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.