[Ads-l] "Hang in there, " origins in baseball-speak? (Antedating to 1915)

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Fri Nov 2 17:41:42 EDT 2018

The OED offers a 1969 usage as its earliest example of the idiom "to hang
in," with the meaning "to persist in spite of adversity (as of a boxer
apparently facing defeat); to hold out or endure; also, to wait around.
Frequently imperative and with there." In fact, most of the OED's examples
-- including that 1969 sighting -- feature "hang in there," the full form.

The 1969 usage, which appeared in The New Yorker, refers to an opponent of
Arthur Ashe: "He tries a careful, hang-in-there, soft crosscourt top-spin
dink." (I'm not sure "hang-in-there" here conveys persistence; to me it
suggests a gently dropped-in shot.)

In any event, 1969 for the idiom seemed late to me, so I went looking for
earlier uses of "hang in there" and found a lot of them, beginning in
sports-page columns devoted to baseball. (I should mention that this phrase
is difficult to search for and I may have not unearthed earlier uses
outside of baseball, so other attempts are certainly welcome.)

It's unclear to me whether ballplayers coined the expression (though some
of the later excerpts below suggest this), but as far as I can tell it
seems to have been a baseball-thing that made its way into other sports and
had been adopted as a non-sports idiom by the 1940s.

-- Bonnie

(Yes, here are a lot of baseball usages. I think they're quaint.)

In the off season Ham's a wholesale butcher. There's nothing retail about
him. He sells hams. Hence, "Hambone." His real name is Robert, but nobody
knows it since Jack Roche began coaching around first base. Haven't you
ever heard Jack yell: "Hang in there, Hambone!" [From W.J. O'Connor,
"Baseball Flag Follows 'Ham' Hyatt Every Time He Joins Another Team," The
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 22 June 1915, p. 10.]

On May 10 George Sisler was hitting .405. On that day he sprained his thumb
and since then he has been unable to grip wood. But he hung in there
because his team needed him, and as a result his batting average has shrunk
considerably. [An item on p. 23, column 8, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 25
May 1917.]

Yes, Johnson can be hit, but you seldom see any one hit him hard. Neither
do opponents take any toe holds with Walter on the slab. His side arm
cross-fire forces even the best to pull at times. Even when the boys hang
in there they find the going tough, because the ball that Johnson throws
generally cuts the farthest corner. [From "Walter Johnson Too Clever For
Colonels' 'Murderers'," The New York Tribune, 7 July 1919, p. 12.]

I've got to dig it, gang, or I'll miss that train to Shreveport; and I'm
sure not going to do that. I'm hanging in there with the boys all the way,
the best fighting aggregation of game ball players in the southwest, bar
none. [From Nick Carter's "It's a Long, Long Lane That Has No Turning, Nick
Tells Local Fans," The Beaumont (Texas) Daily Journal, 13 June 1922, p. 6.]

Man, dear, but that game was a battle, and Lou Kraft hung in there game as
a speckled trout until it was won. [From "Pat Flaherty Made One Mistake
When He Hooked A Curve To Joe Mathes," The Beaumont (Texas) Daily Journal,
16 June 1922, p. 10.]

Well, Sir Jake rocked along looking like a million-dollar beauty one inning
and a bum the next, but still hanging in there -- and then, darn my hide,
if Joe didn't send in Clarence Brooks to pinch hit for Jake in the ninth
with two men out, Jimmy Doyle on second and one run needed to tie the
score. [From Nick Carter's "Mayor Barney's Cries Heard Across Ocean As
Exporters Trim Giants," The Beaumont (Texas) Daily Journal, 19 June 1922,
p. 7.]

Honest, gang, this is no time to be weakening on the boys and on Joe
Mathes. I'm not making alibis about the tough breaks and the crippled club,
but we are pretty badly shot, and no mistake. But we're going to fish it
out all down the line just the same. Hang in there with us, gang, don't
weaken. [From Nick Carter's "Slaughter Doesn't Sicken Exporters Like
Accident to Popular Harry Strong," The Beaumont (Texas) Daily Journal, 17
June 1922, p. 7.]

I guess that's all there is to say about Lou Kraft's new contract in the
Matrimonial League. Hang in there and pitch, Lou. Doggone, kid, but it
really makes me feel tickled foolish! [From C.F.C.'s "Lou Kraft, Start
Beaumont Hurler, Signs Contract For Life In Matrimonial Loop," The Beaumont
(Texas) Daily Journal, 21 June 1922.]

POOR Joe Morris! A good pitcher if I ever saw one, yet he just cannot seem
to get off on the right foot in the Texas league. He has always been a
winning pitcher, and has been considered good enough to get try-outs with
two major league clubs -- but he has won one game with Beaumont and lost
four, and a jinx seems to be camping on Joe's trail. Don't weaken, Jodie:
hang in there, and remember the old poker saying that "along toward morning
the stranger got lucky." [From "Credit Colyum," The Beaumont (Texas) Daily
Journal), 24 June 1922, p. 6.]

HANG IN THERE, GANG [A subheading with regard to a baseball team, The
Muskegon (Michigan) Chronicle, 24 August 1922, p. 8.]

Slogan for 1925 infielders when the pitcher is in trouble: "Hang in there
and deny it" [From "Legs" Rambo's "Baseball Pickups," The St. Petersburg
(Florida) Times, 20 January 1925, p. 14.]

The chill no doubt was responsible for the wildness of four of the five
hurlers who performed during the day. (Atlanta used four of them, while Joe
Martina hung in there [all?] the way for the home folks.) [William McG.
Keefe, "Martina Hangs On In Bitter Battle; Hurlers All Wild," The
Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 1 May 1925, p. 12.]

Winston-Salem's play during the week was very disappointing, the Twins have
been sized up as possibly the strongest aggregation in the circuit.
Danville and Salisbury-Spencer showed that they could kill the apple with
regularity, and Greensboro and Durham displayed the fact that they are
capable of hanging in there with the rest of them. [From "Sport Dope," The
Durham (North Carolina) Herald, 25 April 1926, Section 2, p. 1.]

Most favorable seemed to be the general impression made by the Blues on the
patrons at Muehlebach Field yesterday. Against superb pitching the Blues
"hung in there," as the
athletes say, until they forced the breaks their way. [From "Sporting
Comment," The Kansas City (Missouri) Star, 3 May 1929, p. 22.]

The reason may be that the Murphy boss is never bothered when other
managers steal his
witticisms. Last year he perfected, but never patented a number that
included "Ducks on the
pond," "hang in there," "outfielder's panic" (a high fly), "oughta had a
million," and "you need
some hay in your hat" (advice to outfielders). [From "'Everything's in
Order' Says Clink," The
Evening World-Herald (Omaha, NE), 7 May 1930, p. 26.]

If the Pirates win the pennant they will likely be called the Silent
Wonders. It is the most reticent team in the league. No one seems to
indulge in any of the typical jargon of the diamond conflict. "Hang in
there," "The Old Life," "Atta Boy," "Knock Him Down," common talk with
other teams for a strange language to the Pirates. [From Harvey J. Boyle,
"Mirrors of Sports," The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 29 April 1933, p. 15.]

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