B-L Term of the Week: Hot Stove League

Hot Stove League

noun:  sports followers (as of baseball) gathering for off-season discussion.

via Merriam-Webster.com

As I looked for a good official definition of hot stove league, I was finding that many of the traditional sources (such as the one above) weren’t to my satisfaction.  Interestingly, it was Urban Dictionary that had the best, concise definition in my opinion:

The hot stove is a term used to describe all of the personnel movement in baseball. With all of the free agent signings, trades, hirings, and firings.

So as the term evolved, it does really have two meanings.  One, the idea of fans of the game discussing the off-season goings on.  Two, it can mean represent those transactions themselves.

The term hot stove goes back as far as the early 1900’s according to some sources.  It was seen used in The Sporting News in 1920 according to this source.  The idea is that fans would gather around the hot stove to warm themselves and would talk about the upcoming season.  It’s akin to modern day water cooler.

Unlike some archaic baseball terms, hot stove league is very much in use today.  Here are some examples:

image-MLB.com refers to their online free agent/trade database as the Hot Stove Tracker.

-Sports Illustrated files their off-season news at http://tracking.si.com/category/mlb-hot-stove/

-if you’re interested in following all the transactions during the offseason on Twitter, #hotstove is the hashtag you want to follow.

-Tim Dierkes who is editor of the very thorough MLB Rumors.com blog, goes by the Twitter handle @hotstovedotcom

-Illini Baseball holds an annual Hot Stove Banquet

-and practically every baseball podcast out there produces an episode this time of year devoted to free agent signing and player movement.  You can bet most of them have a play on the words “Hot Stove”.  Like this Indians one for example.

It’s interesting to note that though the term originated from waiting for the cold winter to end and the baseball season to start, the term “Hot Stove” is not necessarily relegated to baseball anymore.  It can be used for other sports’ offseasons, as well.

Stay warm, everyone!

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B-L Term of the Week: Tools of Ignorance


Tools of ignorance

noun:  A catcher’s gear.  The coining of the phrase is attributed variously to catcher Muddy Ruel and to Yankee catcher Bill Dickey.

via Wikipedia

When Bleacher Report made their list of the best catchers of all time, they entitled the article Tools of Ignorance:  The 10 Greatest Catchers in MLB History.  No slight there.  As most baseball fans know, it’s a badge of honor.

A slightly humorous tidbit from the April 4, 1944 Sporting News:

“Players call the catcher’s armor the ‘tools of ignorance.’ Outfielders contend that no one in their senses would clutter themselves up with a mask, a heavy chest protector and weigh down their legs with shin guards. All of this when the mercury is trying to climb out of the top of the tube, and those outfielders are on vacation, waiting for something to happen.”

As noted above, “tools of ignorance” has been around since the 1930s and has been attributed to either Muddy Ruel or Bill Dickey, both AL catchers of the era.  And for those wondering, catcher’s gear can include (but is not limited to) mask, mitt, chest protector, shin guard, and cup.

The term may not be as popular as it once was, though.  I used the term “tools of ignorance” once in an article in my blog, Illinois Baseball Report about a University of Illinois catcher.  Someone not familiar with the colloquial phrase called me on it perhaps thinking I was questioning the intelligence of the catcher in question.  Indeed, I was not and I was scrambling to forward references to the term, “tools of ignorance” to vindicate myself.  Fortunately, things worked themselves out.

Baseball Reference Bullpen notes that Tools of ignorance is a rather ironic term, “contrasting the intelligence needed by a catcher to handle the duties of the position”.  Very true.  Rather than “ignorant”, catchers are the closest thing to the quarterback of the baseball team.  They are constantly in the game, calling the pitches, and in closest contact with the manager.

Further, I’m sure someone out there has done an informal study proving that of anyone, more catchers have gone on and become coaches and managers than any other managers.  Ok, here’s one.  And here’s another.  And even another.

