This week on Throwback Thursday, we have a question from Christine, senior reporter of our St. Louis Cardinals site, Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Christine writes:
Why do they call the third game in a tie series the rubber game?
First, let’s take a look at the terminology we’re dealing with, then we can delve further into the etymology.
The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, Third Edition, defines a rubber game as:
The last and deciding game in a series when the previous games have been split; e.g. the seventh game of the World Series.
So our scenario is such: two teams are battling it out in a three-or-more-game series, and after an even number of games concluded, the two teams are “tied,” so to speak, in their number of wins. In the typical three-game series of the regular season, The Brewers won the first game, The Orioles took the second, and now our third game, the rubber game, shall decide who wins the series. Simple.
According to The Dictionary, the term rubber game was first used to describe this setup as early as 1855 in the weekly newspaper Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature, and the Stage, which was one of the more popular sporting publications of the latter half of the 19th century. …And likely the all-time best-selling Whig-agenda’d sports publication in American history, if I can make a guess.
Our journalist, along with his anti-Jacksonian political leaning, was the first to connect the rubber game to the mushrooming baseball vernacular. However, he did not invent the term, nor did the rubber game terminology originally belong to baseball. Like many of baseball’s other wonderful turns of phrase, this one was borrowed; In this instance, the phrase was borrowed from another sport:
Yes, the card game, bridge. Or, contract bridge, to be precise, (because I do not know how precise it is necessary to be when discussing such things).
In the game of bridge, a “rubber” refers to a best-of-three set of games, in order to determine a winner. The objective is to “win a rubber” or “score a rubber” (winning two games). Since most baseball series consist of three games, the transfer of the term to our sport is rather painless.
Now, I am pressed to add that in my research I quite unexpectedly uncovered another prominent baseball descriptor that is also generously donated from the game of contract bridge. It is one all of you will be familiar with, so consider this a bonus to today’s Throwback Thursday post. Sit tight, folks:
None other than your very own jump-in-the-air-scream-and-shout grand slam, in bridge, denotes bidding and winning all 13 tricks to make game, which is especially rare and earns the team particular scoring bonuses.
Pretty nifty, eh? Thank you, bridge, for your language and contributions to our favourite sport.
Bridge: challenging to play, (probably). Drudgery to watch. Take a moment to imagine if contract bridge was America’s televised national pasttime. And they say baseball is boring.
Do you have a favorite baseball tradition? Is there a particular ghost of baseball past you would like to revisit? Ever wonder why they do what they do, and when they started doing it? If you have a suggestion, question, or submission for Throwback Thursday, contact Elise by tweeting @Elise_Myers.