play hardball (with one)
To be as ruthless, aggressive, or harsh (with someone) as is necessary to achieve a certain result. I think it's time we play hardball with the suspect—he's not going to talk otherwise. We're prepared to play hardball with the company if it means we'll be paid the appropriate amount for our work.
play hardball (with someone)
Fig. to act strong and aggressive about an issue with someone. Things are getting a little tough. The president has decided to play hardball on this issue. If he wants to play hardball with us, we can play that way, too.
Act aggressively and ruthlessly, as in It's only a month before the election, and I'm sure they'll start to play hardball. This term originated in baseball, where it alludes to using the standard ball as opposed to the slightly larger and minimally softer ball of softball. It was transferred to describe aggressive behavior only in the 1970s.
play hardballmainly AMERICAN
If someone plays hardball, they will do anything that is necessary to achieve or obtain what they want, even if this involves being harsh or unfair. In past deals, Mr. Peng has shown he's willing to play hardball. The White House decided to retaliate by taking jobs away from his state, showing they were tough guys who could play hardball. Compare with play ball. Note: Hardball is the same as baseball, and is here being contrasted with softball, in which a larger, softer ball is used and the ball is thrown underarm.
play hardballuse uncompromising and ruthless methods. informal
In North America, hardball is literally baseball, especially as contrasted with softball.
2000 Environmental History The fact that Hayden wielded this unprecedented influence demonstrates that even at age 89 he was capable of playing hardball when the situation demanded it.