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Baseball players whose nicknames — or their
given names — involved animals.

— Part 1: Big Game —

 

Despite a terrific career and eventual recognition by the Hall of Fame, Johnny Mize qualified for a Rodney Dangerfield award — he simply did not get the respect he was due. The six-foot-two, 215-pound first baseman was nicknamed "The Big Cat," but some regarded it as a tongue-in-cheek thing, because Mize was neither fast nor agile, but he was big.

He arrived in the major leagues in 1936 with the St. Louis Cardinals, who'd kept Mize in the minors for five full seasons, three of them with Rochester of the International League. He probably was ready for promotion two years earlier.

Mize hit .329 as a rookie, and topped that in 1937 with a career best .364. He led the league in 1939 with a .349 batting average. He also led the league in home runs in 1939 and '40. A leg injury in 1941 caused him to miss several games, and his home run production dropped from 43 to 16. The Cardinals then traded him to the New York Giants, for whom batted .305 with 26 home runs in 1942.

He was 29 years old at that point, and might have put up big numbers over the next three seasons, but spent them in the Navy. Returning to civilian life in 1946, he hit .337 with 22 home runs, just one less than league leader, rookie Ralph Kiner of Pittsburgh, who also would lead the league the next six seasons.

In 1947, Mize shared honors with Kiner; both men hit 51 home runs. Mize is the only man to hit more than 50 homes runs and strike out fewer than 50 times. Mize struck out only 42 times in 1947. In 1948, Mize and Kiner again tied for National League leadership in home runs, each hitting 40.

Until this point, Mize had never played in a World Series. That changed in 1949 when the Giants dealt him to the New York Yankees. Mize was with the Yankees for five seasons, being used mostly as a pinch hitter, and appearing in five World Series. The Yankees won them all. Mize hit three home runs in the 1952 Series against Brooklyn.

He retired in 1953 with a .312 lifetime batting average and 359 home runs. Six times he hit three home runs in one game, the major league record. It wasn't until 1981 that he was voted into the Hall of Fame, by the veterans committee

James Leslie Vaughn couldn't help but be nicknamed "Hippo" or something similar. He stood six-foot-four, and weighed 215 pounds (swelling to nearly 300 late in his career).

Vaughn's major league career began with the New York Yankees in 1908, and included one season with the Washington Senators, but he won 151 of his 178 games with the Chicago Cubs. He had five 20-win seasons for the Cubs, and another year he won 19.

On May 2, 1917, Vaughn threw a no-hitter at the Cincinnati Reds. His opponent, Fred Toney, didn't allow a hit, either. In the 10th inning Vaughn gave up a hit and a run, Toney didn't, and so on his best day, Vaughn wound up the losing pitcher.

He retired after the 1921 season when he won only three games, lost 11, but he continued to pitch for several years in semi-pro leagues. Vaughn was born in Weatherford, Texas, in 1888, and died in 1966 in Chicago.

Pitcher Roy Wesley Hitt spent one season in the major leagues, winning six game, losing 10 with the Cincinnati Reds in 1907. He was 23 years old, and stocky, standing five-foot-ten, and weighing over 200 pounds. Someone — probably in San Francisco where he had pitched the previous three seasons — said his body reminded him of a rhinoceros, and a nickname was born.

After his season in Cincinnati, Hitt spent 1908 with another Ohio team, the Columbus Senators of the American Association, then returned to the Pacific Coast League. The left-hander had won 31 games for San Francisco in 1906, 25 games the season before. Why he didn't sign with San Francisco in 1909, I don't know. Instead he joined the Vernon Tigers — and lost 30 games (winning 15 times).

However, great things awaited him in Vernon, and he won at least 20 games for each of the next five seasons (1910-14). Illness and injury caught up with him in 1915, and two years later he was forced to retire at the relatively young age of 32. He took a job as wholesale meat salesman for the Wilson Packing Company of Los Angeles.

He'd chalked up 201 wins in the PCL, with only 147 losses, insuring he'd be voted into the league's Hall of Fame. Hitt lived in California most of his life, though he was born in Carleton, Nebraska. He died in Pomona, California, in 1956. He was 71 years old.

