Baseball Names - and How They Got That Way! (Part 4)
The words and phrases are spoken and written day after
day, year after year - generally without any wonderment as to how they
became part of the language. All have a history, a story. Now with the
2006 baseball season almost with us -some more language of baseball
to savor, to enjoy.
For those of you who liked Part I, Part II and Part III and wrote in
to offer suggestions and ask for more - here is more - Part IV. As
always, reactions and suggestions always welcome.
THE BABE George Herman Ruth probably leads the list for
most nick-names acquired. First called "Babe" by teammates on the
Baltimore Orioles, his first professional team because of his youth,
G.H.Ruth was also called "Jidge" by Yankee teammates, short for George.
They also called him "Tarzan." He called most players "Kid," because he
couldn't remember names, even of his closest friends. Opponents called
him "The Big "Monk" and "Monkey."
Many of Babe Ruth's nick-names came from over-reaching sports writers
who attempted to pay tribute to his slugging prowess:" The Bambino",
"the Wali of Wallop", "the Rajah of Rap", "the Caliph of Clout", "the
Wazir of Wham", and "the Sultan of Swat", The Colossus of Clout,
Maharajah of Mash, The Behemoth of Bust, "The King of Clout."
His main nickname was rooted in President Grover Cleveland's Baby Ruth.
Perhaps the greatest slugger of all time and also one of baseball's most
colorful characters, Ruth set some 50 records in his 22 years as a
player. His accomplishments, his personality, his nickname-all combined
to rocket major league baseball firmly into the nation's psyche.
"Babe" and "Ruth" In spring training 1927, Babe Ruth bet pitcher Wilcy
Moore $l00 that he would not get more than three hits all season. A
notoriously weak hitter, Moore somehow managed to get six hits in 75 at
bats. Ruth paid off his debt and Moore purchased two mules for his
farm. He named them "Babe" and "Ruth "for Ruth
CHIEF BENDER Charles Albert Bender won 210 games and
compiled a 2.45 lifetime earned-run average in 16 years of pitching. He
was admitted to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1953. His nickname came from
the fact that he was a Chippewa Indian.
CLOWN PRINCE OF BASEBALL Al Schacht performed for only three seasons as
a member of the Washington Senators (1919-21), but he still was able to
make a mighty reputation on the baseball field. Schacht was a comic and
his routines centered on the foibles and eccentricities of the National
Pastime. It was said that nobody did it better, and that's why Schacht
was dubbed the Clown Prince.
DAFFINESS BOYS Also known as Dem Brooklyn Bums, the 1926 Brooklyn
Dodgers wrought havoc on friend and foe alike. The hotshot of the team
was freeswinging, slump-shouldered Babe Herman, dubbed the Incredible
Hoiman, who bragged that among his stupendous feats was stealing second
base with the bases loaded. Once Herman was one of a troika of Dodger
base runners who found themselves all on third base at the same time. A
Dodger rookie turned to Brooklyn manager "Uncle" Wilbert Robinson on the
bench. "You call that playing baseball?" "Uncle" Robbie responded,
"Leave them alone. That's the first time they've been together all
"DON'T LOOK BACK. SOMETHING MIGHT BE GAINING ON YOU" This line of
homespun wisdom formed the sixth rule of a recipe attributed to former
baseball pitching great Leroy "Satchel" Paige. The other five rules were
(1) avoid fried meats which angry up the blood; (2) if your stomach
disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts; (3) keep your
juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move; (4) go very gently
on the vices, such as carrying on in society-the social ramble ain't
restful; (5) avoid running at all times. It seems that most of us have
managed to break all of Mr. Paige's rules more than once. As for rule
5-don't tell it to your neighborhood jogger.
DOUBLE NO HITTER It's almost a baseball cliché. A no-hitter is tossed.
And the next time that pitcher takes the mound, there is all the talk
and speculation about the possibility of a second straight no-no taking
place. And always what Johnny Vander Meer did 62 years ago today comes
back into the public consciousness.
On June 11, 1938, the Cincinnati hurler no-hit the Boston Bees, 3-0.
Four nights later, he was tabbed to start against the Brooklyn Dodgers
in the first night game ever in the New York City metropolitan area. To
that point in time, only two pitchers had ever recorded two career
no-hitters. No one had ever posted two no-hitters in a season. No one
had probably even contemplated back-to-back no-hitters.
