Walk-off home run: Some baseball terms speak for themselves

May 7, 2007

T oday’s question:

What is a walk-off home run?

You know, when I started out as a columnist seven years ago, back in the days when I was rosy-cheeked and bright-eyed and full of optimism and faith in the basic goodness and intelligence of humankind, I would have been surprised that you couldn’t figure this one out by yourselves. And I would have chuckled in a kindly, rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed, optimistic sort of way and thrown it away.

Now, seven years later, I still see this question come in all the time, at least during the baseball season, and I pull my grimy green eyeshade lower over my brow and chomp on my unlit cigar stub and throw another empty gin bottle at the cat and take my Lord’s name in vain, which I am fairly sure is in violation of one of the Ten Commandments.

Not really. Cigars make me woozy and I never cared much for gin. And I don’t need to wear a green eyeshade because the room in which I work is sort of dimly lit. I can’t afford a lot of electricity on what I get paid.

Anyway, think, people, think. What do you think a walk-off home run is?

A walk-off home run is a homer hit in the bottom of the ninth inning or the bottom of an extra inning that allows the home team to walk off the field as winners.

Let’s say it’s the bottom of the ninth and the Diamondbacks, playing at home, are behind by one run. There is one man on and one out, Chris Snyder hits a home run, giving the D-Backs the lead, and the game is over. Walk-off home run.

What is the origin of the phrase “chew the rag”?

Nobody knows for sure. It originally meant “to discuss, mainly to complain.”

Some people think it is military slang and that when soldiers ran out of tobacco they would chew a rag. That sounds sort of silly to me. Other people think it stems from “to rag on,” as in to complain.

In any event, it is an Americanism and dates back to around 1885.

Reach Thompson at clay.thompson@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8612.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. You can read his column by going to http://www.azcentral.com 


Relative needs to know about lightning . . . oh, and by the way . . .

April 29, 2007

 Thank heaven my week off is over. I’m exhausted. I need to get back to work and get some rest.

I’ve been doing yard work. I’ve been digging. I’ve been pruning. I’ve been potting. I’ve been moving rocks, rocks by the ton, I swear. I’ve been poisoning weeds like a Borgia getting rid of inconvenient relatives. Do not write or call to chastise me for using herbicides. The weeds were in the way of my plans for backyard domination. They had to die.

I’ve been to two baseball games, three, if you count Little League. I’ve been to two parties. I’ve cured the dog’s limp, although I’m pretty sure it was psychosomatic.

I even washed windows, for crying out loud. And I’ve had to wear real pants and real shoes every single day of the past week. Now I ask you, what kind of vacation is that?

In any event, it’s good to be back in the old bathrobe and at the keyboard again and back on a regular schedule of naps.

So let’s get down to what might be laughably described as work.

Can lightning travel sideways? My daughter-in-law insists that it can and does. By the way, I prefer to go bra-less and shoeless.

TMI. Too Much Information.

Madam, this may come as a surprise to you, but your undergarments and footwear, or lack thereof, hold little interest for me, at least in the present situation. Perhaps in other circumstances such details might be intriguing, but for now we shall confine ourselves to this business of your sideways-lightning question.

I’m not quite sure what you mean by lightning striking sideways.

Lightning does strike from cloud-to-cloud, depending on what kind of electrical charges those clouds have built up. That’s a kind of sheet lightning. I guess that would be sideways lightning.

Or do you mean that lightning might not always strike from straight-up, right-on-top-of-you? Like at a 90-degree angle to the earth?

Sure, why not? Lightning can hit you out of a clear blue sky from up to 10 miles away. I guess that would count as sideways, if that’s what you mean.

Now go put your shoes on.

Reach Thompson at clay.thompson@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8612.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. You can read his column by going to http://www.azcentral.com.

A no-reptile dinner, sure . . . a sub-100 summer? Forget about it

April 22, 2007

Friends, has this ever happened to you?

You’re out for a meal at a fine restaurant and suddenly you are attacked by a deadly reptile. Perhaps a crocodile that escaped from the circus or something like that.

Before you know it, you’re in the hospital being treated for a deadly venomous bite or shock or facing the possible amputation of a stricken limb. Or worse.

And your meal is ruined.

Well friends, I am happy to say I can personally guarantee you, and this is a vow I take on my blessed mother’s gray head, that the Red White & Brew at 6740 E. McDowell Road, Mesa, is 100 percent free of deadly reptiles.

