If you’ve ever experienced a Charley (or Charlie) horse, you can vouch they are not pleasant experiences. They do, however, have kind of a funny name. And some say the etymology of that funny name is rooted in baseball.
A popular story revolves around a pitcher named Charley Esper. At the beginning of the twentieth century, groundskeepers often brought in old and lame horses to pull the equipment used to keep the playing field in good condition. Charley Esper of the Baltimore Orioles walked with a bit of a limp, the result of years of injuries. Because his limp reminded his teammates of the groundskeeper’s lame horse, they called Esper “Charley Horse.”
A different origin story also involves the Orioles organization. Several players had gone to the racetrack and backed a horse named “Charlie.” Unfortunately, Charlie ultimately pulled up lame and lost the race. The next day, when one player pulled a tendon in his leg, his teammates likened him to “our old Charlie horse.”
As for the actual, true origins of the term, nobody knows for sure. A number of stories, even beyond these, seem to relate to baseball and/or the racetrack, which makes sense since these were the primary American pastimes from the 1880s into the twentieth century.