What Does Bush League Mean in Baseball?

What Does Bush League Mean in Baseball

When watching a baseball game, you may hear players and fans say, “That’s Bush League,” after a questionable play or action happens. The phrase, bush league, happens both in the big league and minor league games. So what does bush-league mean, and where did that phrase even come from exactly? Find out more about the meaning, the origin, examples, and more below!


What Does it Mean When Someone Says Bush League?

The phrase bush league describes an action or attitude that ordinarily is unsportsmanlike. Technically speaking, someone can do something unfair, but it is not against the rules. A play can either be bush league, or even a Major League player can be known as a bush leaguer.


What is the Origin of the Phrase Bush League?

What is the definition of bush league in baseball? The phrase “bush league” was slang for teams below the minor league level. Effectively, professional baseball teams would grab amateurish (or second-rate) talent from the “bush league” to add to their rosters. However, the term began to change like any slang overtime.


The bush part of the phrase represents a rural area in America. A rural area can be small towns where they seem inferior to more urban areas. The term, in a nutshell, cast a dived between one group and another.


Minor League Baseball in the Early 20th Century

Minor league ballplayers are subpar when you compare it to Major League Baseball players. Since Minor League teams and players did not make as much money as Major League teams, they were amateurs. Since Minor League baseball was desperate to attract fans to the stands, they would hold gimmicky promotions to lure spectators to the seats.


What are Examples of Bush League Baseball?

An example of a bush league play varies between interpretations, but below are some of the most common complaints you’ll hear via this phrase.


Pitchers / Defense

  • A pitcher throwing at a batter after giving up a home run via the prior pitch to a different batter
  • Defensemen faking the throwback to the pitcher to tag the runner then out as they leave the base
  • A defenseman making an unnecessary hard tag on a runner
  • Throwing directly at a baserunner without trying to make the throw to a base


Hitter / Runner

  • A hitter who breaks up a no-hitter via a bunt, especially late in a game, is unsportsmanlike behavior
  • A runner spiking the defensive man on their way to the base
  • Swinging at a 3-0 pitch late in a game with your team up by seven or more runs
  • Running against a pitcher when their team is struggling to get outs.
  • Pete Rose Bowling over a catcher during an All-Star game, which the game had zero impact on anything
  • An offensive player running by a defensive man and yelling got it to confuse them. This play took place via Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees in 2013
  • Slapping the ball out of the hand of a pitcher as they are running by. The umpires got this call correct by calling Alex Rodriquez (New York Yankees) out for this in 2004 (against the Boston Red Sox), but it may be the most famous bush league play in history.


Recent Bush League Moments

In 2015 in game 2 of the NLDS, Chase Utley took out the second baseman, Ruben Tejada, on a slide. Utley’s slide ultimately broke the second baseman’s leg and eventually moved the momentum to the Dodgers over the Mets. While some can argue that the play was in Utley’s right, others complain that the behavior was borderline unacceptable.


Another example of the second base drama came in 2017 with Manny Machado. Manny Machado slid hard into second base and spiked Dustin Pedroia on the play. While there is an argument if the play was on purpose, the point is that Dustin Pedroia was never able to be the same player after that.


Both of these examples had the same storyline, which is interesting. The second baseman received an injury, and the runner was now a bush league player in the league. In retaliation, both players were thrown at by the opposing pitcher shortly after that play at second base. 


Conclusion on Bush League Baseball

Unwritten rules and slang terms in baseball are what makes it an exciting sport. The term bush league represents players and teams and makes up the DNA of what makes the sport great. There is a level of professionalism in the field, but there are times where those rules need stretching. While most bush league plays won’t lead any change in the score, they are a way to spark emotions between players and team, not to mention fans.


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