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From Hippo Vaughn to Shoeless Joe Jackson: The Origins of 17 Classic Baseball Nicknames

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Baseball's regular season is winding down, and this year's tight pennant races are sure to generate quite a bit of excitement. There's not question, thought, that they'd be just a tiny bit more exciting if today's players had the same kind of great nicknames old-time players did. Here are the stories behind a few great nicknames from baseball's early days:

Hippo Vaughn

Vaughn is best remembered for two things: being the losing pitcher in baseball's only "double no-hitter," a 1917 game in which Vaughn pitched nine hitless innings for the Chicago Cubs only to be matched by Reds hurler Fred Toney and eventually lose by giving up a run in the top of the 10th inning. Few historians can forget the lumbering 6'4", 215-pound frame that earned him the nickname "Hippo."

Mysterious Walker

Frederick Mitchell Walker was surely one of the best athletes of the early 20th century. He starred in baseball, basketball, and football at the University of Chicago before starting to pitch for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League in 1910. He left off his last name when identifying himself in San Francisco, so fans only knew him as Frederick Mitchell.

When he pitched extremely well in his 11 appearances with the club that season, fans became quite interested in the origins of their ace. Reporters started calling him "Mysterious Mitchell," and even after he revealed his true last name, they simply repurposed the nickname and called him "Mysterious Walker."

Death to Flying Things Ferguson

Bob Ferguson first caught baseball fans' attention in the late 1860s with the Brooklyn Atlantics. Although he only batted .271 for his career and only had one real standout season (1878 with the Chicago Cubs), he earned the nickname "Death to Flying Things" for his unprecedented prowess as a fielder.

Bald Billy Barnie

Aside from being a lovely piece of alliteration, this one accurately described the dome of the player of the 1870s and manager of the 1880s and '90s.

Egyptian Healy

John J. Healy pitched from 1885 until 1892, but his nickname is more memorable than anything he did on the diamond. It came from the simple fact that he hailed from Cairo, IL.

Brewery Jack Taylor

Brewery Jack Taylor pitched for several teams throughout the 1890s, most notably six seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. He is best remembered for vociferously arguing with umpires and for throwing back lots of suds between games. Hence his nickname.

Shoeless Joe Jackson

According to Jackson, he got his famous nickname well before he reached the Major Leagues. He was playing in a game as a teenager when a new pair of cleats began giving him a blister. Rather than suffer through the rest of the game in ill-fitting shoes, Jackson simply went around the bases in his stocking feet. Opposing fans heckled him for being "a shoeless son of a gun," and the name followed Jackson.

Kiki Cuyler

"Kiki" may not seem like a very tough nickname for one of the venerable outfielders of the 1920s and '30s, but it's decidedly more intimidating than his real name, Hazen Shirley Cuyler. Cuyler supposedly got the nickname early in his career when he stuttered pronouncing his own last name, and the moniker stuck.

Lip Pike

Pike became a national sensation when he joined the Philadelphia Athletics in 1866; he had both blazing speed and astounding power. In fact, Pike was so good that he was later revealed to be arguably the first professional baseball player—the Athletics paid him a princely $20 a week for his services. "Lip" isn't a traditional nickname, either. It's short for his first name, Lipman.

Silk O'Loughlin

Francis O'Loughlin was an American League umpire from 1902 to 1918, but his nickname didn't come from his smooth and consistent strike zone. Rather, he picked up the nickname "Silk" as a child because he had particularly fine hair.

Fatty Briody

Here's one that's easy to believe: a guy named "Fatty" played catcher. The 5'8", 190-pound Briody earned renown as an ace defensive catcher throughout the 1880s.

Chicken Wolf

The right fielder for the Louisville Eclipse and Louisville Colonels of the 1880s allegedly got his nickname from teammate Pete Browning when they were playing semi-pro ball. Even though a manager had told the boys not to eat much before the first pitch, Jimmy Wolf gorged himself on stewed chicken before a game, then played terribly in the field. Browning taunted him by calling him "Chicken," and the unflattering nickname stuck.

Turkey Mike Donlin

Donlin racked up five seasons with a batting average over .300 and won a World Series with the Giants in 1905. Apparently he had a red neck and an odd walk, though, so teammates gave him a nickname he loathed: Turkey Mike.

Brickyard Kennedy

Brickyard Kennedy won 187 games in the Majors, but at the turn of the 20th century, even the best players needed second jobs in the offseason. William Park Kennedy worked at a brickyard, so a nickname wasn't too tough to find.

