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— Part 2: Pets, Pests and Farm Animals —

 

Harry Brecheen was given his nickname for his cat-like reflexes that made him one of the best fielding pitchers. The left-hander pitched well for Columbus (Ohio) of the American Association for three years, but didn't get called up to the St. Louis Cardinals for good until 1943, when he was 28 years old. He was classified 4-F, which kept him out of the military in World War Two, and by 1943, the Cardinals needed all the pitchers they could get.

Brecheen posted a 9-6 record with the Cards that season, and over the next two years won 31 games and lost only nine. Oddly, he had his worst season in 1946, splitting 30 decisions, but the Cardinals reached the World Series, and Brecheen emerged as the pitching star, winning three games against the Boston Red Sox. Two years later, the pitcher had his only 20-win season.

When he retired, in 1953, he had 133 major league wins against 92 losses, and a total of 247 victories as a professional, not counting his three wins in the '46 World Series, and one he picked up two Octobers earlier when the Cardinals beat their St. Louis rivals, the Browns.

 

Harvey Haddix received his nickname from George Sisler Jr., general manager of the Columbus (Ohio) Red Birds, a St. Louis Cardinals farm team in the American Association. The five-foot-nine-inch Haddix, a left-handed pitcher, reminded Sisler of Harry "The Cat" Brecheen, so he dubbed the younger pitcher "The Kitten," and wondered if there'd come a time they'd pitch separate ends of a double-header, "The Cat" followed by "The Kitten."

Unfortunately, Haddix and Brecheen were teammates only one season — 1952 — when Haddix returned to civilian life after serving in the Army, and Brecheen was in his last year with the Cardinals, no longer part of the regular pitching rotation.

In 1953, Brecheen finished his career with the other St. Louis team, the Browns, and Haddix had what would be his best season — 20 wins, just nine losses. Next season he won 18 games.

However, he is best known for what has been called baseball's best pitching performance ever – on May 26, 1959 when Haddix retired 36 consecutive batters, which likely caused him to ask, "What does a guy have to do to win a game?"

By then Haddix was with his fourth major league team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and coming off two mediocre seasons (with Philadelphia and Cincinnati). Suddenly, he was perfect — through 12 innings against the Milwaukee Braves. The good news: he was making major league history. The bad news: he was getting no support from his teammates, who failed to score off the Braves' Lew Burdette.

Burdette kept his shutout in the top of the 13th inning. Then Milwaukee's Felix Mantilla opened the bottom of the inning by reaching base on an error by Pirate third baseman Don Hoak. So long, perfect game, but the no-hitter was still alive. Mantilla was sacrificed to second base and Haddix intentionally walked Hank Aaron.

Up stepped Joe Adcock, who hit the ball over the fence in right-centerfield. Game over; Haddix lost, but not without a bonehead play by Aaron, who trotted off the field after passing second base rather than finish running around the bases. Adcock passed Aaron, who was called out and the "home run" was reduced to a double. The official final score was 1-0, though initially announcers said it was 3-0 ... then 2-0.

Haddix finished the season with 12 wins, 12 losses. A year later the Pirates won the National League pennant and beat the New York Yankees in the World Series. Haddix picked up two wins, including Game Seven, when he came in to pitch the final inning in what generally is regarded as the wildest, most exciting World Series finale ever, won by the Pirates, 10-9, on a home run in the bottom of the ninth by Bill Mazeroski.

Haddix kept pitching until 1965, wrapping up his career with the Baltimore Orioles. He had a lifetime won-lost record of 136-113. Later he became a pitching coach.

 

Catcher Clint Courtney's two nicknames — "Scrap Iron" was the other — reflected his toughness, and his willingness to fight. His competitive attitude was more instrumental than his ability in leading him to an 11-season major league career, spending it mostly with the Washington Senators and Baltimore Orioles (including two seasons with the St. Louis Browns, who became the Orioles in 1954).

His lifetime batting average was .268, but he hit .286 with the Browns in 1952, finishing second in the rookie of the year voting. With the Chicago White Sox and Senators in 1955, he batted .309 in 275 at bats, and .300 with the Senators the next season, in 283 at bats. A left-handed hitter — more likely using his dominant right hand to swing backhanded — Courtney hit only 38 home runs, never more than eight in one season.