"Jumbo" is a fairly popular nickname, and while the word means "huge" (or, as our president would say, "yuuuuuge!"), it is mostly associated with the oversized elephant P. T. Barnum bought in 1882 and made famous in his circus.

The website baseball-reference.com lists several players who supposedly were/are nicknamed "Jumbo." A few of these "nicknames" are suspicious and most aren't worth mentioning.

The two genuine baseball "Jumbos" are pitchers James Thomas Elliott (above, left) and Walter George Brown (above,, right)."Jumbo" Elliott predated the more famous pro football lineman. Baseball's "Jumbo" Elliott was a six-foot-three, 235-pound left-hander whose 10-season major league career began in 1923. He pitched mostly for Brooklyn and the Philadelphia Phillies. His lifetime won-lost record was only 63-74, but in 1931 he won 19 games for the Phillies. That tied him with Bill Hallahan of the pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals and Heinie Meine of Pittsburgh for the most victories in the National League.

Like many players, particularly in his era, Elliott had more impressive marks in the minors where he won 118 games, highlighted by three 20-win seasons, two for the Terre Haute Tots of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League, one for Seattle of the Pacific Coast League. He was born in St. Louis in 1900, and died 70 years later in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he had played for five seasons.

"Jumbo" Brown was a lot bigger — six-foot-four, 295 pounds — and had a 12-season major league career, working mostly in relief, and never having more than seven wins in a season (which he did in 1933). It seems strange, then, that one year after he'd racked up a career high in victories, Brown was back in the minors, pitching for Newark of the International League. But it gave him a chance to start for a change, and he won 20 games.

Brown spent most of his big league career in New York City, pitching either for the Giants (five seasons) or the Yankees (four). He was a native of Greene, Rhode Island, and died in Freeport, New York. He was 59.

Among the other "Jumbos" listed on baseball-reference.com, one stands out: Jumbo Diaz, real name Jose Rafael. This "Jumbo" stands six-foot-four and weighs 315 pounds. He pitched last season (2018) with New Orleans of the Pacific Coast League, but spent the previous four seasons with Cincinnati and Tampa. In all that time he had only four wins and seven losses. That's because he's the victim of modern baseball strategy, which has a whole group of relief pitchers who seldom work more than an inning a game, often less. Even Jumbo Brown, one of the relatively few full-time relief pitchers of his time, worked twice as hard as that while he was in the big leagues.

The only other "Jumbo" I think is worth mentioning is pitcher Jim Nash, who had the size (six-foot-five, 215 pounds), but was almost always referred to as "Jim," or "that guy who started out so well and then sorta petered out."

Nash won his first seven games as a Kansas City Athletics rookie in 1966, and finished the season with a 12-1 record. He also won 12 games in 1967 — but had 17 losses. He had two 13-win seasons after that, one of them with Atlanta, but his major league career came to an end in 1972 when he won just one game and lost nine. He pitched for awhile in 1973 with Birmingham of the Southern Association, but didn't do well, and retired.

David Jefferson "Davy" Jones was an outfielder who played for several teams, including the Pittsburgh Rebels of the Federal League (1914-15), but is remembered mostly for his years with the Detroit Tigers (1906-12), when he played alongside Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford.

His lifetime batting average was only .270, no great shakes for an outfielder, but he spent only one season in the minors, leading the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa (Three-I) League in batting with a .384 average in 1901 with the Rockford Red Sox, finishing the summer with the Milwaukee Brewers of the American League. He was 21 at the time, with a law degree from Dixon College (now Northern Illinois University),

Jones was brimming with self-confidence, and when the Brewers became the St. Louis Browns, he declared himself a free agent, and jumped to the Chicago Orphans (Cubs). He became known for jumping contracts, which is why he was called "Kangaroo."

After he retired, he earned a degree in pharmacy and operated a drug store in Detroit for 40 years.

