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 (see bottom of page) — 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, but 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 1900, didn't have a chance. No matter what he looked like, he was bound to be called "Skinny." Baseball loves nicknames, and there was one waiting for the promising outfielder, thanks to 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, but manager Bill Carrigan found Shaner annoying. Apparently, the outfielder liked to play the ukulele in the dugout during games, and so he was cut loose. Shaner, who wasn't skinny, was better known as Wally.

First baseman Harry Albert Davis got stuck with "Stinky" simply because of a character in Fontaine Fox's "Toonerville Folks," a popular comic strip. Davis spent three seasons in the major leagues, two with Detroit, one with the St. Louis Browns, between 1932 and 1937. He played 23 years in the minor leagues, where his average was close to .300. He also managed a few minor league teams.

Harry "Stinky" Davis is not to be confused with Harry "Jasper" Davis, who led the American League in home runs four consecutive seasons — 1904-07 — though he never hit more than 12 in any year. 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 nicknamed as a youngster by classmates who thought he resembled a comic strip character named Bumpus. I believe that's a slight mistake. The character more likely was Bobby Bumps (left, with his dog), from 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 (161 wins, 165 losses), 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.

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. ("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. 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 1955 which he spent mostly with the Kansas City Athletics. The next season he batted .293 with career highs in doubles (22), triples (11) and home runs (21) and 105 runs batted in. He also played for the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago White Sox. 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.

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.

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

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 — pitchers Orin Rogers and Lee Rogers, and catcher Bob Rodgers were called "Buck."

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

Mullen 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.

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

"King Kong," hit movie 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.

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.

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.

Six-foot-two inch Wally Joyner 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 the first baseman belted 34 home runs and drove in 117 runs. He then settled in for a solid, 16-season career, but 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 never again drove in 100-plus runs, though he did have four seasons when he batted over .300.

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 professional baseball's early days, 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."

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 batted .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.

George Stirnweiss partly owed his nickname to the comic strip, "Barney Google and Snuffy Smith." Also contributing to his nickname was an asthma problem that affected his breathing and kept him out of World War Two. 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 met a tragic end 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 (far 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 — in 1938 and 1942 — he led the National League in batting, with averages of .342 and .330.

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.

Paul Meloan (near left) 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 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.

Darrell Evans brought the nickname, "Howdy," with him when he was a rookie for the Atlanta Braves in 1969. Some thought he looked like TV 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.

Pitcher Dick Selma was nicknamed after one of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's dummies. Bergen became a big star on radio, and appeared in movies and on television, though the audience could see his lips move while his dummies — chiefly Charlie McCarthy — made wisecracks. Mortimer Snerd was the dummy that made really inane remarks

Selma pitched in the majors 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.

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, who 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 along the lines of "Big Daddy", though many folks loved it. But he also was known as "Cookie Monster."

The slugger was wasted by the Minnesota Twins for six years before becoming a superstar first baseman-designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox. He retired in 2016 with 516 career home runs and a .286 batting average. He had a penchant for hitting home runs at important times. He had 12 walk-off home runs. In 2022, he was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

The player and his nickname became famous when he was the star of the 2014 World Series for the San Francisco Giants. Since retired, Pence broke in as an outfield for Houston, then played for Philadelphia and the Giants. He had a couple .300-plus seasons, was good for 20 or more home runs, hustled like crazy and wore the shortest baseball pants I've ever seen in the major leagues, reminding me of when a Pacific Coast League team, the Hollywood Stars, I believe, dressed in Bermuda shorts.

Pence's colorful nickname came from the fantasy superhero in a series of books and animated films. 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. Stuart was a terrible fielder, who butchered first base, but wasn't trusted to play the outfield. "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.)

Pittsburgh gave up on Stuart 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.

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.

Frank Thomas became a spectacularly good first baseman for the Chicago White Sox. 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, and, later,, induction into the Hall of Fame.

It was player-turned-announcer Ken Harrelson who noted Frank Thomas put a big hurt on opponents with his heavy hitting. Overnight, Thomas became the most popular "Big Hurt" of them all.

It's natural to think outfielder Harry Weiser was nicknamed for the popular beer, but more likely, Weiser was called Bud because his middle name was Budson. 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.

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.

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, but, like Ted Williams, Merriman was pressed into service as a jet pilot in the Korean War, and missed two seasons of baseball, returning to Cincinnati in 1954. 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.

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. . His minor league batting average — in 1,391 games — was .337. He must have been a liability in the field.

Pitcher James "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 a 31-game winner in 1920, leading Cleveland to the American League pennant. 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.

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. 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 after 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 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.

NOTE: "Death of Flying Things" is a nickname that goes back to the 1870s, perhaps even earlier, before the was a professional baseball league. Apparently it referred to an infielder's ability to anticipate and catch line drives — with his bare hands (because this was before gloves were worn). There were two players so nicknamed; no one seems to know for sure who was nicknamed first. Those players were Bob Ferguson and Jack Chapman.

"The Old Woman in the Red Cap" was the nickname given outfielder Charlie Pabor in the 1860s or the early 1870s when he played in the first professional league, the National Association. The nickname came from his long red hair and bushy sideburns, that, from a distance, made him look like a woman.