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'Dickson's Baseball Dictionary' A Labor Of Love

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'Dickson's Baseball Dictionary' A Labor Of Love


'Dickson's Baseball Dictionary' A Labor Of Love

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. If you're a baseball fan and you want to know the finger position for a screwball or how a Lady Godiva pitch is different from a Linda Ronstadt, maybe you're curious about the etymology of the phrase out in the left field or you need a refresher on the infield fly rule. Well for 20 years, the authority, the baseball Bible, if you will, has been "The Dickson Baseball Dictionary," and it's now out in its third edition, 30-percent bigger with 10,000 terms and 18,000 definitions.

It's an ongoing labor of love for the author, Paul Dickson.

Mr. PAUL DICKSON (Author, "The Dickson Baseball Dictionary"): It's astonishing to me that baseball is able to come with a term for almost anything that it wants to come up with. I mean, one of my favorite new terms is peacocking, and this started with Rickey Henderson, and there was never really a name for it, but often players, for reasons unknown to the human mind will - as they step up to the plate, they'll take their two fingers, the pinching fingers, and they'll pull their blouse out four or five times just to sort of - almost like they're venting their blouse or something.

BLOCK: Their jersey.

Mr. DICKSON: Yeah, their jersey, and it's called peacocking, and so somebody will say - an announcer will say well, so-and-so's coming to the plate and a moment of peacocking before he steps into the batter's box.

BLOCK: This is before they've even done something worth preening about.

Mr. DICKSON: Right. No, this is just sort of a - this is sort of part of the ritual, and so - you see things like peacocking, just - you keep coming in on waves.

There are ephemeral terms that just come and go, and you sort of have to dispense with those, but there are other terms that start to have more than one citation, and you find citations five, 10 years after the event, you know it's in there for good, that it will hang on as something which people will refer to for many years to come.

So the tendency is to actually be able to control yourself and not put everything in there. I mean, Satchel Paige came up with about 70 names of pitches, and only a couple of them got in the book.

BLOCK: Which ones are in?

Mr. DICKSON: Like hesitation pitch, which was one of his favorite ones.

BLOCK: There's a whole bunch of new terms that, it should be no surprise given what's going on in baseball, that were not in the dictionary 10 years ago: bean up, cookie jar, human growth hormone, juice, steroids, steroid-adjustment number, steroid era, Mitchell report, definitely a sign of the times. But here's a surprising one for me, actually, Paul, that amphetamine makes its first appearance in this version even though amphetamines have been in baseball for decades.

Mr. DICKSON: We did that because once - sort of when the steroid thing came along, we felt we sort of had to put that back in, and greenies and all the rest of that stuff from the early era because once that Pandora's box was open, we figured we might as well not make it look like it was just this generation that abused their bodies and made these - went into these things.

So yeah, that's affected the book, and you know, roid, R-O-I-D, and that's in there and a whole bunch of others, but…

BLOCK: Here's another surprising one, surprising to me that it hadn't been in before, and it is Barbarism.

Mr. DICKSON: Oh, for the things that Red Barber said.

BLOCK: Yeah, the colorful homespun phrases from the late, great broadcaster, Red Barber.

Mr. RED BARBER (Sportscaster): And here's the pitch, (unintelligible). It's a long one, deep into left center, (unintelligible), back, back, back, back, back, back. He makes a one-handed catch against the bullpen. Whoa (unintelligible).

Mr. DICKSON: You know - and of course his were many. You know, the FOBs, you know, sitting in the catbird seat. He brought a lot to the language, and the reason we've gone back and added things like that is his stuff is still with us, and so all these people sort of - their voices are still very active. It's like, you know, you still here Stengelese(ph), and you still hear Berra-isms for the quotes of Yogi Berra. So…

BLOCK: I noticed one entry, it's not a new entry, but there's a new quote to define what the term is, new in this version. It wasn't in the old one, and it's wonderful. It's for the word bungle(ph), and the quote comes from the Washington Post in 1900.