And when you go there and order the Southwestern Mahi-Mahi Over Five Cheese Tortolloni for lunch or dinner any time this month, owner Ron Siegel will donate half the cost to Waste Not, and the folks at Waste Not will use that money to round up surplus food for our needy neighbors.

It’s part of Waste Not’s annual Celebrity Chef campaign, and to the best of my knowledge, no other participants have yet made a free-of-deadly-reptiles guarantee. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

So get out there before the month is over and order the official Valley 101 campaign meal and enjoy it free of fear from attack by deadly reptiles.

Has there ever been a summer when the temperature didn’t reach 100 degrees in the Phoenix area?

As far as I know, that has never happened since they started keeping records in 1895, and it probably would be kind of creepy if it ever did, wouldn’t it?

However, I suppose you should never say never. After all, there used to be mastodons and stuff like that in these parts, and those aren’t exactly hot-weather animals.

OK, I’m going to take a few days off. I’ll be back next Sunday. I think I’ll do some work around the house and the yard or maybe go fishing. Or maybe I’ll try to set a new personal best for continuous time in my bathrobe and jammies. I like challenges.

Reach Thompson at clay.thompson@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8612.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. You can read his column by going to http://www.azcentral.com 

Ole Ben Franklin managed to put proper spin on nor’easter

April 18, 2007

Today’s question:

What are big storms like the one that hit the East Coast called nor’easters? My husband says it’s because they usually hit the northeast part of the country.

He’s wrong, but then knowing him as you no doubt do, this probably doesn’t come as a big surprise, does it?

A nor’easter – northeaster – is so named because of the direction of its winds.

A nor’easter often is formed by a cold storm that has moved though the Ohio Valley or Gulf states and then moves out over the Atlantic. When it does so, it picks up new strength from the warm ocean water.

The warm air rises and the cold air sinks and that creates a lot of instability in the upper atmosphere and an area of low pressure below.

The Earth’s rotation sets the storm spinning in a counterclockwise direction, hence the northeast winds, and typically it goes spinning up along the Atlantic Coast. That path means it is always sucking in more warm ocean air and water that combine with the colder air on land to keep the storm fueled.

As incoming air rises around the center of the storm, it gets carried off by the jet stream and that increases the speed of the incoming air. The faster the air moves, the faster the barometric pressure drops. In a really severe nor’easter, the pressure can drop 24 millibars in 24 hours. This is known as a “bomb cyclone.”

Nor’easters generally don’t have wind speeds as high as those in a hurricane, but they can last a long time – up to a week – before they finally blow themselves out.

People used to believe storms came from the direction of the winds. In other words, if the winds blew from the southwest, they thought that’s where the storm came from.

Benjamin Franklin never quite figured out the whole spin of the winds thing, but he began to suspect something was going on when a nor’easter hit Philadelphia and blocked his view of an eclipse. He later found out people in Boston saw the eclipse before the same storm hit there.

So he reasoned that even though the storm winds were from the northeast, the storm had started to the south.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. You can read his column by going to http://www.azcentral.com 

Get the skinny on horsemeat, softball, maps

December 17, 2006

Gee whiz. To gauge from your response to Thursday’s column about human consumption of horsemeat, quite a few of you have at some point have had a few bites out of good old Trigger or your friend Flicka.

Well, to each his own.

Now, a personal note:

Gary, if playing softball at your age means you end up in the hospital with a fractured skull, maybe it’s time to think about stamp collecting or something like that. OK?

Now, down to today’s business, such as it is.

My husband and I have been having this discussion regarding the town of Peoria. I say it’s in the West Valley, he says it’s in the East Valley. Which is it?

I know I’ve said this before, but in this case I think it bears repeating:

I don’t know where you women find these guys. Don’t you ask your mothers for advice first? You know she would have told you that you could do better.

Show him the map. Peoria is in the western part of the metropolitan area.


Next question:

I have a situation with our desert-landscaped front yard. In the past few months, we have noticed small holes in the gravel. Our immediate reaction was to fill up the holes. The holes appeared again within a few days. The other day I saw a long-billed grayish bird working very hard at the gravel. What kind of bird does this? How can I discourage this?

Long-billed? It sounds like a brown thrasher or something like that. I don’t know. It’s probably just looking for bugs or something. Leave it alone. How hard can it be to rake the gravel smooth again and let the bird start over?

C’mon lady, it’s the holidays. Live and let live.

