Green’s Dictionary of Slang

meatball n.

1. (US) a stupid person; thus a potential victim [fig. ext. + ref. to meathead n.].

[US]Wash. Times (DC) 30 Apr. n.p.: Flapper’s Dict. [...] Meatball: Dumb but happy.
[US]B. Appel Power-House 12: ‘Look who’s talkin’ now. The big meatball,’ Ray sneered.
[US]B. Schulberg Harder They Fall (1971) 239: He wasn’t such a meatball that he couldn’t find a way to get around Vince’s reluctance to declare a dividend.
[US]R. Prather Always Leave ’Em Dying 130: This was L.A., the Land of the Abnormal. Nobody even tries to deny it any more: L.A. is the magnet for meatballs.
[UK](con. 1940s) G. Morrill Dark Sea Running 214: I’m not the meatball you think.
[US]E. Torres Q&A 91: John, you’re a meatball.
[US]T. Wolfe Bonfire of the Vanities 372: If you weren’t worried after those two meatballs came to see you, there’d have to be something wrong with you.
[US](con. 1949) G. Pelecanos Big Blowdown (1999) 216: Which is what I’ll be talkin’ about [...] to all those meatballs on my beat.
[US]N. Green Angel of Montague Street (2004) 246: He tossed the gun he’d taken away from the meatball in his room into the Dumpster.
[US]T. Robinson ‘Legendary [...] Ralphie O’Malley’ in Dirty Words [ebook] Two meatballs for hire.
[US]D. Swierczynski California Bear 325: ‘[Y]ou stop with that kid stuff or I’m going to start calling you Meatball’.

2. (US) a second-rate boxer.

[US]J. Archibald ‘Klump a la Carte’ Popular Det. July 🌐 Eddie owned a fifty-and-hundred-buck club meatball named ‘Kayo’ Dilley.

3. (US) an Italian [the stereotyped partiality of Italians for the dish].

[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 137/2: Meat-ball. 1. (Chiefly N. Y. State prisons; Ital.-Amer.) [...] (applied derisively) a Negro. 2. (Same area; adopted by Irish-Amer. convicts) An Italian.
[US]K. Brasselle Cannibals 357: Didn’t I tell you to stay with that meatball and get him to work?
[US]Maledicta VII 23: On top of all this spaghetti is a meatball, an Italian.
[US]H. Rawson Dict. of Invective (1991) 12: The time-honored tradition of disparaging other nationalities, including the [...] Italians (Eyetalians, macaronis, meatballs).
[US]‘Jack Tunney’ Split Decision [ebook] I don’t like Mr Cardone [...] Treats me like a child, that meatball.

4. an African-American.

see sense 3.

5. (US) as ext. of sense 1 above, a prostitute’s customer.

[US]J. Stern Sisters of the Night 5: Clerks, bellhops and elevator operators were recruited to steer the customers – the ‘Johns’ or ‘meatballs’ – to the selected suites.

6. (US black) a petty criminal; a thug.

[US]R.D. Pharr S.R.O. (1998) 28: ‘Assorted pimps, junkies and meatballs [...] standing around and waiting and watching to see what they can cut out of the action’ [ibid.] 396: Georgie had to hire three meatballs to work Red over and break his leg.

7. (US Und.) a minor or false criminal charge [backform. f. meatball adj.].

[US]‘A.C. Clark’ Crime Partners 103: You guys picked me up on a meatball. I ain’t robbed nobody, so you ain’t got no case on me [HDAS].