Spending lots of time over the years with 100 year-old baseball cards has helped me define many of the differences in today’s modern game. From visual aspects such as uniforms and gloves to social issues like players of color being absent, our cherished game has certainly come a long way. It seems, however, that one area where the sport has gone backwards is in the category of nicknames.
In 2018, as the game has become richer and more corporate, original and appropriate nicknames have begun to disappear. Of the top players in the game, is there a decent nickname among them? Looking at baseball-reference.com, it appears that many of them have nicknames, but even the most ardent fan might not recognize them. Have you ever heard of the “Millville Meteor” or “Bigfoot”? Those are the nicknames listed for Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton. And Clayton Kershaw is “The Claw”? Add this to the weak efforts of “Miggy” for Miguel Cabrera and “Goldy” for Paul Goldschmidt and you can see that the new era of baseball is a wasteland for nicknames. Max Scherzer is “Blue Eye”, Justin Verlander is “JV”, Bryce Harper has three nicknames and they are all boring…”Bam-Bam”, “Mondo” & “Harp”. Maybe you like “Votto-matic” for the Reds 1B?
So, as we work our way into June, let’s travel back to a century ago and see what kind of nicknames we find for the players in the 1909-11 T206 tobacco card set.
> Frank “Home Run” Baker, A’s 3B – This Hall of Fame member supposedly got the nickname by hitting home runs off both Rube Marquard and Christy Mathewson in the 1911 World Series. To put some perspective on the “dead-ball” era, Baker led the AL in HR’s in three consecutive seasons (1911-13) with totals of 11, 10 & 12.
> Charles “Chief” Bender, A’s P – Another Hall of Famer, he was a member of the Ojibwa tribe and dealt with racial discrimination during his career.
> Charles “Heinie” Berger, Cleveland Naps P – One of over 20 major league ballplayers of the era that had the nickname, it was popular for German-Americans who played the game.
> George “Scoops” Carey, Senators 1B – Mostly a minor leaguer, he was known for his slick fielding around the bag.
> “Three Finger” Mordecai Brown, Cubs P – Your guess is correct, as he lost parts of two fingers on his pitching hand in a farm-machinery accident as a child. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949, he had a lifetime ERA of 2.06. If you’ve been playing Fantasy baseball for at least 20 years, you probably know that Antonio Alfonseca had twice as many fingers as Mordecai.
> Josh “Pepper” Clarke, Naps OF – His bother Fred was a Hall of Famer, but most of Josh’s career was in the minors. He once played for the Des Moines Undertakers and later managed the Omaha Robin Hoods.
> “Wahoo Sam” Crawford, Tigers OF – Had over 2,900 hits in his Hall of Fame career and played alongside Ty Cobb. He was born in Wahoo, Nebraska.
> James “Steamer” Flanagan, Pirates OF – Only played seven games in the majors, but he was on the same team as Honus Wagner.
> Miller “Might Mite” Huggins, Cardinals 2B – The diminutive Huggins (5’6″) eventually became the legendary Manager of the Yankees in the 1920’s.
> George “Peaches” Graham, Phillies C – His son, John “Jack” Graham, played with the Dodgers & Giants in the 1940’s.
> Walter Johnson “The Big Train”, Senators P – One of the greatest pitchers of all-time, he posted 417 Wins.
> Ed “Battleship” Gremminger, Tigers 3B – His first major league campaign was with the Cleveland Spiders in 1895.
> “Wee Willie” Keeler, NY Highlanders OF – This Hall of Famer was only 5′ 4″, but had a lifetime BA of .341.
> Myron “Moose” Grimshaw, Boston Americans 1B – To give you an idea of the size of the players in this era, “Moose” was only 6′ 1″ and 173 pounds.
> Christy “Big Six” Mathewson, Giants P – A member of the first Hall of Fame class in 1936, the nickname referred to his height of 6′ 1″.
> Charlie “Eagle Eye” Hemphill, Browns OF – You guessed it, he was an outstanding defensive player.
> “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity, Giants P – Pitched over 400 innings in two different seasons, winning over 30 games both times.
> “Silent John” Hummel, Dodgers Utility – Played in Brooklyn for over a decade and actually wore the uniform of the Superbas, Robins & Dodgers.
> Honus Wagner “The Flying Dutchman”, Pirates SS – Another member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class, he is arguably the greatest shortstop in history.