He was a minor league manager from 1970 until the day he unexpectedly died of a heart attack in 1975 in Rochester, New York, where he was with his Richmond Braves team for a series against their International League rivals, the Rochester Red Wings.

 

Harry the Horse originally was a Damon Runyon character, created, I believe, in a short story called "Madame La Gimp" (1929), which was turned into a movie called, "Lady for a Day." Harry the Horse was a tiny role in the film, and cut out completely in the Glenn Ford-Bette Davis remake, "Pocketful of Miracles," though Harry (played by Sheldon Leonard) was featured in "Guys and Dolls."

In the early 1930s, a star halfback for the St. Mary's (California) football team, Harry Mattos, was known as "Harry the Horse."

This was about the same time catcher Harry Danning arrived in New York to play for the Giants. After sitting on the bench for a few seasons, Danning emerged in 1937, and the Giants won their second pennant in a row and during the World Series against the cross-town Yankees, radio announced Ted Husing hung "Harry the Horse" on Danning. It could have been because of Danning's horse-like nose, or simply because his name was Harry, and he was a sturdy six-foot-one, 190 pounds. Danning must have thought it was the first reason, because he eventually had a nose job.

Danning was the Giants' regular for the next few seasons, batting .300 or better three years in a row, and was an all-star four seasons in a row. After the 1942 season, Danning was inducted into the Army, and his major league days were over. A native of Los Angeles, Danning eventually settled in Valparaiso, Indiana, where he died in 2004, at the age of 93.

Outfielder-first baseman Harry Anderson most likely got the nickname because of his name (which was Harry, not Harold) and because he was six-foot-three and weighed more than 200 pounds. He played three full seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies (1957-59), batting .301 in 1958, with 23 home runs and 97 runs batted in.

Things went down hill in 1960 when the Phillies traded him to Cincinnati, where he hit only .167 in 43 games. After four at bats in 1961, he dropped into the minors, playing with Jersey City and Indianapolis. He played one more season — 1962 — with San Diego, then of the Pacific Coast League, and retired at the age of 30. He died in Greenville, Delaware in 1998. He was 66.

 

George Haas picked up his unusual nickname as a 21-year-old outfielder for the Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association in 1925. As usual, a sports writer was involved. Haas had a particularly good day at the plate — he hit .315 that season — and the sports writer said Haas's bat had the kick of a mule. He carried that nickname with him when he went to Pittsburgh later that summer to play a few games for the Pirates.

However, Mule Haas didn't become a regular in the majors until 1928 when he joined the Philadelphia Athletics. In 1929 he batted .313, with 16 home runs, and scored 115 runs as the Athletics reached the World Series, where Haas hit two home runs against the Chicago Cubs, one of them an inside-the-park job that outfielder Hack Wilson lost in the sun.

Two years later Haas had his best season, batting .323. Later he played with the Chicago White Sox, before retiring in 1938 with a lifetime batting average of .292.

 

Another popular nickname over the years has been "Bull," given out for various reasons — among them, size, strength, and if your last name happens to be Durham (more on that later).

One of my favorite pitchers is George Uhle, who won 200 games over his 17-season career, most of which was spent with Cleveland. He had two monster years — 1923, when his won-lost record was 26-16, and 1926 when he went 27-11. What I especially like about him is he could hit, and if there were more George Uhles in the world, then we wouldn't have the silly designated hitter rule. His lifetime batting average was .289, and he often was used as a pinch hitter. Like most players similarly nicknamed, Uhle hardly ever was called "Bull." It was more like an afterthought, or one of those things written as George "Bull" Uhle. (The SABR article linked above doesn't even mention Uhle's nickname until the acknowledgments at the end. I have no idea why the player had the nickname.)

First baseman-outfielder (and Hall of Famer) Orlando Cepeda is the son of a Puerto Rican baseball hero nicknamed "Bull." So he couldn't escape the nickname, though the man who played 17 major league seasons was better known as "Baby Bull," though at a solid six-foot-two, Cepeda was no baby. He's best remembered for his nine seasons with San Francisco, but also played for Atlanta, St. Louis, Kansas City, Boston and Oakland. The seven-time all-star hit 379 home runs, having his best year in 1961 when he hit 46 homers and drove in 142 runs.

