John and Marie (I’ve merged your two posts), I didn’t recollect hearing this one before, but I do like it. And as it turned out I actually wrote most of this posting before I realized that it had already been discussed and that I had actually been a contributor -- How soon we forget. (>:)
What follows are some additional definitions, quotes, etc., some of which overlaps what has already been said. Anyway, this is what I was able to dig up. Surprisingly, try as I did, I could find no reliable source that offered a definitive, origin for the baseball connection. If asked, I’d label the idiom,‘in one's wheelhouse,’ with the dreaded ‘origin uncertain’ affixed. The OED
, for some reason, doesn't discuss the idiom's existence (although it uses it - - odd for a December 2013 update and considering nearly every online dictionary includes it.
I’ll begin with some definitions of ‘wheelhouse’ and then work my way to the idioms:
WHEELHOUSE, WHEEL-HOUSE, WHEEL HOUSE noun U.S.
[1805 - 1815]: 1) A part of a boat or ship serving as a shelter for the person at the wheel. 2) A deckhouse on a ship (originally a steamboat) located forward near the bridge containing the steering wheel, compass, charts and navigating equipment, and communication systems to the engine room and other parts of the ship — called also pilothouse. 3) The covering or housing of a paddle wheel in a paddle steamer. 4) Roundhouse (A circular building for housing and switching locomotives).
5) Now chiefly historical
in a) A round building or shed in which a machine, especially a horse-powered mill, is operated by circular movement. b) A building in which cart-wheels are stored.
The Oxford English Dictionary
in its 2013 ‘wheelhouse’ update adds, without etymology, the following two definitions and never specifically mentions that ‘wheelhouse‘most is often used as part of an idiom, although they use it that way in all of part (b) and in most of part (a) (see below).
OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY
: Draft Additions December 2013
WHEELHOUSE North American
. The area of the strike zone where a particular batter is able to hit the ball most forcefully or successfully. Also in extended use.
Note: I use the double bracket ‘[[ ]]’ to include something in a definition, quote, etc., which I feel is worth noting.
<1959 “He had a couple that came right into the wheelhouse—the kind he used to knock out of sight—and he fouled 'em off.”—San Francisco Chronicle (California), 11May, page h1/2>
<1968 “It will do wonders for a hitter's morale to know that he only has to swing on pitches right in his wheelhouse.”—Los Angeles Times (California), 14 July, d11/3>
<1998 “It was a great play . . . I just gave him a yell and he put it in my wheelhouse and I got a good shot off.”—Press-Herald(Nexis) (Portland, Maine), 1 February, 111 d>
<2006 “He'll pound any pitch that ventures into his wheelhouse.”—Three Nights in August by H. G. Bissinger, ix. page 154>
The field in which a person [[or enterprise]] excels; one's [[or its]] strongest [[area of expertise]] interest or ability [[capability]].
[[Within one’s area of expertise or interest. (Dictionary.com
[[Very similar and usually in the same category: <The two folk singers are in the same wheelhouse.
[[A place or situation in which one is advantageously at ease: <As the campaign swings to the South that should be right in his wheelhouse.
> <Van Helsing was right in Universal's wheelhouse on every level except for budget.
> (Oxford Dictionaries
[[Up one’s a alley: <That question was right up his alley.>
<1987 “He told me he . . . couldn't play reggae. Of course he could, but it wasn't his wheelhouse, and he wanted to keep his playing honest.”—Musician, August, page 97/1>
<1998 “Here was Brooklyn congressman Chuck Schumer speaking at NYU about gun control, his wheelhouse issue.”—New York Magazine, 14 September, page 32/1>
<2004 “When you're doing a romantic comedy, you're in Meg Ryan's wheelhouse.”—Down and Dirty Pictures by P. Biskind, xi. page365>
<2010 “‘This is right in our wheelhouse,’ said. . . Apache's chairman and chief executive, in an interview. ‘This is what we do for a living.’”—Wall Street Journal. 21 July, a6/3>
So, how did we get from various pieces of mechanical equipment to baseball?
THE WORD DETECTIVE
offers some thoughts on how the ‘baseball wheelhouse’ might have arisen:
There are actually three possible origins for this baseball "wheelhouse": a ship's pilothouse, the locomotive turntable housing, or the paddlewheel housing on the stern of a riverboat. The argument for a ship's pilothouse being the source is that it is the center of control of the ship, so for a pitch to be "in the wheelhouse" would logically mean that it is under the batter's control in a way that other pitches are not.
On the other hand, it does seem more likely that the locomotive turntable "wheelhouse" (often called a "roundhouse") is the source, likening the awesome swing of the rail yard turntable to the batter's powerful swing. An additional argument for this theory is that sweeping side-arm pitches have been known as "roundhouse" pitches since about 1910, and, of course, the "roundhouse punch" is delivered with the same sort of motion. Thus, by 1959, this sort of "wheelhouse" had already been used as a metaphor for powerful motion for more than fifty years.
The following quotes for in one's wheelhouse
are from archived sources:
<1987 “Dixon put a fastball in Moore's wheelhouse in the eighth inning of a 5-3 game and dared Moore to hit it.”—Washington Post (D.C.), 7 June>
<1995 “He's so personable and camera ready. It's right in his wheelhouse.”—Chicago Sun-Times (Illinois), 21 June>
<2005 “Not necessarily on the oil sands, whereas Barnett Shale and some other Coalbed Methane plays are more in their wheelhouse in terms of exploiting that, and enhanced recovery methods.”—Analyst Wire, 8 December>
<2010 “Buzzwords have a life cycle, gathering momentum until they grow common, then overused, then old. For ‘wheelhouse,’ a term currently cresting the popularity wave, this path has taken a long and curvy route, through boats and baseball, boardrooms and pop culture superstars.”—DailyFinance.com, 8 December> [[I included this because it is saying that in 2010 wheelhouse had great popularity by way of the idiom.]]
<2012 “This focus on specialization, knowing what you are good at and staying that course, plus the release of new technology not in your wheelhouse, has created a growth spike in start-ups.”—Sunday Gazette-Mail, 23 December>
<2014 “Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel Delivers Remarks to Troops [[Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.]]: The kind of challenges and the threats that we face all over the world are in your wheelhouse.”— Political Transcript Wire, 18 November>
Note: In my search through the archives for ‘in one’s wheelhouse,’ I would say that about 90% of the hits were sports-related.
Ken – February 22, 2015
(Who often spins his wheels in his house and elsewhere