What is the Origin of the Baseball Term, Uncle Charlie?

The term Uncle Charlie in baseball refers to a pitcher's curveball. It's slang, just like deuce is.

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A baseball pitcher uncorking Uncle Charlie (a curveball) to the batter.
That's a bit 12 to 6 curveball headed toward the plate

Which is great, because you can just picture ex-MLB player, Brewers announcer, and punch and judy hitter, Bob Uecker, saying the phrase after a particularly bendy curveball in which the batter wildly spins around swinging and missing, before ending up on one knee shaking his head.

Anyway, Baseball-Almanac would suggest that Candy Cummings, a pitcher in the late 1800s who was born in Ware, Massachusetts, might have invented the curveball. They also state that the actual name Uncle Charlie refers to a former Harvard President named Charles Elliot. Charles considered the curveball cheating, so perhaps this was the game's way of sticking to him forever?

We wouldn't hold it against you for not knowing this baseball term.

Other Baseball Jargon / Nicknames for Curveballs

Famous MLB Pitchers Who Throw Ol' Uncle Charlie on the Mound

Everyone remembers hard throwers like Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan. Not as many remember the guys with the nasty hook. So we'd like to refresh you with a list of pitchers who put Uncle Charlie to work on the mound.

Doc Gooden

According to SportsFanFocus, Doc Gooden received an upgrade to his curveball, among the filthiest pitches the game has ever seen. His Uncle Charlie became the "Lord Charles", presumably because it required distinction. Having watched Dwight pitch back in the 80s and 90s, we're confident that Lord Charles was an amazingly appropriate nickname for the devastating pitch.

And probably no single pitch helped him throw one of MLB's greatest seasons ever than Lord Charles, as Gooden compiled a statline that saw him earn 24 wins, 268 strikeouts and a 1.53 ERA in 1985. Gooden took home the Cy Young award that year for sure.

Gooden wasn't known for being a Gold Glover, but he didn't have to be with Lord Charles punching out batters left and right.

Adam Wainwright

Major League Pitcher, Adam Wainwright used "Uncle Charlie" as his nickname he used during player's weekend in 2019 (Aug. 23-25). Fitting, as Wainwright's curveball was his most used pitch over the course of the year.

"Everywhere I go, people call me Waino or Uncle Charlie," Wainwright said. "No one ever calls me Adam. I don’t even know my first name anymore."

Bert Blyleven

Perhaps the best curveball in the history of the game belongs to Bert Blyleven. The big righty was just up there tossing his Rawlings around like it was a wiffleball game in the backyard with friends.

There's Uncle Charlie, there's Doc's Lord Charles, and then there's Bert's Greasy Chuck. Bert's curveball is dirty, real dirty. Probably actually dirty, because it looked like a letter-high pitch until it ended up in the dirt with the hitter foolishly swinging over the top of it.

Sandy Koufax

Thrower of not one, but two immaculate innings is Dodger legend, Sandy Koufax. He also throws one of the meanest Uncle Charlie's in the history of the sport. It was so visceral and real that Blyleven began piecing his curveball together from the radio play-by-play of Vin Scully describing Koufax's curveball.

Nolan Ryan

Oh, you thought Ryan was all Texas heat? Well think again. Nolan's Uncle Charlie was more of a General Patton Charles of a pitch than Uncle or Lord. As pure of a power pitcher that there ever was, Nolan Ryan's curveball was anything but crafty finesse.

Just check out the dominant 12 to 6 on the video below. Ryan's only mode on the mound was ATTACK!

Wrapping Up

From one curveball lover to another, we can't get enough of a good Uncle Charlie. Pay attention to whoever is throwing the best one in the 2023 World Series, they must just put that team over the edge.

References & Sources