While there were highly unusual nicknames in the early days of baseball — "Death to Flying Things" and "The Old Woman in the Red Cap" come to mind — relatively few of them seem to have come from what I'd call popular culture. One that did is pictured above on King Kong's right arm — comic strip character Skinny Shaner.

Most nicknames stemmed from the players' names, their personal appearance, and their quirks. Today, some of these nickname would be considered cruel, such as "Dummy," given to outfielder William Hoy, who played from 1888 to 1902. As a child, Hoy lost his hearing and ability to speak. And oversized catcher Charlie Briody was widely known as "Fatty."

James K. Skipper Jr. analyzed nicknames and wrote an article available on the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) website. He found 20 players in the old days who were nicknamed, "Pete," which would be understandable if these players were given Peter as either a first or middle name, but they weren't. During the course of his major league career, Grover Alexander added "Pete" to his list of nicknames, but the story of how it happened suggests the teammates responsible made a slight mistake when they called him "Alkali Pete" during a hunting trip. The movie character's name actually was "Alkali Ike," who had a sidekick called "Mustang Pete," though I suppose there might have been an "Alkali Pete" in another series of films, or comic books or dime novels.

"Alkali" disappeared from Alexander's nickname, and became simply "Pete," until he later became "Old Pete." However, in my opinion, he should be recalled by his given first name, Grover, because that's how he was best known throughout his career. A couple of his other nicknames were "Alex" and "Alex the Great."

As radio and movies became more popular, baseball nicknames began to reflect what people were listening to and watching, though one of the early movie-inspired nicknames, "King Kong," did not please outfielder Charlie Keller, who got stuck with it. And I suspect Lance Berkman was none too happy about his late-career nickname, either.

Here's a sampling of this kind of nickname over the years:

Walter Dedaker Shaner, born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1900, didn't have a chance. No matter what he looked like, he was bound to be called "Skinny." Blame it on his last name, the era in which he lived, and the profession he chose to follow. Baseball loves nicknames, and there was one waiting for the promising outfielder who was a student at Virginia Tech (known in those days as VPI — Virginia Polytechnic Institute). There was a character named Skinny Shaner in a popular comic strip called "Us Boys," though "Skinny" was anything but, as you can see from the above drawing. His creator, Tom McNamara sometimes spun the rotund youngster out on his own in "The Unspeakable Skinny Shaner."

Skinny Shaner played 69 games for the last place Boston Red Sox in 1926, hit a respectable .283, and earned a spot on the 1927 roster. He played in 122 games that season, and batted .273, which might have been good enough to remain on the team except manager Bill Carrigan, upset enough at another last place finish, found Shaner annoying. Apparently, the outfielder liked to play the ukulele in the dugout during games. Also, Shaner was a drinker. And so he was traded, not to another major league team, but to the Mobile Bears of the Southern Association.

In 1929, he was briefly back in the majors, with the Cincinnati Reds, who tried to make a first baseman out of Shaner. He played nine games at first, made no errors, and batted .321, but was sent back to the minors, this time for good. He dropped out of sight, eventually wound up in Las Vegas where he died in 1992, at the age of 92.

NOTE: Tom McNamara (1886-1964), the man who created Skinny Shaner and the rest of the kids in "Us Boys" for William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal, wound up in Hollywood, and for several years directed “Our Gang” shorts for the Hal Roach studio. Later he published comic books.


Skinny Shaner wasn't the only player nicknamed after a long-ago comic strip character. I've read that first baseman Harry Albert Davis was nicknamed "Stinky" because of his resemblance to a popular creation of cartoonist Fontaine Fox. I don't think the resemblance part is quite true, though the comic strip kid is, without doubt, the reason for the nickname.

Harry Davis got stuck with "Stinky" simply because the comic strip character, part of Fontaine Fox's "Toonerville Folks," was so popular that several people named Davis were affected. Among them: Irvin Davis, who, in the 1930s, traveled the country giving parachute-jumping exhibitions; singer Charles Davis; a Buffalo high school cross-country runner named Jimmy Davis; a Washington drug dealer named Ernest, and an Albany bowler. Show dogs and race horses also carried the name.

Anyway, Harry Davis, the baseball player, spent three seasons in the major leagues, two with Detroit, one with the St. Louis Browns, between 1932 and 1937. He batted .264, not good enough to stick with either team. However, he did play 23 years in the minor leagues, where his average was close to .300. He also managed a few minor league teams.

