HOME | YESTERDAY | FAMILY | MEMORIES | SOLVAY | EXTRA! EXTRA! | STARSTRUCK | JACK MAJOR | BASEBALL

by JACK MAJOR
There's a decidedly un-American side to America's pastime, a tendency to create a class of royalty through nicknames. I've introduced the kings; here are other members of baseball's elite group.

 


George Herman Ruth, better known as "Babe" or "The Bambino," was the unquestioned Sultan of Swat, and remains the greatest baseball player of them all. He went from being perhaps the best left-handed pitcher in the American League (23-12 with the Boston Red Sox in 1916; 24-13 the following season), to perhaps the best hitter, certainly the best slugger. Everyone knows about the 714 home runs, but don't forget the .342 batting average and the .474 on-based percentage.

Ruth was a member of seven World Series championship teams — three in Boston, and four with the New York Yankees. He hit 15 World Series home runs in just 129 at bats, a better home run-per-at bat ratio than he had during the 1927 season when he hit 60 home runs. Now let us pause to recall . . .

The Rabbi of Swat
Mose Hirsch Solomon was 22-year-old when he came out of nowhere — well, he'd spent the summer in Hutchinson, Kansas – to return to his birthplace, New York City, in 1923.

The Giants couldn't wait to use him. Manager John McGraw had tried for years to find a Jewish baseball star, and he thought Solomon might be the man, despite some shaky credentials.

Those credentials were the 49 home runs Solomon had hit for the Hutchinson Wheat Shockers. At the time, only Babe Ruth, in the American League, had ever hit more than that. Oh, and Solomon's batting average was a stunning .421. That he did it in the Southwestern League raised questions, but those questions could only be answered at the Polo Grounds.

Of more concern to McGraw was another statistic: Solomon had made 31 errors at first base, a position where half that many errors is considered unacceptable, especially in a 154-game season.

But the New York press was revved up. They dubbed Solomon "The Rabbi of Swat." McGraw had to use him, but he waited until the Giants had clinched the pennant, then buried Solomon in the outfield rather than risk him at first base.

The experiment lasted two games. Solomon did manage three hits – a double and two singles – in eight at bats.

Though born in New York City, the Solomon family had moved to Columbus, Ohio, when Mose was a youngster. McGraw asked the player to remain in New York for the World Series, for publicity purposes, but wanted Solomon to do it for nothing.

The player refused, saying he couldn't afford to spend an extra week in New York. Besides, he had already agreed to play professional football back in Columbus.

This annoyed McGraw who a few weeks later sold Solomon to a minor league team in Toledo.

Solomon played in the minors for several seasons, during which his highest home run total was ... seven.

Later he moved to Miami and was a successful building contractor. His son, Joseph, was a professional baseball player, but never made it to the big leagues.

 

Little remembered today, Roger Philip Bresnahan has a plaque in Cooperstown, New York, at the Baseball Hall of Fame, honored as a fierce competitor and one of the greatest catchers of all-time. His physical dimensions — five-foot-nine, 200 pounds — create the image of a prototypical catcher, round and slow, but Bresnahan was anything but.

His nickname was either a joke or a mistake. Bresnahan was born in 1879 in Toledo,, Ohio. His parents arrived in the United States about nine years earlier,, and may have emigrated from Tralee in County Kerry, Ireland. It's hard for me to believe anyone believe Bresnahan himself was born in Ireland, but that's given as the reason he was called "The Duke of Tralee."

He arrived in the major leagues in 1897 as an 18-year-old pitcher for the sixth place Washington Senators of the National League. Bresnahan appeared in six games, earned four decisions, all victories. Despite his auspicious start, Bresnahan did not return to the Senators in 1898, and when he did resurface in the National League in 1900, it was as a catcher for the Chicago Cubs, but his stay was very brief.

He was with the Baltimore Orioles of the American League in 1901, but after 65 games in the 1902 season, Bresnahan finally landed with the team that would make him a star — the New York Giants. He and manager John McGraw had an often stormy relationship, but McGraw greatly respected the ultra-competitive player who was so versatile he could play anywhere, though catching was his primary position.

Bresnahan was unusually fast for a catcher, and in the course of his career stole 212 bases. He was not a particularly good hitter — his lifetime batting average was .274 — but in 1903, when he spent most of his games in center field, he hit .350 to lead the Giants.

He and McGraw parted ways in 1909 when Bresnahan was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals where he was a player-manager. He remained in St. Louis four seasons, but his Cardinals never finished better than fifth place. In 1913 he went to the Chicago Cubs, leaving the major leagues after the 1915 season when he batted just .204. That season he also managed the Cubs to a fourth place finish.

