All About (sort of) “B” in Baseball Names
For all of you who enjoyed “All About “A” – here is “All About “B.”
With the season upon us and baseball in the air and on the tongue, here with a primer for novices and super experts. Enjoy, and keeps those letters and suggestions coming.
THE BABE: George Herman Ruth leads off the list and paces the list in most nick-names acquired. First called “Babe” by teammates on the Baltimore Orioles, his first professional team because of his youth, G.H.Ruth was also called “Jidge” by Yankee teammates, short for George. He called most players “Kid,” because he couldn’t remember names, even of his closest friends. Opponents called him “The Big Monk” and “Monkey.”
Many of Babe Ruth’s nick-names came from over-reaching sports writers who attempted to pay tribute to his slugging prowess:
“The Bambino”, “the Wali of Wallop”, “the Rajah of Rap”, “the Caliph of Clout”, “the Wazir of Wham”, and “the Sultan of Swat”, “The Colossus of Clout”, “Maharajah of Mash”, “The Behemoth of Bust”, “The King of Clout.”
Other Yankee nick-names, expressions, bon mots of note for “Babe” and “Ruth.” In spring training 1927, Babe Ruth bet pitcher Wilcy Moore $l00 that he would not get more than three hits all season. A notoriously weak hitter, Moore somehow managed to get six hits in 75 at bats. Ruth paid off his debt and Moore purchased two mules for his farm. He named them “Babe” and “Ruth.”
BABE RUTH’S LEGS: Sammy Byrd was used as a pinch runner for Ruth.
BAM-BAM: Hensley Meulens could speak about five languages and had a difficult name to pronounce.
BANTY ROOSTER: Casey Stengel’S nickname for Whitey Ford because of his style and attitude.
BAT DAY: In 1951, Bill Veeck (“as in wreck”) owned the St. Louis Browns, a team that was not the greatest gate attraction in the world. (It’s rumored that one day a fan called up Veeck and asked, “What time does the game start?” Veeck’s alleged reply was, “What time can you get here?”) Veeck was offered six thousand bats at a nominal fee by a company that was going bankrupt. He took the bats and announced that a free bat would be given to each youngster attending a game accompanied by an adult. That was the beginning of Bat Day. Veeck followed this promotion with Ball Day and Jacket Day and other giveaways. Bat Day, Ball Day, and Jacket Day have all become virtually standard major league baseball promotions.
BIG POISON and LITTLE POISON: The Pirates featured the dangerous Waner brothers in their lineup. Paul was 5’8l/2” and weighed 153 pounds. Lloyd was 5’9″ and weighed 150 pounds.
Paul was dubbed Big Poison even though he was smaller than Lloyd, who was called Little Poison. An older brother even then had privileges. But both players were pure poison for National League pitchers. Slashing left-handed line-drive hitters, the Waners collected 5,611 hits between them. Paul’s lifetime batting average was .333, and he recorded three batting titles. Lloyd posted a career average of .316. They played a combined total of 38 years in the major leagues.
BILLYBALL: the aggressive style of play utilized by Billy Martin.
BLIND RYNE: Ryne Duren because of his very poor vision, uncorrected -20/70 and 20/200.
BONEHEAD MERKLE: The phrase “pulling a bonehead play,” or “pulling a boner,” is not only part of the language of baseball, but of all sports and in fact, of the language in general. Its most dramatic derivation goes back to September 9, 1908. Frederick Charles Merkle, a.k.a. George Merkle, was playing his first full game at first base for the New York Giants. It was his second season in the majors; the year before, he had appeared in 15 games. The Giants were in first place and the Cubs were challenging them. The two teams were tied, 1-1, in the bottom of the ninth inning. With two outs, the Giants’ Moose McCormick was on third base and Merkle was on first. Al Bridwell slashed a single to center field, and McCormick crossed the plate with what was apparently the winning run. Merkle, eager to avoid the Polo Grounds crowd that surged onto the playing field, raced directly to the clubhouse instead of following through on the play and touching second base. Amid the pandemonium, Johnny Evers of the Cubs screamed for the baseball, obtained it somehow, stepped on second base, and claimed a forceout on Merkle. When things subsided, umpire Hank O’Day agreed with Evers. The National League upheld O’Day, Evers and the Cubs, so the run was nullified and the game not counted. Both teams played out their schedules and completed the season tied for first place with 98 wins and 55 losses. A replay of the game was scheduled, and Christy Mathewson, seeking his 38th victory of the season, lost, 4-2, to Three-Finger Brown (q.v.). The Cubs won the pennant. Although Merkle played 16 years in the majors and had a lifetime batting average of .273, he will forever be rooted in sports lore as the man who made the “bonehead” play that lost the 1908 pennant for the Giants, for had he touched second base there would have been no replayed game and the Giants would have won the pennant by one game.
BROOKLYN SCHOOLBOY: was what they called Waite Hoyt for his time as a star pitcher at Erasmus High School.
BULLDOG: Jim Bouton, for his tenacity.
BULLET BOB: Bob Turley, for the pop on his fastball.
BYE-BYE: Steve Balboni, the primary DH of the 1990 Yankees had 17 homers but hit just .192.
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: “New York City Baseball, 1947-1957” and “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball,” his acclaimed Remembering Yankee Stadium was published in 2008 and his Remembering Fenway Park was published to acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on WHEN IT WAS JUST A GAME, AN ORAL HISTORY OF SUPER BOWL ONE.
Frommer mint condition collectible sports books autographed and discounted are available always from the author.