The above Harry Davis is not to be confused with Harry "Jasper" Davis (left), who had a long career in the major leagues that began in 1895. He led the American League in home runs four consecutive seasons — 1904-07 — though he never hit more than 12 in any year. Davis played in three World Series with the Philadelphia Athletics. He was considered one of the smartest players of his time. In retirement he served a term on the Philadelphia city council.

He was nicknamed "Jasper" by classmates at Girard College, a Philadelphia boarding school. Reason for the nickname is unknown.


The linked Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) article by Cort Vitty says pitcher Irving Darius Hadley was given his nickname as a youngster by classmates who thought he resembled a comic strip character named Bumpus. I believe that's a slight mistake. The character's name more likely was Bobby Bumps (left, with his dog), young hero of a series of cartoons (1915 to 1925). Hadley's nickname originally was "Bumps," then shortened to "Bump."

Unfortunately for Hadley, a major league pitcher for 16 seasons, he was best remembered afterward for throwing the pitch that hit catcher Mickey Cochrane in the head, rendering the future Hall of Famer unconscious for 10 days and ending his playing career.

Hadley's lifetime record was 161 wins, 165 losses, and would have been worse if he hadn't spent five seasons with the New York Yankees, for whom his record was 49-31. In 1936, his first season with the Yanks, Hadley had the Amerocan League's best winning percentage (.778) with a record of 14-4.

Being a Yankee put him into three World Series, in 1936, 1937 and 1939; he won two games, lost one. He was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1904, and died there 58 years later.


Contrary to popular belief, Harry Leon Simpson was not nicknamed "Suitcase" because he changed teams a lot. His nickname went back to his youth and a comic strip called "The Toonerville Trolley," which had a character called Suitcase Simpson (left). I believe in this case, "suitcase" referred to the size of the shoes needed for Simpson's feet, "the biggest in Toonerville."

Simpson began his baseball career with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro National League in 1946. Cleveland signed him three years later, and assigned him to Wilkes-Barre of the Eastern League He batted .305 and hit 31 home runs. He played for the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League in 1950 and batted .323, with 33 home runs. He never matched those numbers in the major leagues; his only .300 season was 1953 which he spent mostly with the Kansas City Athletics.

His best season was 1956 when he batted .293 with career highs in doubles (22), triples (11) and home runs (21) and 105 runs batted in. Before his major league career was over, he also played for the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago White Sox. He returned to the minor leagues in 1960 and later spent two seasons in the Mexican League. Eventually he went home to Akron, Ohio, where he died in 1979 of a heart attack. He was 54.


There was something about Arthur Frederick Hofman, an outfielder who played every infield position (especially first and second base) that reminded people of a comic strip character called "Circus Solly," introduced to readers of the Chicago Daily News the same year (1904) that Hoffman joined the Chicago Cubs.

Hofman is described as being six-feet tall and weighing 160. My guess is that in his early years he was skinnier, because "Circus Solly" was little more than a stick figure. Like many players who had interesting nicknames, Hofman was much better known as "Artie," the name suggested by the one his parents gave him.

He played 10 of his 14 major league seasons with the Cubs, batting .269 in 1,194 games. His best season was 1910 when he hit .325 and drove in 86 runs. He played in three World Series — 1906, 1908 and 1910— and batted .298.


Mostly forgotten today, Hall of Famer Joe "Flash" Gordon was an American League all-star nine times in his 11 seasons as the second baseman for the New York Yankees (1938-43, 1946) and Cleveland Indians (1947-50). He spent 1944 and '45 with Uncle Sam's Army Air Force, appropriate because Gordon was a licensed pilot and owned his own plane.

Gordon was an excellent fielder and hit for power, slamming 253 home runs in his career. His lifetime batting average was .268, and he had only one season in which he batted over .300. That was 1942 when he hit .322 and was the American League's most valuable player. In 1948, he hit 32 home runs and drove in 124 runs for the World Champion Cleveland Indians.

After he retired as a player, Gordon managed for several seasons. He was nicknamed "Flash" as a young boy after his favorite comic book heros.

Gordon was a classy fellow, and though, historically, other second basemen are more highly regarded (Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Morgan), a manager would be lucky to have "Flash" in his line-up. Gordon was a versatile athlete. He played baseball, football, track and gymnastics at the University of Oregon.