Greg Luzinski was listed at six-foot-one 225 pounds, but by the time he retired in 1984, his weight must have been a lot more. He spent his first 11 seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, then finished with four seasons in Chicago with the White Sox, being more of a designated hitter than outfielder. He batted .279 for his career, hitting 307 home runs. His best season was 1977 when he hit 39 of them. Bill James, in his "Historical Baseball Abstract," which rated players by position, said Luzinski was the worst outfielder he ever saw.

Other players nicknamed "Bull" included Bob Watson, an outfielder-first baseman who was a model of consistency during his 19-season career, most of which he spent in Houston. His lifetime batting average was .295, and more than most players, he hit close to that every season. No crazy extremes for Watson.

Pitcher Brooks Lawrence, a strong, six-foot, 205-pound pitcher, also was known as "Bull." His career was relatively short — seven seasons — and he did his best work for Cincinnati in 1956 when he won 19 games, and the following season when he won 16. His other outstanding year came when he was a rookie in 1954 with the St. Louis Cardinals, and he won 15 games, with only six losses.

Third baseman Billy Johnson was kind of the forgotten mane with the New York Yankees. He was a rookie in 1943, then spent two years in the Army. He returned to the Yankees in 1946, was an all-star in 1947, and remained in New York until he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in May, 1951. Being a Yankee got him into four World Series. He was called "Bull" because he was so strong. His lifetime batting average was .271, and while he never hit .300, he came close in 1948 when he batted .294.

We don't know what kind of career catcher Bruce Edwards would have had. A good-looking prospect at the end of World War Two, Edwards was an all-star for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 when he batted .295. A season later he was replaced by future Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. Brooklyn kept Edwards on the team until 1951, then traded him to the Chicago Cubs, but he continued to be a backup catcher. He bounced back and forth from the minors to the majors and back again for several years, doing some minor league managing. He stood only five-foot-eight, but his toughness as a catcher earned him the nickname, "Bull."

Muscular outfielder Al Ferrara, who played in the majors from 1963-71, also was nicknamed "Bull," but is mentioned here only because he was a classically trained violinist who performed at Carnegie Hall when he was a teenager. As a baseball player, he spent most of his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but also played for San Diego and Cincinnati. There were only three seasons when he appeared in 100 or more games. His lifetime batting average was .259.

About those Durhams. People on the sunny side of 40 might not realize Bull Durham was a famous tobacco long before it was used as the title of a popular movie. So when pitcher Louis Durham showed up on the roster of the Brooklyn Superbas in 1904, he was called "Bull." This Durham appeared in only nine games spread over four seasons with three teams (Washington and the New York Giants were the other two). He had two major league wins, no losses. He started his career late, at the age of 27, and enjoyed his best success in the American Association with Louisville and Indianapolis.

The next Durham was Edward, better known as Ed. He also was a pitcher and sometimes was called "Bull." He pitched for the Boston Red Sox from 1929-32, but didn't do much, then went to the Chicago White Sox in 1933 and enjoyed his best season, with a won-lost record of 10-6. Then a strange thing happened  — he couldn't pitch anymore, though he was only 25. Durham blamed it on a sore arm, but no amount of rest or treatment seemed to help. Finally, doctors said there was nothing physically wrong, but still he couldn't pitch. He settled in Chester, South Carolina, where he was born, and ran a service station.

Outfielder Leon Durham, who played with the Chicago Cubs in the 1980s, was a two-time all-star. His best season was 1982 when he batted .312. Five times he hit 20 or more home runs. He started and finished his major league career with the St. Louis Cardinals, then played six seasons in the minors and the Mexican League before retiring in 1995. He, too, was nicknamed "Bull."

If you're interested in a few other baseball "Bulls," you can check them out on baseball-reference.com.

 

Oscar George Eckhardt Jr. (above left) was one of the greatest hitters of all-time — in the minor leagues. He also was a great all-around athlete, a football star at the University of Texas who spent the fall of 1928 playing with the New York Giants of the National Football League.

