I should say from the outset that I do know the answer to this question, because I have just researched it. But it is so interesting that I felt it was worth an airing.

I am not clear if it is 'off-topic' to ask a question to which one knows the answer, but if it is I have no doubt whatever that someone will say so.

In baseball a 'pitcher' throws a very similar ball to a cricket ball directly at the batsman (if that is what he is called). The ball does not strike the ground first. Yet he 'pitches'.

In cricket a bowler delivers a ball at a wicket by first making it strike the ground somewhere in front of the batsman. (It doesn't have to strike the ground. If it hits the wicket without doing so the batsman is said to have been 'yorked').

But 'pitching' refers to the ball striking the ground (the pitch). We talk about short-pitched and long-pitched deliveries, of balls that pitch on the leg stump, or outside the offstump etc.

It long puzzled me why the person delivering a baseball was called a 'pitcher', because the ball does not 'pitch'. But now I know the answer. Does anyone else?

Edit. I should add that the word is also used in golf, with the same meaning that it has in cricket.

  • 2
    It's perfectly in order to answer your own question if you know the answer: it's even encouraged. But you do need to tick a checkbox on the Ask Question page to open the answer box.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 16, 2014 at 23:53
  • @AndrewLeach I'll leave it there overnight to see if any of the Americans come up with the answer.
    – WS2
    Dec 16, 2014 at 23:59
  • 3
    Doesn't pitch mean "to throw" (as in pitch horseshoes, or pitch that can of beer this way)? I don't understand why it makes any difference whether the ball strikes the ground or not.
    – J.R.
    Dec 17, 2014 at 1:46
  • 1
    @paulkayuk This is an example from the laws of cricket, dated 1816 W. Lambert Instr. & Rules Cricket 32 If a Ball should pitch short of its proper length on the off side, and should twist toward the top of the wicket, the Striker must be very careful in playing back that he does not hit his own wicket. Meaning 12a from the OED shows that as well as meaning 'throw' (sense 13) 'pitch' also means to crash to the ground or fall heavily, with examples from the 14th century.
    – WS2
    Dec 17, 2014 at 10:56
  • 1
    @WS2 nice find, how did that one pitch up? I sit corrected, with so many long standing meanings, pitch is definitely a 'utility word'.
    – paulkayuk
    Dec 17, 2014 at 11:00

3 Answers 3


Unlike now, baseball pitchers were originally required to deliver the ball underhand. This pitching, is an arcing underhand throw like a pitching wedge in golf. The overhand, throwing motion is defined as an antonym in the original Knickerbocker rules in 1839.

9th. The ball must be pitched, not thrown, for the bat.

The ball had to be literally "pitched," like a horseshoe. Overhand pitching in baseball was not allowed until 1884, although the progression from underhand to overhand was gradual, and pitchers stretched the limits of the rule by increasing speed and developing movement from the underhand position.

WIKI-Knickerbocker Rules

Eventually the pitcher was allowed to deliver the ball overhand, but by then the pitcher name was firmly attached.

  • Knockerbocker rules sounds like something your mum would make up to justify why you could only have sundae ice creams on the weekend… Dec 17, 2014 at 2:38
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Sure it's not knickerbockers' rule?
    – WS2
    Dec 17, 2014 at 8:51
  • @WS2 Ahem. Yes, knickerbocker. Butterfingers. Dec 17, 2014 at 10:30
  • It was the Knickerbocker Club's Rules for Baseball. I only pulled out one rule, the ninth.
    – Oldcat
    Dec 17, 2014 at 19:19

People will by now perhaps have gathered that 'pitch' has two meanings (among many).

Baseball is employing sense 13 in the OED; which basically means to 'throw'. It has examples dating from the 14th century. 'Pitching hay' means 'throwing hay', and that is why a 'pitch fork' is used.

The word 'pitch' as used in cricket or golf is based on meaning 12a, also with examples from the 14th century, meaning to 'crash to the ground', or 'strike the ground'. OED meaning 12b refers specifically to sport, with references to the laws of cricket from 1816.

In cricket and golf 'pitch' is describing something the ball does, whilst in baseball it is something the 'thrower' does.

Very often, if a bowler (in cricket) is bowling 'short', someone will shout 'pitch-em up a bit'. Short-pitching is an important issue in cricket since it is used to intimidate the batsman as it causes the ball (travelling at anything up to 90mph) to come up around his head. Just a couple of weeks ago the young Australian batsman, Phil Hughes, was tragically killed when a ball (short-pitched) came up and struck him on the back of the neck, beneath his helmet, causing an artery to rupture.

Metaphors such as 'he pitched up for the meeting' follow the cricket or golf meaning.

  • In the rules I found, the meaning is even more specific. Pitch is to deliver the ball underhand, throw is to deliver it overhand.
    – Oldcat
    Dec 17, 2014 at 19:22
  • @Oldcat So strictly speaking a modern baseball 'pitcher' should be called a 'thrower'. Is that what you are saying?
    – WS2
    Dec 17, 2014 at 19:52
  • Well, he is allowed to throw underhand. Every so often a pitcher comes along with a submarine delivery.
    – Oldcat
    Dec 17, 2014 at 20:07

Related to pitchers originally pitching under, but now throwing over but retaining the term.. In cricket, the ball was originally bowled, like in bowls. Pitching the ball (bouncing it) came in when bowlers experimented with spinning the ball to make it behave less predictably.

Over time, the term stuck but overhand bowling became the norm, so much so that an international incident threatened to ensue when an Australian bowler bowled under-arm against New Zealand in 1981*. The rules were later amended to formally restrict bowling to above the waist.

It's known simply as the 'underarm incident' and can be watched on YouTube if you are so inclined.

  • And in that sense of pitching it meant the ball striking the ground. Terms like 'he pitched it well'. or 'he pitched it short' refer not to the action of the bowler, but where he managed to get the ball to strike the ground.
    – WS2
    Dec 20, 2014 at 14:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.