Clint Hurdle with plenty of red on his face.

First Came the League, Then the Bush

A topic that often rears its ugly head every few weeks or so is the idea of bush league play. This term is tossed around all willy-nilly by just about every single person involved with, competing in, writing about, or talking about baseball. Fans and insiders alike will see a play go down and mutter, “C’mon, that’s bush league!” I do it all the time, but lately, I’ve come to wonder why something is bush league? What rules are in place to sort out the bush league plays from the acceptable stuff?

The short and easy answer is, there are no rules when it comes to whether or not a play is bush league. There really should be, because what most people seem to think is bush league I don’t find to be very bush league at all. That being said, I am but one person, one person who is about to attempt to codify the concept of bush league. Most likely a useless attempt, but I’m bored and have some time on my hands.

Let’s start with the basics, the definition of bush league as taken from the Oxford Dictionary,

bush league
/ˈbo͝oSH ˈˌlēɡ/

a minor league of a professional sport, especially baseball.
“their bush league image”

not of the highest quality or sophistication; second-rate.

second-rate, inferior, mediocre; unprofessional, amateur; unsophisticated, provincial, small-town; informal: small-time; informal: jerkwater, two-bit; informal: rinky-dink, hick; informal: corn-fed
“don’t get involved with these bush-league investors”

This is both helpful and kind of confusing. Who the heck uses the term corn-fed to refer to something bad? In High School, I played for a very bad football team. Every year we played a very good football team in the Joliet Catholic Hilltoppers. We referred to them as corn-fed all the time, but not because they were second-rate. Rather, it was because they were a bunch of big corn-fed farm boys who we knew were going to whoop our asses. Whoop away they did, it’s the inevitable result when a bunch of corn-fed Hilltoppers faces a team subsiding on the Charger Burger.

Either way, the point is that the actual definition is that of second-rate. I don’t like or agree with the minor league terminology being associated with the definition. A caveat needs to be placed there of a very low minor league. A team pulling something bush league reminds us of a team at the lowest level of baseball. Maybe instead of bush league we should have just always said that’s some High School or Little League shit, either term would fit based on my past experiences. Alas, bush league is the term we all use, because we hate bushes or some nonsense like that.

There are a few supposed bush league occurrences that are easy to dispel. 

  • Bunting for a hit at any point in a game, even to break up a no-hitter is not bush league. It’s called trying to get on base which is the whole point of baseball. If your team couldn’t manage to get a player out when they bunted then that’s on your lack of playing good defense to prevent a bunt hit.
  • Hidden ball tricks, faking a tag without the ball, etc. are definitely not bush league. They are fun plays within the game, and if you fall for them that’s on you.
  • Scuffing the ball or using some sort of substance on the ball isn’t bush league. I get it, technically it’s cheating, but to be honest I don’t particularly care if someone is doing this. I don’t think the idea of always needing to play with a clean ball is a sound one and I don’t find it to be a problem if a pitcher is able to get away with using a doctored ball.
  • Neither a pitcher celebrating a big out or a hitter pimping a home run is bush league. Players are allowed to show emotion, get over it.
  • A batter dropping his bat anywhere in the vicinity of a catcher or a catcher tossing his mask anywhere in the vicinity of the batter isn’t bush league. These are quick action plays, there’s little reason to think any obstruction was taking place, no matter how much you may hate Manny Machado.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are some occurrences that are very easy to define as bush league.

Last, but not least, we have the one topic no one can seem to agree on, throwing at batters. It’s pretty simple people, using a baseball as a projectile is bush league. There’s no reason to hit anyone, ever. I don’t care if they hit 5 home runs off of you, hurt a fellow teammate, or told you that Quentin Tarantino is a good director. Using a baseball as a 90+ mile per hour projectile isn’t just bush league, it should be criminal. The entire purpose is to hurt the batter because they more than likely hurt your feelings in some way. Which is worse, some hurt feelings or possible brain damage? Also included here would be stuff like fielding a ball and throwing at the runner because you’re a giant baby who is upset over his bad performance, ala Rob Dibble.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, far from it in fact. I’m sure I missed all kinds of stuff that is regularly labeled as bush league. If there’s more you want to add feel free. The same goes for arguing with what I’ve decided is bush league and what isn’t. Though I mean, I am right so I’m not sure what you would be arguing per se? Oh, and I forgot, the Pittsburgh Pirates under Clint Hurdle have proven themselves to be bush league year after year, so if in doubt watch some of their games and you’ll have a better idea of what’s bush league and what isn’t.

Lead photo courtesy of Joe Sargent – SB Nation

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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