Since he came along, two other Gordons —pitcher Tom and infielder Dee — have been stuck with the nickname, "Flash." However, third baseman-outfielder Sid Gordon, a National Leaguer while Joe Gordon was with the Yankees and Indians, managed to spend his entire career without any nickname, except for the shortening of his given name, Sidney.

Flash Gordon was a rip-off of Buck Rogers, a science fiction hero created in 1928. Former Olympic swimmer-turned-actor Buster Crabbe played both Gordon and Rogers in movie series that were popular in the 1930s and '40s. Buck Rogers was responsible for three baseball nicknames — for pitchers Orin Rogers and Lee Rogers, who, between them, won only one major league game in the 1930s, and catcher Bob Rodgers, who later was a long-time coach and manager. All three men were nicknamed "Buck."


The spelling of his last name is a bit different, but Ford Parker Mullen's nickname comes from a popular old comic strip character, "Moon" Mullins.

Mullen, a native of Olympia, Washington, was a member of the 1938-39 University of Oregon basketball team that won the first NCAA championship. He also was a star of the school's baseball team and turned pro after graduation. He worked his way up the minor leagues, playing with Seattle of the Pacific Coast League in 1943, and the following season was the second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies, batting .267.

He spent the next two years in the military. Returning to civilian life in 1947, he played for Portland of the Pacific Coast League, remaining there through 1949. Perhaps realizing he was never going back to the major leagues, the 33-year-old Mullen dropped down to the Class C Pioneer League and spent one season as the player-manager of the Boise Pilots.

"Moon Mullins" was a comic strip that ran from 1923 to 1991 in many newspapers. The title character was a would-be boxer and borderline con man who lived in a boarding house.

Moon Mullins also was the name of a Notre Dame football player during the years Knute Rockne was the coach.


The movie, "King Kong," hit theaters in April, 1933. That fall, 17-year-old Charlie Keller, arrived at the University of Maryland, where he'd play football and baseball. He'd also pick up a nickname he despised. Bill James, in his "New Historical Baseball Abstract," quoted the colorful New York Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez, who said of Keller, "He wasn't scouted; he was trapped."

Keller had dark hair, and bushy eyebrows, which made the nickname work. He became a professional baseball player in 1937, and was named minor league player of the year after batting .353 with Newark, the Yankee farm team in the International League. Keller's reward was another season in Newark. This time he hit .365. With the Yankees in 1939, he batted .334 in 111 games.

Keller seemed headed for a Hall of Fame career, but lost nearly two seasons to World War Two, when he served in the Merchant Marines, and upon his return had back problems. He never played a full season after 1946, when he was 29 years old. He struggled for five more season before he retired, with a .286 average and 189 home runs.


Outfielder Walter "Hoot" Evers owed his nickname to a movie cowboy, Hoot Gibson (near left). Evers was a big fan. The actor's real first name was Edmund, and there are at least three stories about how he came by his nickname. All the stories involve owls.

Hoot Evers was a promising Detroit Tiger prospect who played his first American League game in 1941. World War II interrupted his career; he didn't rejoin the Tigers until 1946. He hit .296 in 1947, then had three consecutive .300 seasons, peaking in 1950 with a .323 average, 21 home runs and 103 runs batted in.

Then, THUD! His average fell to .224 in 1951. Evers played until 1956, but never again hit better than .264.

After his playing days, Evers remained part of major league baseball. He worked for awhile in the Cleveland Indian farm system and in 1971 became director of Detroit Tiger player development. He died in 1991.


Wally Joyner was a six-foot-two-inch first baseman who entered the major leagues with a bang in 1986, driving in 100 runs for the California Angels and making the American League all-star team. A year later he belted 34 home runs and drove in 117 runs. He then settled in for a solid, 16-season career, though only once in his last 14 years did he hit more than 16 home runs; sometimes he didn't even go into double digits, and he never again drove in 100-plus runs, though he did have four seasons when he batted over .300.

He was traded to the Kansas City Royals in 1992, and also played for the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves before he ended his career back where he started in 2001, when the team was known as the Anaheim Angels. He retired after that season with a lifetime batting average of .289. He hit 204 home runs and had 2,060 total hits.

He was called "Wally World" after the amusement park in the movie, "National Lampoon's Vacation," where the spelling contained an extra letter ("Walley" instead of "Wally").