Edward Miguel Garcia, better known as Mike Garcia, was a six-foot-one, 200 pound, right-handed pitcher, who, during a nine-year period with the Cleveland Indians (1949-57) won 138 games (with 90 losses). He was twice a 20-game winner, and twice posted the lowest earned run average in the American League.

Teammate Joe "Flash" Gordon, a second baseman later enshrined in the Hall of Fame, is credited with giving Garcia his nickname. He said the pitcher reminded him of a bear; it might have been Garcia's short hair and round face, or it could have been his body, which was bulky, but not fat.

Garcia pitched a season of minor league ball with the Appleton Papermakers in the, Wisconsin State League in 1942, then served three years in the Army. Returning to the minor leagues in 1946, Garcia won 22 games for Bakersfield of the California League, then 17 games for Wilkes-Barre of the Eastern League, and in 1948 was a 19-game winner for Oklahoma City of the Texas League.

For the next nine seasons he was part of a terrific pitching staff in Cleveland that over the years included Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Art Houtteman and Herb Score. Despite their strong pitching, Cleveland usually finished second to the Yankees, but in 1954 they captured the pennant by winning an incredible 111 games. That led to the bitter disappointment of being swept by the New York Giants in the World Series.

By 1958, none of those pitchers saw much action for the Indians, and Garcia's career petered out over the next four seasons. He was with the Chicago White Sox in 1960, the Washington Senators in 1961. And then he retired.

Garcia, a native of San Gabriel, California, died in Fairview Park, Ohio, in 1986. He was 62 years old.

Another baseball "Bear" was pitcher Jim Owens who showed great promise in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system as a teenager, winning 22 games for the Miami (Oklahoma) Eagles of the Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League in 1952 as an 18-year-old, and 22 games again the next year with Terre Haute Phillies of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League. (I liked it better when they were the Terre Haute Tots.) Owens won 17 games for Syracuse of the International League in 1954, pitching five shut outs, and after a brief visit to the Phillies, was back in Syracuse in 1955, winning 15 games.

Owens stumbled in his second stint with the Phillies, then spent two years in the Army. Finally, in 1959, he had the opportunity to pitch regularly for Philadelphia, and won 12 games, also losing 12. However, he won only nine games over the next two seasons, losing 24. He went from Philadelphia to Cincinnati to Houston, primarily as a relief pitcher until he retired from playing in 1967 at the age of 33, and was the Astros pitching coach for five seasons.

Robert Ralph Moose Jr. needed no nickname. The was THE Moose. A pitcher, he had a 10-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning 76 games, losing 71. His best season was 1969 when he had a 14-3 record.

Moose might have pitched several more years, but, tragically, a few days after the 1976 season ended, he was killed when he lost control of his Corvette on the way to a party being thrown by teammate Bill Mazeroski. Moose was only 29.

Dale Alexander's hitting should have earned him a long major league career, but the six-foot-three, 210-pound first baseman only put in five seasons, three with the Detroit Tigers, two with the Boston Red Sox. He was called "Moose" because of his size (though one opposing manager referred to him as "The Ox").

In 1927, at age 24, he hit .338 with Toronto of the International League, but was kept there for another season. He figured nothing less than a batting championship was needed for a promotion, and he succeeded, batting .380.

As a 26-year-old rookie with Detroit in 1929, Alexander batted .343, with 215 hits, 25 home runs, and 137 runs batted in. The next year he batted .326, with 20 home runs and 125 runs batted in. He followed that with a .325 batting average.

Then something weird happened. When the 1932 season began, Alexander couldn't buy a hit, so the Tigers traded him to Boston, where suddenly pitchers couldn't get the guy out. Long story short, Alexander batted .367 and won the American League batting title, the first player to do it while playing for two teams during the same season.

Off to a slow start in 1933, Alexander injured a leg sliding, and the treatment he received for the injury made things worse. The ointment used was a mistake, and it burned his leg. He missed several games, and his batting average fell to ,281, with only five home runs.

Only 30 years old, Alexander was regarded as finished. He was not a good first baseman; the only thing that would have kept him in Boston was hit bat. So back to the minors he went, and his batting average soared — with Newark of the International League, Kansas City of the American Association, Nashville and Chattanooga of the Southern Association, until he became the player-manager of Sanford Lookouts of the Florida State League in 1939. He continued to manage for several years.

