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Outfielder James William Holmes, catcher Howard Elbert Holmes, and pitcher James Scott Holmes (left to right, above) were all nicknamed "Ducky," for different reasons, but with the same result — sooner or later, their real first name either disappeared from newspapers, or were written as an afterthought. Sometimes the only way to tell them apart was a mention of the position they played.

James William Holmes came along before the other two, and was given his nickname because some folks thought he waddled when he walked. He was five-feet-six, and seemed stocky, but that was deceptive. He was very fast, an outfielder who caught balls that seemed beyond his reach. He also was an exceptional base-stealer.

Howard Holmes came along a few years later, and was so-nicknamed because of his big nose.

James Scott Holmes isn't given a nickname on baseball-reference.com, but newspapers almost always referred to him as "Ducky," as did his obituary writers many years later. I believe he was so nicknamed because of the other James, who in the first several years of the 20th century was more famous than Howard, the catcher. (In 1908, James William Holmes, then 39, managed the Sioux City Packers of the Western League. One of his catchers was the 24-year-old Howard Holmes.)

There may be another reason so many people in other professions were also known as "Ducky Holmes." If so, I've yet to find it. But I can't believe the smirking outfielder at the top of this page was so famous he inspired so many people named Holmes to be nicknamed "Ducky." More on that later.

How this Ducky became infamous
Let's start with the outfielder whose playing career covered 15 years (1893-1907), and briefly resumed in 1920 when he played 15 games for the Hanover (Maryland) Raiders of the Blue Ridge League, and batted .298. He was 51 years old at the time. He also managed minor league teams for 15 seasons. But this Ducky Holmes is best remembered for something he said during a game in 1898.

Holmes had played for the New York Giants in 1897, but the team let him go at the end of the season. Next season he was signed by the Baltimore Orioles, and on July 25, Holmes and the Orioles were in New York to play the Giants. In the fourth inning of a tie game, with a runner on second base, Holmes struck out, which caused Giants fans to shout insults. One particular fan,or "crank," as spectators were called in those days, got under Holmes' skin saying the player had just demonstrated why the Giants released him.

Holmes yelled back, "Well, I'm glad I don't have to work for no sheeny anymore."

The player was referring to Giants owner Andrew Freedman, who just happened to be at the stadium. What happened next is explained in a Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) story by Bill Lamb.

The short version is that Freedman, who combined the worst traits of George Steinbrenner and Donald Trump, was the most hated man in baseball. What Holmes said was unkind, no doubt, but not unusual. In those days, everyone was fair game for insults that years later would be termed politically incorrect.

Most baseball people sided with Holmes, though one obvious reason was not mentioned — how could any baseball owner complain about bigotry? This was a group that denied an entire race the opportunity to participate in what was considered the national game. And those men — largely German or Irish immigrants, or sons of immigrants — were treated like indentured servants.

Freedman charged onto the field, demanding that Holmes be thrown out of the game and indefinitely suspended. Freedman's prolonged interruption caused the umpire to award the game to Baltimore on a forfeit. Freedman was fined, as was Holmes, who was suspended for the rest of the season.

THAT HE HAD been denied a hearing was one reason the league did not enforce Holmes' suspension. Later, the fine was revoked. The controversy remained, but Freedman was under attack for other things, such as his response to scathing criticism by a sportswriter who was a former ball player, and the way several reporters commented on that response. Freedman's handling of his star pitcher, Amos Rusie — the owner arbitrarily withheld part of his wages — added to the owner's unpopularity.

As for Holmes, he made a bit of news a year later that cast him in a favorable light:

Chicago Tribune, May 21, 1899
Again yesterday Burns' Cowboys fell in defeat before a crippled, mutilated bunch of ball tossers exiled from Brooklyn and now representing Baltimore in the National League. The meek and lowly Orioles, composed of two ball players assisted by seven men of lesser caliber but filled with the same spirit, fell against the ball merrily and found the mighty Griffith for fourteen hits, many of them scratches, but others clean and hard, and while the half congealed crowd mourned, the Cowboys were overwhelmed by a score of 9 to 5.

