Letters: Sports

Hosts Melissa Block and Audie Cornish read letters from listeners. Today's letters are all about sports.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's time for your letters and, today, they're all about sports.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Last week, we aired a story about the 40th anniversary of Title IX. We referred to the golf adage, hit the ball, Alice, as a sexist insult about a weak putt. Well, several of you, including Kenneth Gookin(ph) of Dallas, say Alice isn't who we think she is.

CORNISH: He writes, you see, the Alice in hit the ball, Alice is spelled A-L-L-I-S-S, as in Peter Alliss, the famous British golfer and commentator. The phrase originated at the 1963 Ryder Cup in which Mr. Alliss participated. In one of his matches, Mr. Alliss badly missed a three-foot putt and someone yelled from the crowd, nice putt, Allis. From this, the phrase evolved into hit the ball, Alliss. So, next time you hear this phrase, please understand its origins and do not immediately cast the perpetrator as sexist.

BLOCK: Well, in search of the truth, we called one of the only people who might know. Peter Alliss, age 81, now a golf commentator for the BBC, and he says the phrase preceded him.

PETER ALLISS: In the 1930s, Alice was a girl's name associated with rather genteel people who were married into the upper classes. And, being a delicate creature, if you didn't hit the ball hard enough, oh, come on, Alice. Hit it, Alice.

CORNISH: Peter Alliss also says his father, Percy Alliss, a famous golfer in his own right, would himself hear hit the ball, Alliss, if his putts came up short and, he adds, he doesn't mind being connected to the phrase.

ALLISS: I'm quite happy to be associated with it because it's not too painful and it's not too rude and it's not too derogatory, but it wasn't instigated by the Alliss family.

BLOCK: There's another sports adage we need to correct. Yesterday, some of you heard us say that, in baseball, the tie goes to the runner. That is if the base runner and the ball arrive at the base at the same time, we said the runner is safe.

CORNISH: Well, it turns out that time worn phrase is not an actual rule, after all. We talked to Charlie Reliford, who was an umpire for 19 years in the Major Leagues. He says the ump has to decide which came first, the runner or the ball. There can't be a tie.

But what if the impossible happens and there really is a tie at the base?

CHARLIE RELIFORD: Well, if we were going to split hairs to that fine of a degree, I would have to say that the runner would be safe, as the fielder did not tag him before he touched the base.

BLOCK: We appreciate your letters. Please write to us by visiting NPR.org. Click on Contact Us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: This is NPR News.

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