Friday Oct 20

Ten Origins of Popular Sports Terms

  • The Mendoza Line- The .200 AVG threshold, below which a player is essentially considered unstartable. Poor Mario. There have been countless hitters throughout baseball history who have sucked it up at the plate, but none are indelibly linked to batting ineptitude quite like 1970's shortstop Mario Mendoza. Though in fact a lifetime .215 hitter, his frequent dips below the .200 threshold earned him constant taunts from teammates. After a horrendous start one year by George Brett, colleagues began jokingly warning him about the danger of sinking below the dreaded "Mendoza line." Brett passed the running joke on to Chris Berman, who in turn disseminated it to the masses from his pulpit on Sportscenter, and the rest is history.

  • Soccer- There are two things Americans will never go for, rest of the world be damned: the metric system and calling soccer anything but. But the next time an uppity European gives you crap for calling "football" soccer, you can remind them that it was their idea in the first place. During the mid-1800's when the rules of "football" were first being officially established in England, they called the sport association football to distinguish it from rugby football. The slang term for rugby at the time was rugger, and so over time, fans took to abbreviating association by taking the third, fourth, and fifth letters to in kind form the term soccer.

  • Haymaker- A wild, swinging, no-holds-barred punch with intent of a knockout. Back in the day, preparing hay for one's livestock was an essential part of daily life, and certainly no easy gig. The word haymaker most likely derives from the swinging motion of a scythe one would use to chop down hay for animal fodder. Another theory surmises that the term derives from "hitting the hay" as in putting the opponent to sleep.

  • Turkey- Bowling three strikes in a row. Believe it or not, the origin of this achievement is more literal than you might think. During Christmas and Thanksgiving, alley owners were often known to present an actual turkey to anyone who bowled three consecutive strikes as a promotion of sorts. Nowadays, just the thought of consuming anything prepared in a bowling alley, let alone holiday turkey, is enough to turn one's stomach.

  • Flea-flicker- A trick play in which the running back "flicks" the ball back to the quarterback in the hope of fooling opposing cornerbacks into letting their guard down. Originally credited to Illinios' coach Bob Zuppke, the phrase was supposed to evoke "the quick flicking action of a dog getting rid of fleas." If you say so...
  • Hat Trick- A momentous three-goal performance in either hockey or soccer. The term hat trick owes its roots to cricket, after HH Stephenson took three wickets in three consecutive balls in a 1958 match.  Stephenson was presented with a cap by his  fans for his heroic feat, and soon the practice became customary any time one duplicated the extremely rare accomplishment (there have been only 38 hat tricks in the history of Test cricket.)  As for the term's introduction into the American lexicon, the Hockey Hall of Fame credits Sammy Taft, a local Toronto businessman who in 1946 promised Blackhawk forward Alex Kaleta that if he scored three goals against Taft's beloved Maple Leafs, he would award him a free hat from his shop. Kaleta would in fact score four that night, and Taft was forced to make good on the deal. Today, most hat trickers are awarded not by hat shops but rather their fans, as it has become customary for hundreds of hats to reign down on the ice after #3.

  • The Golden Sombrero- The dreaded 4-strikeout game for a hitter. Think hat trick, but bigger and, of course, ugly.

  • Birdie, Eagle, and Albatross- In golf, completing a hole 1 under par, 2 under par, and 3 under par, respectively. "Birdie" was derived from the 1800's American slang word "bird," which was used to connote something good as in "a bird of a shot".  From there, the logical extension went the bigger the bird, the better the score.

  • Southpaw- A left-handed pitcher. Baseball diamonds are historically laid out with home plate on the western side of the field, so that the afternoon sun would not be in batters' eyes. As a result, a left-handed hurler's paw would be on the south side of his body when on the mound.

  • Alley-oop- A basketball play in which one passes the ball near the rim for his teammate to slam home. One of the most exciting plays in hoops got its name from, of all things, French circus performers. Before take off, acrobats were known to exclaim allez hop! The English translation made its way into the American lexicon during the 1950s in describing an arcing pass for which the receiver would out-leap the opposition during the course of a football game. Somewhere along the way, the term made the transition to basketball, though thankfully, players do not cry 'alley-oop!' before going airborne.


0 # 2011-06-02 16:02
The term Hat Trick is much older. It originates from Cricket, where it refers to a bowler, bowling out three consecutive batsmen on three consecutive balls. The first time the term Hat Trick was used to describe this feat was in 1858 when one H.H. Stephenson accomplished this.
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0 # 2011-06-03 12:55
Thanks for the correction. Must have gotten a bad source there...
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0 # 2011-10-15 08:17
I like this.. haha the mendoza line had me cracking up
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0 # broderie 2017-09-21 09:42
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