Baseball Lingo in the Medical World

      Baseball is more than a sport here in the USA; rather, it is an essential cultural element that, in part, defines what it is to be an American.
      A number of Major League Baseball teams have become an integral component in the daily lives of citizens who reside in the city that the team calls home. Citizens living in these cities frequently have considerable emotional attachment to their home team. Similar deep connections also occur in other countries, where professional soccer takes the place that baseball occupies in the USA.
      During the many years that I lived in Boston, I often told visitors that to Bostonians, the Red Sox were not a sports team. Instead, the Red Sox were a religion, with Fenway Park as their cathedral. The proof of this tongue-in-cheek comment could have been clearly seen by anyone watching last year's World Series victory parade through the same downtown Boston streets that had seen the tragic event involving the finish of the Boston Marathon just a few months earlier. The aroused emotions, felt by many of the parade spectators, were clearly visible on their faces.
      I can already hear readers pondering: Yes, baseball is indeed deeply embedded in our nation's cultural heritage. But what does baseball have to do with the practice of medicine? And here is the answer. The use of baseball lingo during hospital rounds or in the clinic is an everyday occurrence. Here are some recent examples that I have personally used or recently heard during time spent in the hospital.
      I often instruct medical students who are starting their third-year rotation in internal medicine not to attempt to hit a diagnostic “home run” by conjuring up a rare entity in their differential diagnostic list for a specific patient.
      I tell them to remember the dictum that common things occur commonly. A patient who is doing poorly is at times referred to as “in a deep hole” or already having “two strikes against him/her.” When a patient with a common illness presents in an unusual or atypical fashion, it has been said that “this patient really threw us a curveball.” When asked if I would be willing to come and discuss a particular topic or patient when I am already scheduled to be doing something else, I often ask if I could have a “rain check,” that is, can I do it another day?
      Faculty, residents, or students whose performance is outstanding are frequently said to have a “lot on the ball” or to be an “ace” at performing a specific procedure. Comments poorly expressed or hypotheses that are highly unlikely to be true are said to be “out in left field” or “way off base.” When asking for a semi-quantitative guesstimate, I have often asked or heard others request a “ballpark figure.” Unfortunately, motor vehicle accident victims in the emergency department may have been struck by a “hit and run” driver. Newly arrived faculty, residents, or students are usually instructed in the “ground rules” for a particular clinical unit or department. And finally, my favorite use of a baseball phrase is sometimes employed when my medical team of residents and students is caring for a very ill patient for whom only a few therapeutic options remain. I have been heard to use the lingo commonly enunciated by baseball announcers speaking about a particular game that is not going well for the home team: “Folks, it ain't over til it's over!”
      As always, I appreciate comments concerning my editorials placed on our AJM blog:

      Linked Article

      • Football Lingo in the Medical World
        The American Journal of MedicineVol. 128Issue 1
        • Preview
          Although Alpert's recent editorial1 on the use of baseball lingo in the medical world knocked the discussion over the fence, one might question whether it carried fair or foul. In the southeastern United States, in our experience, football reigns as the supreme sport.
        • Full-Text
        • PDF