I learned a new piece of sports slang this week: the janitor throw. That’s when a ballplayer throws the ball and he falls down in the process of throwing it. I don’t know where it came from. I was a janitor for a number of years at various different locations, include Wallace Elementary School. I honestly can’t imagine why they would call it that.
Perhaps the most famous janitor throw in history came when Willie Mays made that spectacular catch off Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series. People who watched Willie regularly weren’t all that impressed with the catch. What impressed them was how Willie was able to slam on the brakes, pivot around, and make a throw –an accurate throw- to the infield.
I’ve found sports slang can be confusing at times. As an example, my mom was a big-time Diamondbacks fan late in her life. She could never understand what a “walk-off” home run was. So, I explained it was any home run that scored the winning run and ended the game. I could only explain it because I had to find out what it meant for myself.
Some slang makes sense. For example, I’ve heard of splashdown home runs. That’s a home run that lands in the water. It could be the swimming pool at Chase Field or McCovey Cove outside Oracle Park in San Francisco.
Sometimes, slang terms change meaning over time. Take the word “goat.” When I was growing up, being a goat in sports was a bad thing. This was the person you blamed for losing a game. Charlie Brown often lamented that he was never the hero, but always the goat.
When I heard some famous athletes being described as “the goat,” I felt bad and angry. Why were people saying these terrible things about them? Then, I started to realize the meaning of “goat” had changed. Now it was a good thing? Er . . . okay. I was confused.
My friend Brian Wedemeyer explained it to me. “GOAT” is an acronym for Greatest of All Time. So, the name that was once associated with a bad thing is now a good thing. The meaning has completely turned around.
Did you understand all that? Well, I hope one of us did.
I just there’s something similar in the word “bomb.” To this day, if you say someone “bombed,” or a movie is “a bomb,” it means it’s the worst. On the other hand, if you say someone or something is “Da Bomb,” that means it’s the best.
Trying to figure that one out was a real blast.
I’m reminded of an incident with one of baseball’s most colorful characters, Yogi Berra. A woman remarked to him that he looked cool.
“Thanks,” he replied. “You don’t look so hot yourself.”
That’s the trouble with slang. Looking cool is a good thing, while looking not so hot is a bad thing. If you take the words literally, they’re saying the same thing. However, because they’re part of slang, they have completely different meanings.
I can’t help but think Bud Abbott and Lou Costello would’ve had a great time using slang terms in something like their “Who’s on First” routine. The only problem is I would likely have no idea what they were talking about.
To use a slang term, I’d be in the dark. They’d need to throw a little light on it.