Listen to enough baseball games, and you’ll surely hear something like this from a broadcaster: “And he hits a can-of-corn out to shallow left field.”
He did what?
Few baseball idioms are more stupefying than “can of corn.” How exactly can a routine fly ball hit to an outfielder be compared to a can of the Jolly Green Giant’s second favorite vegetable?
Well, there are a few explanations, but one seems to stand out above the rest. The term was first used all the way back in 1896 to describe a fly ball hit so high that a fielder has ample time to get directly under it. It came from old-fashioned grocery store clerks that stacked their canned goods on high shelves and pulled them down with a long pole. It was said that an experienced clerk could easily catch one of the falling cans. Hence, an easily caught, “can of corn” fly ball.
Then, there are the less popular theories. Like the one that says a fly ball is as easy to catch as “taking corn out of a can.” I really think I could find much better ways than "taking corn out of a can" to describe something that is easy to do. Apparently, whoever came up with that theory has never cut themselves on the side of an aluminum can after realizing that they don’t have a can opener and trying to use a knife. (It wasn’t me, I promise. It was a college roommate who was desperate to eat some Spaghetti-Os… Okay, yes, it was me.)
Or how about the fact that when a batter hits a fly ball, it makes a sound like tapping against a hollow, tin can of corn? Yeah, that doesn’t work for me either. What about the old-fashioned “cornball” made of popcorn and molasses? No, that doesn’t sound right… nor does it sound like something I’m interested in eating. We’ll just stick with our grocery store theory.
There you have it: the term “can of corn” comes from grocery store clerks stacking their canned goods high on shelves and catching them in the same manner an outfielder would camp under a high fly ball.
Now, if I could only get the Green Giant to stop calling them corn “niblets.” Mostly because I don’t think I ever want to eat anything that involves the word niblets.