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by JACK MAJOR
Some baseball nicknames are memorable because of the way they work with the last name. Alliteration is the oldest trick in the book to achieve that effect. The first letter in the nickname doesn't have to be the same as the first letter in the surname so long as the sound is the same. Example: "Kiki" Cuyler. The list that follows is merely a sampling.

It is widely believed pitcher Walter William Beck picked up a nickname after getting shelled at Philadelphia's notorious Baker Bowl in 1933. According to the story that since has been told countless times, Beck was so angry that when he was lifted by his Brooklyn manager, Casey Stengel, the pitcher threw the ball off the tin fence in right field creating a sound that became his nickname. To describe that noise, the word or words had to begin with B, because "Boom-Boom" Beck works a lot better than "Thump-Thump" Beck.

Beck pitched for six teams — St. Louis and Detroit of the American League; Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh of the National League. His 12-season major league career stretched over 21 years, 1924-45. Despite this long career, Beck won only 38 games, losing 69.


That German-born, switch-hitting Heinz Becker managed to be a professional baseball player for 14 years was a tribute to his determination. He was called "Bunions" because of the condition of his feet, which made it painful for him to run, and were a reason he was primarily a first baseman. He played 152 games for the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians in the 1940s. He hit .263 in the majors, but was a tough out in the minor leagues, with a .325 batting average in 1,401 games.

Bingo Binks. Sounds like a clown on a kids' TV show. Washington Senators fans certainly thought George Alvin Binks was a clown, and were not amused at his 1945 performance in a crucial September game against the Philadelphia Athletics. Center fielder Binks ignored a teammate's suggestion to wear sunglasses.

In the 12th inning the inevitable happened — Binks lost a fly ball in the sun. His misplay opened the door for a Philadelphia victory. Washington finished the season in second place, one game behind the Detroit Tigers. Binks' poor judgment cost the Senators a shot at the World Series. He spent most of his career in the minors leagues, and didn't play a major league game until he was 29 years old.

Covelli Crisp was one of the few modern day players whose nickname evoked that old-time spirit. That nickname was created by Crisp's sister when he was a young boy, because she thought he resembled a character on the Cocoa Krispies cereal box. The name might have been forgotten, but Crisp listed it on a questionnaire when he became a professional baseball player.

Crisp was an outfielder who arrived in the major leagues in 2002 with the Cleveland Indians. Before retiring in 2016, he also played for Boston, Kansas City and Oakland.

Pitcher Arthur Joseph Cuccurullo was classified 4-F by the Army, which made him available throughout World War Two. In 1943, the left-hander won 20 games for Albany of the Eastern League, which earned him a promotion to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He started one game, and lost, but remained with the Pirates for the 1944 and '45 seasons, being used mostly in relief.

His last name obviously inspired his nickname. Years later it might have been "Kookie"; years earlier perhaps "Cuckoo." Other baseball 'Cookies' were Harry Lavagetto and Octavio Rojas.

Like many nicknames from the days before political correctness, Hazen Shirley Cuyler received his as an insensitive joke. Early in his career, the outfielder stammered the pronunciation of his last name, and someone made fun of him. Thus "Kiki" came into being. Apparently, he didn't regard the nickname as worse than being called Hazen or Shirley. And while the letters are different, the result is alliterative.

Cuyler went on to become one of the best in the business, playing 18 major league seasons, and putting up figures that got him elected to the Hall of Fame. 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.

Robert Sterling Detweiler was primarily a third baseman, who might have had a long and successful major league career if it weren't for World War Two. In 1942, the 23-year-old Detweiler played 12 games for the Boston Braves, batting .315. Then he left for three years of military service. He wasn't the same ballplayer after the war, and had only one pinch hit appearance in the majors, though he played in the minors until 1952, when he retired at the age of 33.

He said he was called "Ducky" because of his flat feet, though they didn't keep him out of the Army.

I came across a story about Detweiler in which he recalled an incident while he was player-manager of the Red Spring-Laurinburg team in the Carolina League. There was an advertisement on the fence at the stadium in Smithfield — any player who hit a ball over the sign would win a ham. Detweiler did it, only to discover the "ham" turned out to be a young pig. "Luckily, someone offered me $50 for the pig, and I took it."

Henry Luther Haines, born in 1898 in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, played more than one sport in college. He went first to Lebanon Valley College where he immediately became a football star. But he left school to serve in World War I as a lieutenant in the Army. After the war, he attended Penn State where he was an all-American in both football and baseball. He also played basketball.

His football coach, Hugo Bezdek, predicted Haines would be a great major league baseball player. Bezdek had baseball credentials, having managed the Pittsburgh Pirates for three seasons before becoming one of the country's most successful college football coaches.

But while Haines played professional baseball for 13 years, he was a major leaguer only one season, 1923, with the New York Yankees. Haines had only 25 at bats, getting four hits. Mostly he was used as a pinch runner – because running is what Haines did best. He was one of the fastest athletes of his time.

He spent his autumns playing professional football, and in 1925 joined the New York Giants of the young National Football League. His NFL career was short, by today's standards, but Haines was one of the league's best players. In 1927 he helped the Giants win the NFL Championship, making Haines the only man to play on teams that won both the World Series and NFL titles.