Mr. DICKSON: Okay.

BLOCK: Can you read that for us?

Mr. DICKSON: Sure can. A bungle is the most atrocious sort of play. It is one of those (unintelligible) grievous errors where the small boy swallows his chewing gum, the man in the grandstand gets up dejectedly and walks to the first exit, and the top-most bleacherite, where the sun shines hottest, rises to his feet and bawls stentoriously, you soft-shelled lobster.

BLOCK: What a great quote.

Mr. DICKSON: It is a great quote. It is a great quote. It's a language of the people, and so even politicians now, or going back to, say, Roosevelt, often when they want to get a message across to the people, they'll talk in terms of baseball.

I mean, Roosevelt during his fireside chats and other early speeches, Roosevelt would talk about getting to first base with Congress or striking out or his box score on the New Deal.

And other presidents. Eisenhower was another one that used a lot of baseball and football metaphor because it was a way to sort of communicate at a very basic level. And that's what makes a lot of this fun, it's just because it makes the leap out of baseball a lot of times, you know, into other things, as well.

BLOCK: Do you think when you're putting together these dictionaries, as you have now three times, does it teach you something new about the game to think about it this way and the level of the terminology?

Mr. DICKSON: Oh yeah. You find out more about the language, and the fact that there are over 10,000 entries, you begin to realize the degree to which this stuff is part of a cultural whole.

It's mindboggling in the sense that I still sort of pinch myself that something as simple as baseball, you know, a bunch of guys in baggy pants running around in a pasture, has created this sort of this huge language, and it's administrative, and you know, it has to do with injuries, you know, the Tommy Johns surgery(ph), and it has to do with terms, you know, that are archaic, terms that are funny.

You know, one of the better terms in the last year or two, that was Bugs Bunny change-up.

BLOCK: Bugs Bunny change-up.

Mr. DICKSON: Bugs Bunny change-up is a ball that is - it looks like a fastball, but it's really a change-up, and just as it gets to the plate, it appears to stop moments early and then continue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DICKSON: And there's certain - I had to figure out what this was from, and I kept looking and asking people, and the best I could come up with, there was a 1946 Bugs Bunny cartoon, and he would throw the ball, and the ball would stop just before the plate, and the batter would swing and miss the ball, and then the ball would continue after he'd swung.

(Soundbite of cartoon)

Mr. MEL BLANC (Actor): (As Bugs Bunny) Eh, I think I'll perplex him with my slowball.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BLANC: (As Umpire) One, two, three strikes, you're out. One, two, three strikes, you're out. One, two, three strikes, you're out.

Mr. DICKSON: To me, that was just this wonderful bit of freshness, and there were all the other things, I mean, the puns and the stuff that people, when they play around, and that stuff becomes part of the language.

BLOCK: Paul Dickson, great to talk to you. Look forward to the next one.

Mr. DICKSON: Thank you, Melissa. I really appreciate it.

BLOCK: Paul Dickson is the creator of "The Dickson Baseball Dictionary," now in its third edition, and Robert, by the way, I mentioned in the introduction, the Lady Godiva pitch. That mean anything to you?

SIEGEL: The Lady Godiva pitch?

BLOCK: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Is it about - it isn't about curves, is it?

BLOCK: No, it's a pitch with nothing on it, synonymous with nudist pitch, and Linda Ronstadt. What about a Linda Ronstadt?

SIEGEL: Linda Ronstadt. I fear I hear one of the worst puns I've ever heard coming right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: You do. It's a fastball so fast it blew by you.

SIEGEL: Right.

(Soundbite of song, "Blue Bayou")

Ms. LINDA RONSTADT (Singer): (Singing) I'm going back someday, come what may, to Blue Bayou, where the (unintelligible) and the world is mine on Blue Bayou. Where (unintelligible) if I could only see that familiar sunrise through sleepy eyes, how happy I'd be.

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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