Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Episode 108: Keep Your Eye on the Ball Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 108: Eye on the ball

Record Date: April 16, 2021

Air Date: April 21, 2021



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison


And I’m Dan Pugh

Every week, we take an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and try to tell the story from it’s entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

I really only follow one sport and that’s baseball. I just love baseball. I’m a Texas Rangers fan. I was born and raised in the Dallas/Fort Worth market and the Rangers were on the radio almost every night in the Spring and Summer. And since my team played in the American League West, we frequently played against teams in the Pacific time zone, a full two hours earlier than my home in Texas. Which means game times usually started at 7pm if they were a home game for us, or 9pm if they were an away game. Either way ~ there was usually some baseball still happening, or just starting, when I laid down between 9 and 10pm. 

We are in the early stages of the 2021 major league baseball season as we record this, and it was in that spirit that I wanted to find a good baseball phrase. So after a quick search, I settled on learning more of the phrase “Keep your eye on the ball”. 


From the OED...

to have (also keep) one's eye on the ball: to be, or to remain, alert.

1937   Screen Bk. Oct. 102/2   We were forever being told, ‘Keep your eye on the ball’.

1958   Spectator 15 Aug. 230/2   This is an admirably professional book..; its authors keep their eyes on the ball.

2001   N.Y. Times 15 Apr. xiv. 7/5   I have a job to do, to be governor, to keep my eye on the ball.

This phrase is widely believed to come from baseball, at least according to the internet. But alas… 

It’s hard to tell. It definitely seems to have originated with some sort of early ball game as the phrase is seen throughout baseball, cricket, golf, billiards, and even rugby. 



From Gary Martin at 

This one is from the English game of rounders. 

The English novelist William Kingston wrote 'books for boys', and in 1864 published Ernest Bracebridge, or, Schoolboy Days, which includes this scene:

Ellis seized the bat with a convulsive clutch... Remembering Ernest's advice, he kept his eye on the ball, and hit it so fairly that he sent it flying away to a considerable distance. "Capital!" cried Ernest. "Run! run! - two bases at least."

Bonus Fact: Gary Martin also notes the phrase “on the ball” is a shortened version of keep your eye on the ball. 

1873 - Billards



Okay - so from the 1860s to the early 1900s we saw “Keep your eye on the ball” used for almost every sport that involved a ball. Did it originate with baseball? I’m not sure there is any definitive way to make that claim given how many times I found it used in the same period referring to a variety of ball-related sports. 

But one thing we can say with confidence is that baseball has taken over as the lead sport using the phrase - though other sports use it as well. 


1920 - Politics - Colloquially; not involving a ball

1930s and 1940s

Eyes on the Ball was one of those shows sponsored by the an organization trying to get a message across to the American public. This show was sponsored by the Better Vision Institute. The show featured singer Monica Lewis, sports announcer Bill Stern as the Better Vision Yarn Spinner, and the Alfredo Antonini Ensemble.

The show starts with Lewis singing a song. After the first song, Stern told a sports story that emphasized "seeing" or "watching". After Stern's story the Antonini Ensemble played an instrumental song. The 15 minute show ended with Monica Lewis singing another song.

The Better Vision Institute, founded in 1929, was created as an advisory board to make sure that messages about vision are correct, to suggest continuing education for professionals and to raise awareness

1947 golf


1957 baseball

So I was looking for a baseball themed idiom, and I’m comfortable saying “Keep Your Eye on the Ball” is an idiom that is prevalent in baseball ~ though I’m not comfortable saying it originated in baseball. 

I’ve got more uses for you from the modern era, but first we have some people to thank!

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons. 

Bunny Trails is and will always be free. But we are only able to make this content because of the awesome support of our Patrons like Pat Rowe and Mary Lopez. 

Because of Pat, Mary, and many others, you don’t have to pay a dime to enjoy Bunny Trails week after week. But even though Dan and I volunteer our time, there are still real costs to making this show, including hosting fees, equipment maintenance, domain costs, and more. 