So catchers, wear your tools of ignorance with pride.


photo: Wikipedia
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Voles host Uncle Joe Cannon Base Ball Jamboree

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Yesterday at beautiful Kennekuk State Park near Danville, Illinois, the Vermilion Voles vintage base ball team hosted the 2012 Uncle Joe Cannon Base Ball Jamboree and I was a happy spectator.  Other fine participants in the tournament were the Indianapolis Hoosiers, Rock Springs Ground Squirrels and the Springfield Long Nine.

But wait… who was Joe Cannon?  I actually took the time to look him up on Wikipedia before going:

Joseph Gurney Cannon (May 7, 1836 – November 12, 1926) was a United States politician from Illinois and leader of the Republican Party. Cannon served as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1903 to 1911, and historians generally consider him to be the most dominant Speaker in United States history…

Fair enough.

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The scores didn’t matter which is a nice way of saying the Voles lost all three games.  The first game against the Hoosiers was especially one-sided as evidenced by this photo despite a last inning five ace rally by the valiant vermin Voles.  The Hoosiers scored 26 against the Voles but lost in their next game against Springfield.

But the balls were hit hard and some good plays were made by all teams.  For those who were keeping score though, it was the Springfield Long Nine who won all three of their games.  Hats off to them!

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I’ve posted some photos from the day to my Vintage Base Ball photo gallery.

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B-L Term of the Day: Tater




noun:  a homerun

variances:  ‘long tater’


I have heard the term ‘tater’ used to describe a homerun since I was a kid but never knew the origins of the term.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.  David Kaleida didn’t either and decided to find out.  His article at 6-4-3 Putout puts forth several theories on how the term came to be.  There, we find Reggie Jackson’s quote in People Magazine, “Taters, that’s where the money is”.  There’s also the theory that it came from the Negro Leagues where ‘potato’ and ‘long potato’ may have been the originating terms. 

Kaleida points to a SI.com article by Pete McEntegart who says Red Sox first baseman George Scott popularized the term when “he was mashing homers and calling them ‘taters’”.

Current uses in Popular Media

You can look no further than Wezen-ball.com’s alliterative Tater Trot Tracker to find an example of the use ‘tater’ (a rather humorous look at how long every player takes to round the bases after a homerun). 

Back in 2001 when Sosa was doing his thing, the Peninsula Clarion declared ‘Sosa joins exclusive tater club’.

Apparently, there is a piece of baseball equipment called ‘Tater Grip’ used for enhancing your grip on the bat. 

An Iowa high school baseball player has a name that is just made for his sport.  Tater Clubb lives up to his moniker, too.  Not only did he strike 15 opponents from the mound, he also hit a ‘tater’ for his ‘clubb’

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B-L Term of the Day: Hitting Shoes



Hitting Shoes

noun:  a nonsensical term that describes the condition of a player or team which they are hitting the ball better than usual (i.e “Pujols had his hitting shoes on today.  He went 3 for 3 with a homer”.)


I have have heard and used the term “hitting shoes” for quite a number of years now but never knew the extent of its use.  Quite frankly, I wondered if it was a local colloquialism or if was just a term used among certain circles of baseball fans.  But when I received an email update from the captain of the local vintage base ball team using the term, I began to wonder.  In part, his update read:

“Thanks to everyone who made the trip to Hobart yesterday.  The 23-7 final score doesn’t reflect the overall fun we had.  The Grinders had their hitting shoes on and there’s not a lot you can do when every other striker is sending the ball to the river.”

So in essence, my friends and I weren’t the only people who use the rather absurd term “hitting shoes”.  It was more popular than I realized.

But how prevalent is it?  Well, just five days ago, the Zanesville (OH) Times Recorder published an article entitled Cleveland Indians find hitting shoes against Tampa Bay Rays.  Earlier this year, iSportsWeb posted another one called Philadelphia Phillies storyline: hitting shoes found

Personally, I find the term delightful. It’s nonsensical (making the illogical connection between a team’s hitting and the shoes they are wearing) and almost strives to make sense of a unexplained burst of offense when an obvious explanation is not to be found (or perhaps does not want to be found).

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Is baseball losing its touch with slang?

Allen Barra writes about what he sees as the demise of baseball jargon in the Atlantic Monthly.

