Have you ever played pepper? If not, you missed out. Pepper is, or was, a common pre-game exercise where one player hits sharp, short grounders to a group of fielders who are standing approximately twenty feet away. The fielders throw the ball to the batter who uses a short, light swing to hit the ball on the ground back towards the fielders. The fielders field the ground balls and continue tossing the ball to the batter. To get the hitter out, he would swing and miss or if the ball is caught by the fielder, the batter’s turn ends. This exercise helps keep the fielders and batter alert, develop quickness and good hand-eye coordination.
The reason it became known as “pepper” was that the batter was “peppering” his teammates with the baseball, “sprinkling” the ball to them. This stems from the pepper used at dinner time – the user sprinkling the black stuff onto their dish.
Few major leaguers play pepper today. As recent as the mid-1970s, it was a common site in ballparks before batting practice. A famous sign at old Tiger Stadium in Detroit, MI, warned “No Pepper Allowed” behind the plate and near the dugouts- because the team wanted to protect their own players and spectators prior to games. As of 2012, most stadiums ban pepper because they do not want the excessive wear and tear on the grass in one area.
MLB Network’s Bill Ripken, Harold Reynolds and Joe Girardi demonstrate the game as Dan Pleasac chimes in with his commentary of the game.