Baseball Names: And How They Got That Way!

Some baseball names and terms have been around for more than a century. Here’s how they came about.
Baseball Names: And How They Got That Way!
Baseball fans watch batting practice before the start of the San Francisco Giants home opener against the St. Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park on April 8, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The words and phrases are spoken and written day after day, year after year - generally without any wonderment as to how they became part of the language. All have a history, a story.

A brief sampler follows with more to come . . .

AMAZIN' METS The first run they ever scored came in on a balk. They lost the first nine games they ever played. They finished last their first four seasons. Once they were losing a game, 12–1, and there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. A fan held up a sign that said “PRAY!” There was a walk, and ever hopeful, thousands of voices chanted, “Let’s go Mets.” They were 100–l underdogs to win the pennant in 1969 and incredibly came on to finish the year as World Champions. They picked the name of the best pitcher in their history (Tom Seaver) out of a hat on April Fools’ Day. They were supposed to be the replacement for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. They could have been the New York Continentals or Burros or Skyliners or Skyscrapers or Bees or Rebels or NYB’s or Avengers or even Jets (all runner-up names in a contest to tab the National League New York team that began playing ball in 1962). They’ve never been anything to their fans but amazing-the Amazin' New York Mets.

A fan holds a sign reading 'We Still Believe In Mets Magic' before a game against the New York Mets of the Los Angeles Dodgers during game two of the National League Division Series at Shea Stadium on October 5, 2006 in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens borough of New York City. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
A fan holds a sign reading 'We Still Believe In Mets Magic' before a game against the New York Mets of the Los Angeles Dodgers during game two of the National League Division Series at Shea Stadium on October 5, 2006 in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens borough of New York City. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

BIG POISON and LITTLE POISON Paul Waner’s rookie year with the Pittsburgh Pirates was 1926, when he batted .336 and led the league in triples. In one game he cracked out six hits using six different bats. In 1927 the second Waner arrived, brother Lloyd. For 14 years, the Waners formed a potent brother combination in the Pittsburgh 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.

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.

“BOO” Name for a day in 1979 of Giants shortstop Johnnie LeMaster, who heard the boo-birds in San Fran. He took his field position wearing “Boo” on his back. LeMaster switches back to his regular jersey after one game.

California Angels Chili Davis DH hits a solo home run against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at Camden Yards Friday, Aug. 23, 1996.(AP Photo/Roberto Borea)
California Angels Chili Davis DH hits a solo home run against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at Camden Yards Friday, Aug. 23, 1996.(AP Photo/Roberto Borea)

“CHILI” When he was about 12 years old, Charles Davis was given a not too attractive haircut which led to his getting the nickname “Chili Bowl,” later shortened to “Chili” as the boy became the man and the baseball player “Chili” Davis.

GIANTS One sultry summer’s day in 1885, Jim Mutrie, the saber-mustached manager of the New York Gothams, was enjoying himself watching his team winning an important game. Mutrie screamed out with affection, “My big fellows, my giants.” Many of his players were big fellows, and they came to be Giants. For that was how the nickname Giants came to be. And when the New York team left for San Francisco in 1958, Giants, Mutrie’s endearing nickname, went along with it.

SPLENDID SPLINTER He was also nicknamed the Thumper, because of the power with which he hit the ball, and the Kid, because of his tempestuous attitude-but his main nickname was perhaps the most appropriate. Ted Williams was one of the most splendid players who ever lived, and he could really “splinter” the ball. The handsome slugger compiled a lifetime batting average of .344 and a slugging percentage of .634.

Williams blasted 521 career home runs, scored nearly 1,800 runs, and drove in over 1,800 runs. So keen was his batting eye that he walked over 2,000 times while striking out only 709 times. In 1941 he batted .406—the last time any player hit .400 or better. One of the most celebrated moments in the career of the Boston Red Sox slugger took place in the 1946 All-Star Game. Williams came to bat against Rip Sewell and his celebrated “eephus” (blooper) pitch. Williams had already walked in the game and hit a home run. Sewell’s pitch came to the plate in a high arc, and Williams actually trotted out to the pitch, bashing it into the right-field bullpen for a home run. “That was the first homer ever hit off the pitch,” Sewell said later.

“The ball came to the plate in a twenty-foot arc,” recalled Williams. “I didn’t know whether I'd be able to get enough power into that kind of a pitch for a home run.” There was no kind of pitch Williams couldn’t hit for a home run.

