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Hank Arft
Hank Arft was a first baseman for the St. Louis Browns (1948-52) and inevitably was nicknamed "Bow-Wow." Like many players of his era, Arft interrupted his baseball career to serve in World War II, joining the Navy. He served on a destoyer escort, the USS Goss, and was in Tokyo Bay on VJ Day in 1945.

His best year in professional baseball came in 1947 when he batted .366 for Springfield (Illinois) of the III (Indiana-Illinois-Iowa) League. After retiring from baseball, Arft became an embalmer in Ballwin, Missouri.

 

Orie Arntzen
They called him Old Folks because he didn't reach the major leagues until after his 33rd birthday. It was 1943, many baseball players were in the service, thanks to World War II, and there were openings on most big league rosters. Orie Edgar Arntzen was available and thus he became a member of the Philadelphia Athletics, a team that went on to lose 105 games that season. Arntzen fit right in, with a 4-13 record.

Early in his career, in 1933, he played on what is considered one of the top 100 minor league teams of all-time – Davenport (Iowa) of the Misisissippi Valley League. The team won 82 games, lost only 32. Somehow Arntzen managed to have a losing record, 2-6.

Arntzen kept playing after his one-season stint in Philadelphia. Times were different then. There were minor league teams everywhere and most of them featured an interesting mix of young players who hoped to go on to bigger things and old players who didn't want to quit.

And so it was that in 1949, at age 39, Orie Arntzen pitched for the Albany (New York) Senators of the Eastern League, about two steps down from the majors. Arntzen had the season of his life. He won his first 15 games, and was within two victories of the league record when he ran into Binghamton, a New York Yankee farm team that featured a young left-hander named Whitey Ford. Arntzen suffered his first defeat of the season, but shook it off and won 10 of his next 11 decisions, finishing the season with 25 wins, two losses.

For that, Arntzen was named the 1949 Minor League Player of the Year, which is noted in a display at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Others similarly honored include Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Bench, Jim Rice and Derek Jeter.

Arntzen kept playing until 1951 when he managed the Duluth Dukes and had a 12-3 record as a pitcher. In all, Arntzen won 198 minor league games.

For a more detailed look at his 1949 season, you can check out The Sweet Summer of Orie Arntzen.

 
Elden Auker
His name suggests a character in a spy thriller. Elden Auker pitched for 10 years in the American League, won 130 games. For all you might want to know about Auker, and why he developed his unusual, underhand pitching technique, check out the fine story by Jim Sargent on the Baseball Almanac website.
 
Sweetbreads Bailey
Abraham Lincoln Bailey was a relief pitcher (1919-21) with the Chicago Cubs and (briefly) the Brooklyn Robins (later Dodgers). He appeared in 52 games, had four wins, seven losses, an earned run average of 4.59.

The nickname? Well, Sweetbreads is far more original than the obvious alternative (Honest Abe) for someone born Abraham Lincoln Bailey. However, it's still a weird nickname since "sweetbreads" is defined as "the thymus or, sometimes, the pancreas of a young animal (usually a calf or lamb) used for food."

In retirement Bailey was a weighmaster for the Phoenix Manufacturing Company of Joliet, Illinois, his native city. He died of pituitary gland cancer at the age of 44.

 
Pelham Ballanger
Or the taking of Pelham One-Two-Three ... three being how many major league games third baseman Pelham Ashby Ballenger played for the Washington Senators in 1928 – at age 34.

He had played nine years in the minor leagues before he had his proverbial cup of coffee in the majors, getting a single in nine at bats. He began the season with Birmingham of the Southern Association and was having his best season — hitting .346. Most of his career was with Louisville of the American Association.

 
Boom-Boom Beck
The birth of this nickname resulted from one of baseball's most storied incidents. After getting shelled at Philadelphia's notorious Baker Bowl, pitcher Walt Beck was lifted by his Brooklyn manager, Casey Stengel. The angry Beck threw the ball off the tin fence in right field creating a sound that became his nickname. (The noise also awakened daydreaming Dodger rightfielder Hack Wilson who thought the ball had been hit, so he ran to fetch it and made a perfect – and unnecessary – throw to second base.)
 
