Uncle Charlie

Meanwhile, back at your question, an “Uncle Charlie” (also known as a “Lord Charles” or “Sir Charles”) is a curveball, a pitch that veers away as it nears the batter . Dickson dates the first use of “Uncle Charlie” to 1935, in a column by Walter Winchell in the Havana Evening Telegram. Unfortunately, the etymology of the term is stubbornly obscure. But Dickson suggests that the words “Uncle Charlie” themselves are onomatopoetically suggestive of a curve ball, presumably with the soothing “Uncle” evoking the initially bland course of the ball and the explosive “ch” of “Charlie” suggesting the moment when the ball swerves out of reach. It’s a plausible theory, though a bit unsatisfying. I did a bit of poking around and found that Charles Graham, owner of the San Francisco Seals minor league team in the 1920s, was known to players and fans of that era as “Uncle Charlie,” so perhaps there’s a connection there. In any case, “Uncle Charlie” is very much still in use today. Its superlative form, “Lord Charles,” was coined in 1984 in tribute to New York Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden’s curveball, considered to be in a different league than the average “Uncle Charlie.”

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3 comments on this post.
  1. Dave Khan:

    It always seemed self-evident to me (though admittedly without any other, supporting evidence, as “self-evident” would imply) that “Charlie” was simply a colorful association with the initial “C” for curveball, in much the same way that “foxtrot” means the letter “F” and “tango” means “T”. The addition of the “Uncle” is no real stretch, and adds a bit of flavor, but I have also heard the pitch referred to as simply “the Charlie” on occasion.

  2. OL’ CHARLIE » meetthematts.com:

    [...] happened to our catcher today.  His next time up a big curveball (an Uncle Charlie) bounced off his helmet…so he starts trotting to first only to get called back for not doing [...]

  3. Chesstopia:

    I heard Vin Scully use the term many years ago. I knew it was a curve ball from picturing the letters–written in longhand. These letters are filled with twists and turns. Just look at the two capitals: U and C and you get the picture.

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