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