His first nickname, "Os," became "Ox," and after a legal battle over contract delayed his entry into professional baseball, Eckhardt got rolling, but things just didn't work out for him in the major leagues. He got his first shot with the Boston Braves in 1932, but was already 30 years old. The previous three seasons he'd hit .354 for Seattle of the Pacific Coast League, .379 for Beaumont of the Texas League,, and .369 for the Mission Reds. (Mission was a section of San Francisco, which gave that city two teams in the Pacific Coast League.)

He got up to bat just eight times with the Braves, got two hits, and was given a ticket back to San Francisco, where he hit .371, following that in 1933 with a .414 batting average (an incredible 315 hits in 189 games). Still with the Mission team, Eckhardt batted .378 in 1934, and .399 in 1935.

Brooklyn took a chance on the 34-year-old outfielder in 1936, but released him after 16 games in which he batted just .182. He finished the season with Indianapolis of the American Association, posting a .353 batting average. He remained in the minor leagues until 1940 when he played for Dallas and his batting average slipped to .293. For his career in the minor leagues, Eckhardt batted .366.

Eckhardt was referred to as a left-handed hitter, but as I harped upon elsewhere on these pages, he was a right-handed person who swung the bat back-handed. Though six-foot-one, 185 pounds, he didn't have much power. Only once did he hit more than eight home runs in a season, and that was in 1933 when he had 12 homers among his 315 hits.

Why John Anthony Miller was nicknamed "Ox," I don't know. He was a six-foot-one-inch, 190-pound, right-handed pitcher from Gause, Texas, who spent parts of four seasons in the major leagues (1943, 1945-47) with the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators and Chicago Cubs. He had four wins, six losses.

He retired from baseball in 1953 when he was 38 years old, and became a mail carrier. He was 92 years old when he died in 2007.

 

Tiny (5-foot-4 ... 5-foot-5, tops) Walter James Vincent Maranville was one of baseball's most popular players for 23 seasons. The shortstop-second baseman broke in with the Boston Braves in 1912, played for the Miracle Braves that won the 1914 pennant and swept the favored Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. He later played in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Brooklyn and St. Louis, before returning to Boston. His entire career was in the National League.

He was called Rabbit because he had big ears and was fast on his feet.
Maranville is credited with originating the basket catch that many years later was a Willie Mays trademark. Maranville reportedly kept his arms at his sides until the last second before letting the ball drop into his glove, about waist high.

Maranville was baseball's most famous "Rabbit," but there were several more.

 

Henry Franklin House attracted a lot of attention when the catcher was signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1949, receiving one of the highest baseball bonuses given at that time.

House spent seven years with Detroit, a couple with the Kansas City Athletics, and one with Cincinnati. His lifetime batting average was .248. His best season was in 1955 with Detroit when he hit 15 homes runs.

His nickname goes back to childhood, apparently when he came into the house one afternoon "dirty as a pig," in the words of his mother. Unfortunately for the youngster, the nickname stuck.

 

The story goes that Roy Sievers was nicknamed "Squirrel" while the St. Louis native played basketball in high school. Seems he hung around the basket the way squirrels hang around any source of food they can find. The nickname stuck, and when Sievers died in 2017, at the age of 90, people fondly remembered him as "Squirrel."

He broke into the major leagues with the St. Louis Browns, winning the American League rookie of the year award for his .306 batting average, 16 home runs and 91 runs batted in. He was a victim of the sophomore slump in 1950, and was sent to San Antonio, which had a team in the Texas League.

Sievers returned to the Browns, but in 1954 was traded to the Washington Senators, where he had his greatest success, hitting a career high 42 homes runs in 1957. When he retired in 1965, at the age of 38, he had a .267 lifetime batting average, and 318 home runs.

He was hired for the baseball scenes in the 1958 movie musical, "Damn Yankees," acting as double for the star, Tab Hunter. It was a typical Hollywood move — Hunter's character, Joe Hardy, batted left-handed, Sievers right-handed. Rather than find an actual left-handed batter, the film makers reversed the image.

(The year before, left-handed, unathletic actor Tony Perkins starred as right-handed outfielder Jim Piersall in the movie, "Fear Strikes Out.)

