We’re just a few hours from the first pitch of what might be the last game in Northern California’s 2013 Major League Baseball season.
It’s been a sketchy six months, all things considered. The Giants shone early before disappearing in a swoon more reminiscent of my beloved Cubs. The A’s stumbled out of the gate before picking up momentum over the summer and finishing strong enough to win the division, all in typical on-the-cheap “Moneyball” style.
They host Detroit tonight with the winner advancing to the ALCS. We root for Oakland’s success but, as a story in today’s New York Times notes, precedent is stacked against them.
For the sixth time since 2000, the A’s find themselves in the fifth and deciding game of an A.L. division series. They are 0-5 in those all-or-nothing contests, including 0-4 at home.
What has this to do with jazz? I hear you ask. More than you might think: it turns out the music owes its very name in part to the National Pastime. Here’s the story.
It turns out that the word “jazz” has an unlikely history. It starts 100 years ago with an obscure baseball player named Ben Henderson.
Henderson was a washed up pitcher with the Pacific Coast League with a reputation as an unreliable drunk, so his career never amounted to much. But back in 1912, he told a reporter about a new pitch he had developed, and became the first person known to use the word “Jazz.”
“And he told the reporter that he had a special pitch, a curve ball called “the jazz ball” that he was going to use, and he said it would completely flummox the batters because it wobbles so much you simply can’t do anything with it,” said Ben Zimmer, the language columnist for The Boston Globe and producer of visualthesaurus.com and vocabulary.com.
According to Zimmer, 100 years ago Henderson was playing for the Portland Beavers out in Oregon. And while his taste for liquor proved fatal to his baseball career, his description of his “jazz ball” turned out to be a major linguistic legacy.
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