Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Stepping Up to the Plate

This had never occurred to me. An excellent point in another brilliant recap, this one for "The Apprentice," by Miss Alli at Television Without Pity:

In actual baseball, when you "step up to the plate," it's because it's your turn. It's not an act of courage! That guy isn't willingly putting himself in harm's way. He's not ballsy; he's next. So can we stop using "step up to the plate" as some kind of synonym for "volunteer"? Because it really, really isn't.
Off-topic: Alli is also a must-read for fans of "Survivor" and (coming soon, a new season!) "The Amazing Race."

14 comments:

Frank said...

"Touch base" is another one, evidently from baseball, that doesn't make much sense. People use it to mean something like "stay in touch" or "keep informed", for example, "I just wanted to touch base with you and let you know how the project is coming along". But "touching base" isn't some sort of meeting between two parties. (Who? the baserunner and one of the basemen?)

It seems to me that the meaning should be something more like "making sure to dot the i's and cross the t's" that is, making sure small details are handled correctly. After all, in baseball you don't score a run if you haven't touched all the bases. In baseball only the runner wants to touch base; if anything, the basemen on the opposing team hope that the runner doesn't "touch base with them".

Shepcat said...

A baseball-centric phrase to suggest putting oneself in harm's way would be "to lean into the strike zone and take one for the team."

Also, I think "touching base" is less a baseball term and more along the lines of "reporting back to HQ," as it were. However,if one wanted to make a case for baseball here, one could refer to the pitch-out, in which the pitcher throws to first base to hold the baserunner on the bag, an act that requires the cooperation and communication of teammates, one of whom must, in fact, touch base.

Bill said...

What a silly bunt.

Peter Fisk said...

What, you mean spell "Clogslot" with a K?

Sandy Lavendale said...

Can't we still use these sayings they way they are commonly used even though they are technically wrong?
If 99.9% of the people use them a certain way, doesn't that mean they ARE that way?
Or perhaps we are being too literal. Sure, you step up the plate simply because it's your turn. And you touch a base without talking with the baseman. But when used as a saying, can't they have a different meaning?

sixten said...

Think "two outs in the bottom of the ninth."

That's what the metaphor connotes -- the wherewithal (read: balls) to step into the arena in front of God and everyone with everything on the line -- not harm's-way heroism or routine at-bats.

Bill said...

Good points (and Python references) all around. I'm not proposing that we insist that cliches don't mean what they're used to mean, but I think that if we must use cliches, it's a good idea to be picky and avoid the ones that don't quite work.

segs said...

Granted, baseball players step into the batter's box because it's their turn, but that doesn't connote stepping up to the plate , per say.

A batter, if he had no courage, could simply stand at the very edge of the batter's box and watch three strikes go by. By stepping up to plate, which is to say stepping in closer to the plate from the fringes of the batter's box, he is putting himself in harm's way, of being hit by a pitch, for example.

I'm not sure this is what most people think of when they use this expression, but it is indeed true that batters do have some choice in the matter of stepping up to the plate (itself) or not when it is their at-bat.

Bill 02 said...

Bill02 (not Bill Walsh, but Bill the former umpire) said:

Big sigh. We've got a lot of commentary here on "stepping up to the plate" and "touch base" from non-baseball players, so its wonder there's some confusion.

Yes, to some extent SUPTTP does mean "take your turn," but it goes beyond that at least two ways. First, SEG is on the right track when he says a batter could cower at the back of the box (i.e. show no courage). If your mindset is 6-year-old T-ball, then yes, not much courage is required. But if you think standing in the batter's box when Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson are throwing at about 100 m.p.h. (or worse, Roger Clemens in a foul mood)doesn't require courage...well, think again.
Second, and I think even more to the point, is that when baseball players say SUTTP, they mean more than just "take your turn." They mean, "go accomplish something, get a hit." So SUTTP really means, "Go do something for the company/team/Gipper." If I want you to SUTTP, I'm not asking you to take your turn so you can strike out and sit back down; I'm urging you to do something, show your stuff.
As for "touch base," it doesn't refer to touching the basdes as you run around them and eventually score; rather (in this context), it refers to what the runner already on base does between pitches (and by rule, after foul balls), when he's been leading off, a pitch is thrown, and no play develops. Routinely, the runner then goes back to the base and touches it. It's no big deal, just checking in, renewing the right to play some more, etc. (If there's a foul ball, and you don't "touch base" afterward, and then run on the next play, you can be called "out" if the defense properly executes an appeal play.) So "touch base refers to that part of baseball where you "check in" at your base, even though nothing much is going on, just to satisfy the rules and "legitimize" your right to run on the next play.
Lest you think "touching base" is unimportant, baseball teams from about teenage years on up to pros have two base coaches on offense whose job it is (among other things) to make sure runners touch base. Also, each field umpire very specifically checks on who has touched base and who has not. So it may not look like much, but believe me, lots of people on the field pay close attention to who has touched base and who hasn't, even when it appears to be insignificant to casual viewers.

