Curious About Common Sayings

Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg

The official start of the 2020 MLB season will be on March 29. In the midwest, the opening day of the baseball season was a sure sign that spring would be on its way; however, the weather never fully met up with opening season expectations. Indeed, very often, baseball diamonds at the beginning of the season are pretty chilly – sometimes with snow!

Many people associate baseball with some of the baseball greats: Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig, and, of course, Babe Ruth. A recent book about Babe Ruth (Big Fella by Jane Leavy) gives a comprehensive overview of his life. Not really an aficionado of baseball, I was very much taken with the book, which provides some great trivia about “The Babe,” to wit:

  • His real name was George Herman Ruth, Jr.
  • Before he turned eight, Ruth had already chewed tobacco and drank whiskey for the first time.
  • Ruth died at age 53 from health complications due to nose and mouth cancer.
  • At age 19, he was signed by the Baltimore Orioles.
  • He did not retire as a New York Yankee. Ruth played for Baltimore’s minor league team; he then played in the majors for the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and closed his career out with the Boston Braves.
  • Ruth was not an orphan; he attended St. Mary’s Industrial School for Orphans, Delinquent, Incorrigible and Wayward Boys, as his parents termed him a “difficult child.”
  • Catholic and married, Ruth had several mistresses.
  • The Baby Ruth candy bar was introduced in 1921, but the Curtiss Candy Company insisted that the candy bar was named after Grover Cleveland’s daughter, who died at age 12.
  • More than a half a dozen books have been written about Babe Ruth, not including Babe’s four autobiographies.

Ruth’s life notwithstanding, here are some idioms about America’s national pastime:

(We) Hit a Home Run

The idiom dates from the mid-1900s. A home run is a hit that allows the player to circle all of the bases and score a run. Today, this expression has gained wide acceptance in the business world meaning to perform an action that is very successful.

(This is) A Ballpark Estimate

One is tempted to say that this phrase dates back to the beginning of the sport of baseball; however, the first time this phrase surfaced was in The Wall Street Journal in 1967. It relates, of course, to a number that falls within a reasonable range of values. In the sport of baseball, however, one school of thought is when an announcer at a baseball game makes an estimated guess as to the number of people attending the game.

Play Hardball

Clearly, this idiom originated in the sport of baseball. A hardball is defined as a smaller and harder ball used in baseball, as opposed to a larger and softer ball that is used in softball. This idiom apparently was used for the first time, regarding being aggressive, in 1949 by Robert Ruark, American newspaper columnist. It found prominence again in the 1970s, when the phrase was often used by President Nixon’s speechwriters.