Harry McCormick was an outfielder who spent parts of five seasons with the New York Giants from 1904-13, with brief stops in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. He was known as "Moose" for his size, which doesn't seem imposing today (five-foot-11, 180 pounds).

Regarded as a poor fielder, McCormick batted .285 for his career, and was especially good as a pinch hitter. He attended Bucknell University, and wasn't all that dedicated to a baseball career, even retiring for a short time between stops with the Giants.

Walt Dropo could have been called "Moose" for his size (six-foot-five, 220 pounds), but his nickname came from his hometown — Moosup, Connecticut.

First baseman Dropo had a tremendous impact on the American League in 1950, winning rookie of the year honors with the Boston Red Sox, batting .322 with 34 home runs and 144 runs batted in. But when he retired in 1961, after a checkered career that took him from Boston to four other teams, Dropo's lifetime batting average was a modest .270, with an equally modest 152 home runs.

Bill Skowron is probably baseball's best known "Moose," a first baseman who played most of his career with the New York Yankees, with four seasons on the Chicago White Sox. His career batting average was .282, with 211 home runs. He batted .293 in eight World Series, hitting eight home runs.

Perhaps he should be disqualified him from consideration as an honorary animal because he was nicknamed by a grandmother who said the infant Skowron looked like Italian fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, which the boy's parents shortened to "Moose."

Bryan Haas told reporters his father gave him the nickname, "Moose," when he was born. He didn't know why, because he was an average-sized baby. As an adult, Haas was six-feet tall, weighing 180 pounds, and "Moose" had pretty much replaced Bryan as his first name.

He pitched 12 years in the American League, retiring in 1987. He spent most of his career with the Milwaukee Brewers. His career record was 100-83, with a career-high 16 wins in 1980.. Three years later, he had a 13-3 record, which gave him the best winning percentage (.813) in the American League.

Robert George Deer, a six-foot-three, 210 pound outfielder-first baseman, swung for the fences, and cleared them 215 times in his 11-season major league career. He also struck out 1,409 times, and had a batting average of .220, Some thought it was a miracle Deer played so long in the majors, because, by some standards — including his .179 batting average for Detroit in 1991 — he may have been the least productive batter in major league history. He struck out 175 times that season, hitting just 25 home runs.

Interesting bit of trivia: Had all of Deer's strike out been hits,, and all of his hits had been strike outs, hits lifetime batting average would have been .316. Deer played most of his games with Milwaukee, but in addition to three seasons in Detroit, he spent time with the San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres.

A similar animal was included in the unusual nickname for pitcher Ed Heusser, who was called "The Wild Elk of the Wasatch."

Also, the next two players were nicknamed "Antelope."

Emil Verban was a second baseman and two-time National League all-star (1946-47) with the Philadelphia Phillies. I remember Verban mostly because he was included in the set of disks from the Ethan Allen All-Star Baseball Game, and was the first player (except for pitchers) who did not have a slot for a home run. Verban hit only one in 853 major league games, and that was in 1948 after he'd been traded to the Chicago Cubs.

Verban was five-foot-eleven, 165 pounds, and fast. He did manage to hit four home runs one season while playing for Tiffin of the Ohio State League in 1937. Also nicknamed "Dutch," Verban died in 1989 in Quincy, Illinois, at the age of 73.

"The Antelope" also was the nickname for center fielder Omar Moreno, occasionally known as "The Outmaker," for his defensive ability, not his shortcomings as a batter.

He retired in 1986 after a 12-season major league career, playing most of his games with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In one three-year period (1978-80), Moreno stole 244 bases, with a high of 96 in 1980.

He was manager of the Panamanian National Team for the 2003 Baseball World Cup. His team won a silver medal. One of his players was his son, Omar Moreno Jr., who had played two seasons in the minor leagues.

