David Adam

Origins of 'can of corn,' 'Hot Stove League' and 'K'

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 11, 2016 9:10 am
Where does the term "can of corn" come from?

Many local baseball fans have likely heard of most of the following sayings, but how many of you know where the origin of some of those sayings came from?

Can of corn

A can of corn is when a fielder makes an easy catch on a popup or fly ball that doesn't take much effort. A fielder typically doesn't have to move at all or take very few steps.

White Sox broadcaster Ken "Hawk" Harrelson likes to use the phrase these days, and Hall of Fame broadcaster Red Barber is credited for using it first as one of his signature catchphrases when he started broadcasting Brooklyn Dodgers games in 1939.

The "New Dickson Baseball Dictionary," first published in 1999 by Paul Dickson, says the most accepted explanation of the phrase, first used in 1896, makes reference to a long-ago practice where a grocer would use a stick to tip a can of vegetables off a high shelf, then catch it in his hands or outstretched apron.

Another explanation of the phrase is that a pop fly is as easy to capture as "corn from a can."

Hot Stove League

This term is used to describe all of the personnel movement in baseball -- free-agent signings, trades, hirings and firings -- during the offseason.

Some sources say the term was reportedly used in the early 1900s, but Baseball-Lingo.com says it was seen in The Sporting News in the 1920s.

James Hardy, a history professor from Louisiana State University, says the term dates to 19th-century small town America when, during the winter, people "gathered at the general store/post office, sat around an iron pot-bellied stove, and discussed the passing parade. Baseball, along with weather, politics, the police blotter and the churches, belonged in that company."

"Hot Stove League" also was the name of a radio segment that was broadcast between periods on the "Hockey Night in Canada" radio show beginning in 1939.

The term is still used today. The MLB Network has a daily show during the offseason called "Hot Stove."

"K" for strikeout

The Society of American Baseball Research reports that Henry Chadwick, a British journalist, began reporting for Brooklyn's Long Island Star in 1844. By the mid-1850s, he had managed to integrate his love for cricket into his professional life, working as cricket writer for the New York Times.

Chadwick eventually was hired to become the baseball reporter at the New York Sunday Mercury, then joined the staff of the New York Clipper in 1857. He became the pre-eminent writer on baseball nationwide for 50 years.

On the side, he began working on making improvements to the format of the baseball boxscore. In 1859, Chadwick formulated his first modern boxscore, in which he documented statistics like runs, hits, putouts, assists and errors. By 1860, he edited "The Beadle Dime's Base Ball Player," in which he introduced the framework for the in-game scoring system. He began to tabulate hits, home runs and total bases.

He also used the letter K to indicate a strikeout. Chadwick used S for sacrifice. He chose K for strikeout because K is the prominent letter of the word "strike."

Chadwick also developed the system used to indicate fielders, like making the pitcher 1, the shortstop 6, and so on.

Chadwick was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938.

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