> Frank “Bald Eagle” Isbell, White Sox IF – Yes, he lost his hair at an early age.
> Denton “Cy” Young, Red Sox P – The most wins of all time with 511 victories. “Cy” was short for “Cyclone”.
> “Bad Bill” Dahlen, Giants SS – After his playing days, he became a Manager and was thrown out of 65 games!
> Davey “Kangaroo” Jones, Tigers OF – Batted lead-off for the Bengals in front of Ty Cobb.
> “Wild Bill” Donovan, Tigers P – His nickname came from his penchant for walking opposing hitters. While the Manager of New Haven in 1923, he was killed while sleeping in the lower berth of a train during a wreck that killed a total of eight people. Team owner George Weiss was in the upper berth, survived his injuries and went on to become a Hall of Fame baseball executive.
> Jack “Schoolboy” Knight, Yankees SS – Signed out of the University of Pennsylvania at age 19.
> “Slothful Bill” Lattimore, Naps P – Evidently, he moved very slowly.
> Ulysses Simpson Grant “Stoney” McGlynn, Cardinals P – He had more names (5) than seasons in the majors (3).
> Harry “Rocks” McIntire, Cubs P – Led the NL in hit batters three times.
> Tom “Dearfoot” Needham, Cubs C – His defensive skills kept him in the big leagues for a decade.
> Ennis “Rebel” Oakes, Cardinals OF – Not surprisingly, he was born in Louisiana. He was the player-manager of the Pittsburgh franchise in the Federal League (1914-15) and they named the team the Rebels.
> Barney Pelty, “The Yiddish Curver”, Browns P – One of the first Jewish ballplayers, he obviously had a great curveball. Of the 117 games he lost over ten years, the Browns were shutout in 32 of them.
> Bob “Dusty” Rhoads, Naps P – You didn’t really think the Giants OF of the 50’s was the first one, did you?
> George “Admiral” Schlei, Giants C – Named after a hero of the Spanish-American War, Admiral Schley.
> “Death Valley Jim” Scott, White Sox P – Born in Deadwood, South Dakota (1888).
> Ed “Tubby” Spencer, Red Sox C – Had nine major leagues seasons at 5′ 10″, 215 pounds.
> Irvin “Kaiser” Wilhelm, Superbas P – The other Kaiser Wilhelm was the Emperor of Germany from 1888-1918.
> Charles “Deacon” Phillippe, Pirates P – He was a church choirmaster in the off-season.
> Ed “Batty” Abbaticchio, Pirates P – The first player of Italian heritage to play in the major leagues (1897). Prior to his baseball career, he was one of the first pro football players (1895).
> “Strawberry Bill” Bernhard, Naps P – Won 15+ games in seven separate seasons…and had red hair.
> Russell “Lena” Blackburne, White Sox IF – His claim to fame in baseball history is that, in 1938, he found the unique mud near the Delaware River that would dull the shine on baseballs without staining them. The product was known as “Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud” and has been used by organized baseball ever since.
> J.J. “Nig” Clarke, Browns C – Sad to say that this nickname was racial in nature due to his dark complexion.
> Harry “The Giant Killer” Coveleski, Phillies P – He beat the Giants three times in five days during the pennant race in 1908.
> Louis “Bull” Durham, Giants P – Only pitched 29 innings in his major league career and after his last minor league season in 1913, he became an actor in silent films.
> George “Pinch” McBride, Senators SS – A very poor hitter, he only seemed to come through in clutch circumstances such as pinch-hitting.
> Frank “Yip” Owen, White Sox P – Won 20+ games in three consecutive seasons and was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
> Charles “Gabby” Street, Senators C – The nickname came from his non-stop talking behind the plate and he is the legendary player who caught the ball dropped from the Washington Monument in 1908.
> Luther “Dummy” Taylor, Giants P – Another nickname that tells you much about the times, as he was deaf.
With over 500 players in this baseball card set, we could go on for pages and the dozens of guys nicknamed “Dutch”, “Red” & “Doc” haven’t even been mentioned. In fact, two guys named “Rube” (Marquard & Waddell) are in the Hall of Fame. Much of the source material comes from “The T206 Collection” book by Tom & Ellen Zappala.
Hope you enjoyed this throwback history lesson.