A wild and desperate attempt to make a play. Sometimes the term
carries a hint of showboating.
Babe Ruth (_Babe Ruth's Own Book of Baseball_, 1928) defined "giving it the old college try" as "playing to the grandstand or making strenuous
effort to field a ball that obviously
cannot be handled."
was quickly applied to any effort with
limited chances of success.
From _The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary_ (1999) by Paul Dickson.
In a column that
appeared in the _Columbus_ (Ohio) _Citizen_ (Nov. 26, 1927) and was quoted in _American Speech_
(Apr. 1930), Billy Evans wrote that
it the old college try" is a term "often
used in big league baseball, when some
player keeps on going after a fly ball, usually
in foul territory, with the odds about ten to one he would never reach it. Teammates of such a player often beat
him to it by shouting in unison with the thought of humor uppermost: 'Well, kid, you certainly gave
it the old college try,' as he falls short of making the catch. When some
player does something that
a professional player might not ordinarily attempt, such as colliding with a fielder who had the ball ready to touch him out, in the hope that
he might make him drop
the ball, regardless of the danger he was courting, someone is sure to say, often
ironically, if the speaker happens to be one of the players
in the field: 'That
's the old college spirit.'"