What Is A Can Of Corn In Baseball?

A “can of corn” is baseball slang for an easy fly ball that is easily caught by an outfielder. It refers to a routine fly ball that does not require much effort to catch. The phrase originated in the late 19th or early 20th century and is thought to be related to the ease of catching and storing tinned cans of corn. The first known usage of the term was in the late 1930s by famous baseball broadcaster Red Barber, who used it to refer to lazy fly balls that were easy for fielders to catch. Since then, the term has become a well-known part of baseball vocabulary used by players, coaches, broadcasters, and fans to describe routine fly balls that don’t require much athleticism to catch.

Catching a Fly Ball

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Catching a routine fly ball is one of the fundamental skills in baseball and softball. While it may seem simple, it actually requires good technique and practice.

When catching a fly ball, the most important thing is to keep your eye on the ball at all times. As soon as the ball is hit, you need to spot it in the air and watch it all the way into your glove. Take your first steps back and to the side to get under the ball. Keep your glove up and open, providing a target. Many coaches teach the “thumb to thigh” technique – keep your throwing hand’s thumb pointed down at your thigh as you catch the ball with two hands. This helps align your body properly under the ball.

While a routine fly ball may seem easy, it’s vital for outfielders to master this fundamental. Catching fly balls consistently turns base hits into outs and prevents runners from advancing. Outfielders at all levels need to practice catching fly balls until it becomes second nature. Drills like having someone hit routine fly balls during batting practice helps outfielders learn to spot the ball off the bat and familiarize themselves with how different balls move through the air. Mastering the basics allows outfielders to focus on more difficult plays.

Difficulty of Catching Fly Balls

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Catching fly balls in baseball can be quite challenging for many players. There are several factors that contribute to the difficulty.

One issue is that fly balls move in an arc and their trajectory can be affected by wind and other environmental conditions. This makes predicting where the ball will land more difficult. Players have to quickly calculate the arc of the ball while running to get in position.

The spin on fly balls can also cause them to curve or knuckle during flight. This makes the path of the ball less predictable. Outfielders have to constantly adjust to keep the ball in sight.

Catching balls over the shoulder is particularly tricky. Players have to twist their bodies while tracking the ball and often cannot see the exact point it will land. They have to rely on sound and keep their eyes on the ball until the last second.

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The speed of fly balls also adds difficulty. Major league players regularly catch balls traveling over 90 mph. This gives little reaction time to get in position. Any hesitation can lead to the ball dropping in for a hit.

Sun glare and stadium lights at night games can make tracking fly balls visually challenging. The ball can get lost against bright backgrounds. Players need to learn to follow balls through their entire descent.

With practice, players can improve at calculating trajectories, tracking spin, and catching balls in difficult conditions. But catching fly balls will always remain one of the most demanding skills in baseball. The slightest miscue can be the difference between an out and a base hit.

Meaning Behind the Term

Corn In Baseball

There are a few different theories about the origin of the baseball term “can of corn”:

Some believe it originated in the late 1800s and referred to an actual can of corn. At general stores of the time, cans of corn were kept on high shelves and were among the easiest items for clerks to reach. When a clerk heard a request for a can of corn, it was simple for them to just grab one off the shelf. This may have led to the term being used in baseball for routine fly balls that are easy for an outfielder to catch.

Another theory suggests the phrase originated with early 20th century vaudeville performers. Vaudeville actors would juggle and toss items back and forth to each other, including cans of corn. Juggling a can of corn was considered an easy feat. This idea of “easy as catching a can of corn” may have made its way to baseball.

Some argue the term actually dates back to the late 19th century and circus performers. When cans of corn were dropped from high wires into nets, they made for easy targets with minimal effort required. This straightforward act may have inspired the baseball phrase.

So while the exact origin is debated, “can of corn” in baseball captures the idea of an unchallenging, routine fly ball that fielders can easily catch. The phrase likely grew from the broader cultural meaning of corn as something simple and straightforward to grab or catch.

First Known Usage

The first known usage of the term “can of corn” in baseball is commonly attributed to legendary baseball broadcaster Red Barber in the 1930s or 1940s. Barber used the phrase to describe routine fly balls that were easy for fielders to catch.

The exact origin of the phrase is unclear, but Barber popularized the term during his broadcasts for the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees. Some sources cite Barber using “can of corn” as early as the mid-1930s. Others note Barber using the term in the 1940s. Regardless, Barber is credited with bringing the “can of corn” phrase into widespread use in baseball terminology.

Prior to Barber’s usage, there is no definitive evidence of “can of corn” being used to describe fly balls in baseball. Barber’s broadcasts in the 1930s and 1940s helped cement “can of corn” as part of the baseball lexicon to describe routine fly outs.

Usage in Scoring

Can of Corn In Baseball

The phrase “can of corn” is commonly used in baseball scoring to denote a routine fly ball that is easily caught by an outfielder. In scoring notation, “can of corn” is abbreviated as F8 or F9, with 8 referring to the center fielder and 9 referring to the right fielder. This indicates that the outfielder caught a fly ball hit to their position without difficulty.

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When a batter hits a high pop fly to the outfield that doesn’t travel very far and is caught easily, the official scorer will mark it down as a “can of corn” out. It’s considered one of the most routine plays in baseball, requiring little effort from the fielder. The phrase signals that the outfielder caught the ball with ease, like grabbing a can off a grocery store shelf. Since these fly outs don’t involve any special skill or athleticism, they are not valued highly when calculating a player’s defensive stats.

The “can of corn” notation is meant to distinguish easy catches from more challenging fly balls. Outfielders are expected to catch cans of corn smoothly, so if they misplay the ball and drop it, it can be scored as an error. Anything other than a clean catch would be unusual for a routine can of corn fly out. The phrase adds helpful context for assessing defensive performances when reading a box score.

Levels of Difficulty

In baseball, not all fly balls are equally difficult to field. Some are routine catches, while others require much more effort and skill from the fielder. This spectrum of difficulty gave rise to the phrase “can of corn” to describe the easiest possible fly ball to catch.

The defensive spectrum in baseball ranks fielding positions from easiest to most difficult. Outfield is considered easier than infield positions since fly balls are less frequent and fielders have more time to get in position before the ball arrives. Among outfielders, balls hit to center field are generally the easiest to field based on the trajectory and hang time.

Routine fly balls hit to the center fielder are often referred to as a “can of corn” in baseball slang. These high arching balls stay in the air long enough for the fielder to casually get under and make the catch. A can of corn requires minimal effort compared to a line drive or hard hit ball slicing toward the foul lines. Difficult catches in the gaps or against the wall have much less margin for error.

The phrase can of corn highlights the relative ease of catching certain fly balls versus the more challenging plays in baseball. It adds color to discussions around defensive skills.

Famous Cans of Corn

Notable Cycles in Baseball

Notable examples in MLB history of cans of corn include:

  • On July 24th, 1956, during a game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds, Dodgers outfielder Duke Snider caught a routine fly ball from Reds batter Ted Kluszewski. Legendary Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber described the play as “an easy can of corn” for Snider. This helped popularize the phrase.

  • On October 17, 1969, in game 4 of the World Series between the New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles, Mets center fielder Tommie Agee made a spectacular over-the-shoulder running catch in deep left center field to rob Elrod Hendricks of a home run. Although difficult, Mets announcer Lindsey Nelson called it a “can of corn” catch for Agee.

  • More recently, on April 6, 2016, Oakland Athletics outfielder Mark Canha caught a routine fly ball by Chicago White Sox batter Austin Jackson. A’s broadcaster Ken “Hawk” Harrelson used the term “can of corn” to describe the easy play for Canha.

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Phrase Usage Over Time

The phrase “can of corn” has been used in baseball since at least the late 1800s.

Some of the earliest known uses include:

  • In 1896, the Boston Globe used the phrase in an article titled “Pitchers Were Batted Hard” to describe an easy fly ball: “It was a ‘can of corn’ for the outer gardener.”

  • In 1907, the Washington Post described a “can of corn” as a “skyscraper catch” in a routine fly ball.

  • By the 1920s and 1930s, the phrase was commonly used by sportswriters to describe routine fly balls. For example, a 1925 article in the Decatur Herald described a player catching a “can of corn” in the outfield.

While the exact origin of the phrase is unclear, it appears it became popular in the early 20th century as a baseball slang term. Its usage continued throughout the century, though it has declined somewhat in recent decades. Some baseball analysts have called it an archaic bit of slang, but it is still regularly used by sportscasters and writers today to spice up descriptions of routine fly outs. [1]

Conclusion

The phrase “can of corn” has become an integral part of baseball terminology to describe a fly ball hit high in the air that is easily catchable by an outfielder or infielder. Though the origins of the phrase are uncertain, it has endured in the sport since at least the late 1800s.

A can of corn is considered one of the most routine defensive plays in baseball, but the ease with which balls are caught now versus the early days of the sport underscores how much gloves, training, and defensive positioning have improved. Muffed cans of corn by Major League defenders have always been seen as embarrassing errors.

While the terminology is unique to baseball, fans instantly recognize a can of corn when they see an outfielder settle under a towering popup or backpedal onto the outfield grass as the ball descends. It generates neither excitement for a possible home run nor angst for a ball hit into the gap. It is merely an easy out.

The longevity of “can of corn” in the baseball lexicon reflects the continuity and tradition of the game. Even as baseball has evolved technologically, analytically, and culturally, staples like “can of corn” connect today’s game back to its 19th century roots. Whether rookies or veterans, players strive to make these routine outs efficiently and without drama, ensuring cans of corn remain underappreciated but essential plays.

Adrian Cook
Adrian Cook

Hello, I'm Adrian Cook, and I am the author of BaseballMatchDay.com. I have a deep-rooted connection to baseball as I was once an avid player of the sport. Baseball has always held a special place in my heart, and my personal experiences as a player have shaped my understanding and love for the game. Having been on the field, I intimately understand the intricacies, challenges, and joys that come with playing baseball. It is this firsthand experience that allows me to bring a unique perspective to the content I create.

Baseball Basics, Rules, Strategies, and Legends
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