‘good field, no hit’: meaning and purported origin

The American-English baseball phrase good field, no hit means a good fielder, but a poor hitter, i.e., batter.

This phrase is usually attributed to Miguel Gonzales (Miguel Angel González Cordero – 1890-1977), a Cuban catcher, coach and interim manager in Major League Baseball, a professional baseball organisation in the USA and Canada.

The earliest occurrence of the phrase that I have found is from the Minneapolis Daily Star (Minneapolis, Minnesota) of Tuesday 14th July 1925:

Young Quintanno was all over the infield and outfield grabbing chances. He had 10 hard chances. As Mike Gonzales would say: “Quintanno good field, no hit.”

There have been different versions of the circumstances in which Miguel Gonzales, or someone else, coined the phrase—these are the earliest ones:

1-: From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) of Friday 18th June 1926:

Here’s one they tell about Mique Gonzales, the caballero from Havana, who is universally recognized as one of the greatest catchers in baseball. Mique isn’t much of a hitter but he is unsurpassed as far as receiving, throwing and skullwork are concerned.
One of the numerous National League clubs with which Senor Gonzales has done time once sent him out to look over a minor league infielder. If memory serves, the infielder was Ray French 1, a shortstop once imported at great expense by Brooklyn.
To make a long story justified, Gonzales, duly warned about the great expense of telegraph tolls, went out to examine French. In course of time, the manager received this graphic report:
“Dear Sir: Good field. No hit.
Mique.”

1 Raymond Edward French (1895-1978).

2-: From the column Sun’s Sport Rays, published in the Evening Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia) of Tuesday 10th May 1927:

Story in Four Words

When Peppery Mike Kelly 2 was managing the Minneapolis club in the American Association he was tipped off to what was considered a fine prospect, a Cuban who was playing in his native land.
Desiring something definite on the player he cabled Mike Gonzales, who was playing in Cuba at the time.
The next day Kelly got his answer by cable:
Good field. No hit. Gonzales.”

2 Michael Joseph Kelley (1875-1955) was a baseball player, then a manager in the minor leagues.

3-: From the Waterloo Evening Courier and Waterloo Daily Reporter (Waterloo, Iowa) of Friday 30th September 1927 (on Saturday 10th September 1927, The Tablet (Brooklyn, New York) had given a similar version):

Sporting News: A little story is going the rounds which typifies the brevity of speech of Mike Gonzales, the Cuban catcher with the Chicago Cubs. He formerly played with St. Paul when Mike Kelley had charge there and it came to pass that Kelley wanted some information on a certain Cuban player. So, he wired Gonzales, who had not yet returned from Havana, for the dope.
Gonzales obligingly shot back with this information.
Good field, no hit. Mike.”

4-: From The Brooklyn Daily Times (Brooklyn, New York) of Tuesday 20th March 1928—additionally, the author, Thomas W. Meany, used a variant of the phrase:

Tampa, Fla., March 20.—After all the nice things that have been said about them in the past few days, the Dodgers 3 have turned around and look strangely natural again. To paraphrase the immortal telegram of Mike Gonzales to Mike Kelley, “good pitch, no hit.”
Gonzales was a Dodger in the spring of 1924. Kelley, managing Minneapolis, queried Gonzales concerning Moe Berg 4, the Princeton infielder, who was then with Brooklyn. The Cuban wired “good field, no hit,” which summed up Moe rather accurately. And so it is with the Dodgers for the time being, “good pitch, no hit.”

3 The Brooklyn Dodgers were a Major League Baseball team from 1884 until 1957, after which the club moved to Los Angeles, California.
4 Morris Berg (1902-1972) was a baseball player, then a coach in Major League Baseball; he later served as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the Second World War.

5-: From The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington) of Tuesday 10th February 1931:

One time when Mike Gonzales was catching for the New York Giants, John J. McGraw 5 sent him on a scouting trip to look over a minor league prospect who had been highly recommended to McGraw. When Gonzales returned he failed to turn in a written report on the minor leaguer. McGraw asked Gonzales whether he had seen the player and Gonzales nodded his head. McGraw then wanted to know how good Gonzales thought the youngster was and Mike replied:
Good field. No hit.”

5 John Joseph McGraw (1873-1934) was a baseball player, then the manager of the New York Giants.

6-: A variant of the phrase was attributed to the baseball player Anthony Michael Lazzeri (1903-1946) in the following from The Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah, USA) of Saturday 23rd July 1932:

Oscar Vitt, skipper for the old Salt Lake Bees of the Pacific Coast League, once sent Signor Antony Lazzeri down to the Central Utah league to look over a prospect and on his return Tony reported in his best English: “Good hit. No field.”

7-: From the Pottstown Mercury (Pottstown, Pennsylvania) of Friday 27th January 1933:

It happened in 1924, when Gonzales was purchased by the Dodgers from St. Paul. Kelley, who had been Mike’s manager at St. Paul, had switched to Minneapolis and was desirous of obtaining Moe Berg from Brooklyn.
Berg, a shortstop then, was only six months out of Princeton and Kelley wished to make no mistake. So he wired Gonzales at Clearwater 6 to look over Moe and wire back his opinion. After Gonzales had watched Berg in action he dispatched a message to Kelley which still stands as a classic of brevity. The telegram read:—“Good field; no hit.”

6 Clearwater Athletic Field, a stadium in Clearwater, Florida, was used by baseball teams for spring training.

8-: From the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) of Thursday 23rd February 1933:

Mike Gonzales […] was once sent out to scout a shortstop by Mike Kelly, the Minneapolis mogul, when Miguel was a member of the Millers 7 some years ago.
Kelly wanted to negotiate a quick deal for the player, who happened to be Dudley Lee 8, now with Indianapolis, and ordered the Cuban to report by telegram immediately after the game.
Kelly waited impatiently for the wire that evening, and finally it came, in this classical fashion:
Good field. No hit!”

7 The Millers were a minor-league baseball team that played in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
8 Ernest Holford Lee (1899-1971).

However, according to Joe Williams in The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) of Saturday 2nd April 1938, Miguel Gonzales never used the phrase:

You may recall the legend. Gonzales, a Cuban, was catching for McGraw. An injury had laid him up. McGraw heard about a young prospect up state. He sent the inactive Gonzales to look him over and make a report. Gonzales did and reported, “Good field, no hit.”
Except that it never happened. Gonzales tells me the story is pure fiction . . . “Somebody made it up,” he says. “And now everybody believes it.” He insists he never scouted any player for McGraw, much less this fabled gent who was excellent in the field but not so hot at the platter.