Counting those who have an "e" of "f" at the end of their last name,, there are are 16 players in our baseball wolf pack. Best known, even after all these years, is William Van Winkle Wolf who is listed elsewhere because he so despised his nickname, "Chicken." Wolf was primarily an outfielder, but played every position in at least one game during in 11-season career (1992-92), almost all of which e spent with his hometown American Association team in Louisville, Kentucky.

A much more recent member of the pack is pitcher Randy Wolf, who retired after the 2015 season. He pitched for seven teams, but spent his first eight seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. The left-hander won 133 games, lost 112 in 16 years in the majors. He won another 33 games in the minor leagues. His best season was 2003 when he posted a 16-10 record with the Phillies and was a member of the National League all-star team.

Knuckleball pitcher Roger Wolff toiled in the minor leagues for 11 years before he pitched in a major league game, in 1941, for the Philadelphia Athletics. When the United States went to war in December of that year, the 30-year-old Wolff was unlikely to be drafted, and thus was available instead for major league duty. He kept pitching, and never returned to the minors. After two more seasons with Philadelphia, Wolff joined the Washington Senators, winning 20 games in 1945. He retired after the 1947 season, which he spent with Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Wolff won 52 games in the majors, 135 more in the minors.

Among the other players in this category:

Pitcher Ross Wolf, who won one game, lost four, in three short visits to the major leagues — 2007 with Florida, 2010 with Oakland, and 2013 with Texas. He spent 13 seasons in the minors.

Pitcher Wally Wolf had a similar career, but he had no decisions in two brief stays with the California Angels (1969-70). He won 67 games in 10 minor league seasons.

Walter "Lefty" Wolf made eight relief appearances for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1921, and was involved in no decisions. He did some pitching later for Indianapolis of the American Association and Quincy of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League.

There must be a story or two about Ray "Grandpa" Wolf who came out of Texas Christian University in 1927 and had one at bat for the Cincinnati Reds. In 1928 he pitched and won 21 games for the Moline (Illinois) Plowboys of the Mississippi Valley League, and played first base in 17 games for the Columbus Senators of the American Association. And that's where his record ends. So far. (Pet peeve time: I like baseball-reference.com, but often the website makes no sense. It lists Wolf as a first baseman and relief pitcher. But the only pitching statistics they have make it clear Wolf was definitely a starting pitching.)

Pitcher Ernie Wolf won 30 games for the Anderson (South Carolina) Electricians of the Carolina Association in 1911-12, made one relief appearance for Cleveland in 1912, then apparently decided he could make more money playing for professional teams not affiliated with any minor leagues.

For a list of every Wolf, Wolfe and Wolfe who ever appeared in a major league game, click here.

There are a whole bunch of baseball players named Fox, and others have "Fox" in their nicknames. The most memorable Fox was actually Foxx, and he's mentioned elsewhere. Jacob Nelson Fox, better known as Nellie, was a perfect example of what someone can achieve if he wants it badly enough. In the case of Nellie Fox ... well, he was an overachiever, and was rewarded by being voted into the Hall of Fame after his playing career was over.

The five-foot-ten, 160-pound second baseman was an American League all-star 12 times in his 14 seasons with the Chicago White Sox. (He also played three seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics, two with Houston (one when they were the Colt .45s, the next when they became the Astros.)

I don't think Fox was highly regarded while he was with the Athletics. He played in just 98 games in those three seasons (1947-49), doing fairly well with Lincoln (Nebraska) of the Class A Western League, where he spent most of '48. But after batting .255 with the A's in '49, Fox was traded to the White Sox and batted .247 for the sixth place team.

Then something happened that turned the White Sox around. Paul Richards took over as manager, outfielder Minnie Minoso was acquired from Cleveland, another speedy outfielder, Jim Busby arrived, and suddenly the team was called "The Go Sox." Chicago's stolen base leader the season before was Dave Philley, who had just six, but in 1951, Minoso, who batted .324, stole 31 bases, a high number in an era most teams ignored this tactic and waited for some slugger to drive in base runners with a home run. Busby stole 26 and shortstop Chico Carrasquel stole 14.

As for Jacob Nelson Fox, the 23-year-old native of St. Thomas, Pennsylvania, wasn't much of a threat on the base paths, but he got on base plenty because he raised his batting average to .313, and made the all-star team for the first time.