The only warm feature of the struggle came in the ninth, when the big crowd was yelling in hope of a last resort rally. Of a sudden smoke poured out of the fence in left field under the great tier of bleachers. "Ducky" Holmes deserted left field, tore down half a section of the fence, and with the aid of some spectators extinguished the fire.

Holmes also had two hits that were "clean and hard" — a triple and a home run. The Chicago sportswriter's reference to Burns was Tom Burns, the manager, and I believe the Chicago team's nickname that season was Orphans, not Cowboys. (A few years earlier it had been the Colts.) "The mighty Griffith' was Chicago's best pitcher, Clark Griffith. Also, the sportswriter was no judge of baseball talent — the Baltimore line-up included John McGraw, Steve Brodie, Candy LaChance, Bill Keister, Wilbert Robinson and Joe McGinnity.

Five days later. this item was published:

Buffalo Evening News, May 26, 1899
Ducky Holmes hasn’t cured himself of the talking habit, and still expresses his thoughts through a megaphone. On his home lot he is cocky as a bantam rooster, and his chatter mars the landscape. Umpire [Hank] O’Day has taken a round of very audible abuse from him without reproof and allowed him to trespass on the field at times when the rules stringently provide that he remain silent on the bench.

The bench rule, by the way, is entirely ignored in Baltimore, and the players lounge and squat on the field wherever it suits them, and sometimes in the way of a possible attempt to field a ball that would even with a clear field be difficult to get.

It was Holmes' best season in the major leagues. He batted .320, but a year later opted to play for the Detroit Tigers of the American League, which, in 1900, was a Class A minor league. Major league status was a year away. Holmes would remain in the American League until 1905, playing with Detroit, Washington and Chicago White Sox. He retired with a lifetime major league batting average of .281, with 236 stolen bases.

IN ADDITION to managing in the minor leagues, Holmes at one time or another owned the Lincoln (Nebraska) team of the Western League and the Sioux City team of the same league. In those days, minor league teams frequently changed nicknames. In the four seasons Holmes was associated with the Lincoln team, it was called the Ducklings, the Tree Planters, the Tigers and the Links. The Sioux City team was the Soos, the Packers and the Indians during the five years Holmes was involved with them.

This Ducky Holmes was regarded as a contrarian, often grouchy and disagreeable. Sportswriter Irving Ellis "Sy" Sanborn, sometimes identified as I. E. Sanborn, in a story that began as a short history of left-handed catchers (and why they disappeared), detoured into an anecdote involving Holmes' contrary nature.

Chicago Sunday Tribune, February 13, 1916
A left-handed bathtub almost caused a near tragedy once — nothing less than the banishment of a baseball team from a favorite hotel. Ducky Holmes, once a White Sox outfielder, was the victim of the freak tub, I think. Anyway, Ducky has been credited with the leading role in the near tragedy, although that may be solely because Ducky was one of the leading crabs in the game years ago.

Back in 1904 when [Charles] Comiskey put Marlin, Texas, on the map, the White Sox started for that camp on a rattler that was scheduled to pick up Holmes somewhere out in Iowa during the night. A rookie pitcher was to be picked up the next forenoon at Kansas City.

So Jimmy Callahan, then serving his first sentence as White Sox manager, had two spare berths, an upper and a lower. When Callahan turned in for the night, he gave the checks for both the upper and lower to the Pullman conductor, explaining that he would need them both when Holmes boarded the train, because Ducky would fuss about the one that was first offered him, and demand one of the other kind.

The conductor smiled incredulously, so Callahan bet him a cigar that if he first assigned Holmes to a lower berth, the player would kick for an upper. Next morning after breakfast at the Harvey station, the conductor quietly slipped Callahan a cigar.

But about that southpaw bathtub. Holmes was an early riser on the road so that he could have first choice of the towels and toothbrushes. One morning he was deprived of his tub because he could extract nothing but ice water, although he let the faucet run until it nearly splashed over.

After a morose breakfast, he complained strenuously to the clerk at the desk about the absence of hot water in a hotel that pretended to be major league. To appease Ducky, the clerk sent for the chief of the boiler room, who maintained doggedly that he had kept a surplus of agua caliente on tap all that morning.

