Definition Of A Can Of Corn Baseball
Picture this, you’re playing outfield in a baseball game, and the opposing batter hits a long and lazy fly-ball over your direction. You see just how perfectly it flies towards you, so you take a few steps to make sure you’re in the position to catch it. As the ball plops down into your hand, you hear your teammate call it a “can of corn.” Now, if you’ve been playing baseball for a while, you might have heard this phrase said before, or maybe you haven’t. Still, have you ever wondered where in the world did “can of corn” came from?
Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.
Now before we talk about where the “can of corn” originated from, we have to define what it is in the first place.
A “can of corn” is used to describe when a batter hits a fly ball that’s easy to catch for an outfielder. The “can of corn” ball is so easy to catch that it’s practically a guaranteed out for the opposing team. Generally speaking, the outfielder who gets the “can of corn” does not have to move far or exert effort to get the catch.
The definition is pretty easy to understand, but it still seems like a rather strange saying for a baseball game. That’s why we did a little digging into the history of how the term came to exist in baseball.
A “Can Of Corn” Is An Easy Pop-Fly Specifically To The Outfield
When you think of a can of corn, you’d typically think of the food. However, in baseball terms, it talks about a hit that’s an easy pop-fly. More specifically, a can of corn is how players refer to an easy pop-fly to the outfield. For the infield, people typically call easy pop-flies as bloops, lazy fly-balls, or some call it an easy catch. Another variation of the fly ball to the outfield is called the “Major League” pop-fly, a very high fly ball that takes a long time to come down.
However, when the outfielder gets a “can of corn,” the outfielder doesn’t have to move that far to get into position to catch one of these pop-flies. When this happens, the batter hits the ball directly to an outfielder that there is very little spin to the baseball and not that much speed behind it. “Can of corn” balls are a routine catch for outfielders and typically mean the batter is out.
History Of A “Can Of Corn” In Baseball
According to Dictionary.com, the phrase “can of corn” was first noted from 1930 to 1935. The founding of baseball occurred in 1869, so the term was not used for the first 61 to 66 years of baseball’s existence.
Most people don’t associate the word “corn” with baseball, but the phrase “can of corn” has been used in baseball for decades. While there’s no way to pinpoint the exact way it came into existence, a few theories about how this came to happen.
Theory #1: “Can Of Corn” Refers To Grocers Getting Cans Of Corn From Shelves
The most prevalent and widely popular theory of how the “can of corn” came to exist is that it originated from grocers getting cans of corn stacked up high on store shelves.
In the early 1900s, corn was such a popular vegetable that cans of corn would have to stock these cans on higher shelves. For these grocers to reach these high shelves of corn, they would need to use a stick with a hook on end to grab these cans. Once the hook grabbed a can, the grocer would then slide it off the shelves. The grocers would have to catch the falling can with either their hands or in their apron.
The task was such a routine task for these grocers that it was considered an easy catch. The phrase would, later on, evolve to describe tasks that were easy to accomplish; in our case, it’s catching an easy fly ball in the outfield.
This isn’t the only theory out there, but it’s the most popular out of the bunch
Theory #2: “Can Of Corn” Came From The Fact That The Outfield Was Also Known As A Cornfield.
One of the other theories that are out there is that the “can of corn” made it into baseball lingo because the outfield was nicknamed the “cornfield.”
In the earliest days of baseball, baseball was played on farmlands. These baseball fields would sometimes be lined with crops rather than the usual fence. Corn was a staple crop to raise on most farms, so these would be lining these baseball fields, and with the outfield being closest to these crops, they eventually took on the moniker “cornfield.”
One of the best examples of this kind of baseball field is seen in the movie Field of Dreams, where the baseball field is located on a farm, and the outfield has a cornfield lining it instead of a fence. If you want a sample of this field, here’s a short clip of that movie.
Theorists can guess that because the outfield had the moniker “cornfield,” it wasn’t that big of a stretch to say that outfielders, who were out in the cornfield, would be catching cans of corn.
Theory #3: The Pittsburgh Pirates Announcer Bob Prince Was The One Who Popularized The Saying.
While not a theory on the origin of “can of corn,” this theory is on how the phrase gained widespread popularity at present – Bob prince popularized the saying while he was the announcer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was their announcer for a period from 1948-1975. One play in particular that most people believe he helped popularize the term “can of corn.”
On the date September 13, 1970, the Pittsburgh Pirates were playing the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. At that time, the Cubs were two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning. Willie smith came up to bat, and the Cubs were down 2-1. Willie Smith swings, hits the ball, and sends a long fly ball to the centerfielder Matty Alou. It was a prime ball for Matty, and most people assumed that it would be the final out of the match and the Cubs would be going home without a win. But with a stroke of luck on the Cub’s side, that wasn’t the case as Matty Alou dropped the fly-ball
Willie Smith was able to get to second base due to Matty’s error. As Matty Alou fumbled the fly ball, announcer Bob Prince exploded and said that Alou “dropped the can of corn!”
Though the phrase “can of corn” was in baseball slang for an easy outfield fly ball play, most people believe that it was Bob Prince that helped spread the use of this phrase throughout his career as an announcer. Alongside the play above, Bob Prince was credited with saying plays that were “as easy as taking corn out of a can.”
So Who Coined The Phrase “Can Of Corn?”
Like plenty of phrases in the English language to date, it’s pretty tricky to pin down precisely who came up with the original term “can of corn.”
What we do know is that the phrase “can of corn” entered the English language around 1930-1935 and is credited to grocers who would use sticks to get high-up cans of corn. Unfortunately, there’s no one person we can credit with coining the term “can of corn.”
Which Baseball Announcers Say “Can Of Corn?”
If you’ve never heard the term “can of corn” before and wonder if it really is a famous phrase. It’s an excellent question to ask, so let’s cover some notable announcers who managed to use the term “can of corn” in their broadcasting career.
Bob Prince, also known as “The Gunner,” was the announcer for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1948 to 1975 and is frequently credited for saying centerfielder Matty Alou “dropped the can of corn” on an easy fly ball that would have won them the game. If Matty Alou had caught the can of corn, then that play would have been the final one during the regular-season game of the Cubs against the Pirates. The play is described in more detail in the above paragraphs.
If you don’t know who Buck Martinez is, he was a professional baseball player, manager, and announcer for the Toronto Bluejays.
He also managed to be the announcer in a baseball game called Triple Play 2000, where he goes into detail about what a “can of corn” is during pop flies that are launched.
Ken Harrelson, also known as “the Hawk,” played nine seasons in the Major Leagues and is best known for his 33-year run as a broadcaster for the Chicago White Sox
During a play on April 6, 2016, Ken Harrelson initially called a hit as a “can of corn,” but with the ball going into a home run instead of an easy outfield catch. This occurred during the second inning of the White Sox against Oakland Athletics.
As you can see, the history of a “can of corn” is rather exciting and dating nearly 100 years back to old-time grocers, the cornfields of old, and broadcasters who helped the phrase gain traction. We hope that this has helped you understand the phrase better and that you’ll be getting a few cans of corn of your own if you play in the outfield!