This term was used by a MLB sports announcer yesterday (5/10/2015 - Padres vs. Diamondbacks @ 2:10:41) talking about relying on relief pitchers.

“Diamondbacks today trying to ham and egg it with that bullpen.”

I guess the idea is that the bullpen personnel are very expensive, so just rely on that investment to get you out of a jam???

Is this idiom “a thing”? Is there an origin or more logical explanation to visualize what this idiom means?

  • 2
    Perhaps it's this very first Google search result for "ham and egg it idiom": ham and egg it definition at Urban Dictionary.
    – pyobum
    May 12, 2015 at 0:51
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/188455/…
    – user66974
    May 12, 2015 at 8:42
  • This whole question is very interesting to me, because I’ve never come across that meaning of ham-and-egg it before. In fact, I’m not entirely sure if I’ve ever come across the phrase at all, but I think I must have, because my immediate reaction (too immediate to be logically deduced) was that it means ‘to run away’, being rhyming slang for leg it. Your quote here would have me utterly flummoxed, I’ll readily admit (people with diamonds on their backs trying to scarper with a bovine enclosure?!). But then, even with your explanation, I still don’t really understand it. Sports … May 12, 2015 at 17:40
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: The team nickname Diamondbacks refers to the diamondback rattlesnake, a large, venomous serpent that is fairly common in the desert southwest of the United States; Phoenix, Arizona is in the midst of that part of the country.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 29, 2016 at 19:59
  • @SvenYargs Well, if I'd known that, I wouldn't even have been able to identify the quote as being about sports. I would probably have thought it was something from a David Attenborough show. And of course I still don't have a clue what those bulls and their pen are doing in the middle of a baseball (?) game… basically that whole quote is utter gibberish to me. May 29, 2016 at 20:45

4 Answers 4



Noun: an ordinary or regular person; also, a rather incompetent person.

Examples: He is a real ham-and-egger, rubbing elbows with the construction workers and plumbers and cops at the local watering hole.

Origin: from the old days when miners held boxing matches; the winner got money, the loser got a ham and egg meal

via - http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ham-and-egger

That seems like an original sports usage, but it morphed:


pp. In team sports, producing a good overall result by having different team members perform well at different times.

via - http://wordspy.com/index.php?word=ham-and-egging

Too bad there is no known etymology to the more current sports usage, however in match play golf a team will take the best score of player A on one hole, player B on another, C and D on others – and apparently (but I have no support) the term “ham and egging it” took off first in golf, and was then applied to other sports.

I don't see a direct relation to the Chicken and the Pig fable, although one might fabricate one based on a pitcher getting the Win (committed) and relief pitchers just getting a few outs without a Win or a Save (involved) - but that does not really apply to the game in question - or if it does it applies to all games and the game in question is nothing special that would merit distinction - it seems to me.

I guess I came here to see if someone could use the various online tools (that I know nothing about) to see when the term first appeared and how it was used.


This is one of the strangest idioms I've come across.

The definition, compiled from an Urban Dictionary entry and a random website:

Using one thing to get something done while the other things are set aside temporarily

Obviously not ideal references, but they get the job done. This definition is also vague, but I'll explain more.

A very possible origin of the idiom derived from here:

In the case of actual ham and eggs, the pig is killed while the chicken is simply providing an egg and is not killed.

In the case of this announcer talking about the Diamondbacks', he is saying they are switching pitchers out every now and then so no one pitcher is on the field for the entire game.

This usage is technically the opposite based on what I defined above, but it can still be used the exact same way.

  • 2
    The way I heard it is "The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed." May 12, 2015 at 1:49
  • @StoneyB That is absolutely a correct interpretation. The origin I provided pretty much explains what yours means.
    – Adam
    May 12, 2015 at 1:51
  • Ah, bah! I should have followed your link. Never mind! May 12, 2015 at 1:52

A seemingly relevant entry in Paul Dickson, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (1989) applies specifically to relief pitchers:

ham-and-egg reliever n. Relief pitcher who is usually brought in after the game has been decided. "He is reliable but nondescript," says Patric Ercolano in his Fungoes, Floaters and Fork Balls [1987], "like a meal of ham and eggs."