Beals Becker
David Beals Becker was a National League outfielder in the early 1900s; his 11 home runs in 1915 put him among the league leaders, but his .246 batting average was an alarming dip from the .325 mark he posted the season before.

After brief appearances in two World Series games in 1915, Becker never played another major league game. He reportedly was notoriously sensitive to fan criticism and performed better on the road where crowds paid little attention to him. The criticism may have been directed at his fielding. I found a few newspaper articles about him; all said Becker was a good hitter, but a mediocre outfielder. That's why he bounced from team to team, playing for Pittsburgh, Boston, New York, Cincinnati and Philadelphia.

He returned to the minor leagues, retired fr a couple of years, then unretired and finally finished his playing career in the Pacific Coast League in 1925.

 

Blitzen Benz
Joseph Louis Benz was more commonly known as Joe. A Chicago White Sox pitcher for nine seasons (1911-1919), he put together three consecutive pitching efforts in 1914 that were remarkable – a no-hitter. a two-hitter and a one-hitter. Nicknamed not for the reindeer, but for his blazing fastball.

He was another one of those guys who came this close to being one of the greats. Check out the Bill Lamb article on Joe Benz on the website of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

 
Moe Berg
A catcher with Brooklyn, the Chicago White Sox, Washington Senators and Boston Red Sox, Morris Berg was one of baseball's brightest and most popular players.

Berg graduated magna cum laude from Princeton and spoke several languages, but as some players pointed out, Berg's education was lacking in one important area: he never learned how to hit a curve ball. His lifetime batting average was .243. He was in his eighth year of major league baseball before he hit his first home run; he had only six of them in his 15-season career.

Moe Berg was a very bright and popular catcher, but he is now best remembered for his work as a United States spy who gathered information during a baseball trip to Japan in the 1930s and for his dangerous espionage work behind Nazi lines during World War II.

 

Bruno Betzel
Born Christian Frederick Albert John Henry David Betzel and named after his six uncles. An infielder for the St. Louis Cardinals (1914-18), he later was a minor league manager for many years.

He was nicknamed for a pet dog that was his constant childhood companion.

 

Carson Bigbee
This Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder (1916-26) had a lifetime .287 average, twice getting more than 200 hits in a season. His best year: 1922 when he hit .350. Like a lot of players of that era, Bigbee left the majors at what today would be considered a ridiculously early age – 31.

Carson Lee Bigbee was born in Waterloo, Oregon. He had an older brother, Lyle, who'd been born in a town with one of my favorite names, Sweet Home, Oregon. Lyle Bigbee, nicknamed Al, had a brief major league career with the Philadelphia Athletics (1920) and Pittsburgh (1921) as an outfielder and pitcher.

Carson Bigbee was nicknamed Skeeter, but I prefer his real name; it makes him sound like a TV news anchorman ... or host of a late night show.

Bigbee was one of the former major leaguers who was a manager in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II. Bigbee's team was the Springfield (Illinois) Sallies.

 

Hill Billy Bildilli
Emil Bildilli was a left-handed pitcher who was very effective in the minor leagues, which is why the St. Louis Browns kept bringing him up to the majors for brief visits (1937-41). He finally hung around awhile in 1940, starting 11 games, relieving in 17 others, and posting a 2-4 record. Otherwise he pitched in only 13 other games spread over four seasons.

Bildilli was born in Diamond, Indiana, a small town near Terre Haute, so his nickname had to be a play on his last name because I've seldom heard a Hoosier referred to as hillbilly ... or Hill Billy, as was the case here.

Tragically, Bildilli was killed in an automobile accident on his 34th birthday.

 
Rivington Bisland
Rivington Martin Bisland was a shortstop whose three-year major league stint (1912-14) included only 31 games. How do you pronounce his last name? I hope it's BY-land (as in Rivington Bisland or by sea), but it's probably BIS-land. His daunting first name made him sound like a kid who played because his father owned the stadium.
 