David W. Force, a shortstop in the early days of professional baseball, was nicknamed after P. T. Barnum's favorite little person because Force stood just five-foot-four, and weighed 130 pounds. However, he usually was known as "Davy," though some couldn't resist calling him "Wee Davy."

Force was born in 1849 and played in the National Association, which preceded the National League, though he spent ten seasons in that, as well, playing mostly for the Buffalo Bisons. From what I can tell, Force was the Ozzie Smith of his era, a slick fielding shortstop whose batting statistics fluctuated as wildly as any player's I've ever seen.

For example, in 1872, with the Troy Haymakers and Baltimore Canaries of the National Association, Force's batting average was .418; the next season with Baltimore it was .365. Along comes the National League in 1876, and Force bats .230 for the Philadelphia Athletics and New York Mutuals. During one eight-year stretch in the National League, he batted below .200 three times.


Tully Frederick Hartsel had hair, eyebrows and lashes that were were so fine and bright that, in 1900, Indianapolis sports writer Hal Reid described Hartsel as light as Topsy of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was black. From such remarks, nicknames are born. Hartsel was called Topsy for the rest of his life.

A speedster at five-foot-five, 155 pounds, Hartsel was an outfielder who led the American League in walks five times. He was in the major leagues from 1898 to 1911, spending 10 seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics. However, his best season was with the Chicago Orphans (Cubs) of the National League in 1901 when he batted .335, and scored 111 runs. He jumped to the Athletics the next season. His lifetime batting average was .276, but because of all his walks, Hartsel had an on-base percentage of .384.

George Stirnweiss owed his nickname to the comic strip, "Barney Google and Snuffy Smith." Stirnweiss was an infielder, usually at second base, who spent the first seven seasons of his 10-year career with the New York Yankees. He led the American League in hitting in 1945 with a .309 average. He died in 1958 when the commuter train he was riding into New York City plunged off the Newark Bay Bridge. He was only 39.

Aside from comedian Jimmy Durante (above, right), Ernie Lombardi probably had the most famous nose in this country for the 17 years he was a National League catcher, mostly for Cincinnati, later the New York Giants. Lombardi accepted his nickname — "Schnozz" — but it had to rankle him, perhaps as much as daily reminders he was the slowest man in the majors. Considering how long it took him to reach first base, it was remarkable his lifetime batting average was .306.

Twice Lombardi was the league batting champ — in 1938 when he hit .342 for Cincinnati, and 1942 when he hit .330 in his only season with the Boston Braves. There also were seasons he batted .343 and .333. With Oakland of the Pacific Coast League from 1928 to 1930, he batted .377, .366, and .370 before Brooklyn brought him up to the National League. He batted a respectable .297 for the Robins, but Brooklyn decided to stick with catcher Al Lopez, a year younger than Lombardi. The Robins traded the slightly older catcher to Cincinnati, where Lombardi batted .303 in 1932. Lopez batted .275, but was considered better behind the plane. Oh, yes, 1932 was the year the Robins became the Dodgers.

Lombardi had a great career in Cincinnati, helping them win National League pennants in 1939 and 1940, but they lost both World Series — to the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers.


The popular program from the glory days of radio spelled McGee without the "h", but it's obvious outfielder-first baseman Bill McGhee (far left) was nicknamed "Fibber" because of the title character played by Jim Jordan (below,left with "Molly," played by his real-life wife, Marian). "Fibber McGee and Molly" was mostly famous for the inevitable moment McGee opened a closet, and all manner of objects tumbled to the floor. It was the kind of thing that worked well on radio.

"Fibber" McGhee was one of those career minor leaguers who hit a ton against Class B pitchers, but was overlooked by big league teams until the player shortage during World War Two. McGhee was summoned by Connie Mack, and played two seasons — 1944 and 1945 — for the Philadelphia Athletics. He was 35 years old as a rookie, batting .289. He slumped to .252 his second season.

There are no complete records available for McGhee, but he had more than 2,500 hits in the minor leagues.

Paul Meloan (above, right) wasn't called "Molly" after the radio show, but because of the way his last name is pronounced (MAH-loan"). His nickname was inspired by the song, "Sweet Molly Malone."

Meloan is one of several players given female nicknames in the early days. He played two seasons in the major leagues — 1910 and 1911 — with the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Browns. He was an outfielder, and hit .253 in 130 games.


