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Wordsmith crafts gem of baseball book

Goldberg-Strassler's 'Thesaurus' captures lingo of the game
January 17, 2013

Welcome to Ben's Bookshelf, a recurring offseason column that will highlight Minor League books of note. Interested in submitting a book for review or providing your opinion on recent Minor League-themed releases? Then send an email to [email protected] or on Twitter at @bensbiz.Throughout the course of its long, rich and

Welcome to Ben's Bookshelf, a recurring offseason column that will highlight Minor League books of note. Interested in submitting a book for review or providing your opinion on recent Minor League-themed releases? Then send an email to [email protected] or on Twitter at @bensbiz.
Throughout the course of its long, rich and ever-evolving history, baseball has developed a language all its own. As a result, there are always creative ways to express one's self.
For example, one could simply say, "The pitcher threw a curveball and the batter hit it over the fence." But the more creative linguists among us could turn that simple phrase into "The hurlester buggywhipped a snapdragon and the swatsmith manhandled it beyond the rampart." That latter example, while perhaps just a bit ridiculous, was constructed with the help of Jesse Goldberg-Strassler's The Baseball Thesaurus. This book -- available in paperback as well as a fully searchable Kindle edition -- is an alphabetized romp through the baseball lexicon peppered with quirky anecdotes, vintage photos and memorable quotes.
In an email interview, Goldberg-Strassler, currently the broadcaster for the Lansing Lugnuts, took the time to explain The Baseball Thesaurus origin story, its intended audience and the etymology of one of its most obscure entries.
<jsp:include page="/milb/include/bookshelf.html"> When and how did the idea to do The Baseball Thesaurus come about?
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler: I was interning with the [independent] Brockton Rox in 2005 when it occurred to me that I was using the same phrases and words over and over again: "hammered" to describe a well-hit baseball, for instance. I started making lists of other words I could use -- slugged, drilled, walloped -- and I brought those lists wherever I went. During the 2009-10 offseason, I was talking with Joe Davis, a fellow broadcaster, about the possibility of expanding into the four major sports and turning these lists into a book. He started working on the basketball side while I worked with baseball. It was not long before I realized that baseball was growing large enough to serve its own book altogether. I apologized to Joe and began independently working on a true baseball thesaurus in January 2010. Did you go it alone or solicit input from your writing and broadcasting peers?
Goldberg-Strassler: This was most definitely not a solitary journey. I began by writing Paul Dickson, creator of The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, to make sure that he was OK with me writing such a book. He wrote back with his encouragement and directed his editor, Skip McAfee, to email me his own thesaurus from the second edition of his dictionary. That was an enormously helpful resource. Beyond using the three editions of The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, I went through book after book in my own personal library, scanning for information to use. I would routinely visit both used and chain bookstores, purchasing anything that looked as though it might provide information; I showed my work to family members, friends and fellow broadcasters to see if they had any further suggestions; and I asked numerous players and coaches if they had any ideas for slang that I could include. I thought I had finished the book three separate times -- midseason 2010, winter 2010-11, and midseason 2011 -- and I kept on discovering new terms and anecdotes that needed to be inserted. What were some of the funniest and strangest terms you came across while putting the book together?
Goldberg-Strassler: I could go to virtually any section and find terms that make me laugh: "Pampering" a ground ball by hitting it softly; calling a baseball bat a "biff stick;" synonymizing a lead-footed player's movement with "dragging a piano;" considering a walk an "Annie Oakley" and more. My favorite bit of research was learning about the University of Texas's surreal bi-level outfield, with its two tiers separated by a cliff. That's ridiculous. What led to the decision to include Spanish baseball terms and how should such terms be employed by English speakers?
Goldberg-Strassler: I was trying to be as thorough as possible and so one day in 2010, I impulsively asked Antonio Caceres, [the Lansing Lugnuts'] Dominican pitching coach, if he would assist me in adding Spanish translations throughout the thesaurus. It took time and patience, but we made our way from A to W. I have no idea how a reader should properly use these terms. That's one of my great enjoyments about the book in general. I know exactly how I'll use the book (for fun stories or to diversify my language), but I'm learning that I haven't the slightest notion how anyone will use it. Speaking of which, though this book should be of obvious use to those who write and talk about baseball, do you see it catching on with a larger audience?
Goldberg-Strassler: I've heard from many a casual fan (or a non-fan who is the significant other of a casual fan) who absolutely loves the book. I've been happily surprised. Hey, as long as more and more people hear about it, I'd say sure! Heck, I'd love to see the The Baseball Thesaurus offered in ballpark retail shops throughout the nation. In the book's section on spitballs, one of the synonyms listed is "Aqueous Offering." Really? Aqueous offering?
Goldberg-Strassler: Yes! I've been doing research into the spitball and this was characteristic of the poetic diction utilized by scribes of the time. Around 1905, every teams' pitchers were experimenting with the spitball, and so writers rose to the occasion to describe the devastating delivery. Credit Paul Dickson for discovering this.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog.