tag up
Posted: 05 March 2019 05:24 PM   [ Ignore ]
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To “tag up” is a baseball term.  Consider a runner on base with fewer than two outs.  The batter hits a fly ball.  The runner can attempt to advance, but with a caveat.  If the ball is caught, the runner must return to his original base, and if the fielder can throw it to that base before the runner gets back, the runner is out.  So typically a runner will advance some distance from the base, ready to take off running if the ball is not caught, or to return to the base if it is.  But once the ball is caught and the runner has touched his base, he is free to take his best shot.  So if the fly ball is hit deeply, the runner may return to his base before it is caught, then take off the instant the fielder touches it.  This is known as the runner “tagging up.” This is not an official term, but it is bog standard.  I don’t think anyone would consider it slang.

The question arose on another forum of how old the term is, so I looked it up in Dickson’s Baseball Dictionary.  I was surprised to see the first usage listed as 1935.  Could it really be that late?  The non-slang baseball vocabulary was well established long before then.  So I did a newspaper dive.  I antedated it to 1912, but this still is late.  But I have a theory about its etymology that I want to run past y’all here, as a sanity check.

While I don’t find the modern sense before 1912, to “tag up” appears quite frequently around the turn of the century.  It is used as a transitive verb, apparently meaning to post, as on a bulletin board.  In the baseball context it often meant to score a run.  The image, presumably, is that the run is tagged up, i.e. posted, on the scoreboard.  Here is an example from the Honolulu Advertiser of August 14, 1902:

Cunha tagged up one in the fourth on his own double and Joy’s triple…

Here is the earliest example I have of the modern sense, from the Greenville (S.C.) News of July 14, 1912:

With the bases full, Gosham hit a long fly to Yount, Wilbur tagging up and scoring.

Here the event of “tagging up” clearly is distinct from the resulting score.  How did this shift occur?  A runner can tag up and attempt to advance from any base, but the most common situation by far in which he does this is on a deep fly ball is when that runner is at third base.  This is both because he is running away from the outfielder making the catch, who therefore has a long distance to throw; and because the payoff of scoring is higher than merely advancing a base, making the risk worthwhile.  Tagging up at second base to advance to third is much less common, and tagging up a first base is essentially unknown unless there is some other runner who draws the throw from the outfielder.  So a runner at third tagging up a run on a deep fly ball was reinterpreted as the runner tagging up his base, then scoring. 

The usage seems to have caught on pretty quickly.  Here it is extended to a runner from second.  This is from the Columbus (Ga.) Daily Enquirer of April 18, 1913.  Moore is at third base and McClain at second.  The batter hits a fly ball to Matthieu:

Matthieu settled under it, and Moore, after tagging up, went over the pan.  The crowd yelled, but instead of throwing home, to catch Moore, Matthieu used his head and threw to third, catching McClain, who had also tagged up on the fly, completing a double play.

It may or may not be significant that both of these early uses are from Southern papers.  This will require more digging.  In the meantime, what do y’all think?  Plausible?  Insane?  Banally obvious?

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Posted: 05 March 2019 06:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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"Tag” is also used when the base runner is “tagged out” before he reaches a base, whether going forward of running back to a base. It might be associated with the game “Tag” played by kids, which is simply touching someone before they reach a designated spot. I would think that meaning goes back quite far. So it isn’t hard to see how it would transfer to baseball.

Etymology Online has this: “a touch in the game of tag,” 1878; in baseball, 1904, from tag (n.2); the adjective in the pro-wrestling sense is recorded from 1955.” https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=tag

[ Edited: 05 March 2019 06:41 PM by Eyehawk ]
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Posted: 06 March 2019 03:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Note that tagging a runner out is only required if the runner has no place to go back to.  If, for example, a runner on first decides to try for second base in a situation where the batter has not hit the ball but the ball is in play, to be put out the defensive fielder has to tag him.  On the other hand, if he is advancing to second because the batter has hit the ball fair but not on the fly, the defensive fielder has merely to touch second base, typically with his foot, while in control of the ball before the runner touches it.  This is referred to as a force out.  It should also be noted that in the early days of base ball the batter was out if the fielder caught the ball after one bounce.  In this case any runner was not required to tag up in order to attempt to advance a base.  Richard Hershberger would be better than I in putting a date to the rule change that did not allow an out on a ball caught on one bounce.

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Posted: 06 March 2019 06:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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In the meantime, what do y’all think?  Plausible?  Insane?  Banally obvious?

Certainly neither insane nor banally obvious, but I’d want to see some documentation of the transition.  As it is, it’s an interesting speculation but I have no particular reason to accept it.  (My default setting is “origin unknown”; I have no craving for explanations.)

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Posted: 06 March 2019 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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While I don’t find the modern sense before 1912, to “tag up” appears quite frequently around the turn of the century.

What do you mean by “quite frequently” and are you talking exclusively about a baseball context.

Poking around BYU’s Corpus of Historical American English turns up no hits around the turn of the century. If the sense of posting a score is limited to baseball, that might explain its absence for the corpus and would strengthen your hypothesis.

On the other hand, the choice of prepositions in English phrasal verbs doesn’t follow any rhyme or reason (I was just explaining that to student, a native Spanish speaker, a few minutes ago). So my money would be that this is a random coincidence unless, as LH says, you’ve got some further documentation of the transition.

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Posted: 06 March 2019 11:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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This is all, as I will be the first to admit, very preliminary.  Dave:  “Quite frequently” probably overstates the case, but “more frequently than before” does not.  Using newspapers.com and genealogybank.com searching on “tagged up” (using the past tense to reduce the false positives) brings in over five times more hits for 1901-1920 than for 1881-1900.  This holds up adding “baseball” as a search term, but this isn’t as meaningful as one might like, since neither database is good about separating individual articles from the rest of the page. 

Of course these might simply reflect the papers in the databases increasing over the years.  Next I looked through the hits, starting with 1881.  Baseball, or sporting in general, contexts don’t appear until the very end of the 1890s.  Thereafter they appear regularly.  The earlier uses are consistent with a sense of “posting.” What is posted varies.  In the baseball context a runner might tag up a run, while a fielder might tag up an out, if he is fortunate, or an error, if he is not.  Sometimes it is a person being tagged up, in the sense that the two teams each tag up a lineup. 

A batter might tag himself up.  The York (Pa.) Daily of June 9, 1911 reported on “Doc” Abbot hitting two triples in a game, and goes on to add that “On both occasions that “Doc” tagged up at third, Danville Umlauf sent his garden mate with a double and then a single.” Might this serve as an instance of the tradition LH asks for?  Another possible factor is the concurrent rise of “tag” in the sense of the fielder with the ball touching the base or the runner.  Searches on “tagged first [or second or third] base” show this usage appearing also around the turn of the century.  In modern usage it is always a fielder doing the tagging.  One doesn’t say that a runner tagged the base on, say, a steal.  But this might give rise to a feeling that to tag a base means to touch it, regardless who who is doing this.  Consider this example from 1911, predating the earliest in my original post, from The Charlotte (N.C.) News of July 23:

In the first Kipp went to second on an error, tagged [sic] on a fly and was sacrificed home.  In the fourth Doak doubled, tagged up on a fly and scored on a sacrifice fly.

I agree that at this point we have interesting speculation.  I am trying to figure out how the idea could be run down, or if that is possible.

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Posted: 07 March 2019 06:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I am trying to figure out how the idea could be run down

Here are some helpful instructions.

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