Both players pictured here were nicknamed after the popular comic strip hero turned television and movie star, but I don't know why.

Hank Erickson was a catcher who appeared in 37 games with Cincinnati in 1935, at the age of 27, and batted .261. Two years later, he retired. Erickson spent three of his seven professional baseball seasons with Louisville.

Pitcher Roy Mahaffey had a 12-year career in professional baseball, with some of his seasons split between the minor and major leagues. He played with Pittsburgh, the Philadelphia Athletics and St. Louis Browns from 1926 to 1936. His best seasons was 1931 when he won 15 games for the Philadelphia Athletics, and lost only four. His lifetime record in the majors was 67-49.

He was a workhorse in the minor leagues, which was fitting because "Workhorse" was another of his nicknames. In 1928, Mahaffey won 21 games and lost 19 for the Columbia (South Carolina) Comers of the South Atlantic League. In 1929, with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League, which had a much longer season than the majors, Mahaffey won 21 games, but lost 25.


Darrell Evans brought the nickname, "Howdy," with him when he was a rookie for the Atlanta Braves in 1969. Some people thought he looked like television puppet "Howdy Doody," and, for awhile, the "Doody" was added, apparently to make it clear to people about the reason for his nickname.

Evans went on to have a long and interesting career — 21 seasons, in which he also played for the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers. He was mostly a third baseman, but also played a lot of first base, and spent time in left field, filling whatever need his team had.

Evans didn't hit for average — .281 was his highest, in 1973 — but twice hit 40 or more home runs, and had 414 for his career. Along the way, his nickname changed to "UFO" because he claimed he and his wife had seen an unidentified flying object.


Big things were expected of pitcher Dick Selma, but he is remembered mostly for his often misguided humor and a tendency to say the wrong thing. He was nicknamed after one of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's dummies. Bergen became a big star on radio, and appeared in movies and on television, even though the audience could see his lips move while his dummies — chiefly Charlie McCarthy — made their wisecracks. Mortimer Snerd was the dummy that made really inane remarks

Selma pitched in the major leagues from 1965-74, mostly with the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, though he played on four other teams. His best year was 1969, his only season with the Chicago Cubs, for whom he had a 10-8 record, after starting the season with two wins and two losses for San Diego.

Selma left the majors with a losing record (42-54), and after two seasons with Albuquerque of the Pacific Coast League, retired. He was only 34. He died of liver cancer in 2001.


There may be some disagreement over another "Sesame Street"-related nickname (see Cookie Monster, below), but there's no doubt that, in 1976, Detroit Tigers rookie pitcher, Mark Fidrych, was the embodiment of Big Bird.

It was a wonderful year for the 21-year-old Fidrych, coming off a season in which he won 11 games total for three minor league teams.

Becoming part of Detroit's starting rotation, Fidrych emerged as the team's top pitcher, winning 19 games, losing only 9, on a team that finished 13 games under .500.

But it was the way he pitched that captured the nation's attention. A June 5 article in The Sporting News said Fidrych "talks to the ball. ... He talks to himself. ... He gestures toward the plate, pointing out the path he wants the pitch to take. ... He struts in a circle around the mound after each out, applauding his teammates and asking for the ball. .... And he’s forever chewing gum and patting the dirt on the mound with his bare hand.”

Fidrych cashed in on his success, and it's a good thing, because he hung around the majors only four more years, and won only 10 more games. Sadly, Fidrych died in 2009. He was only 54.


Was this really a nickname for David Ortiz? This seems to be a hot question with some people, who either have short memories, or read the wrong publications.

Ortiz himself preferred "Big Papi," a rather mundane nickname, though, again, many folks loved it. But he also was known as "Cookie Monster." The proof is in the many mentions you can find online.

The slugger was wasted by the Minnesota Twin for six years before becoming a superstar first baseman-designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox. It was in Boston that "Cookie Monster" became his more catchy nickname.

Ortiz retired in 2016 with 516 career home runs and a .286 batting average. He had a penchant for hitting home runs at important times. A page on baseball-reference.com details his 12 walk-off home runs.

The native of the Dominican Republic was much in the news in 2019 because of his narrow escape from death when he was shot in the back on June 9 in his home country, a mistaken target in an assassination attempt. After initial treatment in Santo Domingo, Ortiz was flown to Boston and taken to a hospital there. It was several weeks before he was released.