The White Sox made a run at the pennant, but faded down the stretch. They finished a respectable fourth and have been one of the better teams in baseball ever since. Fox went on to have five more .300 seasons, retiring in 1965 with a lifetime .288 average and 2,663 hits. He led the American League in hits four times. He got into one World Series, in 1959 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and batted .375.

Sadly, Fox died of skin cancer in 1975. He was only 47.

Other Foxes:

Pete Fox was probably the next best baseball Fox (except for the one who spelled his last name with a double X). Ervin Fox became known as "Pete" because people thought he was so fast in the outfield they called him "Peter Rabbit," and so Fox became one of several players called "Pete" without having Peter as their first or middle name. This Fox played 13 seasons in the majors, eight with Detroit, five with the Boston Red Sox. Five times he batted over .300, with a high of .331 in 1937.

Howard ("Howie") was a favorite Fox, having seen him pitch for the Syracuse Chiefs in 1947 when he won 19 games. He spent seven seasons with in Cincinnati, one each with the Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore. His best season was 1950 when he had an 11-8 record. The year before he led the National League with 19 defeats. He was 9-14 in 1951, but he threw four of his five lifetime shutouts that year. A native of Coburg, Oregon, he apparently was going to settle down in San Antonio where he pitched in 1955. Tragically, after opening a bar, he intervened when three unruly customers started a fight with the bartender, and during the chaos that ensued, Fox was fatally stabbed. He was only 34.

John T. "Jack" Fox was an outfielder who flunked his nine-game trial with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908, hitting just .200. He was 27 years old at the time. The Vermont native went to New York State and became a kind of sports legend from Utica to Albany, playing several years of minor league baseball and professional basketball (as it was at the time).

Catcher Charlie Fox played three games with the New York Giants in 1942, and 28 years later became the manager the San Francisco Giants. He was only 25 when he realized his future lay in managing, not playing, and in 1947 was player-manager of the Bristol Twins of the Appalachian League. He managed in the minors for 13 seasons and was a scout for several seasons before managing the Giants for five seasons. Later he managed the Chicago Cubs and Montreal Expos.

Long before Nellie Fox, baseball had another Fox whose given first name was Jacob. He was a pitcher whose professional record — so far as we know — begins and ends in 1902. With Newark of the Eastern League that summer, he lost three games. He then pitched one inning for the Philadelphia Phillies. As you may be aware, there are people researching early players. One of them decided to give Jacob Fox a save for his 1902 appearance. There was no such thing as a save in 1902, but even wackier is Fox gave up three runs in his one inning of work. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate to create a new category, and credit Fox with an NBI — nearly blew it.

Andy Fox gets a mention because (1) his middle name was Junipero, and (2) during his nine years (1996-2004) of bouncing from Florida to Arizona to the Yankees and Texas and Montreal, he managed to spend some time at every position but pitcher and catcher. His lifetime batting average was .239.

Left-handed pitcher Jesse Petty was called "The Silver Fox" because he didn't make it in the major leagues until he was in his 30s. Petty had a three-part career, winning 99 games in the minor leagues before he won his first major league game in 1925. He then won 66 more, most of them for Brooklyn, before returning to the minor leagues in 1930. He won 87 more games in six season before retiring in 1935 at the age of 40. So overall, he won 253 games in organized baseball.

Jimmy Bannon, known as "Foxy Grandpa," is detailed elsewhere. There was one other player nicknamed "Foxy." He was Arlas Taylor, a left-handed pitcher who made one start for the Philadelphia Athletics against Cleveland in 1921. He lasted two innings, faced 15 batters, gave up seven hits, two walks and five runs, BUT managed to strike out Joe Sewell, who nine times in his career struck out only eight times or less in a full season. It helped Taylor that Sewell batted left-handed.

This wouldn't be complete without mentioning "The Old Fox" — Clark Griffith, who is enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame for many reasons, as a pitcher, manager and team owner. Click to the linked story for more details.

 
Continued

 

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