I have listened to radio play-by-play of baseball games for decades, in various parts of the country—Houston, Baltimore, New York, and the San Francisco Bay Area—and never heard an announcer use that expression. If the speaker that the OP quotes were using "ham-and-egg" in the sense that Dickson reports, it would probably mean that the game was probably a blow-out, and that the Diamondbacks were either so far ahead or so far behind that they just wanted the less valuable relief pitchers in the bullpen to come in and eat up some innings so that the key relievers would be fresh for the next day's game. The normal term I've heard used in such situations is "mop-up duty" or "mopping up."

But the box score for the game in question—San Diego Padres at [Phoenix] Arizona Diamondbacks, May 10, 2015—indicates that the game was anything but a blowout: the Diamondbacks won 2–1, getting solo home runs in the second and third innings and withstanding a single run by the Padres in the sixth inning. The odd thing about the game wasn't that the Diamondbacks recognized that the game had been decided early and so went to their mop-up men; it's that the starting pitcher lasted only 3⅓ innings despite giving up only 2 hits and 2 walks and throwing only 56 pitches.

But ESPN's recap of the game explains why things unfolded as they did:

PHOENIX -- Daniel Hudson gave the Arizona Diamondbacks all he had.

Making his first major league start since June 2012, the right-hander pitched into the fourth inning Sunday before exiting with a two-run lead. Four relievers held on, finishing a 2-1 victory over the San Diego Padres.


Aaron Hill and A.J. Pollock homered for the Diamondbacks. Hudson, limited to 56 pitches in 3 1/3 scoreless innings, had been used exclusively out of the bullpen since returning late last season from two Tommy John surgeries.

The game was the fourth in four days between the two teams. Arizona had won 11–0 on May 7, a game in which the Diamondback starter had pitched seven of the nine innings—and Hudson had pitched the eighth inning in relief. On May 8, the Padres had won 6–5, with the Diamondbacks' starter going only 4⅔ innings and five relievers seeing action; and on May 9,the Padres had won 6–4 in 12 innings, with the Snakes using six relief pitchers over the final five innings.

So for the fourth game of the series the D-backs had started a guy who was still coming back from Tommy John surgery, had pitched an inning of relief three days earlier, and hadn't started a game in three years. They had used four of the pitchers in their bullpen in consecutive games (both close losses), so those players (including Brad Ziegler, who I think was their closer at that point), were almost certainly unavailable to pitch again. That left the other half of their bullpen—including two pitchers with ERAs over 6.00 and a third with an ERA over 4.00—to see the game through, once the starter faltered.

Under the circumstances, in saying that Arizona was "trying to ham-and-egg it," the announcer probably meant that the Diamondbacks were going to try to grind out a win by turning to a series of undistinguished relief pitchers because that's all the team had available. But if so, he was using "ham-and-egg" in a significantly different sense from the one that Dickson lists in his dictionary.


No no no. It refers to SCRAMBLING. If you ham & egg it, you scramble to put together a good score, even though you are not playing well, or things are not ideal. In a golf match, you might say you shot a "60" by ham & egging it if the team is not playing well, but you alternate playing poorly so that the team ekes out a good score anyway. Solo, you might "ham and egg" a 72 even though you never hit a single green, by scrambling and getting up and down for par. On a baseball team, when the starting pitchers are struggling, a bullpen might "ham & egg" a string of wins by pitching a couple of innings a piece.

  • This answer seems plausible, but it doesn't cite any documentary evidence in its support. Please consider adding a discussion from a reference work that defines the term "ham and egg" in the same way that you understand it.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 30, 2016 at 18:34

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