HOME | FAMILY TREES | BACK IN THE DAY | SOLVAY | EXTRA! EXTRA! | STARSTRUCK | MIXED BAG
While generally referred to as nicknames, the phrases on the following list seem more like titles or labels. They are decidedly old-fashioned, but memorable, leading me to suspect there were more of them that have been lost or forgotten. At the top of the list is one that has emerged as one of the favorite "nicknames" of all time:

'Old Aches and Pains' / Luke Appling
Lucius "Luke" Appling spent his entire 20-season major league career with the Chicago White Sox. His nickname stems from his tendency to complain about ailments, but, as far as I know, this surfaced late in his career. Until then he was known simply as Luke. Whatever his complaints, Appling seldom missed a game. By the time he retired, he had 2,749 hits and a .310 lifetime batting average. He was the American League batting champ twice — in 1936 when he hit an incredible .388, and 1943 when he batted .328. His reward in '43 was being drafted into the Army, though he was 36 years old, married, and had two children.


'Foxy Grandpa' / Jimmy Bannon
"Jimmy" Bannon became known as "Foxy Grandpa" when his hair turned white, several years after he'd finished his four-season visit to the majors when he was just 25 years old. He played in the minor league 14 more years, doing some managing as well. "Foxy Grandpa" probably became his nickname in 1902, thanks to a popular song by that name. It was the title song of a Broadway show.

Bannon stood five-feet-five, had speed to burn, and could hit — batting .336 twice and .347 in his first three years in the National League. In 1894 he also had 13 home runs and 114 runs batted in. (My theory is most players who had more than the average number of home runs in those days did it through speed, not power.) During his career he played every position by catcher and first base.


'Death to Flying Things' /
Bob Ferguson amd Jack Chapman

Robert Vavasour "Bob" Ferguson (top, left) was one of two early day major leaguers associated with this unusual phrase. Whether Ferguson was the first to be called "Death to Flying Things," or whether that honor belongs to John Curtis "Jack" Chapman (bottom), nobody knows. What we do know is it has no business being used in connection with a recent major leaguer, Franklin Gutierrez, though several sources list that as his nickname. There has been a recent resurgence in baseball nicknames, though most are uninspired or, in the case of Gutierrez, recycled.

The thinking seems to be is that Chapman was the first to be called "Death to Flying Things" because (1) he was two years older than Ferguson, and (2) he played the outfield while Ferguson was an infielder. Apparently the two men were teammates on amateur teams in the 1860s, as well as the professional Brooklyn Athletics of the National Association in 1874.

Ferguson had a longer career and is better remembered than Chapman; he apparently earned his share of the unusual label for the way he anticipated and caught line drives, whether he was at third base, second, or shortstop. Worth remembering: Ferguson and Chapman made their catches bare-handed.


'The Little Steam Engine' / Jim Galvin
James Francis Galvin was a major league pitcher for 20 seasons, winning 365 games, and in 1965 he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame. He was a man of many nicknames. As you can tell from the photo, Galvin was a fat-faced fellow, so it's no surprise his best-known nickname was "Pud," which was short for "Pudgy," though some insist is was short for "Pudding," because Galvin's pitching was said to turn batters knees into the soft dessert. I'd have to hear how people pronounced "Pud" to tell which theory was correct. An 'uh' sound suggests "pudgy," while 'ou" sound suggests "pudding." In Buffalo, where Galvin won 218 games for the National League Bisons from 1879-1885, newspapers referred to him as "Jim" or "Jimmy."

As for "The Little Steam Engine," that referred to Galvin's tirelessness, perhaps when he won 46 games two seasons in a row for Buffalo, pitching well more than 600 innings each season. The five-foot-eight-inch Galvin was said to be a soft-spoken fellow, which earned him yet another nickname — "Gentle Jeems."

As much as I've read about old-time pitchers, I can't picture them. Galvin and other pitchers of the 1870s were, for years, prohibited from using overhand deliveries. How fast could they throw underhanded? Did they snap their wrists and achieve the speed of a good softball pitcher? If so, then I'd hate to have faced them when they released their pitches only 45 feet from the batter until it was pushed back to 50 in 1880 . . . and finally 60 feet, six inches in 1893. (Galvin did almost all of his pitching from 50 feet.)

