In Reply to: Re: Way out in left field posted by ESC on May 23, 2008 at 10:18:
: : "Way out in left field". Bob Costas claims it originated in the 1920's when the New York Yankees had Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth hitting home runs in the right field bleachers. So, if a kid chose to watch the game from the left field bleachers, he had little chance of getting a souvenir. He was clueless, or literally "out if left field". It made sense, but I did not see it in your list of phrases. Was it in any print before 1920?
: Merriam-Webster says "left field" originated in 1857. But it doesn't say when the figurative use came in vogue. Here's all I know:
: WAY OUT IN LEFT FIELD - Out of touch, eccentric, odd; also, misguided. This term alludes to the left field of baseball, and there is some disagreement concerning its origin. Some writers suggest it comes from the remoteness of left field, but only in very asymmetrical ballparks is left field more distant than right field. Others suggest it alludes to the 'wrongness' of left as opposed to the 'rightness' of right. A correspondent of William Safire's in the "New York Times" said it was an insulting remark made to those who bought left-field seats in New York's Yankee Stadium during the years that Babe Ruth played right field, putting them far away from this outstanding player. Perhaps the most likely theory is that it alludes to inmates of the Neuropsychiatric Institute, a mental hospital, which was located behind left field in Chicago's old West Side Park. Hence being told you are 'out in left field' would mean you were accused of being as peculiar as a mental patient. In any event, the term has been used figuratively for various kinds of eccentricity and misguidedness since the first half of the 20th century. John Ciardi also cited a synonym, 'out in left pickle,' maintaining that 'pickle' was baseball slang for the outfield. Perhaps it once was, but it is no longer current." "Southpaws & Sunday Punches and other Sporting Expressions" by Christine Ammer (Penguin Books, New York, 1993).
"Used from about 1950 on, the term appeared in 'Publishers Weekly' : 'Novak's use of religious metaphor may put him in left field.'" From "Facts on File Dictionary of Cliches," second edition, edited by Christine Ammer, Checkmark Books, New York, 2006.