Back to "Big Papi" . . . I've seen this listed as one of the great nicknames, and confess I don't understand it. I tend to categorize nicknames, and where I'd put this one already has at least two much better examples — "Cool Papa" Bell, and Leon Wagner's "Daddy Wags." To me, "Big Papi" is merely "Big Daddy," which is very early '60s, when it would have seemed clever for about five minutes. That's probably why I didn't remember that pitcher Rick Reuschel, who won 214 games in a major league career that stretched from 1971 to 1991, was nicknamed "Big Daddy." Reuschel was big — six-foot-three, and about 220 pounds.


The player and his nickname became famous when he was the star of the 2014 World Series for the San Francisco Giants. Things have not gone well for Pence since then.

He has been around for several seasons, playing the outfield first for Houston, then Philadelphia and, most recently, the Giants. He has had a couple .300-plus seasons, was good for 20 or more home runs, hustles like crazy and wears the shortest baseball pants I've ever seen in the major leagues, reminding me of the time, years ago, a Pacific Coast League team, the Hollywood Stars, I believe, dressed in Bermuda shorts.

Pence's colorful nickname is the fantasy superhero in a series of books and animated films. Apparently the nickname began when a teammate thought a public address announcer, in introducing Hunter Pence, instead said, "Under Pants."


On the baseball field, handsome, affable Richard "Dick" Stuart could help and hurt teammates and opponents alike, but you couldn't keep him out of the major leagues, not after his 66 home runs for the Lincoln (Nebraska) Chiefs of the Western League in 1956.

Stuart was 23 years old at the time, and two years later hit 31 home runs for Salt Lake City in 80 games, prompting the Pirates to summon him to Pittsburgh, where he hit 16 more home runs before the season ended.

Stuart's problems were several. His nickname suggests one of them. "Dr. Strangeglove" obviously was inspired by the hit movie, "Dr. Strangelove," which starred Peter Sellers in the title role. (He played two other parts in the film, as well.)

As for "Dr. Strangeglove," Stuart was a terrible fielder, who butchered first base, but wasn't trusted to play the outfield. Pittsburgh gave up on him in 1962, and he played the next two seasons for the Boston Red Sox. Looking at his offensive output, you'd think Boston would have been delighted — 42 home runs and 118 RBIs in 1963; 33 home runs and 114 RBIs in 1964. But the Red Sox shipped him off to Philadelphia, where he played one season for the Phillies, then divided 1966 between the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers, before finishing his major league career with the California Angels.

With Boston in 1963, Stuart made 29 errors at first base. In contrast, Joe Pepitone of the New York Yankees made only eight errors, and another first baseman, Norm Cash of Detroit, made only seven. Stuart also struck out three times more often than he drew bases on balls. His on-base percentage was very low.


William Lance Berkman is known by his middle name, and I suspect he must have a great sense of humor for carrying one of the better nickname from recent years, though it had a nasty edge to it.

In his playing days, which ended after the 2013 season, Berkman was a switch-hitting outfielder-first baseman. He played 12 years with Houston, then two with St. Louis, and spent time with Texas and the New York Yankees. He put up some big numbers — 366 home runs and 1,234 runs batted in — to go along with his .293 lifetime batting average.


"The Big Hurt" was a hit song for Toni Fisher in 1959, and in 1986 it was the name of an Australian movie. It was about then that Frank Thomas went off to Auburn University on a football scholarship, but with permission to play baseball, too. An injury during in the early fall of his sophomore year made him concentrate on baseball, and the Auburn football team lost a promising, six-foot-five, 240-pound tight end.

Within a few years, Frank Thomas was a spectacularly good first baseman for the Chicago White Sox, putting up number that would get him elected to the Hall of Fame. Near the end of his 19-year-career, Thomas spent time with Oakland and Toronto, before retiring with 521 home runs and a .301 batting average. He was the American League's most valuable player in 1993 and 1994, and its batting champion in 1997 when he hit .347. (He'd hit .349 the season before, and .353 in '94.)

Somewhere along the line, player-turned-announcer Ken Harrelson noted that Frank Thomas put a big hurt on opponents with his heavy hitting. And overnight Frank Thomas became the most popular "Big Hurt" of them all.