And we turn to you, our listening community, to help cover those costs. To do that, we use Patreon, a service that allows you to support the creators and artists you love. Our patrons get exclusive behind the scenes content, early access to episodes, and access to our videos so you can actually watch along as Dan and I make the show. 

If you are in a financially stable place, and would like to support this educational artform, we encourage you to check out the options. We are bunnytrailspod on Patreon, or find links to everything we do at

Modern Uses

1990 Book

Keep Your Eye on the Ball: The Science and Folklore of Baseball

"Keep your eye on the ball!" may be good advice--but it is impossible to do. The batter can track the ball until it is about five feet in front of the plate, but then he falls behind because the ball is moving too fast.

In Keep Your Eye on the Ball, Robert G. Watts and A. Terry Bahill--engineers by vocation, baseball fans by avocation--have devised a series of experiments that put some of baseball's most cherished myths to the test. By applying physics, psychology, physiology, and other scientific principles to baseball, the authors have resolved, once and for all, some of the controversial issues that have intrigued fans for decades, including:

* Do curveballs really curve? Do fastballs rise?

* How do knuckleballs and spitballs work?

* What exactly happens when the ball hits the bat?

* Does corking the bat really help a hitter?

* Are aluminum bats more dangerous than wooden bats?

* Can certain physiological factors help predict success for a hitter?

* Why are more home runs being hit than ever before?

* Are today's players better than yesterday's?

Completely revised and updated to include recent statistics, new research, and additional historical commentary, Keep Your Eye on the Ball is a highly informative and entertaining guide to the science of baseball that all fans of the game--regardless of scientific background--will enjoy.

2006 Video - BTS of a Nike Commercial

Old Nike commercial. Rumor has it that on the first take, they told Tiger to hit the ball a foot or so over the camera. He hit it about four inches above. From sixty yards away. That shot wasn't quite good enough, so on the second take, they told Tiger to hit the camera. 

2013 Song

Jimmy Kelly and The Street Orchestra off the album Viva La Street

It’s an interesting polka rock song that seems to speak on the harsher realities of life. The chorus repeats this phrase twice:

Keep Your Eyes on the Ball

Your Eyes on the Ball

Who’s the winner who’s the loser 

2016ish Viral Video 

A man figure is teaching a young boy to hit a ball off a tee post. He says several times to the young boy, “Keep your eye on the ball”, so the boy bends over and puts his literal eye on the ball - which elicits laughter from the bystanders and a sweet hug from the male figure. It’s cute because everyone involved has an authentic reaction to the situation, from the misunderstanding of the idiomatic phrase by the young boy (who is presumable still learning the language due to his age) to the realization of the male that the idiomatic expression was taken literally by the boy, rather than figurative. You can find a link to the video on our Patreon page. 

2020 Malaysian sports documentary by Chen Yih Wen. It tells the true story of Malaysia’s blind football team, known as the Blind Tigers, and details the lives of 3 players and the coach.

Now - Eye on the Ball Talk Radio Show. It’s based in Arizona and focused on Tuscon sports with prominent guests that have Tuscon connections.  It’s since expanded it’s scope after being picked up by Fox Sports and iHeart Radio.

Wrap up...

It’s interesting that I wanted to talk about a baseball phrase but ended up learning this phrase has a varied usage during its formative years. I actually love that it seems to have been used in almost every sport with a round ball, from cricket to croquet, rounders to baseball, golf to rugby, and everywhere in between. 



That’s about all the time we have for today. If you have a modern example of this phrase we should have included this week, we’d love to hear about it! Reach out to us on any of our social media accounts: Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram all @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website


If you have a chance, leave us a review on your listening app of choice, or head over to where you can leave a review for the show as a whole, or individual episodes of the show.

Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 


Words belong to their users.

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