More than 40,000 (Fire Department rules notwithstanding) jammed into
Ebbets Field to see the first night game in that tiny ball park's
history and also bear witness to Vander Meer questing after his second
straight no-hitter. Utilizing a one-two-three-four pitching rhythm that
saw him cock his right leg in the air before he delivered the ball to
the plate, "Vandy" featured a fast ball that was always moving and a
curve ball that broke ever so sharply. Inning after inning, the Dodgers
went down hitless. In the seventh inning, Vander Meer walked two
batters. But the fans of "Dem Bums" cheered the Cincinnati pitcher on,
sensing they were witnessing baseball history. The ninth inning began
with Cincinnati holding a 6-0 lead. Buddy Hasset was retired on a
grounder. Then suddenly, Vander Meer lost control of the situation. He
loaded the bases on walks. Reds manager Bill McKechnie came out to the
mound to talk to his beleaguered pitcher.
"Take it easy, Johnny," he said, "but get the no-hitter." Vander Meer
got Ernie Koy to hit a grounder to infielder Lou Riggs, who
conservatively elected to go to the plate for the force-out for the
second out. The bases were still loaded, though. Leo "Lippy" Durocher,
the Dodger player-manager and a veteran of many wars, stepped into the
Only the "Lip" stood between Vander Meer and the double
no-hitter. Durocher took a lunging swing and smashed the ball down the
right-field line. But it went foul into the upper deck. Bedlam and
tension intermingled at Ebbets Field as Vander Meer's left arm came
around and delivered the pitch to Durocher, who swung and popped up the
ball into short center field. Harry Craft clutched the ball. Johnny
Vander Meer had made baseball history.
Fans leaped out onto the playing field, but Vander Meer's
Cincinnati teammates had formed a protective shield around the exhausted
hurler as he scurried into the relative calm of the dugout. His mother
and father, who had come to see their son pitch with about 500 others
from their hometown, were not as lucky. Swarms of well wishers and
autograph-hunters milled about Vandy's parents. It took about half an
hour before they could be extricated from the mob of admirers. The event
remains in memory as the miracle of 1938, consecutive no-hitters spun by
John Samuel Vander Meer, the man they called the "Dutch Master."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent congratulations. Newspapers and
magazines featured every detail of the event for months. For Vander Meer,
the double no-hitters were especially sweet coming against Boston and
Brooklyn - teams he tried out for and been rejected by.
Vander Meer performed for 13 big-league seasons, winning
119 games and losing 121. He perhaps would be remembered as a southpaw
pitcher who never totally fulfilled his promise if it had not been for
the epic moments of June 11 and June 15, 1938.
HITLESS WONDERS The 1906 Chicago White Sox had a team batting average of
.230, the most anemic of all the clubs in baseball that year. The team's
pitching, however, more than made up for its lack of hitting. The White
Sox staff recorded shutouts in 32 of the team's 93 victories. The
"Hitless Wonders" copped the American League pennant and faced the
Chicago Cubs in the World Series. The Cubs of 1906 are regarded as one
of the greatest baseball teams of all time; they won 116 games that
year, setting the all-time major league mark for victories in a season
and for winning percentage. The White Sox continued their winning ways
in the World Series, however, trimming their cross town rivals in six
"hitting for the cycle" Hit a single, double, triple
and home run in the same game, not necessarily in that order.
HORSE COLLAR Describes a situation when a player gets no hits in a game.
KLU Ted Kluszewski played 15 years in the major leagues. He pounded out
279 homers, recorded a lifetime slugging average of nearly .500 and a
career batting average of nearly . 300. He was a favorite of the
Cincinnati fans; at 6'2" and 225 pounds, his bulging biceps were too
huge to be contained by ordinary shirt-sleeves. Kluszewski cut off the
sleeves and started a new fashion in baseball uniforms-just as fans and
sportswriters cut off part of his name to make for a nickname more
easily pronounced and printed.
LONSOME GEORGE Former legendary Yankee General Manager George Weiss,
for his aloof
MAHATMA Branch Rickey (1881-1965) was one of baseball's most
influential personalities. Inventor of the farm system, the force
responsible for Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color line, the
master builder of the St. Louis Cardinal and Brooklyn Dodger
organizations, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1967. Sportswriter
Tom Meany coined Rickey's nickname. Meany got the idea from John
Gunther's phrase describing Mohandas K. Gandhi as a" combination of God,
your own father, and Tammany Hall."
NICKEL SERIES Refers to old days when New York City teams played
against each other and the tariff was a five cents subway ride.
NUMBER l/8 On August 19, 1951, Eddie Gaedel, wearing number l/8, came
to bat for the St. Louis Browns against the Detroit Tigers. Gaedel, who
was signed by Browns owner Bill Veeck, walked on four straight pitches
and was then replaced by a pinch runner. The next day the American
League banned Gaedel, despite Veeck's protests. Gaedel was a midget,
only three feet, seven inches tall.
# # #
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
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