In 1916 he returned home to Toledo and purchased the local team — the Mud Hens — that played in the American Association. He also managed the team for five years, playing occasionally. Owning the minor league team was a losing proposition, and after he sold it in 1924, he and McGraw were reunited when the managed hired Bresnahan as a coach. He reportedly was hard hit by the 1929 stock market crash and worked a variety of jobs until his death in Toledo in 1944.

Bresnahan played 1,380 games, less than a lot of position players in the Hall of Fame. He was a catcher in 974 of those games, an outfielder in 286 of them. He also played every infield position several times. He would have retired undefeated as a major league pitcher were it not for being used in two Baltimore games in 1901. He was charged with a loss in one of them.

He is credited with inventing shin guards, and was the first catcher to use them. Reportedly it was one of those innovations that other players — even catchers — ridiculed at the time, but the shin guards quickly caught on.

 

Despite putting up some big numbers, Edwin Donald "Duke" Snider, like Mickey Mantle, Snider's counterpart with the New York Yankees, is much remembered for what might have been.

No doubt Snider deserves his spot in the Hall of Fame — starting with his 407 home runs, and a five-year streak when he hit at least 40 homers each season, drove in 585 runs, and twice batted over .333 — but he was a moody player not always popular with teammates and fans.

Like Mantle, it was injuries that prevented Snider from reaching his full potential. During his last seven seasons, from ages 31 through 37, Snider his only 91 homes runs. Compare that with Hank Sauer, a National League outfield who didn't become a regular until age 31, after which he hit 259 of his 288 home runs. Had Snider remained healthy, he might have been knocking on the door to 600 home runs before he retired. But still he was baseball royalty, the best-known of the several players who've been nicknamed "Duke" or "The Duke."

 

The first Prince Hall was one of the strangest, most infamous men in major league history — Harold "Hal" Chase, recalled mostly for fixing games, a suspicion that followed him throughout a long career as a player from the New York Highlanders (Yankees), Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, New York Giants, and the Buffalo Blues of the short-lived Federal League.

He is widely regarded as the best fielding first baseman of all-time, though statistics don't support that claim. Apparently, several people are willing to believe many of his errors were deliberate, part of his plots to throw games.

Chase started with the Highlanders in 1905, when he was just 19 years old. How he managed to keep playing until 1919 is a mystery, given his reputation as a gambler who liked sure things.

No doubt he was an excellent player at times. In 1906, he batted .323 for the Highlanders, and .311 five years later. In 1916, with Cincinnati, he led the National League with a .339 batting average. His 17 home runs with Buffalo in 1915 led the Federal League. When he was forced out of baseball, he left with a .291 lifetime batting average.

Few players have been written about more than this evil prince.

Because he was a New York Giant teammate of "King Carl" Hubbell, right-handed pitcher Harold Schumacher was designated "Prince Hal," and while Schumacher toiled in Hubbell's shadow, he was, for several seasons, truly a member of baseball royalty, winning 61 games during a three-year stretch (1933-35).

His total of lifetime wins — 158 — likely would have been much higher if he hadn't been lost to the Giants for three years during World War Two when Schumacher served with the U. S. Naval Reserve. He was only 31 when this interruption occurred.

With Schumacher off to the war, baseball had its third Prince Hal in 1944 when left-handed Harold Newhouser, classified 4-F, shook off the effects of three straight losing seasons to win an astounding 29 games for the Detroit Tigers. Teammate Paul "Dizzy" Trout won 27 games, which wasn't as much a surprise because Trout had won 20 games the year before, and the combined total of 56 wins by the two pitchers was remarkable — but only good enough to get the Tigers into second place behind the St. Louis Browns, who won the only pennant in team history.

"Prince Hal" Newhouser reportedly was a temperamental guy, not popular with teammates, but he must have earned some love the next season when he led the Tigers to the American League pennant with 25 wins. (Trout had 18 victories that season.) Newhouser also won two World Series games as the Tigers beat the Chicago Cubs.

Newhouser had his third amazing season in a row in 1946, posting a 26-9 record, but the Tigers finished second, behind Boston. Because Newhouser's best seasons came during and just after World War Two, he never received full credit for his accomplishment — 80 wins in just three years. This would delay his admission into the Hall of Fame.

Newhouser retired with a lifetime total of 207 wins (against 150 losses), and he also was a 20-game winner in 1948 when the major leagues were at full strength. He finished his career as a relief pitcher with the Cleveland Indians.

In recent years, baseball has had another prince — slugger Albert Pujols, dubbed "Prince Albert." And a prince he is, having his 633 home runs through the 2018 season, which he spent with the Los Angeles Angels. He spent his first 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, and his career went into a slow decline when he joined the Angeles in 2012. He drove in more than 100 runs each of his first 10 seasons, hit 41 or more home runs six times, and didn't slip below .312 until his final season in St. Louis.