Pickles Dillhoefer

Maybe this one is obvious to you, but it took me a minute to figure it out. The catcher, who spent time with the Cubs, Phillies, and Cardinals between 1917 and 1921, got his nickname as a twist on the "Dill" in his last name.

Piano Legs Hickman

Slugger Charlie Hickman was also known as "Cheerful Charlie" for his demeanor, but most historians remember him as Piano Legs Hickman, a name that described the thick legs he needed to move his 215-pound frame around the bases.

Iron Man McGinnity

Joseph Jerome McGinnity pitched his way into the Hall of Fame by winning 246 games between 1899 and 1908. Many people mistakenly think that McGinnity got his "Iron Man" moniker from his tendency to pitch both games of a doubleheader, but, like Brickyard Kennedy, the nickname came from his offseason job: McGinnity worked in a foundry.

And some other greats for which we can't find explanations...

Chime in on the comments if you know any of their origins!
- Cannonball Titcomb (He threw a no-hitter in 1890!)
- Cinders O'Brien
- Live Oak Taylor
- Wimpy Quinn
- Icicle Reeder
- Pop-boy Smith

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Pop Culture
The Time a Wrestling Fan Tried to Shoot Bobby Heenan in the Ring
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retro-wrestling, eBay

For a man who didn't wrestle much, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan wound up becoming more famous than a lot of the men flexing in the squared circle. The onscreen manager of several notable grapplers, including André the Giant and “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Heenan died on Sunday at the age of 73. His passing has led to several tributes recalling his memorable moments, from dressing up in a weasel suit to hosting a short-lived talk show on TNT.

While Heenan’s “heel” persona was considered great entertainment, there was a night back in 1975 when he did his job a little too well. As a result, an irate fan tried to assassinate him in the ring.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Heenan was appearing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the now-defunct AWA wrestling promotion when his performance began to grate on the nerves of an unnamed attendee seated on the floor. Eyewitnesses described the man as friendly up until wrestlers Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel started their bout with Heenan at ringside in Bockwinkel’s corner.

“Get Heenan out of there,” the fan screamed, possibly concerned his character would interfere in a fair contest. Heenan, known as “Pretty Boy” at the time, began to distract the referee, awarding an advantage to his wrestler. When the official began waving his arms to signal Heenan to stop interrupting, the fan apparently took it as the match being over and awarded in Bockwinkel’s favor. He drew a gun and began firing.

The man got off two shots, hitting three bystanders with one bullet and two more with the other before running out of the arena. (No fatalities were reported.) Security swarmed the scene, getting medical attention for the injured and escorting both Heenan and the wrestlers to the back.

According to Heenan, the shooter was never identified by anyone, and he was brazen enough to continue attending wrestling cards at the arena. ("Chicago really took that 'no snitching' thing to heart back then," according to Uproxx.)

Heenan went on to spend another 30 years in the business getting yelled at and hit with chairs, but was never again forced to dodge a bullet.

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History
Hans Schmidt, the "Nazi" Wrestler Who Incited Riots
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Courtesy of Dave Drason Byrzynski

Waiting inside the locker room of the Pioneer Memorial Stadium, The Des Moines Register reporter Walter Shotwell thought he had found a clever way to discredit a visiting professional wrestler named Hans Schmidt. Just a few days prior, on August 1, 1953, Schmidt had been seen on national television barking into a microphone using a thick German accent. He dismissed the concept of sportsmanship and vowed to “win ze title and take it back to Germany vere it belongs.”

In the years following World War II, a German nationalist was not likely to be cheered on anywhere in the United States, but the vitriol Schmidt encouraged was unlike anything pro wrestling had ever seen. Schmidt had fans practically frothing at the mouth, stabbing him with hairpins, waving cigarette lighters in his face, and vandalizing his car. Fearing for his safety, police would often have to escort him through angry mobs. It didn’t really seem to matter whether Schmidt was truly anti-American or just playing a role. Either one seemed egregious.

Shotwell suspected the latter. During his interview with Schmidt, he handed him a newspaper clipping and asked him to read it out loud in German. Schmidt refused, saying that Shotwell wouldn’t understand him. Looking at it closely, Schmidt could see it quoted residents of Munich, where he claimed to hail from, who said they had never heard of any Hans Schmidt.

