Slide into the Playoffs With a Baseball Vocabulary Lesson

3 min read

Each October, we learn which baseball teams can go the distance when the Major League Baseball Playoffs commence. As the World Series hopefuls eye the upcoming contests, settle in for 10 pieces of crackerjack baseball lingo. If you’re not a season ticket holder, prepare to be stumped by the last few entries.


Also a term for a long, triangular flag, this is a National League or American League (the two sides that make up the MLB) championship. After achieving victory through three rounds of post-season playoffs, the two teams that “win the pennant” then face off in the World Series. Through the 1968 season, the pennant was awarded to the single team with the best win-loss record. Afterward, it became tied to playoff performance.  

Rally Cap

If a fan or player’s team is losing, they might employ this superstition to help change the outcome of the game. A “rally cap” is a baseball hat worn inside-out and backwards or sideways. The idea is that by giving up a little personal dignity, the team might benefit from some extra luck. Detroit Tigers players are credited with starting this trend during the 1945 World Series, where they eventually prevailed over the Chicago Cubs.

Designated Hitter (DH)

The major (and somewhat controversial) difference between play in the American and National Leagues is that in the former, pitchers do not have to bat. Instead, the pitcher’s spot in the batting order is set aside for the designated hitter, a player without a defensive position in that game. While some teams have a go-to designated hitter, on others, the position rotates, falling to whatever fielder needs rest. The American League implemented designated hitters in 1973, and as part of the health protocols of the 2020 season, both sides allowed them; in 2021, however, National League pitchers are back to hitting. During the World Series or interleague play, the host team’s league determines if designated hitters are used.

Small Ball

It’s an offensive strategy — often a mixture of bunts, sacrifice flies, and stolen bases — that advances runners into scoring position one base at a time rather than by relying on powerful home runs. In college baseball, the opposite of “small ball” is known as “gorilla ball.”      

Moon Shot

Manifested as a soaring home run, the term was coined by Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully in 1959, when outfielder and first baseman Wally Moon joined the team. During Moon’s first season on the West Coast, he nabbed 19 home runs, some of which were estimated to exceed heights of 40 feet.

No Decision

When it comes to pitcher stats, not necessarily the final outcome of the game, “no decision” occurs when a starting pitcher is credited with neither a win nor a loss. To be named the winning pitcher, a player must remain in the game for at least five innings, and exit while their team has the lead. An earlier exit can lead to a no decision. Ditto if a starting pitcher leaves while the score is tied, or if the score changes after he is relieved.

Hitting for the Cycle

If a batter hits a single, double, triple, and home run within one game, that’s “hitting for the cycle.” This phenomenon has occurred 333 times to date in Major League Baseball, or in less than 1 percent of all games. Many thousands of players have achieved the feat minus the triple. In 1882, Charles “Curry” Foley of the Buffalo Bisons was the first player credited with hitting for the cycle.

Chin Music

This lyrical term means a pitch thrown high and inside, close to the batter’s face. The pitcher can be ejected from the game if an umpire believes he is trying to intimidate or intentionally hit a batter. Historically, “chin music” has had multiple meanings. In 1895, author Stephen Crane used the expression to classify idle chatter in The Red Badge of Courage. From the late 1800s until World War II, the phrase referred to heckling among baseball fans.

Immaculate Inning

When a pitcher garners three consecutive strikeouts by either throwing nine center-of-the-plate pitches, or racking up strikes through a combination of pitches and the batter’s fouled balls, that’s an “immaculate inning.” The Boston Beaneaters’ John Clarkson threw the first immaculate inning in 1889, but later decades passed in which none were recorded. Immaculate innings became more common with the increasing use of relief pitchers — five have occurred in 2021. Nine immaculate innings (or eight, for the home team’s pitcher) equal a perfect game.

Texas Leaguer

A single that lands between an infielder and an outfielder is a “Texas Leaguer.” The term was inspired by Ollie Pickering, who started playing for the Cleveland Blues in 1901, following a very successful stint in the Texas League. In each of his first seven Major League at-bats, Pickering hit these hard-to-catch singles.

Featured image credit: EHStock/ iStock

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