 

 

It's too bad athletes aren't required to explain their nicknames before they are allowed to play major league sports. Why would Edward "Eddie" Lukon be stuck with the nickname "Mongoose"? No one seems to know.

Lukon was an outfielder who put together three straight .300-plus seasons in the minors to make his way to Cincinnati in 1941. Then it was back to the minors, and off to World War Two, before he returned to Cincinnati in 1945, and hung around until 1947. Lukon's lifetime batting average was .236.

On September 11, 1946, he came close to ending what turned out to be a 19-inning scoreless tie between the Red and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Lukon hit a long fly ball that bounced off the fence and rolled and rolled, encouraging the Reds' third base coach to signal Lukon to try for an inside-the-park home run. But center fielder Pete Reiser caught up with the ball, and made a perfect throw to catch Bruce Edwards, who tagged Lukon out at the plate.

 

Why pitcher Fred Donald "Don" Bessent was nicknamed "The Weasel," I have no idea. Bessent, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, signed with the New York Yankees and broke in with a bang, going 22-7 with the LaGrange Troupers of the Georgia-Alabama League in 1950, then 11-2 with the Norfolk Tars of the Piedmont League.

He was sidelined by an injury in 1952, dropped by the Yankees, and signed by the Dodgers. He pitched for Brooklyn from 1955-57, and moved to Los Angeles in 1958. He was used mostly in relief, and his lifetime record was 14-7.

He sandwiched his years with the Dodgers between five seasons with the Saint Paul Saints of the American Association. He won 47 games for St. Paul, against 45 losses.

 

How and why George Bostic Whitted came be to nicknamed "Possum" also is a mystery, though it likely had something to do with possum hunting around his hometown of Durham, North Carolina. He had a second nickname — "Poffin Belly" — that also needs an explanation, but like a lot of players on my various lists, Whitted was mostly called by the name his parents gave him — George.

Whitted was a five-foot-eight, 165-pound outfielder, who also played a lot of third base, and popped up at other infield positions from time to time, a handy guy to have on a team. He enjoyed an 11-season National League career, playing for St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Brooklyn from 1912-1922. He got into two World Series — with the Braves in 1914 and the Phillies a year later.

Though his lifetime batting average was .260, he went through a three-season stretch 1915-17 when he was a model of consistency, hitting .281, .281 and .280 for Philadelphia.. After an off year in 1918, be batted .293 in 1919, raising his average after the Phillies traded him to Pittsburgh. In 1921, he batted .283 for the Pirates. However, according to the linked SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) article by Craig Hardee, Pittsburgh manager George Gibson was very upset that his team didn't win the pennant that season, finishing four games behind the first place New York Giants. He put a lot of the blame on "horseplay," naming Whitted as one of the chief culprits.

So Whitted began the 1922 season with Brooklyn, but appeared in only one game before returning to the minor leagues where he would be a manager for several years, including six seasons with the Durham Bulls, helping the team by playing first base.

Another player nicknamed "Possum" was Larry Burright, an infielder who played 159 games over three seasons (1962-64) with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, batting .205. He fared a little better in the minor leagues until he retired at the age of 27.

 

We're cheating a bit here. During his long playing career, which included 12 seasons in the major leagues (1954-65), infielder Don Zimmer was nicknamed "Zim" and "Popeye." It was during his even longer career as a major league manager that Zimmer, while leading the Boston Red Sox, had to contend with flaky pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee. The two men did not get along, and it was Lee who dubbed Zimmer "The Gerbil," which made most folks forget his previous nicknames.

Few people were ever involved with baseball for so many years. Zimmer, who played third base, shortstop and second base, was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949 and began his professional career at the age of 18 with the Cambridge Dodgers of the Eastern Shore League. He remained a part of baseball — as a coach, manager and advisor — almost continuously until he died in 2014.

His major league batting average was only .235, but he had surprising power for a small man (five-foot-nine), and he'd play anywhere he was needed, so he hung around, mostly with the Dodgers, who moved to Los Angeles in 1958, but also with the Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Washington Senators and Cincinnati.

 

Continued
 
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