At a very young age, my Uncle Gordon enlisted me into the legion of St. Louis Cardinal fans. As my uncle explained, there was much to recommend the young baseball fan to cheering for the Redbirds. And I soon became enamored with the lads who wore the Cardinals on the Bat logo.
I’d count the days before we would make our annual pilgrimage to St. Louis. For my Dad, it was an opportunity to spend time with one of his older brothers. But for me, it meant either a long car ride or am Ozark Airlines DC-3 that seemed to stop at every airport between Minneapolis and St. Louis. Either was okay with me, for at the end of each was a chance to ride in my Uncle Gordon’s Studebaker Golden Hawk as we drove to Sportsman’s Park, and later to Busch Stadium.
On those drives, my Uncle would tell stories of Cardinal glory past, and the amazing men who had created the history of Cardinal baseball. His tales were great, but what really caught my attention were the names.
Enos “Country” Slaughter, Red Schoendienst, Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Sunny Jim Bottomley, Pepper Martin, and of course, Stan The Man Musial.
The more I learned about the Cardinals of yore, the more I was entranced by the nicknames: Ducky, Three Fingers, The Crab, The Duke of Tralee, Eagle Eye, Old Pete,The Fordham Flash, Ol’ Stubblebeard, Chick, Pop, Rabbit, Deacon, The Big Cat, Kid Nichols, Uncle Robbie, The Wild Horse of the Osage, Creepy Crespi, Specs Toporczer, Ripper Collins.
Even the team itself had cool nicknames: The Gashouse Gang and (until 1900) The Perfectos. The Redbird Nickname Pantheon would later add Bake, Big Mac, Silent George and The Wizard.
No other sport has as many interesting nicknames as baseball. Some are derived from the players names (Pickles Dilhoefer, Eyechart Gwosdz, and Hill Billy Bildilli), others from personal attributes (Cool Papa Bell, Slothful Bill Lattimore and No Neck Williams), still others from how they played the game (Sudden Sam, Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy and Mike “The Human Rain Delay” Hargrove.)
Some baseball nicknames really give one pause—either to marvel at their literary nature or to ponder their meaning: Death To Flying Things (Jack Chapman and Bob Ferguson), Foxy Grandpa (Jimmy Bannon), The Old Woman In The Red Cap (Charlie Pabor), and What’s The Use (Pearce Chiles).
Where have all the great nicknames gone? Today’s sobriquets—if they exist at all—are often just slangy versions of player’s real names. Perhaps clever nicknames are reminders of a bygone era, like blacksmiths and flip phones, an era where sportswriters felt duty bound to enliven their copy with colorful prose.
We can only hope that somewhere a young ballplayer is on the way up with a moniker to rival that of Nick “Old Tomato Face” Cullop or George “Twinkletoes” Selkirk. A young hurler who will be tagged with a nickname as memorable as Blue Moon Odom or Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell. And maybe…just maybe…we will see a rival to Luke “Old Aches and Pains” Appling.
William “The Prolific Pen” Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s in a name?” Well, for Johnny “Ugly” Dickshot or Heinie “The Count Of Luxemburg” Meine, the answer might well have been “Everything.”
Colorado Rockies pitcher Jamie Moyer (age 49) has faced 8.9% of hitters who have ever played Major League Baseball.