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.

Manager Casey Stengel of the New York Mets, photographed at his clubhouse desk, March 18, 1963. (AP Photo)
Manager Casey Stengel of the New York Mets, photographed at his clubhouse desk, March 18, 1963. (AP Photo)

“CAN'T ANYBODY HERE PLAY THIS GAME?” In 1960 Casey Stengel managed the New York Yankees to a first-place finish, on the strength of a .630 percentage compiled by winning 97 games and losing 57. By 1962 he was the manager of the New York Mets, a team that finished tenth in a ten-team league. They finished 60.5 games out of first place, losing more games (120) than any other team in the 20th century. Richie Ashburn, who batted .306 for the Mets that season and then retired, remembers those days: “It was the only time I went to a ball park in the major leagues and nobody expected you to win.”

A bumbling collection of castoffs, not-quite-ready for-prime-time major league ball players, paycheck collectors, and callow youth, the Mets underwhelmed the opposition. They had Jay Hook, who could talk for hours about why a curve ball curved (he had a Masters degree in engineering) but couldn’t throw one consistently. They had“ Choo-Choo” Coleman, an excellent low-ball catcher, but the team had very few low-ball pitchers. They had “Marvelous Marv” Throneberry, a Mickey Mantle look-a-like in the batter’s box-and that’s where the resemblance ended. Stengel had been spoiled with the likes of Mantle, Maris, Ford, Berra, etc. Day after day he would watch the Mets and be amazed at how they could find newer and more original ways to beat themselves. In desperation-some declare it was on the day he witnessed pitcher A1 Jackson go 15 innings yielding but three hits, only to lose the game on two errors committed by Marvelous Marv-Casey bellowed out his plaintive query, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

DUGOUT An area on each side of home plate where players stay while their team is at bat. There is a visitor’s dugout and a home-team dugout. They were originally dug out trenches at the first and third base lines allowing players and coaches to be at field level and not blocking the view of the choice seats behind them.

JUNK MAN, THE Eddie Lopat was the premier left-handed pitcher for the New York Yankees in the late 1940’s and through most of the 1950’s. He recalls how he obtained his nickname: “Ben Epstein was a writer for the New York Daily Mirror and a friend of mine from my Little Rock minor league baseball days. He told me in 1948 that he wanted to give me a name that would stay with me forever. ‘I want to see what you think of it-the junk man?’ In those days the writers had more consideration. They checked with players before they called them names. I told him I didn’t care what they called me just as long as I could get the batters out and get paid for it.” Epstein then wrote an article called “The Junkman Cometh,” and as Lopat says, “The rest was history.” The nickname derived from Lopat’s ability to be a successful pitcher by tantalizing the hitters with an assortment of offspeed pitches. This writer and thousands of other baseball fans who saw Lopat pitch bragged more than once that if given a chance, they could hit the “junk” he threw.

George Herman "Babe" Ruth as he appeared in 1922 with the New York Yankees. Location unknown. (AP Photo)
George Herman "Babe" Ruth as he appeared in 1922 with the New York Yankees. Location unknown. (AP Photo)

ONE-ARMED PETE GRAY Born Peter J. Wyshner (a.k.a. Pete Gray) on March 6, 1917, Gray was a longtime New York City semipro star who played in 77 games for the St. Louis Browns in 1945. He actually had only one arm and played center field with an unpadded glove. He had an intricate and well developed routine for catching the ball, removing the ball from his glove, and throwing the ball to the infield.

POLO GROUNDS During the 1880’s, the National League baseball team was known as the New Yorkers. There was another team in town, the New York Metropolitans of the fledgling American Association. Both teams played their season-opening games on a field across from Central Park’s northeastern corner at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue. The land on which they played was owned by New York Herald Tribune publisher James Gordon Bennett. Bennett and his society friends had played polo on that field and that’s how the baseball field came to be known as the Polo Grounds. In 1889 the New York National League team moved its games to a new location at 157th Street and Eighth Avenue. The site was dubbed the new Polo Grounds and eventually was simply called the Polo Grounds. Polo was never played there.

“BABE RUTH'S LEGS” Sammy Byrd, used as a pinch runner for Ruth.

