hot stove league

The gab, gossip, and debate that take place during the winter months when baseball is not being played.

Chris Sale was a prize of the 2017 Hot Stove League
Chris Sale was a prize of the 2017 Hot Stove League


These discussions replaying the past season and anticipating the next occurred at such gathering places as saloons, poolrooms, general stores, barbershops, and drugstores where there was a coal- or wood-burning, potbellied stove at the center of the conversational group. The term was given added popularity with the publication of Lee Allen’s book, The Hot Stove League (1955). See also fanning bee, 2; gab-circuit. Syn. stove league; winter league, 3. 1st use. 1908. “This situation [that the New York Giants will win] . . . will give the ‘fans’ something to talk about when the Hot Stove League opens its season” (The Sporting Life, Sept. 19, p.3; Stuart Y. Silverstein).
etymology. From Allen’s book (p.v): “No one knows when baseball followers first began to gather in winter around the hot stove of a barber shop or country store. Obviously, there has been talk about baseball as long as the game has existed. The phrase, ‘hot stove league,’ is of uncertain origin. Ernest J. Lanigan . . . thinks it was almost certainly coined by a sports writer around the turn of the century, perhaps by Ren Mulford, who covered baseball in Cincinnati and wrote long winter columns about the sport. A glossary of baseball terms published in 1897 does not include it.”
However, Peter Tamony assembled information showing that the term predates 1900, when it was used to describe the off-season in horse racing. A dispatch from Knoxboro, N.Y (Spirit of the Times, March 20, 1886), contained this line: “The sleighing has gone, and most of the trotting is done around the hot stove at present.” An even earlier report (Spirit of the Times, March 17, 1877) contained a reference to “stove speed” ascribed to a trotter: it would seem to be a clear reference to a speed imagined during a gathering of the hot stove league.
The general idea is even older. Tamony discovered this quotation from P.T. Barnum’s Struggles and Triumphs (1927) under “hot stove league”: “In nearly every New England village, at the time of which I write [in the 1820s], there could be found from six to twenty social, jolly, story-telling, joke-playing wags and wits, regular originals, who would get together at the tavern or store, and spend their evenings and stormy afternoons in relating anecdotes, describing their various adventures, playing of practical jokes upon each other, and engaging in every project out of which a little fun could be extracted by village wits whose ideas were usually sharpened at brief intervals by a ‘treat,’ otherwise known as a glass of Santa Cruz rum, old Holland gin or Jamaica spirits.”
Barry Popik offered the following from The Sporting News (Dec. 29, 1939), putting the idea in a baseball context back into the 19th century: “In Selma [Ohio] . . . exists one of the oldest Hot Stove leagues in the country. It was founded 45 years ago in Clark’s general store and post-office, where it still holds its sessions, and while some of the original members have passed on, the same old stove still crackles and the surroundings generally are much the same as they were in the mid-nineties.”
extended use. Devotees of any endeavor who meet or discuss past or future developments. “Welcome to the Hot Stove League season of politics. The future is a blank page, so hypotheses abound. The past, however, has a box score. The most fascinating fact it reveals is the disconnection between the pinnacle and the base of national politics—the presidency and the House of Representatives” (George F. Will, Newsweek, Jan. 20, 1986).

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