Hat Tricks: Bowling for Wickets

Good afternoon, Bologna Followers. Are you ready for this weeks edition?

Too bad if you aren’t because here we go.

This one’s for all the sports fans out there & explains one of the most common terms used in the world of sports:

Hat trick.

I’m sure quite a few of you know that the term is used in many sports (water polo, soccer & hockey, to name a few), but what you might not know is that it actually originates in the English game of  Cricket.

Cricket consists of two teams, which are made up of eleven members. Similarly to baseball, one team takes the field, while the other bats.  The bowler attempts to throw the ball past the batsman & hit a wicket, which is positioned directly behind the batsman. If the batsman hits the ball, he gets to run back & forth between wickets, racking up runs. Conversely, if the bowler hits the wicket, the batsman is dismissed (that’s cricket speak for out).

In 1858, a player by the name of H. H. Stephenson was in his prime. He was a bowler, who, according to Wikipedia bowled, “right-arm fast roundarm.” I have no idea what that means aside from the fact that he threw the ball fast. If a cricket lover out there could enlighten me as to what this means, that would be great.

Anyway, one day, while his team was playing the twenty two of Hallam (because apparently nobody cared if teams there wasn’t an equal number of players on each team back then), Stephenson dismissed three batsmen in a row by hitting the wickets. That’s three wickets in three balls. That’s comparable to a pitcher in baseball completing an inning by striking out the side with nine swing & miss pitches. It’s a pretty impressive.

The tradition back then was to reward outstanding athleticism by holding monetary collections for gifts, regardless of team affiliation. Both teams pitched in & in this case, they raised enough money to buy Stephenson a hat.

Stephenson went on to have a very fulfilling career, going on to play globally, while posting a bunch of outstanding stats & playing teams named The Ovens. You can check out the stats from his 1861-1862 season here, if you’re interested.


H.H. Stephenson (Middle row: Second from left) with his English touring team, while aboard ship in North America.

In 1878, a newspaper dubbed hitting three wickets on three balls a  “hat trick” & awarding the athlete a hat upon completion became tradition. Now, everyone who hits three wickets in a row earns a hat.

The term translated across the sporting world & made its way to various sports, the most famous use being when a player in hockey scores three goals in one game. By 1940, the Toronto Maple Leafs were awarding their hat tricking players with hats.


In hockey, the formal presentation has given way to fan celebration, apparent here as they shower the ice with hats after Alex Ovechkin’s 2010 hat trick for the Capitals.

I’m not the most gigantic sports fan, but it’s nice to think that this expression has its roots back in a day when playing sports really was about having fun & honoring fellow & opposing athletes alike, instead of pumping full of steroids & throwing fits when you can’t score your eight million dollar deal.

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed this & now there’s only one thing left to say:
Now you know; you’re welcome.


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Filed under Etymology

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