Just as Holmes was finishing an impromptu biography of the engineer’s ancestors and was preparing to make the engineer himself eligible for the obituary column, Ducky’s roommate, Doc White, stopped to turn in the room key and poured oil on the turmoil by announcing that he had just had a bath in water to hot that it nearly parboiled him.

Investigation proved, as you already have guessed, that this bathroom had been plumbed by a southpaw doctor of pipes, and White, being left-handed himself, had solved the difference quite naturally.

James William Holmes. who'd been born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1969, died 63 years later, in 1932, in Truro, Iowa. Before he passed away, another Ducky Holmes would command more attention — the catcher with the big nose. (Remember when we called 'em "honkers"?) The size and shape of his nose aren't apparent in the photo at the top of this page, but I found another picture of him when he was a minor league manager and a scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and could see why people called him "Ducky." (Unfortunately, that photo was in a newspaper and reproduction wasn't sharp enough to make a copy.)

Meet the original Howard the Duck
This Ducky Holmes arrived in the major leagues in 1906, a year after the first Ducky departed. Catcher Howard Elbert Holmes turned pro four years earlier, at the age of 18. At look at available statistics makes you wonder what the St. Louis Cardinals saw in the catcher — not much, apparently, because he was let go after nine games, and would spend the rest of his career in the minor leagues.

Fittingly, perhaps, he had his best season when the other Ducky Holmes was his manager — in Sioux City in 1908, when the catcher batted .286. But it wasn't until Howard Holmes himself began managing minor league teams that he attracted attention, not because he was a managerial genius, but because he was a colorful character who flaunted his nickname. As manager of the Saginaw team in the Southern Michigan League in 1913, he christened them "The Ducks."

He managed Saginaw for three seasons, then became player-manager of the Frankfort, Kentucky, team in the Ohio State League.

Later he became an umpire in the Western League, and in 1921 moved up to the National League. He umpired in the American League in 1923 and '24. One of his first assignments was the first game played at Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923.

According to an October 14, 1942 article by Wide World Features, Holmes had the distinction of being the only umpire ever to throw Hall of Famer George Sisler out of a game when the first baseman was the player-manager of the St. Louis Browns. It was June 21, 1924, and Browns' catcher, Pat Collins, disputed some of Holmes' calls on balls and strikes in a game against the Chicago White Sox. Finally, Collins went too far for Holmes, who ordered the catcher to the showers.

At that point, Sisler ran toward home plate from first base, and coach Jimmy Austin came out of the dugout to join in the protest. Holmes ordered both of them to leave the field, which prompted Ken Williams and Johnny Tobin to race in from the outfield. Holmes quickly ejected both of them, and this drew Browns' owner, Phil Ball out of his box seat, onto the field, and the umpire ordered him to leave the ballpark. This so upset a St. Louis fan that he also came out on the field and punched Holmes on the jaw.

THREE WEEKS later, on July 13, Holmes ejected Washington Senators player-manager Bucky Harris from a game against Cleveland. Although Washington went on to win the game, 15-11, some Senator fans took offense to the umpire's performance behind the plate, and, again, Holmes took a punch in the face.

Holmes had been set up as a target even before the season opened when he was criticized by future Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers, who managed the Chicago White Sox that season. Evers was a serious fellow, and a game was a game, even if it didn't count in the standings. The occasion was a pre-season encounter between his White Sox and the Giants.

Binghamton Press, April 3, 1924
It was a see-saw, nip-and-tuck fight all the way, with the White Sox leading at the start and the Giants winning out in a Garrison finish, though Johnny Evers gives the entire credit for the victory to Umpire Ducky Holmes, who called George Kelly safe at the plate in the final inning. Johnny informed the umpire that he couldn’t see through a barrel with both ends out, and that Kelly was out by three Irish miles.

All of which is funny in view of the way Holmes behaved when he gave up umpiring to return to his job as minor league manager. He became notorious for his many arguments. In 1938, he really lost it, and hit an umpire, which earned him a 120-day suspension that spanned two seasons. He devised a way to direct his Dayton team by means of electric signals from a tower overlooking the ballpark.

On an earlier occasion, he went outside a stadium and flashed signals to his team by waving his arms from high up on a telephone pole.

