Well, beat the drum and hold the phone
the sun came out today
We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field
A-roundin’ third, and headed for home
it’s a brown-eyed handsome man
Anyone can understand the way I feel
– John Forgety, “Centerfield” (1985)
Spring training has begun. Every team is fresh as the new grass growing in baseball stadiums and parks across the country. Few sports connect us with our past, while immersing us completely in the present… all while we dream of the future we hope for. Baseball mixes the present and the past in the simple things as the pump/walk up songs players use as the prepare to enter that holy batter’s box.
Baseball means a lot to a bunch of us and those meanings are a grab bag of memories and hopes tinged with both happiness and the sad reminder of the days (and people) who came before us. As stated by Jason Marlo (at sidepoints.com), baseball means “… hope springing eternal and waiting for next year, again, and again, and again.” This game, this passion, not only tells us things about our favorite teams and players, it tell us about ourselves, our friends, our parents, and our kids. Baseball is one of those things that roots us in community. If you are a fan, you know baseball is about how you view yourself, your world, and your universe. Baseball is a living and breathing entity that encapsulates our soul.
Baseball defines our world and our jargon. Baseball has taught me the importance of understanding words and their meanings. Baseball has taught me shit. That singular word that your mother hated hearing, yet the word you learned from your dad and friends (also learned from their dads). That word, on the surface representing fecal excrement, means so much more. Like baseball, shit is more than a single definition… it is a multiple of things for a multiple of reasons.
In baseball, shit means: 1. Slang for a breaking pitch. 2. Slang for an expression of exaggeration, disappointment, disparagement, or pretense.1 Lawrence Frank considered the points of difference among “bullshit,” “horseshit,” and chickenshit” as defined in the realm of baseball folk speech: “The basic distinctions are that ‘bullshit’ means ‘not true’, ‘horseshit’ means ‘bad’ or ‘low class’, and ‘chickenshit’ means ‘gutless.’2
Additionally, ‘bullshit’ is often used as a retort, or as an immediate reaction to an event. It is of a slightly stronger sense than the other two and thus often said in a harsher tone. ‘Horseshit’ is of a lesser degree accusative and often simply descriptive. Thus it is applicable in many more circumstances than ‘bullshit.’ ‘Chickenshit’ is the most specific of the three terms and is thus applicable in fewer situations.3
Kevin Kerrane noted that ‘horseshit’ is a “handy label” among baseball scouts for “anything deserving a low grade.”4 Detroit Tiger’s manager Jim Leyland told his team after a player embarrassed his third base coach “If you ever do anything like that again … I’ll quit. Because I don’t want anything to do with that kind of horseshit.”5
Baseball is a vast experience that wraps hundreds of years of America into a single game. Baseball is about choking up on the bat with two strikes and thinking “horseshit” as you wait for that one single, sweet pitch that will enter your wheel house … and, following the crack of a bat, then arc beautifully out of the park on a sticky and humid summer evening. I don’t believe in heaven but I have played and watched the closet thing imaginable to it.
1. Paul Dickson, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, 3rd ed., p. 768.
2. Lawrence Frank, Playing Hardball: The Dynamics of Baseball Folk Speech, 1983, pp. 57-58.
3. Paul Dickson, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, 3rd ed., p. 768.
4. Kevin Kerrane, Dollar Sign on the Muscle, 1984, pp. 90-91.
5. Jim Leyland as quoted in Sports Illustrated, Oct. 23, 2006, p. 44.