BARBER THE Sal Maglie had the unique distinction of pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Yankees and the New York Giants in the 1950’s. A curveballing clutch pitcher, his nickname came from two sources. A swarthy 6'2“ right-hander who always seemed to need a shave, he was a master at ”shaving“ or” barbering” the plate. His pitches would nick the corner, and he wasn’t too shy about nicking a batter if the occasion demanded it.

“BERRA-ISMS” Yogi Berra always had a way with words, herewith, a sampler:

“Congratulations on breaking my record last night. I always thought the record would stand until it was broken.” -to Johnny Bench who broke his record for career home runs by a catcher.

“I didn’t say the things I said.”

“The other teams could make trouble for us if they win.”

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”

“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

“He must have made that before he died.” - on a Steve McQueen movie, 1982

“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

“The future ain’t what it used to be.”

“A home opener is always exciting, no matter if it’s home or on the road.”

Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees holds the ball which he hit into the bleachers for his 237th home run—a new MLB record for catchers. (AP Photo/stf)
Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees holds the ball which he hit into the bleachers for his 237th home run—a new MLB record for catchers. (AP Photo/stf)

“I take a two hour nap between 1PM and 3PM.”

“90% of the putts that are short don’t go in.”

“Baseball is 90-percent mental. The other half is physical.”

“You have to give 100 percent in the first half of the game. If that isn’t enough, in the second half, you have to give what is left.”

“Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”

“It gets late out there early,” referring to the bad sun conditions in left field at the stadium.

“He is a big clog in their machine.”

“I’ve been with the Yankees 17 years, watching games and learning. You can see a lot by observing.”

“Baseball is the champ of them all. Like somebody said, the pay is good and the hours are short.”

“All pitchers are liars and crybabies.”

“Bill Dickey learned me all his experience.”

“I want to thank you for making this day necessary.” - to fans in hometown St. Louis for giving him a day in 1947 at Sportsmen’s Park.

“I’ve known this guy so long. Can’t he spell my name right?” - after receiving a check that said “Pay to the order of Bearer”

“I think Little League is wonderful. It keeps the kids out of the house.”

“If the people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.”

“Pair off in threes.”

“The other teams could make trouble for us if they win.” - as Yankee manager.

“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”

“We have very deep depth!”

“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”

When asked what time it is - “Do you mean now?”

When asked what he would do if he found a million dollars - “If the guy was poor, I'd give it back”

When asked by a waitress how many pieces she should cut his pizza into - “Four. I don’t think I could eat eight.”

When asked why the Yankees lost the 1960 series to Pittsburgh- “We made too many wrong mistakes.”

Cleveland Indians pitcher Satchel Paige made his major league debut at age 42. (AP Photo)
Cleveland Indians pitcher Satchel Paige made his major league debut at age 42. (AP Photo)

When told by Yankee manager Bucky Harris to think about what was being pitched to him - “Think? How the hell are you gonna think and hit at the same time?”

When told Ernest Hemmingway was a great writer - “Yeah, for what paper?”

When asked what his cap size was at the beginning of spring training - “I don’t know, I’m not in shape.””

“It’s deja vu all over again.”

“It ain’t over until it’s over.”

BRONX CHEER Another term for booing or razzing or raspberry, this sound allegedly originated in the Bronx in the 1920’s. (The Bronx, one of the five boroughs of New York City, gets its name from the Dane Jonas Bronck, the man who first settled the area in 1641 for the Dutch West India Company.) The contemptuous sound sarcastically referred to as a“cheer” was made by vibrating the tongue between the lips.

BROOKLYN DODGER SYM-PHONY From 1938 to 1957 a group of unlikely musicians serenaded Dodger fans at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Sometimes they sat in seats 1–8, row 1, section 8. Sometimes they sauntered up and down the aisles, tooting and rooting on their beloved Bums. Sometimes they climbed up on top of the Dodger dugout and played their original form of jazz through the long summer days and nights. A special feature of the group was a tune they performed known as the “Army Duff.” Fans referred to the song as “The Worms Crawl In.” The little band would razz a visiting-team strikeout victim back to his bench with this song. As the player would sit down on his bench, the Sym-phony would accentuate the touch-down of his derriere with a blasting beat of the bass drum. There were many games of cat-and-mouse between the Sym-phony and strikeout victims who would feign seating themselves to avoid the last, razzing bass-drum beat. The Sym-phony always managed to time the touch-down and accentuate it musically to the delight of Dodger fans and to the dismay of the visiting players. Brooklyn broadcaster Red Barber originated the nickname for the group. 