Lena Blackburne
Russell Aubrey Blackburne was a light-hitting infielder who went on to manage the Chicago White Sox (1928-29). He also was nicknamed Slats, so he could have been both ends of a vaudeville act – Lena and Slats. I assume both nicknames can be traced to his slim frame, with Lena likely a play on the word "lean."

Blackburne's main claim to fame has nothing to do with his name. His legacy is mud. Seems in 1938, when Blackburne was a Philadelphia Athletics coach, an umpire complained to him that new baseballs were too slippery. Blackburne thought the solution might be the unusual mud he had noticed along Pennsauken Creek near Palmyra, NJ, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.

Long story short, from 1938 until today and probably forever, Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud is used to remove the slippery finish from new baseballs. Umpires hand rub the mud on about five dozen baseballs before every major league game. When the umps are finished, the baseballs still look clean, but the surface is easier for pitchers to grip.

 

Lu Blue
Luzerne Atwell "Lu" Blue
went against his parents' wishes to pursue a career in baseball. They sent their son to a military school in hopes the boy would become more serious about his studies.

Little did they know Maryland's Briarly Hall Military School was run by Sid Lodge, who had played minor league baseball. It was Lodge who taught Blue the fine points of the game and helped him get his first minor league contract.

Blue, a first baseman, went on to play 12 full seasons in the major leagues. He batted .300 or better five times, four times with the Detroit Tigers. But it's his name that makes him memorable.

 

Ping Bodie
Francesco Stephano Pezzolo
became Frank Stephan Bodie when he followed an uncle's lead and changed his last name to Bodie for a small California mining town where the family had once lived. "Ping" was the sound of a ball meeting Bodie's 52-ounce bat.

Bodie never hit better than .295, but in his rookie season (1911) he led the Chicago White Sox in runs batted in (97) and finished fourth in the league in that category.

Bodie wound up his major league career with the New York Yankees where he was assigned to be Babe Ruth's roommate. However, Bodie saw it differently. He told a sportswriter, "I don't room with Ruth, I room with his suitcase!"

 

Frenchy Bordagaray
Stanley George Bordagaray
played 11 major league seasons, in the outfield mostly, but occasionally at third base. When he reported to spring training in 1935 he sported the mustache and goatee he had worn as an extra in the movie, "The Prisoner of Shark Island."

However, this was during baseball's clean-shaven era. The Brooklyn Dodgers ordered him use a razor, but not until several photos were taken. This led to the mistaken belief is was that he was called Frenchy because of the image he affected with the facial hair, but his mother had come up with the nickname when Bordagaray was a child.

 

Oil Can Boyd
Free-spirited pitcher Dennis Ray Boyd was a Boston fan favorite when he joined the Red Sox in 1982. His nickname comes from his beer-drinking youth in Meridian, Mississippi, where he and his friends referred to the beverage as "oil."

His last major league appearance was in 1991; he hung on in the minors for several years, retired, then unretired in 2005 for another season in the minors.

 

Bunny Brief
He was born Anthony John Grzeszkowski in Remus, Michigan, but his parents, who had emigrated from Poland, had inadvertently picked up a new last name that eventually stuck.

As the couple was processed by immigration authorities who struggled with the long Polish name, Mr. Grzeskowski, like many immigrants, suggested they Americanize their name. "Just change it to something brief," he said. More proof you should be careful what you say.

Joe Brief, a great-nephew of the ballplayer, claims the story is true.

Bunny Brief's full name became Anthony Vincent Brief. His nickname, not explained, actually was Bundy, which is how he was identified in his obituary. It's easy to imagine how Bundy became Bunny – or vice versa.

Brief, an outfielder-first baseman, hit .310 in 15 games with the St. Louis Browns in 1912, then fell into a three-season pattern in which he played in the majors only in odd-numbered years – 1913, 1915 and 1917, with three different teams (St. Louis, Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh). He was a model of consistency, which isn't good when your batting averages are .217, .214 and .217.