 

Henry Kawaihoa Oana, a native Hawaiian, spent a week or so in 1934 as an outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies. Cut to 1943, during World War Two. Teams sign players wherever they find them. Re-enter Prince Oana, this time as a relief pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. He returned for another brief visit in 1945.

Otherwise he kept busy in the minor leagues until 1951 when he finished his playing career with Texarkana of the Big State League. And what a career it was. He played 23 seasons of minor league ball, hitting .304 on 2,292 hits, 261 of them home runs.

In high school Oana had starred in five sports – track, swimming, football, basketball and baseball. He was usually called by the obvious nickname, "Hank." The "Prince" business began as a publicity gimmick, when some sports writers spread the phony tale that Oana was descended from Hawaiian royalty.

 

That's his name — Prince Semien Fielder, forced to retired in 2016 because he needed spinal surgery. It was unlikely he'd ever change his mind. Fielder carried between 260 and 280 pounds on his five-foot-eleven-inch frame throughout his 12-season career.

Son of former major leaguer Cecil Fielder, he played first baser, though often a designated hitter his last few seasons. His career batting average was .283, and he hit 319 home runs, which was less than half of what had been predicted for him when he exploded for 50 in 2007, when he was just 23 years old. Two years later he hit 46 home runs, but his power diminished every season after that.

 

This part wouldn't be complete without a mention of the late Bob Prince, long-time play-by-play announcer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Because he spent most of his career in Pittsburgh, his fame was limited, but Pirate fans loved him, even if the team's management eventually let him go, only to welcome him back ten years later, in 1985, when it was much too late. Prince was dying of cancer, and passed away in June of that year, a few weeks before what would have been his 69th birthday.

A lot of folks recall New York Giants announcer Russ Hodges for his radio coverage of Bobby Thomson's pennant-clinching home run in the 1951 playoff between the Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. However, Hodges had nothing on Prince who broadcast a more significant home run: the one Bill Mazeroski hit to win Game Seven of the 1960 World Series against the heavily favored New York Yankees.

The New York City-based media continues to celebrate Thomson's home run, which allowed the Giants to get beaten by the Yankees in the World Series that followed, while Pittsburgh's incredible victory over the Yanks nine years later has been virtually ignored.

 

Christopher Columbus Campau, born in Detroit in 1863, was called "Count" because . . . well, he looked like one. Campau spent most of his last seven years in baseball playing or managing teams in Rochester and Binghamton. He was usually an outfielder, but also played first base on occasion.

Of his 21 seasons in professional baseball, only two — 1888 and 1890 — were spent in what were considered major leagues. In 1894, he played two games for the Washington team of the National League, but spent most of that summer with New Orleans of the Southern Association, and Detroit and Milwaukee of the Western League. The only reason his "major league" batting average was as high as .267 was that season in the American Association when he batted .322 for the St. Louis Browns. (Other teams in the league included the Louisville Colonels, Toledo Maumees, Rochester Broncos, Columbus Solons and Syracuse Stars.)

On a certain level, however, Campau was quite a player. With the Detroit Tigers of the Western League in 1895, he his .359 with 13 homes runs, and a year later, with the Seattle Yannigans/Rainmakers or the short-lived New Pacific League, he hit .403 with 13 home runs 32 games. (I should mention the New Pacific League folded after 32 games, and that second baseman Bob Glenalvin of the Portland Gladiators batted .448.)

While in New York State each summer from 1899-1905, he considered New Orleans his home. He began the 1903 season managing the New Orleans Pelicans, but soon resigned and was back in Binghamton in June.

After 1905, Campau was an umpire, but only until he tired of the treatment he received from players and fans who were notoriously rough in the early 1900s. His SABR biography by Stephen V. Rice says Campau spent several years working at race tracks throughout the country, and in Canada and Cuba. He died in New Orleans in 1938, at the age of 74.

 

John Phillips Jenkins Sensenderfer pre-dated Count Campau, and was called "The Count" for the same reason — the Philadelphia native looked and behaved like royalty.

Sensenderfer was an outfielder for the Philadelphia Athletics in the National Association (1871-74). Over four seasons he played just 51 games, and had 234 opportunities to bat. His 70 hits gave him a batting average of .299. He struck out only three times, which wasn't unusual at the time, but what was highly unusual is that he did not draw a single base on balls. After retiring from professional baseball, he became active in politics and served two terms as a county commissioner.

 

What are the odds that two men named Earl born in Snohomish, Washington, would grow up to be major league baseball players?