THE BABE George Herman Ruth probably leads the list for 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. They also called him “Tarzan.” 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.”

His main nickname was rooted in President Grover Cleveland’s Baby Ruth. Perhaps the greatest slugger of all time and also one of baseball’s most colorful characters, Ruth set some 50 records in his 22 years as a player. His accomplishments, his personality, his nickname-all combined to rocket major league baseball firmly into the nation’s psyche.

“Babe” and “Ruth” In spring training 1927, Babe Ruth bet pitcher Wilcy Moore $100 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 ”for Ruth

Chief Bender won 6 World Series games and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953. (AP Photo)
Chief Bender won 6 World Series games and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953. (AP Photo)

CHIEF BENDER Charles Albert Bender won 210 games and compiled a 2.45 lifetime earned-run average in 16 years of pitching. He was admitted to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1953. His nickname came from the fact that he was a Chippewa Indian.

CLOWN PRINCE OF BASEBALL Al Schacht performed for only three seasons as a member of the Washington Senators (1919–21), but he still was able to make a mighty reputation on the baseball field. Schacht was a comic and his routines centered on the foibles and eccentricities of the National Pastime. It was said that nobody did it better, and that’s why Schacht was dubbed the Clown Prince.

DAFFINESS BOYS Also known as Dem Brooklyn Bums, the 1926 Brooklyn Dodgers wrought havoc on friend and foe alike. The hotshot of the team was freeswinging, slump-shouldered Babe Herman, dubbed the Incredible Hoiman, who bragged that among his stupendous feats was stealing second base with the bases loaded. Once Herman was one of a troika of Dodger base runners who found themselves all on third base at the same time. A Dodger rookie turned to Brooklyn manager “Uncle” Wilbert Robinson on the bench. “You call that playing baseball?” “Uncle” Robbie responded, “Leave them alone. That’s the first time they’ve been together all year.”

“DON'T LOOK BACK. SOMETHING MIGHT BE GAINING ON YOU” This line of homespun wisdom formed the sixth rule of a recipe attributed to former baseball pitching great Leroy “Satchel” Paige. The other five rules were (1) avoid fried meats which angry up the blood; (2) if your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts; (3) keep your juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move; (4) go very gently on the vices, such as carrying on in society-the social ramble ain’t restful; (5) avoid running at all times. It seems that most of us have managed to break all of Mr. Paige’s rules more than once. As for rule 5-don’t tell it to your neighborhood jogger.

DOUBLE NO HITTER It’s almost a baseball cliché. A no-hitter is tossed. And the next time that pitcher takes the mound, there is all the talk and speculation about the possibility of a second straight no-no taking place. And always what Johnny Vander Meer did 62 years ago today comes back into the public consciousness.

On June 11, 1938, the Cincinnati hurler no-hit the Boston Bees, 3–0. Four nights later, he was tabbed to start against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the first night game ever in the New York City metropolitan area. To that point in time, only two pitchers had ever recorded two career no-hitters. No one had ever posted two no-hitters in a season. No one had probably even contemplated back-to-back no-hitters.

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Vander Meer is seen June 16, 1938. (AP Photo)
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Vander Meer is seen June 16, 1938. (AP Photo)

More than 40,000 (Fire Department rules notwithstanding) jammed into Ebbets Field to see the first night game in that tiny ball park’s history and also bear witness to Vander Meer questing after his second straight no-hitter. Utilizing a one-two-three-four pitching rhythm that saw him cock his right leg in the air before he delivered the ball to the plate, “Vandy” featured a fast ball that was always moving and a curve ball that broke ever so sharply. Inning after inning, the Dodgers went down hitless. In the seventh inning, Vander Meer walked two batters. But the fans of “Dem Bums” cheered the Cincinnati pitcher on, sensing they were witnessing baseball history. The ninth inning began with Cincinnati holding a 6–0 lead. Buddy Hasset was retired on a grounder. Then suddenly, Vander Meer lost control of the situation. He loaded the bases on walks. Reds manager Bill McKechnie came out to the mound to talk to his beleaguered pitcher.

“Take it easy, Johnny,” he said, “but get the no-hitter.” Vander Meer got Ernie Koy to hit a grounder to infielder Lou Riggs, who conservatively elected to go to the plate for the force-out for the second out. The bases were still loaded, though. Leo “Lippy” Durocher, the Dodger player-manager and a veteran of many wars, stepped into the batter’s box.

