It troubles me that K is the nickname of the primary character in the famous Kafka novel The Trial. Kind of creepy, that one.
And, for the record: K (pronounced “kay”) is the 11th letter of the current English alphabet. It may interest you to know that in English the letter K typically represents “the voiceless velar plosive”. (Well, look, that’s what Wikipedia says… I just type this stuff!)
An oddity about the letter K in the English language is that often it is silent. Think of the words knife, know, knot, and knee. Not surprisingly K is the fifth least frequently used letter in our language. In fact, K is only about 0.8% in all English words. On the other hand, K does have some real bearing with numbers, such a kilo, abbreviated k.
Well ok, and no pun intended, Ok? I have been feeling compelled to find out how a strike-out came to be represented by the letter K, and then why a strike-out without swinging (ie, just looking at the pitch, dumbfounded) is a backward K, which I cannot type on my computer. (Please write in and tell me how to do that!)
This business of putting up K’s on the scoreboard started with New York Met fans enjoying the feats of Dwight Gooden aka “Dr. K”.
The use of the “K” itself is credited to the legendary baseball pioneer Henry Chadwick, the 19th century newspaper journalist who started so much of what we still have with us today — not the least of which includes writing sports articles. Henry took the last letter of the word “struck”. Further, the K does fits nicely into his original box score and scorecard, both of which are with us today. Oh, and the letter “S” was already in use for the word “sacrifice”. Ok?
To be fair (said the Umpire), there are those who aren’t as certain that Mr. Chadwick should get credit for the letter K meaning strike-out because there was a pitcher named Matt Kilroy back in the day who raised the strike-out to another level. He set the all-time single season record of 513 K’s in 1996, only two years after overhand pitching was even permitted. For the record further, however, the pitcher’s mound back then was 50 feet from the batter. It was moved to its current distance of 60 feet 6 inches in 1893. Since then the record number of strikeouts in a season is owned by someone named Nolan Ryan, which is one better than some other guy named Koufax (yes, Koufax whose last name starts with the letter K).
Ironically some of the very best home run hitters in baseball history — Reggie Jackson, Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez — were at the same time very well-versed with striking out.
But, just what is this thing we call “a strike out”? Early rules set forth that “three balls being struck at and missed and the last one caught, is a hand-out; if not caught is considered fair, and the striker bound to run.” Curiously the current rule has not changed a whole lot. The called strike — the backward K — dates from 1858. In 1887 the number of strikes to reach an out was increased to four but quickly modified back to three the very next season.
All of which of course leads to “whiff”, a swinging strike out, and absolutely not to be confused with perfume worn by The Girl from Ipanema” who just passed by…. Far more dramatically than mere whiffing is the batter who gets struck out by a fastball, swinging. He or she gets the lovely moniker “blown away”. A close cousin, relative or dear family friend is when you strike out swinging, you just “fanned”; akin to the twirling blades of that contraption we run on the desk top to try to keep from sweating through out shirts or blouses. And not to be downplayed or denigrated at all, the “punch out”, which goes so well with the umpire’s flair for the moment, as you stand there hang-dog, the called strike three releasing cheers of glee among the faithful, and absolute groans from those who had higher expectations of your performance-to-be.
Ernie Harwell, the wonderful baseball announcer, perhaps coined two of the more endearing slogans for a batter taking a called third strike: He is “out for excessive window shopping”, or this: “stood like the house by the side of the road…”
Asked to respond to Ernie’s words, I am sure at some point a batter said “Look, I was just browsing.” Maybe that’s better than when you get fooled at the plate, and over the radio or tv you hear: “He was frozen at the plate!” .
Of course, there’s striking out the side, or even better, if the pitcher manages to strike out 3 batters on 9 pitches at which point we have “an immaculate inning”. Which is more miraculous — immaculate conception or immaculate inning? There could be some disagreement on it, there could!
This one I did not know: A batter who strikes out four times is called “a golden sombrero”. I guess it could be worse. If you strike out five times you just committed “a platinum sombrero.”
Well, folks, the letter K gets around, let’s face it. Legendary pitcher Roger Clemens named his four sons Koby, Kory, Kacy, and Kody.
And there you have it: The wind up, the pitch: Gotta ’em lookin’! Another K!
Well all right then… or, if you will forgive me, O K k k k k k k k k!