The first "Earl of Snohomish" was Earl Averill, who didn't turn pro until he was 24 years old, which delayed his arrived in the big leagues until he was 27, but he made up for lost time, getting more than 2,000 hits during a 13-season career, which ended with him having a .318 batting average. Though only five-feet-nine, Averill had power, hitting 238 home runs, with a career best 32 in 1931. (Averill hit a home run in his first at bat in the majors.)

The outfielder spent most of his time with the Cleveland Indians. His best year was 1936 when he batted .378, with 232 hits. His son, Earl Averill Jr., was a catcher and outfielder for five major league teams between 1956 and 1963. Only twice — in 1961 and 1962 — did Averill Jr. play in more than 90 games, and did it with the Los Angeles Angeles, mostly in the outfield.

However, the junior Averill did something his Hall of Fame father never did. In fact, no Hall of Fame player could match this unusual record. In 1962, Earl Averill Jr. reached base 17 consecutive times. Of course, this includes getting to first base on a fielder's choice, a few walks, and one fielder's error, but it was the longest on-base streak of the 20th century, and no one in the 21st century has matched it, either.

Earl Averill Jr. was born in Cleveland, which makes the second "Earl of Snohomish" a first baseman named Earl Torgeson. who played in both the National and American Leagues, but is best-remember for his six seasons with the Boston Braves. (Though he was always known as Earl, that actually was Torgeson's middle name. He was born Clifford Earl Torgeson.)

The six-feet-three-inch Torgeson was a fine all-around player, and though he never batted .300, he drew a lot of bases on balls, and his on-based percentage often was over .400. He had flashes of power, and in 1950 hit 23 home runs for the Braves, topping that the following season when he hit 24. In those days, few players hit more than 20 home runs in a given year. He was a tough competitor who had more than his share of brawls.

In retirement, he managed in the minor leagues, but later became director of parks for Snohomish County. He died of leukemia in 1990, at the age of 66.

 

Baseball's "Rajah" was Rogers Hornsby, perhaps the best hitter who ever lived. Some say Ted Williams, but Hornsby batted right-handed, faced far more right-handed pitchers than lefties, and was a couple steps further from first base than Williams.

While it's true Hornsby played in a hitter's era, what he did from 1921 to 1925 still staggers the imagination. Playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, Hornsby's batting averages during those five seasons were .397, .401, .384, .424 and .403. He was the league batting champion each one of those five years, as well as 1920 when he hit "only" .370, and 1928 when he hit .387. His lifetime batting average was .358. He had 301 career home runs, twice leading the league.

He was obsessed with hitting, and tended to overrate his defensive ability. He came into the majors as a shortstop, then was moved to second base. His defensive liabilities are why the best-hitting second baseman is not rated number one at his position, though it's open to debate whether any other second baseman could help his team as much as Hornsby ... except he was almost universally disliked, particularly when he became a manager, first for the Cardinals, and later for the Boston Braves, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Browns and Cincinnati Red, with a few minor league teams in between.

He may have expected too much from his players, and wanted them to follow the rigid rules he'd set for himself. For example, he refused to go to movies, saying they were harmful to the eyes. He used the same excuse to explain why he did read. He didn't drink, and believed in getting lots of sleep. He was a perfectionist, spoke his mind, and often gave unwanted advice.

Harlond Clift, who played third base for the St.. Louis Browns while Hornsby was the manager, said, "He was mean ... I played my greatest time for him, but everyone hated him." Other players echoed those sentiments.

As for his nickname, I assume it was inspired by the word that was used for royalty in India, though it's possible, I suppose, that it's another example of how his name was spoken by Brooklyn Dodger fans, who never heard of anyone who put as S after Roger. Come to think of it, neither have I, except for Hornsby.

 
Almost royalty . . .

Herbert Jefferis Pennock was in the major leagues for at least parts of 22 seasons (1912-34), missing only 1918 because of military service in World War I. The left-handed pitcher picked up most of his 241 wins during his 11 years with the New York Yankees (1923-33). He started five World Series games and won them all.

Pennock gets his nickname from his hometown, Kennett Square,, in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia. As you might expect of someone who arrived in the major leagues with the Philadelphia Athletics at the age of 18 and hung around until he was 40, Pennock spent little time in the minor leagues, appearing in 13 games with Providence of the International League in 1915 after the Athletics sold him to the Boston Red Sox, and 16 games with Buffalo of the International League the next season before he rejoined Boston.

It was in 1919, after the war, that Pennock emerged as a front-line pitcher. He had a 16-8 record for Boston that season. And in those days,, once you made it with the Red Sox, you could count on being sold or traded to the New York Yankees some day. Pennock became a Yankee in 1923 and responded with a 19-6 record, and was on his way to a Hall of Fame career.

 
HOME CONTACT