Only the “Lip” stood between Vander Meer and the double no-hitter. Durocher took a lunging swing and smashed the ball down the right-field line. But it went foul into the upper deck. Bedlam and tension intermingled at Ebbets Field as Vander Meer’s left arm came around and delivered the pitch to Durocher, who swung and popped up the ball into short center field. Harry Craft clutched the ball. Johnny Vander Meer had made baseball history.

Fans leaped out onto the playing field, but Vander Meer’s Cincinnati teammates had formed a protective shield around the exhausted hurler as he scurried into the relative calm of the dugout. His mother and father, who had come to see their son pitch with about 500 others from their hometown, were not as lucky. Swarms of well wishers and autograph-hunters milled about Vandy’s parents. It took about half an hour before they could be extricated from the mob of admirers. The event remains in memory as the miracle of 1938, consecutive no-hitters spun by John Samuel Vander Meer, the man they called the “Dutch Master.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent congratulations. Newspapers and magazines featured every detail of the event for months. For Vander Meer, the double no-hitters were especially sweet coming against Boston and Brooklyn—teams he tried out for and been rejected by.

Vander Meer performed for 13 big-league seasons, winning 119 games and losing 121. He perhaps would be remembered as a southpaw pitcher who never totally fulfilled his promise if it had not been for the epic moments of June 11 and June 15, 1938.

HITLESS WONDERS The 1906 Chicago White Sox had a team batting average of .230, the most anemic of all the clubs in baseball that year. The team’s pitching, however, more than made up for its lack of hitting. The White Sox staff recorded shutouts in 32 of the team’s 93 victories. The “Hitless Wonders” copped the American League pennant and faced the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. The Cubs of 1906 are regarded as one of the greatest baseball teams of all time; they won 116 games that year, setting the all-time major league mark for victories in a season and for winning percentage. The White Sox continued their winning ways in the World Series, however, trimming their cross town rivals in six games.

Infielder with the Cinncinati Reds Ted Kluszewski, March 1957. (AP Photos)
Infielder with the Cinncinati Reds Ted Kluszewski, March 1957. (AP Photos)

“HITTING FOR THE CYCLE” Hit a single, double, triple and home run in the same game, not necessarily in that order.

HORSE COLLAR Describes a situation when a player gets no hits in a game.

KLU Ted Kluszewski played 15 years in the major leagues. He pounded out 279 homers, recorded a lifetime slugging average of nearly .500 and a career batting average of nearly . 300. He was a favorite of the Cincinnati fans; at 6'2” and 225 pounds, his bulging biceps were too huge to be contained by ordinary shirt-sleeves. Kluszewski cut off the sleeves and started a new fashion in baseball uniforms-just as fans and sportswriters cut off part of his name to make for a nickname more easily pronounced and printed.

LONSOME GEORGE Former legendary Yankee General Manager George Weiss, for his aloof ways.

MAHATMA Branch Rickey (1881–1965) was one of baseball’s most influential personalities. Inventor of the farm system, the force responsible for Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color line, the master builder of the St. Louis Cardinal and Brooklyn Dodger organizations, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1967. Sportswriter Tom Meany coined Rickey’s nickname. Meany got the idea from John Gunther’s phrase describing Mohandas K. Gandhi as a“ combination of God, your own father, and Tammany Hall.”

NICKEL SERIES Refers to old days when New York City teams played against each other and the tariff was a five cents subway ride.

NUMBER l/8 On August 19, 1951, Eddie Gaedel, wearing number l/8, came to bat for the St. Louis Browns against the Detroit Tigers. Gaedel, who was signed by Browns owner Bill Veeck, walked on four straight pitches and was then replaced by a pinch runner. The next day the American League banned Gaedel, despite Veeck’s protests. Gaedel was a midget, only three feet, seven inches tall.

OLD ACHES AND PAINS Luke Appling performed for two decades with the Chicago White Sox. A .310 lifetime batting average was just one of the reasons he was admitted to the Hall of Fame in 1964. His nickname stemmed from the numerous real and imagined illnesses he picked up playing in 2,422 games, while averaging better than a hit a game. Appling was born April 2, 1907, and in 1950 was still playing major league baseball, aches, pains, and all.

