On the Ball

Posted by Bruce Kahl on May 04, 2002

In Reply to: On the Ball posted by James Briggs on May 04, 2002

: :
: : Why do people say "on the ball" when they mean very capable? For example "Joe did that well. He is really on the ball." What is the "ball"?

: I've always understood that the 'ball' is a soccer ball. If someone's 'on it', then they are in in control of it, in command, 'on duty' over it, just like a soldier can be 'on patrol' or 'on parade'. What do others think?

Ethnocentrism at work here?

The early days of American baseball.
A pitcher who "had nothing on the ball" was one who was having a bad outing. Pitchers would put different kinds of spin on the ball to strike out batters. The term implies that the pitcher has no control or speed on the ball.

OED states the first known recorded occurrence of the word as a quote from Collier's magazine, in 1912: "He's got nothing on the ball---nothing at all."

"Bazeball had been veddy veddy good to me".
--Garette Morris, SNL, 1975