REGARDING Holmes' nose, the 1942 Wide World Features article had this to say:

Known for his long nose — that’s where he gets the name “Ducky” — the Dayton skipper isn’t adverse to making the big beak pay dividends. Each year he has a “schnozzle” contest, open to one and all in the Miami Valley. All long-nosed men are admitted free to a game, and the guest with the biggest “schnozzle” gets a $5 award — provided his nose is longer than Ducky’s.

But, up to date, Ducky hasn’t lost the five bucks.

On May 21, 1935, sports editor Tommy Holmes of Brooklyn Daily Eagle said this about Ducky Holmes, who was no relation:

"He is a thick-set man of 50, with a Jimmy Durante nose from which he derived his nickname long ago. He has been in baseball for 32 years. As a player, he reached the majors, but didn’t stick. In the minors, he has been a player, an umpire, a manager and a club owner. At present, he is head of the Dayton Mid-Atlantic League club, which operates as a Brooklyn farm under an agreement signed a year ago. He is a quick, fluent talker and punctuates his remarks with sudden, nervous gestures that menace everybody else in the room. [Casey] Stengel is the same type of athletic conversationalist, and they interrupt each other at close range. Both keep ducking instinctively to avoid being hit in the teeth by a stray gesture.”

(That year Stengel was manager of the Dodgers.)

Another sports columnist, Harry O'Donnell, in the Elmira (New York) Star-Gazette, on April 6, 1937, described Holmes as the "prominent Ohioan with the W. C. Field vocal delivery."

On September 15, 1945, this Ducky Holmes died in the city where he'd been born 62 years earlier — Dayton, Ohio.

Big things were expected, but not realized
Baseball's third "Ducky" Holmes was born James Scott Holmes. Strangely — at least, I think it's strange — his nickname is not mentioned on baseball-reference.com, though it's all over newspapers that covered his brief major league career and his several years pitching in the Eastern and International Leagues.

He first played for Huntsville of the Tennessee-Alabama League in 1904 (no record available), and the next year was with Augusta of the South Atlantic League (no pitching statistic available). His teammates included Ty Cobb, Eddie Cicotte and Nap Rucker.

A year later, in 1906, he and Rucker combined to win 53 games (with 25 losses). Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics had his choice of pitchers, and selected Holmes over the left-handed Rucker. It was not a wise decision — Holmes finished the 1906 season with the Athletics, starting one game and making two relief appearances. He walked eight batters and hit one, gave up 10 hits and 11 runs in nine innings. He was charged with one loss. He fared much better as a hitter, getting three singles in five at bats.

In 1907, Holmes was sent back to Augusta, a Class C team, and won 22 games, while Rucker was winning 15 games for the Brooklyn Superbas of the National League. (Rucker would go on to win 134 games in a 10-season major league career.)

PERHAPS IT was a good word from Rucker that got Holmes signed by Brooklyn for the 1908 season. He appeared in only 13 games for the Superbas, winning one, losing three. He was still a bit wild — giving up 20 walks in 40 innings — but his earned run average was a respectable 3.38. This time he had only one hit in 13 at bats, but that single got Holmes a good mention in the New York City press on August 2 because it came in the sixth inning and broke up a no-hit bid by Pittsburgh's Sam Leever. (Throughout his career, Holmes was considered a notoriously bad hitter, even for a pitcher.)

The game against Pittsburgh was this Ducky's last hurrah. He spent the rest of his career in the minors, though he went through spring training with Brooklyn in 1909 before being sent to the Rochester Bronchos of the Eastern League.

In July, with Holmes pitching well for the first place Bronchos, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle said he would most likely be back with the Superbas at the end of the season, and predicted a bright future for him. But that future turned out to be two more seasons in Rochester. The good news was the Bronchos won the Eastern League pennant each season he pitched for them.

He moved with Rochester to the International League in 1912, but soon was dealt to Buffalo, perhaps because of a dispute he had with Rochester owners. A year later he was bought by Newark, which won International League pennant that season. So in the five seasons since his stint with Brooklyn, Holmes spent four of them with first place teams. He won at least 14 games each season.

He ended his career in 1914 with Memphis of the Southern Association with a 6-5 won-lost record. All told, he won 132 games in the minor leagues. He was born in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and after he retired from baseball, he moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where he died in 1960. He was 77 years old.

