What Is an Uncle Charlie In Baseball? [Explained]


Sometimes when watching baseball, you may hear an announcer or player refer to a pitch as an “Uncle Charlie”.  What is an Uncle Charlie in baseball?

Uncle Charlie is another name for a curveball.  Although it can be used to describe any curveball, it is usually reserved for a pitcher that has a premium curveball. 

The origin of the term Uncle Charlie is unknown.  Let’s discuss some of the possible origins of Uncle Charlie in baseball and its place in the game.

What Is an Uncle Charlie In Baseball?

Uncle Charlie is a nickname given to a curveball pitch in the game of baseball. Its exact origin is unknown.

The application of the term Uncle Charlie in baseball may differ from person to person – meaning some may use it only in reference to a quality curveball, using the nickname almost as a sign of respect for the quality of the pitcher’s pitch. But there are others who will use Uncle Charlie in baseball to reference any type of curveball, even if it is not an elite curveball.

What Is A Curveball in Baseball?

A curveball is a pitch that breaks downward as it nears the plate.  It has a slight curve to it, but its greatest breaking action is downward when thrown correctly.  It is a type of “breaking ball” that a pitcher might throw, along with a slider.

A curveball is thrown by driving two fingers forward on the baseball as it is delivered, causing forward spin that creates diving action on the baseball as it nears home plate.

This pitch is very difficult for batter to pickup because the ball drops suddenly from eye level into the dirt.  When the pitch is halfway to the plate it looks very hittable, causing the batter to begin firing their hands to swing.  By the time the ball reaches home plate, if thrown correctly, it has driven down below the strike zone, but the batter has already committed and cannot stop the momentum of his swing.

Because of that, the curveball generates a lot of swing and misses in baseball.  That causes it to be known as a “strikeout” pitch.

Origin of Uncle Charlie In Baseball

Who created the term “Uncle Charlie” for a curveball and why they created it is not known.  There are however a few theories as to why.

Some historians of the game say the term is connected to CB Radio use in the 1970s.  Some CB radio users at the time referred to the Federal Communications Commission as “Uncle Charlie”.  They say the slight connection between“Curveball” (CB) and CB Radio somehow allowed the term “Uncle Charlie” to jump this very loose connection. 

Other experts point to an early 20th century columnist by the name of Walter Winchell as the person who first coined the term. 

Curveballs are sneaky pitches that deceive hitters and trick their eyes.  There’s an unpredictability to them that makes them unique and catches hitters off guard. 

Similarly, in some parts of American culture uncles represent loose, wise-cracking, mischievous pranksters.  The counterbalance (curveball) to a strict, hard-nosed, no-fun father (fastball).  Some believe this connection to American culture may be the origin of this term.  

Regardless, no one knows for sure where this term came from. 

What Is A Lord Charles In Baseball?

Lord Charles is the term used to describe Dwight “Doc” Gooden’s curveball.  

Dwight Gooden pitched 16 seasons in Major League Baseball and is considered by many experts to have the nastiest curveball in the history of the sport.  In the 1980s instead of referring to his curveball as “Uncle Charlie”, the name was upgraded to “Lord Charles” to represent the sheer dominance of the pitch.

Since then, the term “Lord Charles” is used in baseball circles to refer to the most elite versions of a curveball.

What Is A Hanging Curveball?

A hanging curveball is a failed curveball that does not break down far enough and instead remains (hangs) in the strike zone for the hitter to pound. 

Curveballs are very hittable pitches when they do not break sharply.  The velocity on a curveball is much less than a fastball (or slider) and therefore a much more comfortable velocity for hitters to react to.  Also, a failed curveball does not have a sharp, diving action – instead it will have a small, flat loopy action that hangs in the strike zone and does not deceive the hitter.

Many hanging curveballs result in the baseball being driven far in the air.  Curveballs typically hang in the strike zone when the pitcher failed to finish his delivery correctly. 

What Are the Different Versions of a Curveball?

Besides a standard curveball, there are variations of the curveball that a pitcher may use instead because of effectiveness.  All curveballs have a very similar downward spiking actions, but a pitcher will play with grips to find something that he is comfortable with.  Other than a standard curveball, these types of curveballs exist:

  • Spike Curveball – Thrown with a spike grip.
  • Knuckle Curveball – Less rotation causing a knuckling drop. 
  • Slurve – Combination of a Slider and a Curveball

Uncle Charlie in Baseball: Are There Other Nicknames for A Curveball?

Curveballs have other nicknames in baseball besides Uncle Charlie.  Here is a list of some of the other terms used to describe it:

  • 12 to 6 – In reference to its spiking drop as if its dropping from 12 to 6 on a clock
  • Hammer or Yellow Hammer – Because a curveball drops like a hammer thrown end over end
  • Yakker – Soft reference to a bird that has swooping action
  • Hook – In reference to its curve drop like the shape of a hook.  Also, because it can hook a batter into swinging at an unhittable pitch.
  • Spinner – Due to its top spin
  • Cement Mixer – Another name for a hanging curveball.  It spins but doesn’t move down much. 
  • Knee Buckler – In reference to a curveball’s ability to make a batter look foolish.
  • Deuce – Because the catcher signals the pitch with two fingers
  • Bender – Due to its bending action.
  • Breaker – Also due to action of pitch.  Breaker may also be used for a slider.

Does Every Pitcher Throw an Uncle Charlie in Baseball?

No.  Some pitchers will use a slider instead of a curveball, or some other type of breaking ball. 

While a curveball has always been a popular pitch, a slider can be an extremely dominant pitch.  

Sliders are thrown with more velocity and have late break.  A premium slider can look like a fastball when it is halfway to the plate because the break is so late.  This causes the batter to fire their hands and by the time the batter realizes that it is a slider, they are already committed.  

Many dominant relief pitchers will combine a late-breaking hard slider with a premium 95mph+ fastball.  This is a very difficult combination for a hitter to compete against because halfway to the plate they look very similar.

Paul Johnson

Paul has been with us from our beginnings. He focuses on a wide range of sports, including NFL, NBA, MLB and golf.

Recent Posts