How did the word “skinny” come to mean the facts or the real story?

This is what the Online Etymology Dictionary has to say about that:

“In the sense of ‘the truth’ it is World War II military slang, perhaps from the notion of the ‘naked’ truth.”

OK, I’m going to take some time off. I’ll be using this time around the holidays to work on my eating skills. My napping techniques can use a little fine-tuning, too. I’ll be back on the 24th. Don’t do anything rash before then, OK?

Reach Thompson at clay.thompson@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8612.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. To read his column, go to www.azcentral.com

‘Gandy dancer’ query comes around bend

December 17, 2006

Today’s question:

My father used to tell us he worked summers as a gandy dancer on the railroad. Do you know where that phrase comes from?

Sorry, no, I can’t say for sure. I should get points for admitting that I’m not sure, don’t you think?

Geez, I’ve been serving up a lot of lame answers lately. I think I’m going to take some time off soon. Every three or four months or so I find that the well has just run dry and that I need to take a break.

Plus, my two sweet patooties are coming home for Christmas, so I should try to free up some time to spend with them. Which really means I probably will need to free up some time to spend taking most of the lame-o presents I got them back to the returns counter.

Anyway, do you remember that whole Arizona colloquium contest thing? We’ll deal with it later. I am still pondering the entries.

In the meantime, we’ll take up this gandy dancer thing.

Don’t you wish you had asked your father about this? I’m not being snarky here. There are lots of things I wish I’d asked my father about before he died.

Like why in the world he always thought that the rest of us would know what a “rod” was. He was always saying something like, “Oh, take it over there about a rod or so.”

Of course now, thanks to the miracles of modern science, we know that a rod means 16.5 feet, but back then, what were we to think? We just mostly took whatever it was we were carrying at his behest off in the general direction in which he was waving and hoped we got it somewhere near whatever a rod was.

But that’s neither here nor there.

A gandy dancer is a maintenance worker on a railway.

One thing I read said that the name came from the Gandy Manufacturing Co. in Chicago that made tools for railroad workers.

Most of the other stuff I read said that was hooey, and there never was such a company, but that a gandy, origin unknown, was a sort of crowbar tool that workers used to lever the rails into a level position. And as they moved around and levered and leveled and all, they were said to be dancing, in a way.

So, I think I got within a rod or so of that answer.

Reach Thompson at clay.thompson@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8612.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. You can read his column by going to www.azcentral.com

OK, let’s wrap! Here is how to eat a tamale

December 14, 2006

I would just like to take a minute here to thank all of you who have called or written in the past few days to tell me I am an idiot.

I am an idiot because the other day I said I didn’t see how using cold water instead of hot would help conserve water, overlooking in my idiocy the fact that you have to let the water run for a bit before it gets hot, and that water usually just goes down the drain.


Anyway, lots – and I mean lots – of you guys caught me on that. At least you’re paying attention.

Now pay attention to this; it is a classic newcomer/snowbird question.

We have spent 11 winters in Arizona and still don’t know how to eat a tamale. Since this apparently is the big season for tamales, give us some direction so we don’t look stupid.

Hmmm, tamales. I wonder if my neighbor is going to make tamales this year. She brought some over last year, and they were great.

I should start buttering her up. Maybe I’ll wash her car or something like that.

Anyway, eating a tamale is pretty simple, really. You just unwrap it and eat it. Whatever you do, don’t eat the cornhusk.

Nothing will mark you as newcomer/snowbird doofus as surely as eating the cornhusk. Gerald Ford did that once when he was president.

In some of Latin America, they wrap their tamales in banana leaves instead of cornhusk. Don’t eat the banana leaves, either.

Now, I say a good tamale shouldn’t need to be topped with any salsa or anything like that, but maybe that’s a matter of taste.

You’ll want to keep a flour tortilla at hand in case it’s especially spicy tamale. That will help cool your mouth by soaking up the oil-based hot stuff.

Tamales go way back, possibly way back to 5000 B.C. The thinking is they were a military staple because they could be made ahead of time and carried along by the armies to be heated up later or eaten cold.

Tamales also were used in religious ceremonies by priests who made the tamales and offered them to their gods as a sacrifice.

I’ve never had one, but some people make sweet tamales, stuffed with fruit or jam. That sounds pretty good, don’t you think?

Reach Thompson at clay.thompson@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8612.

*Clay Thompson writes for The Arizona Republic. You can read his column by going to www.azcentral.com