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Defending Springsteen’s use of “speedball” in “Glory Days”

Jul 18, 2011, 2:00 PM EDT


In the comments to the Springsteen post earlier, there were several of you who took issue with Springsteen’s use of the word “speedball” in the lyrics to “Glory Days.”  As in “he could throw that speedball by you, make you look like a fool,” for those unfamiliar.

This bothered me for many years, and I’m sure I’ve complained about it at HBT or my other blogs at some point in the past. I mean, really, who says “speedball?”

But we must stop our complaints now, as “speedball” is legit baseball terminology.  Or at least it’s not unprecedented baseball terminology.

For my birthday last week, my parents bought me Paul Dickson’s wonderful Baseball Dictionary.  In it you can find definitions and origins to just about every baseball term you’ve ever heard and thousands that you haven’t.  And lo and behold, on page 809, we have the following two entries:

speedball  A fastball. 1st use: 1918.  “[Jim Vaughn’s] buzzer, the speedball, is a mighty breeze and is difficult to hit” (Boston Herald and Journal, Sept. 6; Peter Morris)

speedballer  A fastball pitcher, “Joe Ginsberg … caught such speedballers as Virgil Trucks and Dizzy Trout with the Tigers” (The Sporting News, March 30, 1955)

There you have it.  “Speedball” is not used often, but it has been used.  If it’s good enough for the Boston Herald and  The Sporting News — at least back when those publications really had their speedballs working — and if it’s good enough for Bruce Springsteen, it’s good enough for us.

  1. bloodysock - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    Is Muddy Chicken in there?

    • mightyflynn - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:08 PM

      Nope, but mudhen is: “Ballplayer’s slang for an ugly woman (Bob Hertzel, Baseball Digest, Jan. 1987).

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 18, 2011 at 3:24 PM

        What does that say about folks from Toledo?

      • cur68 - Jul 18, 2011 at 3:33 PM

        They cross dress to get a section 8; that’s what it says.

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 18, 2011 at 4:38 PM

        Ah…good ole Maxwell Klinger.

      • Richard In Big D - Jul 18, 2011 at 5:04 PM

        I went to school in Ohio. We could always tell which women were local and which came from out-of-state. The out-of-staters were good looking.

  2. jimbo1949 - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    a real writer tries to vary his usage, makes you think a little.
    right OG?

    • Old Gator - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:30 PM

      Depends on who he’s writing for. If he’s a tabloid journalist, no. He has been given a list of vocabulary words and he may not use euphemisms to avoid risking the befuddlement of the brain-dead housewives and spinsters upon whose patronage his livelihood depends. If he writes for any Rupert Murdoch property (and oh boy, it’s so keen to see the old neofascist bastard impaled on his own lack of scruples like a Turkish captive of Vlad Tepes), he’s been given a list of hot-button words like “spew” and “Muslim” he must use a minimum number of times per article.

      So it’s kinda circumstantial, you know?

      • The Rabbit - Jul 18, 2011 at 5:49 PM

        Mr. Gator,
        I never would have guessed you were sexist.
        As you know, tabloid journalism is not limited to the “rags” at the checkout counters and Rupert Murdoch publications; therefore, a writer’s attempt to avoid befuddlement would apply to both genders.
        Of course, if it is a Rupert Murdoch publication, deliberate obfuscation is a matter of policy.
        The Rabbit

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 18, 2011 at 6:40 PM

        But he did get the brain dead part right, didn’t he?

  3. Ari Collins - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:05 PM

    I think “speedball” is a very old term for it. Like, early 20th century and before.

  4. woodenulykteneau - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:08 PM

    Defending the lame chord progression and equally hackneyed “singing” would be more impressive, if it could be done.

  5. yankeesfanlen - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:08 PM

    Now, if we can convince Springsteen that it might not be all downhill from high school……

  6. nfugitt - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:08 PM

    How could you be remotely bothered by such a thing? Springsteen has always used antiquated language in his songs to evoke nostalgia and a 50s feeling. This is a guy who wrote songs about drag races and stuff.

  7. mightyflynn - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:10 PM

    The Dickson Baseball Dictionary is a great resource for any fan of the game, and it’s a fun read, full of info and surprises.

    • b7p19 - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:32 PM

      Hey Paul! How are ya?

  8. xpensivewinos - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:23 PM

    I’m sure Bruce will rest easy at night now knowing that someone has “defended” him. Not sure his confidence had been built up to a sufficient level to withstand such uncertainly, lo these 27 long years since that song was released.