After an injury-shorted season in 2001, Thomas's batting average fell dramatically, but he hit 42 home runs in 2003, driving in 105 runs, and in 2006 hit 39 home runs and had 114 RBIs. But two seasons later he retired. Since then he has become a television baseball analyst.


It's natural to think that outfielder Harry Weiser was nicknamed for the popular beer, even though he was a professional baseball player from 1911 to 1928. Budweiser was introduced in 1876, but one wonders how nationally known the beer was at a time most cities had local breweries, local brands. Also, this case is complicated by Weiser's middle name — Budson. At least, that's how he's listed.

However and whenever he got the nickname, Bud Weiser was linked with the beer by many sportswriters as soon as he made it to the majors, even though he played just 41 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1914-15. He batted a paltry .162, but fared much better in a long minor league career. It was his 1914 performance with the Charlotte Hornets of the North Carolina State League that attracted the attention of the Phillies. Weiser hit .333 with 18 home runs.

But after the Phillies released him in 1915, Weiser never got closer to the major leagues than a season with Reading of the International League when he hit .302 in 1919.

[In the "You Say Toe-MAY-toe, I say Toe-MAH-toe" Department, "weiser" isn't always pronounced "WISE-ur."William Dell was called "Wheezer," not because he wheezed, but because of his connection to an Idaho town name Weiser, which is pronounced the same as Rivers Cuomo's pop group.


Lloyd Merriman got his nickname from the horse that won the Triple Crown in 1948. That's the year Merriman broke into professional baseball with the Columbia Reds of the South Atlantic League at the age of 23. His career was delayed by World War Two service and studies at Stanford University, where he played baseball and football.

He had to choose between the two sports, and decided to accept an offer from the Cincinnati Reds, who assigned him to the Class A minor league team in South Carolina. Merriman was a speedy outfielder, so fast that Columbia fans called him "Citation."

He moved up to Cincinnati in 1949, and batted .230. He improved to .258 the next season, but slipped to .242 in 1951, Then, like Ted Williams, Merriman was pressed into service as a jet pilot in the Korean War, and missed two seasons of baseball.

In 1954, he returned to play half the season with Cincinnati, hitting .268. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1955, then dealt to the White Sox — for one game. In 1956, he played with Portland of the Pacific Coast League. Among his activities in retirement was raising horses.


Another horse, from a much earlier time, figures in the nickname for Frank M. Schulte, a major league outfielder for 15 seasons (1904-1918), most of them with the Chicago Cubs. Schulte also was a big fan of actress Lillian Russell (above). He saw her perform in a play called "Wildfire." He owned trotting horses and named one of them Wildfire. Chicago sportswriters got wind of that tidbit and hung the nickname on Schulte.

Schulte had a remarkable season in 1911. He batted .300 (actually .2998, but baseball rounds these things off to three figures), had 30 doubles, 21 triples, 21 home runs, stole 23 bases, scored 105 runs and drove in 107. He led the major leagues in home runs, as he had the season before when he hit just 10 of them. The icing on the cake in 1911 were his four grand slam home runs. Schulte was the first major leaguer to do so in one season. Oddest accomplishment: He was second in the league in sacrifice hits, with 31. Sluggers just don't do that. Oh, yes, he also got married that season.

Schulte played in four World Series. Typical of the times, he went back to the minor leagues after he was finished in the majors, rejoining the Syracuse Stars. He had played in Syracuse three seasons on his way up to the majors.


George Aloys Fisher's nickname has nothing to do with his personality or a tendency to showboat. According to the ballplayer, he didn't have the nickname until he was 31 years old, and it was due to the musical, "Showboat." He spent the summer of 1930 with the St. Louis Cardinals, and a production of "Showboat" was staged for several weeks at a local theater.

Hard to believe that someone who batted .374 in 254 at bats wouldn't be asked to return, but that's what happened to Fisher. The outfielder spent 1931 with Rochester of the International League, batting .325. In 1932, he played briefly for the other St. Louis team, the Browns of the American League, but batted only .182 in 22 at bats. He'd had two trials with the Washington Senators in 1923 and '24, but didn't impress. Still, thanks to that one season with the Cardinals, Fisher's lifetime major league batting average, in 340 at bats, was .335. His minor league batting average — in 1,391 games — was .337. He must have been a liability in the field.


