Finding the meaning of the baseball phrase “ducks on a pond” is as easy as, well, shooting ducks on a pond. The hard part is figuring out why a phrase used to describe something easy (ala shooting fish in a barrel) transformed into a description of runners on base during a baseball game.
When a batter steps up to the plate with “ducks on the pond,” it means he is batting with runners on base, and the phrase is sometimes even used specifically to describe the bases being loaded. Visually, the idea of ducks representing baserunners is quite pleasing. In fact, I just imagined ducks waddling around the bases in baseball uniforms and enjoyed the mental image quite a bit. But the question remains:
Why would anyone say that in the first place?
To answer that question, we first have to explore the someone who said it: former Washington Senators broadcaster Arch McDonald.
Born in Arkansas, McDonald was known for the easy-going Southern style that filled his broadcasts in his early years with the Chattanooga Lookouts and eventually the major league Washington Senators. Mel Allen even served as his assistant on Yankees broadcasts for a year before taking over for him full-time when McDonald decided New York City wasn’t for him and went back to Washington. Not only did he coin the phrase “ducks on a pond,” he is also responsible for “right down Broadway” and Joe DiMaggio’s nickname “The Yankee Clipper” (comparing him to a smooth, graceful sailing ship as well as “clip” sometimes being used to mean hit).
Being that McDonald was from Arkansas and a country boy at heart, it’s not a stretch to say that he was familiar with hunting and the different terms used in the sport. Most hunters would easily prefer shooting a still duck on a pond rather than trying to shoot a moving target flying around the sky, and that’s why the phrase “as easy as shooting ducks on a pond” came into use. To take that idea a step further, a batter who sees runners on base when he steps up to the plate would be as excited as a hunter who sees ducks on a pond because it’s much easier for a batter to get an RBI if runners are already on base.
Hence, the phrase “the batter steps in with ducks on the pond.”
McDonald died of a heart attack while on a train ride from New York to Washington in 1960 at the age of 59, and no one ever asked or recorded his answer as to why he started using the term, so we’ll never know for sure exactly what he was thinking.
Regardless of his motives, McDonald gave us another example of a way to take a seemingly common baseball situation and describe it in an unconventional and entertaining manner.
Editor’s Note: I am not at all condoning the shooting of ducks on a pond. Or ducks not on a pond. Or shooting ducks anywhere for that matter. I think ducks are great. In fact, Donald Duck is actually my favorite cartoon character. So, just to be clear: this column is anti-duck shooting. Okay, glad we got that all straight.