baseball "shoot"--Peter Morris' reply (pt. 1)

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Sun Nov 4 17:08:38 UTC 2001

    Baseball researcher Peter Morris has replied to my comments about
the meaning of 19th century baseball "shoot." The message is a long
one; I will now reproduce the first half of it (below my sign-off)
and follow up with the second half in a few minutes.

     I had not realized that the baseball term "shoot" is controversial,
and if its 19th century meaning does turn out to be "curve ball"
rather than "fastball," that's fine with me. Before signing onto the
curve-ball interpretation, however, I'd like to contemplate all the
evidence a bit. So at present I'm neutral.

     On a minor note, I'm responsible for a typo in my original message
("flitter" should be "flitted"). This doesn't change much, but the
correction is now duly made.

---Gerald Cohen

>From: "Peter Morris" <moxbib at>
>To: "Skip McAfee" <xerxes7 at>
>Cc: "Gerald Cohen" <gcohen at>, <bubba at XTALWIND.NET>, <deadball at>,
>         <pgw at>, <roadwest at>, <rhoward at>,
>         <vmence at>, <dizdeane at>
>Subject: RE: Definition of "shoot"
>Date: Sat, 3 Nov 2001 10:49:27 -0500
>Due to the length of this, I am not sending it to the large mailing lists
>included on some of the earlier messages, but am including a few people from
>those lists who I suspect may be interested in this topic.  Feel free to
>pass it along to people thereby omitted.
>Professor Gerald Cohen presented these nineteenth-century "examples of
>'shoots' which are not curves 
 from _The World_ (NYC newspaper)":
>1) Oct. 20, 1889, p.1, col. 7: "Ed Crane, fat and jolly, went into the
>pitcher's box for New York... Ed shot them in with terrific speed and
>brought joy to the New Yorkers, who saw the Grooms [i.e., Brooklyn
>Bridegrooms] succumb, one after another, to his invincible 'curves' and
>2) Oct. 20, 1889, p.2, col. 2: "Collins [the batter] saved his [own] life by
>jumping out of the way of Crane's [NY pitcher] erratic shoots."
>3) July 3, 1890, p.7, col. 1: "In the meantime the Cleveland pitcher had
>begun to feed the hungry Sutcliffe with fricasseed shoots and fried curves,
>which the New Yorks tried in vain to fork out of the fathomless air as they
>flitter by."
>4) July 20, 1890, p.9, col. 2; re the pitcher: "He was prepared to serve to
>the New York batsmen a choice selection of curves, shoots, and drops."
>Based upon this he initially defined a shoot as a fastball, and now has
>backtracked slightly to define the term as "a pitch, especially a fastball,"
>adding "It seems very likely that the term originated as a fastball."  I
>disagree with these conclusions.  I believe that a shoot was originally a
>breaking pitch, and that it retained that meaning until the twentieth
>century, at which time the original meaning began to fade and others were
>Professor Cohen's four examples of "shoot" include little context that would
>help us deduce the term's meaning.  In addition, the fact that the examples
>all come from the same newspaper makes it very possible that they reflect
>one writer's idiosyncratic usage.  It would seem from them that the writer
>intends to make some distinction between a curve and a shoot, but there is
>no additional internal evidence that supports Cohen's conclusion that a
>shoot is a fastball.
>A very important factor is the difficulty of distinguishing between
>different breaking pitches.  What is essentially the same pitch may break
>quite differently due to the pitcher's grip, wrist action, speed or the wind
>conditions among other factors.  From time to time a batter asked after the
>game is unsure of what pitch was thrown to him at a particular juncture or
>is out and out wrong.  If batters sometimes have a hard time distinguishing
>between breaking pitches, how much harder is it for spectators?  The entry
>for "breaking pitch" in Dickson's New Baseball Dictionary gives us some
>idea - announcers Jerry Howarth and Brooks Robinson are both quoted as
>saying that the term itself is a catchall indicating uncertainty as to
>exactly what pitch was thrown.
>In cases like this where there are difficulties in distinguishing between
>terms, it is not uncommon for them to be combined into a phrase.  I believe
>the rhetorical term for this is pleonasm.  Examples would include: bits and
>pieces, various and sundry, dribs and drabs, rules and regulations, hem and
>haw, wrack and ruin.  Each of these phrases is an instance of two words that
>may at one time have had distinct meanings, but which are now routinely
>combined by speakers who would not recognize a distinction.  Naturally, the
>effect of such usage is to obliterate the distinction.
>I believe that is exactly what happened with the term "curve" and other
>terms for breaking pitches that initially had distinct meanings.  A prime
>example of this is Professor Cohen's fourth example, which refers to "a
>choice selection of curves, shoots, and drops."  Since a "drop" is a type of
>breaking pitch, how can one infer that a shoot is not a breaking pitch?
>One can weave a web of a few of the many such references, showing that all
>of the various early terms for breaking pitches came to be used in this way.
>Ed Delahanty once described himself as "a swatter of shoots and benders" (in
>Mike Sowell's July 2, 1903; date of quotation not given, but Delahanty tied
>on the date used in the book's title).  Washington Post, September 25, 1904,
>"[Nap] Lajoie has played all positions on a baseball team but one.  He has
>never tried his hand at pitching.  Persons who have seen him warm up, just
>for exercise, before a game, say that they believe he could give many a slab
>artist points on the delivery of bends and shoots."  Sporting Life, May 25,
>1912, "if you ask a major league ball player about the curves and benders
>thrown by the various pitchers, he won't give forth a mine of information."
>Sporting Life, June 1, 1912: "[Jeff] Tesreau has too much on his ball, the
>quickest kind of curves, drops and shoots."
>Furthermore, the word "flitter" in the third of Professor Cohen's quotations
>seems a singularly inapt term for describing a fastball.  Surely, it is a
>breaking pitch, not a fastball, that could be said to "flitter by."  Based
>on all this, even without the benefit of genuinely informative quotations, I
>feel that it is at least as likely that "shoot" in the above citations means
>some type of breaking pitch.
>Enough of trying to glean the meaning of "shoot" from the
>less-than-illustrative quotations cited by Professor Cohen.  Fortunately
>there are some much more helpful ones available, two of which come from a
>couple of the greatest pitchers of the nineteenth century.

[Snip. I will present the rest of Peter Morris' message in my next
e-mail message.--G. Cohen]

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