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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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11 Classic Facts About Converse Chucks
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Converse’s Chuck Taylor sneakers have been around since the early 20th century, but they haven’t changed much—until recently. In 2015, The Chuck II—a new line of Converse that looks much the same as the original shoe but with a little more padding and arch support—hit stores. In honor of the kicks' staying power, here are 11 facts about Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.  

1. They were originally athletic shoes. 

The Converse All-Star debuted in 1917 as an athletic sneaker. It quickly became the number one shoe for basketball, then a relatively new sport (basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891, but the NBA wasn't founded until 1946). By the late 1940s, most of the NBA sported Chucks. They remain the best-selling basketball shoes of all time, even though very few people wear them for basketball anymore. (Many teams switched to leather Adidas in the late ‘60s.)

2. Converse previously made rain boots.

The company started in 1908 as a rubber shoe company that produced galoshes.  

3. The All-Star design hasn’t really changed since 1917.

The updated Chuck II is Converse’s first real attempt to update its flagship product since the early 20th century. The company is understandably reticent to shake things up: All-Stars make up the majority of the company’s revenue, and like any classic design, its fans can be die-hards. In the 1990s, when the company tried to introduce All-Stars that were more comfortable and had slightly fewer design inconsistencies, hardcore aficionados rebelled. “They missed the imperfections in the rubber tape that lines the base of the shoe,” according to the Washington Post. The company went back to making a slightly imperfect shoe.

4. Chuck Taylor was a basketball player and trainer ...

Chuck Taylor in 1921. Image Credit: North Carolina State University via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Taylor was a Converse salesman and former professional basketball player who traveled around the country teaching basketball clinics (and selling shoes) starting in the 1920s. His name was added onto an ankle patch on the sneaker in 1932

5. ... And though he sold a lot of Chucks, he wasn't always a great coach.

Taylor is in large part responsible for the shoe’s popularity with athletes (the company rewarded him with an unlimited expense account), but his training advice wasn’t always the best. As former University of North Carolina player Larry Brown told Spin in an oral history of the shoe:

My greatest memory of Chuck Taylor—probably ’61 or ’62—is that he told Coach [Dean] Smith that he’d make us special weighted shoes in Carolina blue. The idea was that we’d wear the weighted shoes in practice, and then during the games, we’d run faster and jump higher. Well, we tried them for one practice and everyone pulled a hamstring.

6. Converse didn’t intend for their shoes to be punk.

“We always thought of ourselves as an athletic shoe company,” John O’Neil, who oversaw Converse’s marketing from 1983 to 1997, told Spin. “We wanted to sell a wholesome shoe.” The company was still touting its shoes as basketball sneakers as late as 2012, and some of its non-Chucks sneakers still have pro endorsers.

7. The company owns a recording studio.

Finally embracing its role in the music scene, the company launched Rubber Tracks, a Brooklyn-based recording studio where bands can record for free, in 2011.

8. Not all the Ramones were fans. 

Chuck Taylors are associated with punk rockers, especially the Ramones, but not everyone in the band wore them. “Dee Dee and I switched over to the Chuck Taylors because they stopped making [the style of] U.S. Keds and Pro-Keds [that we liked],” Marky Ramone told Spin. “Joey never wore them. He needed a lot of arch support and Chuck Taylors are bad for that.”

9. Chucks were initially only high tops. 

In 1962, Converse rolled out its first oxford Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Previously, it had just been a high-top shoe. Four years later, the company would introduce the first colors other than black and white.

10. Rocky ran in them.

In 1976, All-Stars were still considered a viable athletic shoe. If you look closely at the training montage from Rocky, you’ll see the boxer is wearing Chucks. 

11. Wiz Khalifa loves them. 

The rapper named his record label Taylor Ganag Records, in part due to his appreciation for Chuck Taylors. In 2013, he launched a shoe collection with Converse featuring 12 styles. 

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