Baseball language once drew newcomers into the game. Now, it’s becoming a language that shuts many people out, one that makes them feel as if what’s happening on the field is something a little more complicated than they thought. The ultimate result is that we all end up knowing less—particularly about baseball.

I don’t buy all of Barra’s arguments but I certainly see where he’s coming from. Modern sports in general has become more “jargon-happy” in this sound byte generation. 

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B-L Term of the Day: Texas Leaguer


Texas Leaguer

noun:  A Texas Leaguer (or Texas League single) is a weakly hit fly ball that drops in for a single between an infielder and an outfielder.

(definition from Wikipedia’s Glossary of Baseball)

Variances:  flare, blooper, bloop single


While the definition of the Texas Leaguer is pretty consistent, like many baseball terms from the past, stories of its origins vary.  The term seems to have originated in the early 20th century and as the name implies, has something to do with the Texas League Founded in 1888, the Texas League now operates as a Double-A minor league and has a storied history.

Prevailing theories on the origin the term

One theory is that three Texas League players were promoted to the majors and in their first game, helped their team by getting three hits that were pejoratively dubbed “dinky Texas Leaguers”.

Some attribute the ability of Ollie Pickering, a Texas League player to bloop hits in games.  Allegedly, he hit seven hits in his debut game in this manner.

A less exciting theory is that Texas League players were just more adept at hitting the bloop single and using it as an offensive weapon.

Uses in today’s media

You’ll find Texas Leaguer being used still today.  Just last week, the Reading Eagle did a writeup on the Eastern League All-Star Game using the term:

He had a little good fortune on his side with his last two hits. The first fell in the infield when his pop-up glanced off the glove of West catcher Ramon Cabrera of Altoona. The last was a Texas Leaguer that found an open spot in shallow left-center.

…and a Texas League player was nowhere in the vicinity.

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A crank’s perspective of the Northern Illinois Vintage Base Ball Tournament on July 7, 2012


Yesterday, I traveled three hours north to Wheaton, Illinois and attended the Northern Illinois Vintage Base Ball Tournament.  Nine teams participated and played a total of 13 games.

If you’re new to the concept of vintage base ball, the national Vintage Base Ball Association  website has a good summary page.  In short:

Vintage Base Ball is base ball (yes, it was spelled two words prior to the 1880s) played by the rules and customs of the 19th Century. Our players (sometimes called ballists) wear period reproduction uniforms, either with long trouser and shield shirt, or a later style lace shirt and knickers. They recreate the game based on rules and research of the various decades of the mid-to-late nineteenth century. The playing of vintage base ball can be seen at open-air museums, tournament re-enactments and city parks. It is played on both open grass fields and modern baseball diamonds. Spectators may consider vintage base ball to be a new sport, however, some clubs have been in existence since the 1980s. Vintage base ball is a reflection of how baseball existed at an earlier time.

Depending on the vintage base ball team or league and what particular era they are re-creating, the rules are markedly different than today’s.  A few differences:

  • No stealing bases and no leading off.
  • Infielders play at their designated bases and outfielders play in the center of their positions.  Shortstop may play anywhere on the field.
  • Striker (batter) is out if ball is caught on one bounce.
  • Baserunner may be tagged if he runs past first base

…among others, of course.


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Pre-tournament team introductions

Here is the list of the teams that participated in Saturday’s tournament and some links to their respective web sites:

DuPage County Plowboys Aurora Town Club Vermilion Voles
Rockford Forest Citys Chicago Salmon Creston Regulators
Oregon Ganymedes Somonauk Blue Stockings Springfield Long Nine



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Maybe MLB umps should wear top hats with a feather and carry a cane like arbiter Ray “Never Wrong” Grish of the DuPage County Plowboys Chicago Salmon.  Just sayin’.

I attended the tournament as a “crank” (or fan) of my local vintage base ball team, the Vermilion Voles.  I even had the privilege of riding  up with one of the players, Steve “Irish” McGaughey.  Irish gave me the lowdown on the what was going on with the Voles since I hadn’t seen them play for a couple years.


