Column: The baseball world is filled with some interesting nicknames
By MICHAEL RENDOS
For The Express
The Society for American Baseball Research is an organization dedicated to the study and dissemination of any type of information regarding one of America’s greatest pastimes – the game of baseball.
One of the organization’s informational articles I found interesting was the origin of nicknames for particular players, managers, announcers and management personnel through the years. Some are well known – “The Boss” (George Steinbrenner), “The Say Hey Kid” (Willie Mays), “The Yankee Clipper” (Joe DiMaggio), “Hammering Hank” (Hank Aaron), “The Splendid Splinter” (Ted Williams), “The Iron Horse” (Lou Gehrig), but there are a host of others that are downright colorful and interesting.
Johnnie B. “Dusty” Baker – When Dusty, the current manager of the Houston Astros, was a kid he always came home from the playground filthy dirty. His Mom, not wanting to call him dirty, started calling him “Dusty” instead.
Harry “Suitcase” Simpson – Dubbed “Suitcase” by sportswriters for his size 14 shoes that looked as big as suitcases, Simpson was traded five times during an eight-year major league career. “Suitcase” always kept his suitcase packed in anticipation of his next move.
Robert “Hoot “ Gibson – Perhaps the most ferocious and intimidating pitcher in baseball history, he was very surly, even to teammates. Once, when Cardinal catcher Tim McCarver came out to the mound to talk, Gibson brushed him away, saying , “Get back behind the plate, the only thing you know about pitching is that it is hard to hit.” Nicknamed after the American 1930’s western cowboy film actor Hoot Gibson.
Richie “Digger” Hebner – Popular Pirate third baseman in the ’60s and ’70s, he dug graves in the offseason at Norwood, Massachusetts, cemeteries, hence the nickname, “Digger.” Criticized once by his boss for digging a grave too shallow, “Digger” replied, “I never saw anyone get up from a grave.”
Leo “The Lip” Durocher – Played or managed in the major leagues for six decades, a career rife with controversy and arguments with players, umpires, management, the press and fans. Earned the nickname “The Lip” for his perfecting the art of “bench jockeying,” that is, the habit of hurling profanities and obscenities at opposing players and managers during a game in an attempt to interrupt their concentration. Durocher ranks second in all-time victories for National League managers and fifth all-time for game ejections. The volatile Durocher was suspended for the 1947 season for “association with known gamblers.” “The Lip” coined the phrase, “Nice guys finish last.”
Stan “The Man” Musial – Considered by many as the most consistent hitter in baseball history, Musial’s resume included seven NL batting titles, three NL MVP’s, three World Series rings, and 24 NL All-Star games all garnered during a 22-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals. Interestingly, Musial was nicknamed “The Man” not by the hometown St. Louis fans, but by Brooklyn Dodger fans. Musial had always hit well at cozy, bandbox , Ebbets Field in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and during a three-game series there in June 1946 he blistered Dodger pitching for eight hits and multiple RBIs, prompting the Dodger faithful to chant, “Here comes the man” when Musial came to the plate. A St. Louis sportswriter heard the chant and edited it into his game report, and a most fitting nickname, “Stan the Man” was born.
Joseph Jefferson “Shoeless Joe” Jackson – An outstanding outfielder for the Chicago White Sox in the early years of the 20th century, Jackson is best remembered for his involvement with organized crime in the “fixing” of the 1919 World Series, the Black Sox Scandal, and his subsequent lifetime banishment from professional baseball by Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Major League Baseball’s first Commissioner. While playing for a local town team before joining the White Sox, Jackson developed painful blisters from a new pair of cleats that forced him to remove the cleats before going to bat. After driving the ball into the gap, Jackson rounded the bases in his stocking feet, prompting a heckler in the stands to holler, “Hey Joe, you shoeless son of a gun.” From then on he was known as “Shoeless Joe”.
Reginald Martinez “Mr. October” Jackson – A fearless and powerful American League hitter, Jackson’s shining moment was Game 6 of the 1977 World Series versus the Dodgers, where he proceeded to blast three mammoth homeruns on three pitches, clinching the Series title for the Bronx Bombers. Jackson rose to the occasion in October playoff baseball and the nickname “Mr. October” fit him well.