Pitcher James Charles Jacob "Jim" Bagby wasn't nicknamed "Sarge" for military service — he was never in the armed forces — but for the title character in a one-act play by Irvin S. Cobb. "Sergeant Jimmy Bagby," produced in 1913, ran for about 18 months on the Keith vaudeville circuit.

Bagby was playing for the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association at the time (1913-15). Sergeant Jimmy Bagby had been introduced by Cobb in a series of Judge Priest stories, and was included in a 1934 Will Rogers movie titled "Judge Priest."

Bagby was a 31-game winner in 1920, leading the Cleveland Indians to the American League pennant. He had one win in the World Series when Cleveland defeated Brooklym. Bagby's major league career won-lost record was 127-89. He won 132 games in the minor leagues in 14 seasons.

His son, Jim Bagby Jr. also was a major league pitcher (1938-47) with Boston, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, posting a 97-96 record, with two 17-win seasons for Cleveland. They came in 1942 and '43. He made the American League all-star team both years.

There were other major league players who had military-sounding nicknames. Among them was pitcher Alvin Floyd "General" Crowder, nicknamed for Gen. Enoch Crowder, originator of the World War I draft lottery. The pitching General appeared in three consecutive World Series (1933-35) with Washington and Detroit. He was a 20-game winner three times, and had 168 major league victories overall.

Best known in recent years was Ralph Houk, a back-up catcher for the New York Yankees (1947-54), who achieved fame as a manager, first for the Yankees, then the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox. His nickname was "Major," because that was his Army rank when he left the service after World War Two. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge, and received a Silver Star and a Purple Heart for his service.


Relief pitcher Mitchell "Mitch" Williams was the lefty version of Ricky Vaughn, the character Charlie Sheen played in "Major League." It was Vaughn who entered games to the tune of "Wild Thing," the most memorable thing about that film, and its first sequel.

Williams first attracted national attention in the weeks after the release of that movie when he emerged as a closer for the surprising Chicago Cubs, who finished on top of the National League East, only to lose in the championship series against San Francisco.

Williams had his best year in 1991 when he had a 12-5 record for the Philadelphia Phillies. Two years later he had 43 saves, helping the Phillies win their division. He then won two games in the championship series against Atlanta, but crumbled in the World Series against Toronto, losing two games, giving up the Joe Carter home run that ended things.

Mitchell then went to Houston, the California Angeles, and Kansas City over the next four years, sandwiching in a minor league trial with a Phillies farm team. In retirement, he became a broadcaster.


Soon after Jeremy Hellickson joined the Tampa Bay pitching staff, fans began calling him "Hellboy," probably because of his last name than any resemblance to the weird comic book superhero who's been featured in a few movies. I've never seen him, so I won't try to explain his popularity.

As for Hellickson, the six-foot-one right-handed pitcher showed a lot of promise in 2010, winning 12 games, losing only three for the Durham Bulls of the International League. The Tampa Bay Rays brought him up to the bigs, and he won four games without a loss.

He was the American League rookie of the year in 2011, with a 13-10 record, one he hasn't matched since. He's bounced from Tampa Bay to Arizona to Philadelphia to Baltimore to Washington, and he retired affter the 2019 season.


Tom Henke was a closer for 14 seasons, eight with the Toronto Blue Jays, sandwiched between five seasons with Texas. His career ended in 1995 with the St. Louis Cardinals. A right-handed pitcher who stood six-foot-five, he made 642 appearances in those 14 seasons, "terminating" 548 games. He had 311 saves, a 2.67 earned run average, and was far more valuable than his 41-42 lifetime won-lost record would indicate.

Jeff Reardon, who arrived in the major leagues a couple of years before Henke, also was called "The Terminator." Like Henke, Reardon never started a game in his long career, but was a four-time all-star, and his career won-lost record was 73-77 in 880 games. He had 367 saves.


That was a good nickname a few years ago when New York Mets third baseman David Wright seemed on his way to a Hall of Fame career. He posted a batting average of .296 for 12 seasons, hitting over .300 in seven of those seasons, a National League all-star seven times, and 242 home runs. But health-related problems — including several surgeries because of spinal stenosis — limited his playing time in 2014 and 2016. He made three plate appearances for the Mets in 2018, but, at 36, his playing days ended.


It's possible that long-ago infielder Snooks Dowd qualifies for my Culture Club, but that's only guesswork on my part, but he certainly fits in well with the rest of the players on our Give us an S pages.