It was a far different story in the American Association where Brief enjoyed amazing success. He led the league in home runs eight times; twice he led all minor leagues in that department. He played all or parts of 16 seasons in the American Association, putting together a lifetime batting average of .331.

 

Mordecai Brown
Hall of Fame pitcher is better known by the nickname, "Three-Finger," he received in painful fashion, injuring his right hand twice in childhood accidents in Nyesville, Indiana. He lost most of his index finger to a piece of farm machinery; later he broke several bones in the hand when he fell while chasing a rabbit. His full name is Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown, his second middle name coming from the year of his birth, 1876.

His statistics are staggering, especially by comparison with today's pitchers. Brown's lifetime earned run average was 2.06; he went five consecutive seasons posting an earned run average under two runs per game, including an all-time best 1.04 in 1906 when he won 26 games and pitched nine shut outs. In 1908 he on 29 games; the following season he won 27. That season (1909) he pitched 32 complete games in 34 starts AND made 16 relief appearances, working 343 innings. His lifetime won-lost record was 239-130. He had five World Series wins, three of them shut outs.

All of those World Series appearances were with the Chicago Cubs, which may seem strange to today's baseball fans because the Cubs haven't been to the fall classic since 1945. But when Brown was a Cub, the team won three National League pennants in a row (1906-08) and then again in 1910.

 

Madison Bumgarner
Best known as the hero of the 2014 World Series, Madison Kyle Bumgarner has a name that is a throwback to an era that produced several players on my list — Rivington Bisland, for example. or Pembroke Finlayson and Spencer Pumpelly. The left-handed pitcher's name would be even better were it followed by a number, say, Madison K. Bumgarner III.

That I only recently became aware of Bumgarner indicates how much my interest in baseball has dropped in recent years. He was just 25 in 2014, when he posted an 18-10 record for the San Francisco Giants. By my reckoning he won three games in the World Series against Kansas City, but from what I've read he was credited with a save in Game Seven, which contradicts what I was told years ago — that no pitcher is credited with a win if he leaves the game before the fifth inning. That Bumgarner pitched the final five innings of that game, after two earlier complete game victories, says he was entitled to a third win.

Whatever, Bumgarner looks like the second coming of Randy Johnson, though the Giant pitcher stands "only" six-foot-five, compared with the Big Unit's six-foot-ten.

 

Putsy Caballero
Ralph Joseph Caballero was fresh out of New Orleans' Jesuit High School, when he made his debut with the Philadlephia Phillies on September 14, 1944, playing third base.

At 17, Caballero was the youngest player ever at third base in a major league game. Only pitcher Joe Nuxhall, who made a brief appearance for Cincinnati when he was 15, was younger than Caballero in his first big league game.

Unfortunately for Caballero, he would not have the career that the gritty Nuxhall eventually achieved. (Nuxhall won 135 games over 16 seasons, later becoming the Cincinnati broadcaster.)

Meanwhile, Caballero bounced back and forth from the minors to the Phillies who used him as a utility infielder (1944-52). He was one of the Whiz Kids who won the National League pennant in 1950. Caballero struck out in his only World Series at bat.

Caballero was popular with teammates. Hall of Fame outfielder Richie Ashburn recalled Caballero as his favorite roommate.

Caballero returned to the New Orleans area after his baseball days were over. He owned a pest-control business there until he retired several years ago. Unfortunately, his home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He moved in with one of his daughters for awhile, but has since resettled in a section of New Orleans known as Lake View.

In 2009 he was inducted into the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame.

Why was he called Putsy? So far I have found no explanation.

 

Milo Candini
Pitcher was 11-7 as rookie with Washington Senators in 1943, career went downhill from there. I've always gotten a kick out of the name "Milo" (which seemed to pop up a lot in detective films from the 1930s and '40s) and the last name, Candini, reminded me of Candy Candido, a popular radio performer from those good old days, whose bit was the way he dropped his voice when he delivered his signature line, "I'm feeling mighty low!"

Candido in performance.