Robert Sidney Hazle broke in with Cincinnati in 1955, carrying the nickname given him a year earlier after a hurricane named Hazel struck his native state of South Carolina. He had only 13 at bats with the Reds, getting three hits, and was traded to Milwaukee, and sent back to the minors.

An injury to Milwaukee outfielder Bill Bruton in 1957 opened the door for Hazle's return to the majors, and this time he really came on like a hurricane, hitting .403 in 154 at bats to help the Braves win the National League pennant.
However, the next season, when his average dropped to .179, he was plain ol' Bob Hazle, and traded to Detroit. By 1959 he disappeared from the major leagues.

St. Louis native Frank Keck apparently picked up the nickname because he pitched in Texas on his way to the major leagues, though that team was in Houston, which doesn't suggest cactus. Nonetheless, he was dubbed 'Cactus' Keck while pitching for Cincinnati in 1922.

Keck, a sidearm pitcher, won ten games in two seasons with the Reds. He spent the next six seasons in the minor leagues before retiring.

Moxie often refers to people with street smarts and nerve; it's also the name of a soft drink popular about the time Merton Merrill Meixell was born (1887), but no one seems to know for sure how the young man wound up with his nickname. I suspect alliteration played a part.

Meixell was an outfielder who retired with a major league batting average of .500 – two at bats, one hit (a single) as a Cleveland pinch hitter in 1912. He had spent most of the summer with the New Orleans Little Pets and Yazoo City Zoos of the Cotton States League, and the Flint Vehicles of the Southern Michigan League, compiling an overall batting average of .323.

After his brief exposure to big league pitching, Meixell returned to the minors and put up mediocre numbers, retiring from professional ball in 1917 as a member of the Fargo-Moorhead Graingrowers of the Northern League. (Love the names of these minor league teams.

A few years earlier, there was another "Moxie", Mark Garfield Manuel, who pitched for the Chicago White Sox in 1908, after making a brief visit to the majors three seasons earlier with the Washington Senators.

John "Pretzel" Pezzullo was a left-handed pitcher who had a 3-5 record with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1935, but in his only 1936 appearance had obvious control problems, walking six batters in two innings. Exit Pretzel, never to return to the major leagues.

I found nothing to explain his nickname. Perhaps it had something to do with the way he curled his body when he pitched, maybe it was all in the interests of alliteration.

Wilbur Charles Roach was the son of Selman "Sol" Roach, a crack shot who appeared in exhibitions with Buffalo Bill Cody. He also made violins. He passed his love of fishing and hunting on to his son, Wilbur, who preferred baseball, basketball and boxing. Wilbur's first venture into a sports career was as a boxer known as "Rocky" Roach. It is believed "Rocky" morphed into "Roxey."

Roach also played professional basketball, but in 1906, at the age of 23, he concentrated on baseball, and played professionally for 14 years. In 1910, he played 70 games at shortstop and in the outfield for the American League New York Highlanders (later the Yankees). A year later he was back in the minors, but in 1912 he was with the Washington Senators long enough to hit a home run in one of two at bats. In 1913 and 1914, he was with the Buffalo Bisons of the International League, then joined the Buffalo Blues of the Federal League in 1915. When the Federal League folded, and Roach landed in the American Association, where he finished his baseball career.

He is best known now as perhaps the second most famous baseball fisherman (after Ted Williams). Roach was not a professional guide, but had a fish camp on the East Branch of the Au Sable River. He never sold a fly, but gave them away, and some of them apparently remain popular among fishermen..

George Shuba usually was known by his first name, but it was his nickname that set him apart from other players who displayed great potential in the minor leagues, but were slow to find a season-long spot on a major league roster.

The left-hand hitting Shuba had what baseball experts considered one of the best swings in the game, and he became known for the sound of his bat meeting the ball, and the force and trajectory of his line drives. Someone commented that it looked like he was firing a shotgun, and his nickname was born.

Did Clarence Yaryan really get his nickname from the sweet potato? Had he become more famous, someone might have provided the answer, along with a hint about how to pronounce his last name.

He spent his first four seasons (1917-20) of professional ball with the Wichita Jobbers of the Western League, starting when he was 24 years old. In 1920 he must have been eating lots of Wheaties or spinach, because he batted .357 and hit 41 home runs, an incredible total at that time.

That earned Yaryan a shot with the Chicago White Sox, playing in 45 games in 1921. He batted .305, with no home runs, but in 1922 his batting average dipped to .197, and he was sent to Toledo of the American Association. He remained in the minor leagues forever after.

George Washington Zabel is recalled mostly for a nickname that was seldom used. It was traced to a Kansas newspaper reporter's account of a game Zabel pitched as a teenager. It surfaced again in his obituary in 1970, but during his brief professional career, Zabel was known as George.

In 1915, the right-handed pitcher with a wicked curve ball pitched 18-1/3 innings in relief for the Chicago Cubs in a win over Brooklyn. That's the longest relief stint in major league history. (He entered the game in the first inning.)

Zabel won 17 games the next year, but did it for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. In 1917 he pitched for Toronto of the International League. When the United States entered World War One, and players were encouraged to enlist in the armed forces or find jobs in war-related industries. Zabel wound up in Beloit, Wisconsin, working for Fairbanks-Morse, a company that made gasoline engines, and had a baseball team. Zabel settled in Beloit and never returned to professional baseball.

 
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