Baseball lingo in Michael Lewis' _Money Ball..._, #1: lingo from auto mechanics

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Nov 27 16:06:46 UTC 2003

At 9:30 AM -0600 11/27/03, Cohen, Gerald Leonard wrote:
>I have before me Michael Lewis' _Money Ball: The Art of Winning an
>Unfair Game_ (i.e. professional baseball). NY: Norton: 2003. I've
>read through about half and noticed various passages of lexical
>interest, which I'll now share with ads-l. Here's the first
>page 3 (start of the book): 'The first thing they always did was run
>you.  When big league scouts road-tested a group of elite amateur
>prospects. foot speed was the first item they checked off their
>lists.  The scouts actually carried around checklists. "Tools" is
>what they called the talents they were checking for in a kid.  There
>were five tools: the abilities to run, throw, field, hit, and hit
>with power.  A guy who could run had "wheels"; a guy with a strong
>arm had "a hose." Scouts spoke the language of auto mechanics.  You
>could be forgiven, if you listened to them, for thinking they were
>discussing sports cars and not young men.'
FWIW, these three terms ("(five) tools", "wheels", "hose") have been
around for ages in baseball lingo.  I've never thought of them as
lingo FROM auto mechanics; I think this is Lewis's (or Billy
Beane's?) little joke at the end, not an actual claim that there was
a wholesale transfer of these terms from one jargon to another.
("tools" and "(to have) all the tools" are in more general sports
use, but the five tools mentioned above have indeed long been used
for assessment by baseball scouts)   This book, as I understand it (I
haven't read it), is partly an argument (based on theories espoused
by Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and others) against using
such standard parameters based on athletic ability to judge potential
baseball prospects as opposed to more specific measures based on
performance, evidence of having a good command of the strike zone,
etc.  You'll be getting into other more recent terms of art (OPS
(on-base percentage + slugging percentage) for hitters, zone ratings
for fielders, WHIP [(walks + hits)/innings pitched] for pitchers)
along the way.


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