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The Hidden Language of Baseball

Baseball is set apart from other sports by many things, but few are more distinctive than the intricate systems of coded language that govern action on the field and give baseball its unique appeal. During a nine-inning game, more than 1,000 silent instructions are given—from catcher to pitcher, coach to batter, fielder to fielder, umpire to umpire—and without this speechless communication the game would simply not be the same. Baseball historian Paul Dickson examines for the first time the rich legacy of baseball’s hidden language, offering fans everywhere a smorgasbord of history and anecdote.

Baseball’s tradition of signing grew out of the signal flags used by ships and soldiers’ hand signals during battle. They were first used in games during the Civil War, and then professionally by the Cincinnati Red Stockings, in 1869. Seven years later, the Hartford Dark Blues appear to be the first team to steal signs, introducing a larcenous obsession that, as Dickson delightfully chronicles, has given the game some of its most historic—and outlandish—moments.

Whether detailing the origins of the hit-and-run, the true story behind the home run that gave “Home Run” Baker his nickname, Bob Feller’s sign-stealing telescope, Casey Stengel’s improbable method of signaling his bullpen, the impact of sign stealing on the Giants’ miraculous comeback in 1951, or the pitches Andy Pettitte tipped off that altered the momentum of the 2001 World Series, Dickson’s research is as thorough as his stories are entertaining. A roster of baseball’s greatest names and games, past and present, echoes throughout, making The Hidden Language of Baseball a unique window on the history of our national pastime.--Book jacket


"If you absorb even a fraction of the information in his [Dickson's] tales of baseball's silent strategy and how teams have used it to win games through the decades, your next trip to the ballpark will be considerably richer."—Mike McNamee, Business Week, Online

"A pleasure...Dickson writes extremely well and appreciates the nuances of baseball controversy...This fine and original book should be in any literate fan's library."—Luke Salisbury, Sunday 8/24, Boston Globe

"Dickson's impressively researched, well-written page-turner isn't just for baseball fans. The anecdotes he recounts are fascinating, and the trivia is obscure enough that even a baseball fanatic will be enlightened."—Jessica Flint, Washingtonian Online

"We'll recommend The Hidden Language of Baseball (Walker Books, $22.00 even). Hidden is a swell diversion, full of little stories such as Bill Veeck's using telescopes to steal signs (and perhaps the pennant). We don't think you get enough of that nowadays. Dickson traces the secret art from its humble beginnings during the Civil War (where they were an extension of battlefield signals) on up to last year's playoffs, when St. Louis snuffed out the Johnson/Schilling tandem, perhaps because of tipped pitches. While it doesn't decode the cryptics on the field today, The Hidden Language of Baseball offers up a little dessert buffet of anecdotes that should keep the fathers of America feeling tender and warm in their easy chairs."—Mudville Magazine: The Voice of Baseball

"And no discussion of signs would be complete without those used in baseball, which are the subject of Paul Dickson's "The Hidden Language of Baseball: How Signs and Sign Stealing Have Influenced the Course of America's Pastime," a charming celebration of the role of cheating in our national game."—David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

"Prolific slangman Paul Dickson, meanwhile, combines two loves in The Hidden Language of Baseball: How Signs and Sign-Stealing Have Influenced the Course of Our National Pastime. This anecdote-rich history of the code wars, from the glory days of the Boston Beaneaters (signaling champs of 1893) to the pitch-tipping in last season's playoffs, is the kind of inside baseball even fair-weather fans can savor."—Jan Freeman, Boston Globe

"Dickson, whose more than 40 books include several baseball titles, returns to the national pastime with a thoroughly researched account of the game's idiosyncratic forms of communication. As hard as it is to unearth fresh information about such a richly documented sport, Dickson has plenty of new stories and details. Who knew, for example, that the savvy Ty Cobb would often tip his hand, giving opponents an idea of when he planned to bunt or steal a base? And who had any idea that the Chicago White Sox 1959 pennant drive was aided by sign stealing from the center-field scoreboard? Anyone who has ever played or coached youth baseball or paid close attention to the third-base coach at a big-league game will appreciate the author's guided tour through the history of diamond sign language. Dickson is a fine storyteller, and his latest book is a welcome addition to the rich canon of baseball literature.
—Kevin Canfield, Booklist

"Fascinating for fans of all ages."—Bill Ott, Booklist