The first documented use of the term comes from an article published on September 15, 1886, in Sporting Life. Reporting on a baseball game, Barry Popik wrote, “Joe Quinn is troubled with ‘Charley-horse’”. But, where did the unusual phrase come from? Unfortunately, there is much debate over that. In "The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary", Paul Dickson gives a great history of the possible origination. Some of the more notable theories are:
H.L. Mencken, one of the most influential American writers of the 20th Century, cited Billy “Boileryard” Clark, a player for the Baltimore Orioles in the 1890’s. Bill had argued that the term came “from the name of Charley Esper, a left-handed pitcher, who walked like a lame horse.” However, this theory was ultimately proven wrong when it was proven that the term was used before Esper joined the Orioles in 1894.
Another popular theory comes from two similar tales at a racetrack. Each version involves a baseball team betting on a horse who is winning throughout the race, until it pulled up lame in the last few yards.
The first version again involves the Orioles organization. Several players had backed a horse named “Charlie”, who ultimately pulled up lame and lost the race. The next day, a player pulled a tendon in his leg and was likened to “our old Charlie horse.”
The second version of the story involves the Chicago Cubs. As with the Orioles, the Cubs were said to have bet on a horse named “Charley.” A letter from Peter Tamony (an American folk historian) read, “When George Gore hit what should have been an inside-the-park homer and strained a thigh muscle rounding second, so that he had to limp into third, Billy [Sunday] cried, ‘Here comes the Charley horse.’ ”
Finally, Tim Considine, in his book “Language of Sport”, offers the following story, although it is uncredited, “Often in the 1800’s, old workhorses kept on the grounds of ballparks were called Charley. The movements of the injured, stiff-legged ballplayers were likened to the labored plodding of these old horses, and the injury itself eventually became known as a ‘charley’ or ‘charley horse’.”
Come back soon to learn what causes a Charlie horse and how to quickly prevent and cure them.