As for his nickname, I think he was tagged with "Ducky" because of his last name, and the timing of his arrival in the major leagues one season after another James Holmes departed. Because the first "Ducky" Holmes had stirred up such a fuss in New York City, his fame — and notoriety — may have been blown out of proportion.

Here a Ducky, there a Ducky . . .
According to an article in the Gloversville (NY) Leader-Herald, there was yet another "Ducky" Holmes on a major league league team in 1915. Mark Van Holmes was interviewed a century later for the August 3, 2015 piece, and he talked about his grandfather, Russell, a catcher who had batted .336 in 1914 for the Newburg (NY) Hillclimbers of the Atlantic League

Russell Holmes' nickname was actually "Bud," but for the short time he spent with the Red Sox — as the bullpen catcher — his teammates called him "Ducky." Apparently that had become a prerequisite for anyone named Holmes, which, to me, indicates how notorious James Williams Holmes had become. I hope there was more to the man's fame than his quick temper and big mouth.

"Bud" Holmes spent most of his season in the New England League, playing for Lewiston, then Lynn. His playing career, interrupted by World War One in 1918-19, continued until 1922, but he never did get to play in a major league game, though he did get to warm up Babe Ruth, who won 18 games in 1915. He also got to witness Ruth's first major league home run.

As for his grandson, Mark, he became a musician-composer. Among his albums is one titled "Backup Catcher."

THE "DUCKY" thing was contagious, affecting even baseball's most highly regarded Holmes — outfielder Tommy, who had an 11-season career (1942-52), almost all of it with the Boston Braves. He occasionally was called "Ducky," though his best-known nickname was "Kelly."

He had two misconceptions to correct, especially during his early days. One: He was not related, nor did he want to be identified with the original "Ducky" Holmes. Two: Although he was born in Brooklyn, he was not the son of Tommy Holmes, the long-time sports writer and editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

I found a newspaper clipping from 1938 when Holmes played for Binghamton of the Eastern League. He was identified in a photo as "Ducky," which, in this case, was appropriate, because he was ducking away from an inside pitch thrown by Albany left-hander Pete Naktenis.

Tommy Holmes arrived in the National League four years later. He batted over .300 five years in a row, peaking at .352 in 1945. That was second best in the league to Phil Cavarretta of the Chicago Cubs, who batted .355, but Holmes was number one in hits (224), doubles (47) and home runs (28).

OVER THE YEARS, there have been several other "Ducky" Holmes in the news:

• James Patrick Holmes of Worcester, Massachusetts, played professional basketball in the early days (1899-1904).

• Martin "Ducky" Holmes was a bantamweight boxer, who, in his first professional fight, knocked out Joe Starks, whose head slammed against the canvas. Starks died, and Holmes was arrested, but later released. (A few years later, a Negro boxer, with a sense of humor, called himself "Darky" Holmes.)

• At least three college football players were nicknamed "Ducky" Holmes — at Notre Dame in 1914, Vanderbilt in 1921, and Northeastern in 1942.

• Joseph "Ducky" Holmes was a well-known bowler and all-around athlete in Brooklyn in the early 1900s.

• Arthur Holmes (1899-1996) was a Baltimore County deputy sheriff known as "Ducky" since childhood.

• Harold "Ducky" Holmes was a bartender and victim in a 1921 murder in Rochester, New York.

• Ernest "Ducky" Holmes was a Philadelphia police captain indicted in a 1938 gambling investigation.

• Jesse Holmes, prominent in the Socialist Party, was a Swarthmore professor in the mid-1900s. His students called him "Ducky," and the nickname stuck.

• There was a railroad conductor from New Haven, Connecticut, named Ducky Holmes.

• By far, the strangest "Ducky" Holmes was a man named Henry L. Schrifogle. In 1908, he murdered Mrs. Mary Hamilton in Washington, D. C., but upon his arrest and throughout his trial was called "Ducky Holmes" in the press because that was his alias. He explained his friends had started calling him that because his mannerisms were the same as the famous ballplayer.

It was not explained whether he walked like Ducky Holmes, or simply went around insulting people.

 
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