Salvatore “Sal the Barber” Maglie – With stints with both the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, from 1950-1956, the Italian-American Maglie was one of the National League’s most feared pitchers, with a reputation of throwing high and tight earning him the nickname “The Barber.” Anyone hitting a homerun off of him could expect a shave and a haircut the next time through the lineup.
Elwin “Preacher” Roe – The Arkansas native was a mainstay of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ “Boys of Summer” teams of the early 1950s. Accused by opposing hitters of throwing a “spitball” that dropped like a dead duck when it crossed home plate, “Preacher” later admitted that there were occasions that his fingers were a little wet while pitching. As for the nickname “Preacher,” when he was a lad he became very friendly with the local reverend and told his mother he would like to become a preacher some day. The pulpit’s loss was the Dodgers’ gain.
Bill “Spaceman” Lee – A former Red Sox pitcher, Lee was best known for his eccentricities, both on and off the field. His bizarre statements were instant fodder for sportswriters covering Red Sox games.
During his first visit to Boston’s Fenway Park, Lee stared wide-eyed at the famed “Green Monster” in left field and asked, “Do they leave it there during the games?” The “Spaceman” always left people scratching their heads.
Frank “Trader” Lane – As general manager for five different major league teams in the 1950s and ’60s, Lane traded over 400 players, including over 200 with the White Sox alone. No one was immune to Lane’s addiction to shuffling players from team to team, as he traded future Hall of Famers, Home Run champions, All-Star players, Rookies of the Year and fan favorites. As Cleveland’s GM in 1960 he traded Tribe manager Joe Gordon for Tiger’s skipper Jimmy Dykes. “Trader” once remarked to a sportswriter, “I would trade my wife for a crafty, starting, left-handed pitcher.”
Richie “Whitey” Ashburn – Nicknamed “Whitey” because of his light-blond hair, Ashburn was a member of the 1950 Phillies’ “Whiz Kids” National League Champions. After a solid 15-year career, he moved into the Phillies’ radio/television booth. Fans up and down the Delaware Valley hung on to every word “Whitey” and sidekick Harry Kalas spoke on air. Occasionally, “Whitey” would order pizza on air from his favorite South Philly pizza joint, Celebre’s, to be delivered to the booth. When advised by management that ordering pizza on air was free advertising and thus unacceptable, “Whitey” circumvented the ban by saying, ” I’d like to send out a special birthday wish to the Celebre’s twins – plain and pepperoni.”
Dick “Dr. Strangelove” Stuart – The quintessential example of “good hit, no glove”, Stuart could hit the long-ball with the best power hitters of his era, Mays, Mantle, Killebrew, Robinson, etc., he just didn’t hit them as often. In 1956 he led the Western League in both homeruns (66), but struck out 171 times, both standing records for that minor league. The left-center power alley wall at Pittsburgh’s old Forbes Field in the Oakland section of the city was 457 feet from home plate. In 1959 Stuart launched a hanging curve ball over the wall into Schenley Park, observers estimating the ball traveled at least 600 feet. Unfortunately, Stuart never met a groundball he liked and tended to boot any that came his way, leading to the moniker, “Dr. Strangeglove.” In retirement, Stuart once remarked, “I sure wish they had the Designated Hitter rule when I played.”
Bob “Gunner” Prince – During a 28-year career behind the microphone, Prince was undoubtedly the most popular and beloved play-by-play announcer in Pittsburgh Pirate history. His rapid-fire, gravel voice, delivery earned him the nickname “Gunner.” He reveled in bestowing nicknames on Pirate players – “Arriba” (Roberto Clemente), “Deacon” (Vernon Law), “Cobra” (Dave Parker). He also created catchy phrases to describe plays on the field. A sharp hit on artificial turf was a “bug on the rug”, a bang-bang play at first was “as close as the fuzz in a tick’s ear”, a pitch just off the strike zone missed “by a gnat’s eyelash.” Once during a broadcast, “Gunner” asked his sidekick Steve Blass to call down to the press room for two screwdrivers. Blass looked around the room and there didn’t appear to be anything that needed tightened up, but he dutifully called down “Gunner’s” request. Five minutes later a staffer arrived with two screwdrivers. Something needed tightened up for sure – it was the “Gunner” himself.