Tommy Henrich, outfielder, is shown at bat, Sept. 22, 1941 in New York. (AP Photo/Bob Wands)
Tommy Henrich, outfielder, is shown at bat, Sept. 22, 1941 in New York. (AP Photo/Bob Wands)

OLD RELIABLE Tommy Henrich played for the New York Yankees from 1937 to 1950. His lifetime batting average was only .282, but the value of Henrich to the Yankees was in his clutch hitting. Time after time he would come up in a key situation and deliver. His nickname had its roots in his ability to function under pressure and to perform reliably with distinction.

OLE PERFESSOR Hall of Famer Charles Dillon Stengel was an original. Born on July 30, 1890, in Kansas City, Missouri, he played in the majors for 14 years and managed for 25 more-with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Boston Braves, the New York Yankees (10 pennants), and the New York Mets (four tenth-place finishes). He had seen it all, and in one of his more coherent statements, he said, “This here team won’t win anything until we spread enough of our players around the league and make the others [teams] horsesh--, too.” The statement underscored the ineptitude of the early Mets. Loquacious, dynamic, vital, Casey could lecture on baseball and life for hours and hours, and that was just part of the reason for his nickname. Actually, in 1914 Stengel held the title of professor at the University of Mississippi, for he spent that year’s spring-training coaching baseball at that institution. That’s how he really came by his nickname.

$100,000 INFIELD That was the price tag and the nickname given to Eddie Collins, “Home Run” Baker, Stuffy McInnis, and Hack Barry, the players who composed the infield for Connie Mack’s 1914 Philadelphia Athletics.

“WAIT ‘TIL NEXT YEAR” A plantive refrain echoed annually by the fans of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, this phrase was an expression of eternal optimism and faith in the ability of their beloved bums to make up for all the failures and inadequacies of years gone by. It especially applied to the World Series. In 1941, for example, the Dodgers won the pennant but lost the World Series in five games to the New York Yankees. In 1947 the Dodgers won the pennant and lost again in the World Series, this time in seven games, to the New York Yankees. They lost in the 1949 World Series to the Yankees; they bowed in the 1952 World Series to the Yankees; they were defeated in the 1953 World Series by the Yankees-but 1955 was “next year.” The series went seven games, and the Dodgers defeated the New York Yankees and became World Champions at long last.

St. Louis Browns Owner, Bill Veeck, sent in 3-foot, 7-inch Eddie Gaedel to pinch-hit in a game against Detroit on August 19, 1951. Gaedel walked on four pitches. (AP Photo)
St. Louis Browns Owner, Bill Veeck, sent in 3-foot, 7-inch Eddie Gaedel to pinch-hit in a game against Detroit on August 19, 1951. Gaedel walked on four pitches. (AP Photo)

WALKING MAN, THE Eddie Yost played nearly two decades in the major leagues. His lifetime batting average was only .254, but that didn’t keep him off the bases. Yost coaxed pitchers into yielding 1,614 walks to him-almost a walk a game through his long career.

WEE WILLIE He was born March 3, 1872, in Brooklyn, New York. He died on January 1, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York. His name was William Henry Keeler. A lefty all the way, he weighed only 140 pounds and was a shade over 5‘4“. His tiny physical stature earned him his nickname, but pound for pound he was one of the greatest hitters baseball ever produced. Keeler played for 19 years and recorded a lifetime batting average of .345, fifth on the all-time list. He collected 2,962 hits in 2,124 games, spraying the ball to all fields. Wee Willie’s greatest year was 1897, a season in which he batted .432, recorded 243 hits and 64 stolen bases, and scored 145 runs. He swung a bat that weighed only 30 ounces, but as he said, he ”hit ’em where they ain’t” and that was more than good enough to gain Keeler entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1939.

Dr. Harvey Frommer, a professor at Dartmouth College in the MALS program, is in his 40th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, he is the author of 42 sports books including the classics: best-selling “New York City Baseball, 1947-1957″ and best-selling Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball,as well as his acclaimed Remembering Yankee Stadium and best-selling Remembering Fenway Park. His highly praised When It Was Just a Game: Remembering the First Super Bowl was published last fall.

His Frommer Baseball Classic – Remembering Yankee Stadium (Second Edition) is his newest sports effort. Autographed copies at the ready of this and his other books..

The prolific author is at work on THE ULTIMATE YANKEE BOOK (2017)


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