Bill said...

Fair enough. Now can you explain why chewing and spitting are mandatory?

Bill 02 said...

Bill02 (not Bill Walsh, but Bill the former umpire with 17 years umpiring experience) said:

Big sigh. We've got a lot of commentary here on "stepping up to the plate" and "touch base" from non-baseball players, so its wonder there's some confusion.

Yes, to some extent SUPTTP does mean "take your turn," but it goes beyond that at least two ways. First, SEG is on the right track when he says a batter could cower at the back of the box (i.e. show no courage). If your mindset is 6-year-old T-ball, then yes, not much courage is required. But if you think standing in the batter's box when Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson are throwing at about 100 m.p.h. (or worse, Roger Clemens in a foul mood)doesn't require courage...well, think again.
Second, and I think even more to the point, is that when baseball players say SUTTP, they mean more than just "take your turn." They mean, "go accomplish something, get a hit." So SUTTP really means, "Go do something for the company/team/Gipper." If I want you to SUTTP, I'm not asking you to take your turn so you can strike out and sit back down; I'm urging you to do something, show your stuff.
As for "touch base," it doesn't refer to touching the bases as you run around them and eventually score; rather (in this context), it refers to what the runner already on base does between pitches (and by rule, after foul balls and caught fly balls), when he's been leading off, a pitch is thrown, and no play develops. (Also known as "tagging up.")Routinely, the runner then goes back to the base and touches it. It's no big deal, just checking in, renewing the right to play some more, etc. (If there's a foul ball or a caught fly ball and you don't "touch base" afterward, and then run on the next play, you can be called "out" if the defense properly executes an appeal play.) So "touch base refers to that part of baseball where you "check in" at your base, even though nothing much is going on, just to satisfy the rules and "legitimize" your right to run on the next play.
Lest you think "touching base" is unimportant, baseball teams from about teenage years on up to pros have two base coaches on offense whose job it is (among other things) to make sure runners touch base. Also, each field umpire very specifically checks on who has touched base and who has not. So it may not look like much, but believe me, lots of people on the field pay close attention to who has touched base and who hasn't, even when it appears to be insignificant to casual viewers.

Bill 02 said...

bill02 added:

Oh, chewing and spitting are mandatory for two reasons:
1) it's generally pretty dusty out there, and you're eating dirt for three hours; you need to chew something to wet your whistle. Spitting necessarily follows chewing.
2) It's a guy thing (q.v. scratching one's ...er...well, you know what they scratch).

Linda said...

In defense of my dislike of "stepping up to the plate" (I travel on TWoP as Miss Alli), I would point out that on The Apprentice, it is part of an obnoxious, unimaginative deluge of watery business-speak, which is the real source of the annoyance.

These people use language, more than obviously, without giving any thought whatsoever to what it means. They don't say "step up to the plate" because it takes courage to step up to the plate against Nolan Ryan. They say "step to the plate" because everyone else says "step up to the plate." They say it because their bosses say it. Because they read it in memos. Because they think it makes them sound serious.

Can you say that in a sense, it takes courage to step up to the plate? Oh, I suppose. But for me, a cliche that is very specifically used to suggest that one member of a group has singled himself out and voluntarily assumed a greater burden than was his obligation should have a closer tie to that mentality than does "step up to the plate."

You might make a case for "stepping up to the plate" meaning "not chickening out," but they use it to suggest particular fortitude in volunteerism, and in that sense, I continue to think it's a loser of a phrase.

Grrrrr!

-Miss A.

Bill said...

Indeed, and welcome! I thought it was clear that you were thinking outside the (batter's) box.