"out of left field" (Why "left"?)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Mar 27 15:19:25 UTC 2001

At 9:49 PM -0500 3/27/01, RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:
>I think we need to get into markedness theory here (though as a lefthander
>myself, 'sinistral' is not to be discounted entirely): one would EXPECT
>center field to "always" be farther than left field and equal to right in
>distance from home plate. Therefore, the fact that left field is (or used to
>be, back when the phrase was coined?) usually much farther than right--and
>sometimes even farther than center--would make left seem much much farther

I still haven't seen any empirical grounds to believe that left field
"is or used to be usually much farther than right", and certainly
none at all to believe it has EVER been "even farther than center".
And the marginal difference between left and right is simply not
enough to make left fielders systematically more "far out" than right
fielders.  Of course, we've gotten into the trap of considering major
league baseball, but someone was arguing a few weeks ago that sandlot
baseball may be a more plausible source for the expression, and it
could well be that right fielders don't play as deep as left fielders
in sandlot ball.  I'll have to watch next time I'm in Central Park,
if spring ever comes.

>I have been told by certain people at Duke that I should be focussing on
>basketball right now--i hope this is not bad karma for the Michigan State
>team, which i understand is #4 in the final 4.

Not sure I know what you mean.  MSU was a #1 seed in its region (like
Duke), while Arizona was a #2 seed in its region, and Maryland a #3.
If any team is the least favored to win, it would have to be
Maryland, but there aren't going to be any real upsets at this point.
(But go with Duke if you want to be chalky.)

and at 10:10 PM -0500 3/27/01, Bob Haas wrote:
>Except, Larry, that more play takes place in left field.  I would be
>interested in the amount of activity that actually does take place in

Again, I'd love to see empirical support for this claim.  Center
fielders make more putouts than left or right fielders, although no
doubt some of that results from the fact that they're usually faster
afoot (precisely because the greensward is so much vaster in
center--can you imagine Willie Mays playing left?), and also because
on fly balls to left- or right-center, the CF is the presumptive
fielder and calls the others off the ball.  But none of this
demonstrates that more play takes place in left.

>  Furthermore, is it possible that the origin of "way out in left
>field" has its bases in more than one root cause?  Or do these things simply
>occur around one coinage?

I'd wager you're right here.  No doubt there's some sort of multiple causation.

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