning of what someone is really trying to say. 

While the meaning of phrases like ”ducks on the pond” and “Uncle Charlie” are fairly well known, I will attempt to look beyond the obvious and get at the hidden meanings of some of the jargon used by major league baseball officials, broadcasters, writers, and even the players themselves.

Enjoy, and feel free to add your own.


What they say: “Flu-like symptoms”

What it really means: Who knows?

This is a relatively newer phenomenon to baseball. Perhaps because baseball doesn’t want to confuse symptoms with the H1N1 virus, teams are instructed to use this phrase to cover a variety of ailments.

Maybe a player has a hangover.

Perhaps he has food poisoning.

Could be just a cold.

Nobody knows.

All we do know is that player is unavailable that day, only to make a miraculous recovery the next day.

Seemingly gone are the days of the “ate some bad pizza” or “bad mayo on the sandwich” excuses.

No need, this one covers them all.

Remember when Michael Jordan would have “flu-like symptoms” and then drop 50 on an opponent?


What they say: “Forearm tightness”

What it really means: Elbow hurts like hell.

The forearm is often used by pitchers as a substitute for the elbow so as not to alarm anyone. Elbow pain usually conjures up visions of Tommy John surgery, so teams often want to avoid that kind of talk.


What they say: “makeup issues”

What it really means: Player is immature and possibly a clubhouse cancer.

When they say a player has “all the tools” yet has makeup issues, this is a nice way of saying that the player doesn’t play well with others in the sandbox.

Or, they are loaded with physical ability, but weren’t in line when God was handing out brains.

It does not mean they use too much blush on their faces or that their shade of lipstick is all wrong.  

Unless…no, we won’t go there.


What they say: “Shoulder fatigue”

What it really means: “My shoulder/arm hurts so bad I want to punch a hole in the wall.

Club officials and even players often go to great lengths to avoid using the word “pain”. While shoulders can get tired, that is not what they are usually describing when they use this term.

Like “tightness” and “stiffness”, fatigue is one of those words used to hide a possible injury.


What they say: “An organization guy”

What it really means: This guy will never make the major leagues.

When a General Manager acquires a player and refers to him as an “organization guy”, he is referring to a player that was included as part of a trade mainly to fill out its minor league roster.

You need guys like that, though they seldom help the big league club.


“A Can of Corn”

Oh, and calling an easy fly ball a can of corn comes from a much earlier time in the history of baseball.

Way back in the day before the era of supermarkets, you would go to the local grocer and, since their stores were small, they would stack can goods on shelves behind the counter almost to the ceiling.

When you needed say a can of corn, you would tell the grocer and he would reach up with a set of pincers on a long pole and grab the can.  Then they would drop it and catch it, hence an easy fly ball being a "can of corn".

It all depends on its interpretation.

Some days you’re the hydrant, some days you’re the dog, come to think of it.