One other note about Galvin: Some have labeled him the first baseball player to take a performance enhancing drug. That may have been his intention on August 12, 1889, but the effects of the injection he received were strictly psychological, but a day later, pitching for the sixth place Pittsburgh Alleghenys, he did shut out the second place Boston Beaneaters on five hits, and, uncharacteristically, was the game's hitting star, with a double and a triple in the 9-0 win.

Galvin received his injection at the Western Pennsylvania Medical College in Pittsburgh during one of the craziest months in American medical history. Dr. Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard, called "the great French specialist in nervous diseases", had, a month earlier, declared he had discovered a true elixir of life, a substance that would rejuvenate the old and make strong the feeble.

That's how it was reported in several newspapers. Whether Dr. Brown-Séquard was misquoted became a major issue over the next several months. Doctors throughout the United States began experimenting with the mixture of animal parts of mineral water used in this elixir. Dr. Brown-Séquard reportedly used guinea pigs and dogs; many of the doctors quoted in stories that appeared in August said they used sheep. How careful they were to insure the purity and cleanliness of their mixture no one knew for sure.

What happened was truly amazing — and appalling, something you'd expect in a science fiction horror film, such as "The Fly." This was something that hadn't been scientifically tested, yet doctors were injecting themselves, selected patients, and, occasionally, people who simply wanted to try the elixir for various reasons.

Dr. John B. Hamilton, the U. S. surgeon general, was one of the harshest critics of the elixir, saying it could poison those who received it, and, within weeks, the elixir was dismissed as a bad idea, though Dr. Brown-Séquard continued to test it. (He claimed it had made him 10 years younger, but he died five years later.)

As for Jim Galvin, there's no evidence he had more than one dose. The New York World account of the Pittsburgh win over Boston referred to the pitcher as "Old Man" Galvin, who was 32 years old at the time. That season he had a winning record (23-16) for a fifth place team that lost more games than it won, but Galvin's best years were behind him. Three years later, he retired.


'Old Stubblebeard' / Burleigh Grimes
Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes got his nickname the expected way — he didn't shave on days he was scheduled to pitch. He said it protected his face against the irritating effects of the slippery elm he chewed while on the mound. Grimes was the last pitcher to legally throw a spitball. When the pitch was outlawed, several men were allowed to continue its use until they retired. Grimes remained active in the major leagues until 1934, winning 270 games, most of them for Brooklyn.

The image of Grimes is an overweight, sloppy fellow, but his appearance was deceiving. He was an excellent athlete, and one of the best hitting pitchers of all time, twice hitting over .300.


'Old Wax Figger' /George Hemming
Pitcher George Hemming was active in the 1890s, having his best seasons (1895-6) with the fabled Baltimore Orioles. His odd nickname is a mystery; one online page suggests it was due to Hemming's supposed resemblance to a wax figure. Photographs suggest Hemming was a poser, but that explanation seems too simple. I'm a bit skeptical about the whole thing because I found no mention of this nickname in any newspaper articles from the 1890s.

Trivia notes: While pitching for Brooklyn of the National League in 1891, he gave up 27 hits in a 28-5 loss to Chicago, and on September 7, 1896, he became the first major league pitcher to win the third game of a triple-header between the Orioles and Louisville. Apparently there were a few more triple-headers are that, including one in 1920 between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. They were probably scheduled to play games that had been rained out earlier in the season.


'The Knight of the Limitless Linen' / Charley Jones
Like many active in professional baseball's early years, there's a lot we don't know about Charley Jones. Frankly, people didn't much care until the National League's 100th anniversary in 1976. Since then, baseball historians have researched everyone who ever participated in a major league game. Jones has been a difficult subject, from his actual birth date, to his real name, to when and where he died. Jones was also called "Baby," fitting because he was baseball's home run king long before Babe Ruth. For more about Jones and why he was dubbed "The Knight of the Limitless Linen," see "Charley, We Hardly Knew You."


'The Freshest Man on Earth' / Arlie Latham
Walter Arlington Latham earned this title through his mischievous behavior; but the nickname borrowed the title from a popular song. Latham may be the reason baseball created coaching boxes. He was often used as a third base coach back when coaches could wander as they pleased. Latham wandered too far to do some in-your-face heckling of opposing batters.