    He’s a poet/songwriter, not a sportswriter covering a team. He’s kinda carved himself a niche over the past 40 years with his use of the English language.

    Slow news day……

    • aceshigh11 - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:42 PM

      The Winos!!

      Now THEY were a great band…rumor has it that Keith is secretly working with them in NYC right now, but I’ll believe it when I hear it.

      Both Talk Is Cheap and Main Offender are killer rock’n’roll albums.

  9. nategearhart - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    I say we bring speedball back! Have mean a “good” fastball. I mean, anyone can throw a fastball…Wakefield technically has a “fastball”. A “speedball” would be a “holy crap!” fastball a la Nolan Ryan, King Felix, Randy Johnson…

  10. twofistedslopper - Jul 18, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    Ahh, the politics of speedball.

  11. metalhead65 - Jul 18, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    are you serious? it has taken you this long to bring this up or have been on some personal crusade against a fun loving song that makes you look back at days gone by? but I am sure Bruce is real happy you finally approve of it now. really this has to be one of the worst articles I have ever read and we are all dumber for having read it.

    • ditto65 - Jul 18, 2011 at 3:28 PM

      I am embarrassed to share a number with you.

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 18, 2011 at 3:38 PM

        Too much Headbangers Ball.

    • cur68 - Jul 18, 2011 at 3:32 PM

      Don’t laugh much on planet metalhead, eh? The whole thing is meant in a lighthearted fashion, as are a goodly number of non sabermetric/Mets/Dodgers/cut-it-out-or-your-banned posts. This is after all a baseball blog, unless I’m missing something. Since when does baseball and outlying minutiae consist of anything other than entertainment? Barring the breaking of another color barrier (I dunno, maybe martians will be allowed to play in MLB next), or something mortal taking place, I don’t see why we don’t sort out the language of baseball. It’s pretty funny and now I have another book to add to the stack of books I’ll read in September. Well worth the write up. I have a thought for you metalhead; why’nt ya go read the post about McCourt? It’s full of legalese and such. No one’s forcing you to read this one.

      • metalhead65 - Jul 18, 2011 at 4:21 PM

        I read it because I happen to like Springsteen’s music. I could possibly care less about the dodgers or their legal problems. what is funny is that people write books about the language of baseball and that people actually care enough to read about it. really who cares that speedball was a term used once twice a 100 years ago? I love baseball and played it when I was a kid but all this talk about stats and inventing new ones to support a view just takes the fun out of it, I am so glad this crap was not around when I as growing up. I did not some made up stat to tell me that Pete Rose was going to get a hit more often than not when he came up to bat. I did not need made up stats to tell me the big red machine was the best when they won it all in 75 and 76.

      • Utley's Hair - Jul 18, 2011 at 4:27 PM

        It’s a good thing you’re commenting on a baseball blog, then, huh? And you happen to get all angry when you do it, too.

        (And, to get all pedantic and everything, Pete Rose was one of the best hitters in the history of baseball—and he did not, in fact, get a hit more often than not when he came up to bat.)

  12. metalhead65 - Jul 18, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    so I guess this along with the article about the pitcher in the song means you are not a big Springsteen fan? I would ask what you do like but am afraid to give whatever no talent bands you like free pub.

    • nategearhart - Jul 18, 2011 at 4:00 PM

      Hey, know what’s awesome? Complaining.

  13. nicosamuelson2 - Jul 18, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    Isn’t it possible that the guy Bruce is singing about is the one that called his own pitch a “speedball?” Perhaps The Boss is simply paying homage.

  14. natstowngreg - Jul 18, 2011 at 4:40 PM

    Whew. For a moment there, thought you were suggesting Bruce was making a reference to ’60s-’70s era ballplayers’ use of amphetamines (aka “speed”).

  15. metalhead65 - Jul 18, 2011 at 4:53 PM

    I bet you think the Don Henly song boys of summer is about baseball right?

    • natstowngreg - Jul 18, 2011 at 6:02 PM


      • cur68 - Jul 18, 2011 at 6:42 PM

        Lets not be hasty now ‘greg. Taking a look at the lyrics we find this;

        Nobody on 1st base
        Nobody on the bench
        I feel it in the air
        The game’s out of reach
        Empty bases, empty stats
        The DH goes down alone
        Not drivin’ thru the middle
        Not trottin’ to home

        But I can see you-
        Your maple bat shinin’ in the sun
        You got your chaw tucked in your sunglasses on, baby
        And I can tell you my speedball will be strong
        After the 6 innings have gone

        …hmmm. Looks like a baseball song to me.

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