The NIVBBT was held at beautiful Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois though the aesthetics were somewhat overwhelmed by the oppressive near-100 degree heat that wasn’t helped by the warm outfits the players wore.  The uniforms and equipment are all specially ordered by each team to conform to the standards of pre-1880 play.  One advantage, no need to order gloves.  Vintage base ball teams generally don’t use them.

Cantigny Park was large enough so that they could have three or four games going on at one time.  One could walk up and down the sideline and get a good view of all the games.

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Hurler “Jack Rabbit” Rich unleashes the onion

Depending on the event, the focus on vintage base ball is on re-creating a pre-Civil War baseball atmosphere through the rules of play, vernacular, uniforms.  No doubt, everyone plays to win but it’s a gentleman’s (and in some cases, gentlelady’s) game.  An effort is made to inform the cranks in attendance about the game between innings and during down times.

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Ballpark scoreboard… 1858-style

As for the Vermilion Voles, well.. they had better days.  They were shut out the first couple games by the Rockford Forest Citys and DuPage Plowboys respectively.  They got their first lead in the first frame in the game against the Oregon Ganymedes but the fair maiden who was pitching for them held them to two aces for the game.  To be fair, the Voles played hard and the defense was pretty solid. They just couldn’t get the stick to the onion.

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Striker Steve “Irish” McGaughey takes his turn with the willow

I posted more photos here in my Vintage Base Ball photo gallery.

I want to thank the organizers of the Northern Illinois Vintage Base Ball Tournament for hosting a successful event.  I think everyone had a great time.  Also, Vermilion Voles captain Jim “Weedeater” Knoblauch and his lovely wife Joyce deserve a lot of kudos for doing so much for the Voles team.  Finally, thanks again to “Irish” for the ride.  I had a fantastic time.

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July 7th Northern Illinois Vintage Base Ball Tournament (and what’s a tintypist?)

A few weeks ago, I plugged a vintage base ball event at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois.  It’s happening tomorrow and I managed to wrangle a ride with one of the voles 052players on the Vermilion Voles, the local team here.  His name is Steve but goes by “Irish” on the field.

I’m excited to say the least.  It will be the first vintage game I’ll have seen in a year (too long). I’m honored that Voles’ captain Jim “Weedeater” Knoblauch included me on the roster on the internal email to the team.  Under tallykeeper “Hambone” Hamilton was my entry: “Zealot” Nelshoppen – Scribe & Tintypist”

I had to admit, I had to do a search on “Tintypist” to find out its meaning.  Here’s the Wikipedia entry for “Tintype”.   In short:

Tintype, also melainotype and ferrotype, is a photograph made by creating a direct positive on a sheet of iron metal that is blackened by painting, lacquering or enamelling and is used as a support for a collodion photographic emulsion.

I think my photography methods are a little more advanced than that (I hope) but I fully appreciate the sentiment.  Speaking of which, I just migrated my entire vintage base ball photo archive to my SmugMug gallery for better viewing.  Take a look.

Don’t forget to check back next week for photos of this Saturday’s Tournament at Cantigny.

If you’re in the Chicago area and interested in attending the tournament, here’s the official event listing at cantigny.org.

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Rub-down: Lena Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud at the HOF

Here’s a “down-to-earth” story for you.  The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has posted an article about Baseball Rubbing Mud.  Discovered by then Philadelphia Athletics third base coach Lena Blackburne and now produced by Jim Bintliff, Blackburne’s Baseball Rubbing Mud has been a part of baseball for more than 70 years.

“Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud was discovered by former big leaguer and then-Philadelphia Athletics third base coach Lena Blackburne. While searching for a substance that would take the shine off new baseballs but not soften or significantly discolor the cover, Blackburne stumbled upon mud from a Delaware River tributary near his home in Burlington County, New Jersey. The exact location of the mud hole is a well-kept secret.”

Bintliff plans to be on hand this Saturday at the Hall of Fame to present a program on the topic of Rubbing Mud and its role in the history of baseball.

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