Latham played 17 seasons, most of them with St. Louis of the American Association and Cincinnati of the National League. He became a coach for John McGraw and the New York Giants. It was with the Giants, in 1909, that Latham played four games, even stealing a base – at age 49.


'The Apollo of the Box' / Tony Mullane
Anthony John "Tony" Mullane, a native of Ireland, was a leading pitcher in the early days of professional baseball and his good looks earned him the nickname, "The Apollo of the Box."He also was called "The Count".


'The Old Woman in the Red Cap' /Charles Pabor"
For weirdness, this one may be number one. Charles "Charlie" Pabor was a pitcher and outfielder on amateur and semi-pro teams in the 1860s, but also played five years (1871-75) in the first professional league, the National Association. Pabor's goofy nickname came from his long red hair and bushy sideburns, that, from a distance, made him look like a woman.


'The Gallatin Squash' / Hub Perdue
Herbert Rodney Perdue's nicknames included three that reflected where he was born, lived and would eventually die — "The Untamed Son of Sumner County," "The Tennessee Cyclone," and my favorite, "The Gallatin Squash." (Gallatin, Tennessee, is a few miles from his Sumner County birthplace, a village called Bethpage.)

John Simpson, who wrote the fine, linked article on Perdue for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), says Perdue was mostly called "Hub." (There were a couple of variations — "Rub-Dub-Hub" and "Hurling Hub," though I expect that first one actually was "Rub-a-Dub Hub," but why quibble.) Simpson, in his book, "Hub Perdue: Clown Prince of the Mound," says Perdue was called "the man with a million-dollar arm and a two-cent brain." The pitcher apparently had a world of talent, but tended to clown around. But nothing accounts for why the man was called a squash, from Gallatin ... or anywhere, unless he packed too much weight on his five-foot-ten frame.


'Old True Blue' / Hardy Richardson
Abram Harding"Hardy" Richardson, who divided his time between the second base and the outfield and second base, but played every other position in at least five games, should be in the Hall of Fame. He played major league baseball for 14 seasons (1879-1892), and had a lifetime batting average of .300, and I assume from his nickname that Richardson was regarded as a loyal fellow.


'Pop-Boy' / Clarence Ossie Smith
Clarence Ossie Smith made three brief visits to the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox (1913) and Cleveland (1916-17). Most of his pitching was done for the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association before he retired in 1918 at he ae of 26.

According to his page on findagrave.com, when Smith was a boy, he took a job selling sodas in the bleachers of the stadium that was the home of the Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association. Such employees were called Pop Boys.

Smith's sister, Mabel, married one of his New Orleans teammates, pitcher Jim Bagby, who, in 1920, won 31 games for Cleveland, helping the Indians to the American League pennant and a victory over Brooklyn in the World Series.


'White Wings' / George Tebeau
Over the years, there has been much speculation over the origin of the nickname "White Wings" for George Tebeau, an outfielder in the late 1800s, who became wealthy as the owner of some minor league teams.

For a long time, the reason rested on a little-known piece of trivia — that in the late 1800s, garbage men were known as "White Wings." I think it was because there was a trash-hauling company by that name. It became a popular theory that Tebeau had spent an off-season (or two or three) as a garbageman.

Bill Lamb, who wrote the linked article for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), finally came up with a more likely reason for the nickname, because it sounds so much like the way these things happen. Lamb says when Tebeau joined the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association in 1887, he had a peculiar way of moving his arms when he ran to and from the outfield between innings. As a result, the sleeves of his bright white uniform looked as though they were flapping, like wings.


'Angel Sleeves'/ Uriah 'Ri' Jones
If there is validity to the latest explanation for "White Wings," then "Angel Sleeves" might well refer to the way the sleeves on Uriah Louis Jones' uniform looked when the shortstop went about his business in the 1880s. Also called "Ryerson," but mostly "Ri," Jones played for the Louisville Eclipse of the American Association in 1883, and the Cincinnati Outlaw Reds of the Union Association in 1884, batting .254.

 

HOME CONTACT