Shotwell pushed it a little further, until Schmidt made it clear he wasn’t going to continue to play along. Had he admitted the truth—that he was not an actual Nazi, but a French-Canadian named Guy Larose—then he likely would have missed out on a career that would eventually make him one of the highest-paid and most reviled athletes in the world.

Courtesy of Dave Drason Burzynski

If pretending to be an enemy of the state was his destiny, then Larose was born at the right time. He was 24 in 1949, the year he decided to become a pro wrestler; his dream of joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had ended while he was still in training after the police and several RCMP students tried to enforce an alcohol ban on a nearby Native community and had their vehicles pummeled with baseball bats.

Eager to exploit his six-foot-four, 240-pound frame, Larose turned to wrestling. In Michigan and across Canada, he was able to book contests but found that neither his persona nor his real name was drawing a crowd.

Arriving in Boston in 1951, Larose met wrestling promoter Paul Bowser, who took one look at the stern-faced wrestler and declared that he should adopt a Nazi persona. Larose wouldn’t be the first—Kurt Von Poppenheim had already devised a similar gimmick—but he’d have an opportunity to do it on television.

At the time, ring sports like boxing and wrestling were ideal for the burgeoning medium. Cheap to produce, they could easily fill programming schedules on networks like the DuMont Television Network, a onetime rival to CBS, NBC, and a burgeoning ABC that aired grappling contests from Chicago. Although Larose—now Schmidt—had been stirring up attention prior, it was his August 1953 appearance and interview with Chicago Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse that drew more disdain than usual.

After declaring “Germany has been good to me” and claiming that he believed there was no place for sportsmanship in wrestling, Schmidt was cut off by Brickhouse. With the emotional wounds of World War II still fresh, his appearance had struck a nerve. DuMont, Brickhouse would later recall, received more than 5000 angry letters from viewers who were disgusted by Schmidt. At least one viewer recommended he be deported.

Larose, however, exercised some restraint. The word “Nazi” was rarely tossed around, and he never goosestepped or carried a swastika with him. The implication of his allegiance seemed to be more than enough to stir the crowd into a frenzy, especially when he would remain seated during the National Anthem or turn his back at the sight of the American flag. He had been a motorcycle dispatcher during the war, he told journalists, and was once shot down while in a plane.

Although those details weren’t true, on many nights Larose may have felt as though he was in a war zone. Walking to the ring, he’d often be jabbed by women using their hairpins, or by men trying to singe him with their cigarettes. During matches, his “cheating”—using chairs to brain opponents, or kicking them in the groin—would draw crowds toward the ring in an effort to start a riot. At one engagement in Milwaukee, the ensuing chaos led to a brief ban on pro wrestling in the arena.

When the journalist Shotwell asked him what kind of car he drove, he hesitated. “A Lincoln,” he said. “I don’t want to describe it any more than that. I don’t want it wrecked.” He often came out of arenas to find ice picks in his tires.

Whatever argument existed about the good taste of Larose’s performance, there was no question it was lucrative. People who wished to see him get beaten in programs against the likes of Verne Gagne or Lou Thesz filled arenas. Once, special guest referee Joe Louis decked him in a staged climax. There was some kind of catharsis in watching Larose get pummeled.

Photo (C) by Brian Bukantis, www.wrestleprints.com

According to pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, who inducted the Schmidt character into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2012, Larose made roughly $1 million in his 20-year career, which wound to a close in the mid-1970s. Other “foreign menaces” like Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik were coming in, diversifying wrestling’s villain culture.

The kind of loathing he had drawn from the crowd remained rare in wrestling, which hates its heels but usually doesn’t attempt to stab them or burn them with fire. It wasn’t until Sergeant Slaughter turned away from his patriotism and became an Iraqi sympathizer in the early '90s that emotions got a bit too heated for entertainment’s sake. The WWE (then WWF) was forced to assign security to Slaughter’s family until the act was dropped.

By that point, Larose had long been out of the spotlight, having returned home to Quebec. He died in 2012 at the age of 87, his status as one of the most infamous performers of the 20th century having been largely forgotten. Never once did he admit during his prime that he was from Canada.

“Of course I’m from Germany,” he told Shotwell. “Do you think I’d go on television and say things that weren’t true?”

Additional Sources: Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screw Jobs: The Untold Story of How Montreal Shaped Wrestling; The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels.

Unless otherwise credited, all photos (C) Dave Drason Burzynski from the book This Saturday Night: Return to the Cobo, available at Wrestleprints.com. Used with permission.

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