 

Icebox Chamberlain
Elton P. Chamberlain
was just 18 when he joined Louisville of the American Association in 1886. The next season he won 18 games, and in 1888 had 25 wins with Louisville and St. Louis, following that with a 32-win season for St. Louis in 1889. In a one-sided 1888 win over the Kansas City Cowboys, the right-handed Chamberlain seemed to rub salt in the wounds by pitching the last two innings left-handed. However, that was something he did occasionally, pitching one inning right-handed, the next left-handed.

Chamberlain joined the Cincinnati Reds of the National League in 1892, winning 19 games, but losing 23. In 1893 he pitched a no-hitter against the Boston Beaneaters in a game that was called after seven innings. The Beaneaters got revenge on May 30, 1894 when Boston second baseman Bobby Lowe became the first major leaguer to hit four home runs in one game – and he hit them all against Chamberlain, who received no relief from manager Charlie Comiskey. Result: Chamberlain gave up all 20 Boston runs.

An ailing arm shortened Chamberlain's career, which for all practical purposes ended with the 1894 season.

Chamberlain was called Icebox (often spelled Ice Box) because he was so cool and unemotional on the mound. That explanation comes from Bill James, baseball historian and Lord of the Statistics. (Yes, but I wish I could have seen his face after Lowe's fourth home run.)

 
Spud Chandler
His real first name – Spurgeon – is more interesting than the nickname. Chandler was a New York Yankee pitcher (1937-47) who had a 20-4 record in 1943, adding two wins in the World Series. He was the league's Most Valuable Player that season, the only Yankee pitcher ever to win that award.
 
Charlie Chant
Charles Joseph Chant was born in Bell, California, and played briefly with Oakland and the St. Louis Cardinals in 1975 and '76, charting the course Mark McGwire would take several years later. Except Chant never hit a major league home run. But, then, he only got up to bat 19 times.
 
Cupid Childs
Clarence Algernon Childs
was a highly regarded second baseman in the 1890s. He was short (5-foot-8) and chubby, known by such other names as Fats, Fatty and The Dumpling. No wonder he preferred Cupid. He drew a lot of walks, scored a lot of runs, and had a lifetime batting average of .306.

Cupid Childs took the heat, but What's The Use Chiles (below) was the real culprit in a scandal described by Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson in his 1912 book, "Pitching in a Pinch." Mathewson misidentified Childs as the player responsible for the signal-stealing scheme of 1900, but it was Chiles who masterminded the plan. Chiles was in his second season with the Phillies and spent most of his time on the bench or the third base coaching box. so he set out to steal signals from the opposing catcher and relay them to his batters.

His partner was a little-used catcher named Morgan Murphy, who would sit behind the centerfield wall with a spyglass and relay information to Chiles via an electric wire Chiles had laid all the way from the fence to the coaching box.

The signal came in the form of a small electric shock, or short series of shocks, depending on what pitch had been called. Chiles would relay the signal to the batter via one of those hand twitches baseball coaches use. Cincinnati shortstop Tommy Corcoran noticed Chiles was twitching his leg, too, which exposed the signal-stealing scheme.
 

What's the Use Chiles
He played 130 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1899-1900, mostly in the outfield, but also at first and second base.

Pearce Nuget Chiles wasn't a nice guy, which is putting it mildly. He conned people, took advantage of underage girls, spent some time in jail and a lot of time on the run, eventually dropping out of sight.

He supposedly received his nickname for his cocky habit of shouting "What's the use?" at batters who hit balls his way.

(The link above is to a fine story about Chiles' legal troubles, on a site called Ron Schuler's Parlour Tricks.)

 
Cuckoo Christensen
Walter Neils Christensen batted .350 as a Cincinnati rookie in 1926. A year later his average dipped to .254 and he was sent back to the minors. It wasn't only his hitting slump that doomed Christensen. There was the matter of his nickname – and how he earned it. He sometimes seemed more concerned with entertaining spectators than helping his team. Sometimes he would do somersaults in the outfield when a fly ball was headed his way. In 1927 he lost a game for Cincinnati when he somersaulted under a fly ball – and proceeded to drop it.
 

