Not all of my friends are into baseball as much as I am. As such, I sometimes find myself explaining strategies, decisions and sometimes just terminology. At Saturday’s GT/Alabama game I was telling my Wonderful Girlfriend about Wezen-ball’s Tater Trot Tracker when just such a question arose:
WG: “What’s a tater?”
Me: “A homerun.”
WG: “Why is a homerun called a tater?”
I’ll admit, I was stumped.
I began my search where all research starts these days: Google. There we get the basic information. Tater is slang for potato, and also for homerun. “Tater People” was also a medieval term for the Norwegian and Swedish Travelers. Wikipedia says the term started in the 1970’s as “long tater.” An Oct 1969 issue of Ebony tributes the term to a young Reggie Jackson. (Its worth scanning down further in the article for a sweet pic of Joe Dimaggio in an A’s uniform. He was Reggie’s hitting coach.) Reggie was quoted in People as saying, “Taters—that’s where the money is.” In 1987 Minor Leaguer Dave Bresnahan peeled a potato to look like a baseball and used it in a game to fool a baserunner. A tater tot is a young prospect who projects to hit for power in the majors. There’s even a line of MLB licensed Mr. Potato Heads. Still no real answer though.
Asked for her novice opinion, the WG responded with the following:
“Nothing about this baseball term makes sense. First, and now that I know it is tater and not potato, I see no connection between a ground grown tuber and a baseball flying out of the park! After this my mind goes to tater tots but this seems to be another dead end. I know my co-workers love tater tots and will often take them instead of fries….huh, calling them fries would make more sense as it could be the result of some early misunderstanding “a high fry ball to center…”
Secondly, a tater is oddly shaped, full of eyes and inconsistent from tater to tater. A baseball is round with stitches and all baseballs have to meet precise requirements for uniformity. Tater tots are all exactly the same.
To this end, I can only conclude that home runs are called taters because, like tater tots, they are good and you’ll always want more.”
Hard to argue with logic like that. But the best link I found was a 2006 SI article by Pete McEntegart. McEntegart references Paul Dickson’s The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary as noting that the “long potato” and “potato” terms may have come from the Negro Leagues. McEntegart credits Boston first baseman George Scott for popularizing the term between 1966 to 1979. However, I think the real answer is in the wording of this article which states “he was mashing homers and calling them taters.” Of course! Mashed potatoes. Taters in their best and most delicious form. I can definitely picture guys standing around the batting cage, saying, “Wow, Joe. You really mashed that one.” “Yep. Just like a tater.”