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What Are Pepper Games in Baseball?

pepper games

Pepper games are pre-game exercises among a group of players to help them sharpen their reflexes for the fast pace of the coming live action.

In Pepper, a batter hits a series of grounders and line drives to a group of teammates standing about 20 feet away from him. They, in turn, field the hits and “pitch” the ball back to the batter, who hits the ball back toward the group.

It’s a fast-paced, cyclical “game” that requires finesse on the part of the batter to not injure the fielders standing so close to him, and supreme attention from all involved.

Oftentimes, Pepper is played as an actual game, where fielders stand in a line, and the front man tries to catch the batted balls. He continues until he misses, and then moves to the back of the line.

Similarly, a batter continues hitting until he swings and misses or hits a foul ball. At that point, he becomes a fielder at the back of the line, and the fielder at the front of the line becomes the batter.

Here are some other facts about Pepper games:

Why is it called “Pepper”?

“Pepper” is an apt description of what the batter is doing — he’s peppering the ball to his fielding teammates, sprinkling it among them like you might sprinkle a plateful of food with pepper.

And why Pepper instead of Salt? Probably because the game is so quick and spicy!

What does a “No Pepper” sign mean?

“No Pepper” signs mean exactly what they say — Pepper has been prohibited in the area around the sign by the team.

Why would a team ban Pepper games when they can help their players get read for a game? Well, Pepper can be hard on the grass and dirt near home plate and the infield since it produces a concentration of batted balls and cleat traffic.

And Pepper also represents a potential danger to fans since batted and thrown balls are constantly in motion and coming in from a variety of sources and angles … it’s not hard for one to go wayward.

Most Major League Stadiums have displayed “No Pepper” or “No Pepper Games” signs near home plate for decades.

Who invented Pepper games?

Pepper is one of those baseball conventions that seems to have been around just about as long as the game itself. Like home runs and arguing with the umpire, Pepper has always just been there … or so it appears from the scant mention of the origins of the practice.

But at least one school of thought lays credit for the invention of Pepper with the House of David baseball team in the early 20th century, and maybe even influenced by the group’s founder, Benjamin Purnell.

Why is Pepper banned in MLB ballparks?

Pepper has been banned from many major league ballparks for decades, and, today, most MLB teams have prohibited the practice. The main reasons are 1) because it can be dangerous to fans and other players on the field and 2) the concentrated play tends to damage the grass and dirt surfaces of the playing field.

Do major league players still play Pepper?

With escalating salaries and increased vigilance on keeping players as healthy as possible and on the field as often as possible, Pepper and many other training practices of the past have largely fallen by the wayside. It’s very rare, indeed, to see major leaguers taking part in Pepper games, particularly at MLB stadiums, where the practice is almost universally banned.

Do MLB players still play Pepper out of the public eye? Hard to say for sure, but you can bet players at other levels — including the sandlot — still break out the old “Pepper shaker” from time to time!

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