Stubby Clapp
Richard Keith Clapp is 5-foot-8, but apparently he would have been called Stubby even if he were six inches taller. Stubby is a nickname handed down from his father and his grandfather. To differentiate the men in the family, the guy who played 23 games with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001 ought to be known as Stubby Clapp III. In any event, people who judge baseball players by their names agree that Stubby Clapp is one of the greats.

As for the man who carries it, he returned to the minor leagues after his brief fling in the bigs.

 
Harlond Clift
If you said Harlond Benton Clift was a famous writer, people would probably believe you. Instead, Clift is one of the major leaguers time has pretty much forgotten. Lots of walks, flashes of power, the third baseman averaged more than 100 runs scored in his first nine seasons – with the St. Louis Browns, yet. He was the first third baseman to hit more than 30 home runs in a season (34, in 1938). He had a nickname, of sorts. It was "Darkie," which was hung on him by a teammate who thought Clift's first name was Harlem. Or so the story goes.
 
Buck Coats
That's no nickname. Coats was born Buck in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1982. The infielder-outfielder signed with the Chicago Cubs in 2000, played in 18 games for them in 2006, but since then has been relegated to the minor leagues, except for brief visits to the majors with Cincinnati and Toronto.
 

Nardi Contreras
Relief pitcher Arnaldo Juan Contreras appeared in eight games for the Chicago White Sox in 1980. Use his name to begin a rebuttal: "Nardi contreras, here's how it really is . . . "

After retiring as a player, Contreras became a pitching coach.

 

Creepy Crespi
Frank Angelo Joseph Crespi was an infielder for the St. Louis Cardinals (1938-42), seeing little major league action until 1941 when he played 145 games at second base. However, in 1942 he played just 93 games and in the World Series sat on the bench as Jimmy Brown, formerly the Cardinal third baseman, replaced him at second because Whitey Kurowski had taken over at third. The problem was Crespi's hitting. After posting a fair .270 average the year before, Crespi batted just .243 in 1942, with no home runs and only six extra base hits.

Crespi was considered an excellent fielder. Marty Marion, called by many the outstanding fielding shortstop of his time, said Crespi was the best second baseman he had ever played with.

However, World War II interrupted Crespi's baseball career. He might have gotten a deferment since he provided his mother's sole support, but he chose not to apply. "I don't think I'm too good to fight for the things I've always enjoyed," he said.

Like many players, Crespi spent much of his Army time playing baseball. He might have fared better on the front lines. He broke a leg on the baseball field, then compounded the injury by breaking the leg yet again – in a different spot – during a wheelchair race. Crespi's baseball-playing days were over.

There may be another explanation floating around, but as far as I know Crespi was called Creepy because the lower half of his face bore a resemblance to that of actor Rondo "The Creeper" Hatton.


 
Tomato Face Cullop
Outfielder Henry Nicholas Cullop also was called Nick, but it's Tomato Face that helps keep Cullop's memory alive. The nickname also separates him from pitcher Nick Cullop.

Tomato Face Cullop had a lucklustre five-season major league career, but he was a minor league superstar. His 420 career home runs puts him in the top five on the all-time minor league list. His 1,857 runs batted in is a minor league record.
 

Kiki Cuyler
The Hall of Fame outfielder was given his nickname early in his career after he nervously stammered the pronunciation of his last name. Name-wise, he may have been doomed from the start. He was born Hazen Shirley Cuyler.

His lifetime batting average was .321; he had four seasons of hitting between .354 and .360, two of those with Pittsburgh, two with the Chicago Cubs.

Cuyler was generally a pleasant, easy-going guy, but he had his moments. In 1927 Pittsburgh Pirates manager Donie Bush wanted Cuyler to bat second, but Cuyler refused, claiming he could help the team more if he remained third in the order.

Bush benched Cuyler for much of the season and didn't use him in the World Series.

Cuyler also was annoyed with Pittsburgh management when they wouldn't – as a matter of team policy – let the player take his wife on a road trip.

A few weeks after the 1927 season, the inevitable happened – the Pirates traded Cuyler to Chicago.

 

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