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Baseball Names and How They Got That Way (Part 9)

Another spring. Another baseball season. Another time for baseball lingo to be spoken, The words and phrases are used 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.

For those of you who liked Parts I – VII.  and wanted more, here is more.  As always, reactions and suggestions always welcome

"Wabash George"  ("Big George")moniker for George Mullin because he played semi-pro ball in Wabash, Indiana. He hurled for the  Detroit Tigers from 1902-1913 among other teams. walk-off home run game ending home team home run in the bottom of the ninth inning or in an extra inning wall-scraper  home run when ball hits the outfield fence above the home-run line.                                                                     

"Wahoo Sam"   Sam Crawford, Detroit Tiger star and Hall of Famer, hailed from Wahoo, Nebraska.

"Whale"  Former Brooklyn Dodger hurler Don Newcombe was called this for his size and some would say slow manner. ("Newk") was used too, a shortening of his surname.                                       

"White Rat" Former manager Whitey Herzog earned the name for his blonde hair and scheming ways.

"The Whiz Kids" Back in the 1950's the Phillies had a really young team that was surprisingly good.  

"The Wheeze Kids" The Philadelphia Phillies had some good teams in the 1980s that featured old timers like Steve Carlton Pete  Rose, etc.                                                                            

"The Wild Hoss of the Osage"  Oklahoma bred Johnny Leonard Roosevelt Martin of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s ("pepper")  Martin, an aggressive player, was said to play baseball like a "wild mustang" and was given his nickname in the minor leagues.

"The Wild Thing"  Mitch Williams, pitcher, would hit and walk a lot of batters, as well as throw a lot of wild pitches. He also had wild hair and a wild pitching motion.  This nickname was also used in the movie "Major League."

"Willie the Wonder"  Hyperbolic name pinned on Willie Horton  who played for several American League teams in 1960s and 1970s and impressed people with his talent.                                                                                 

Walking Man” Eddie Yost played nearly two decades in the major leagues. His lifetime batting average was only .254, but that didn't keep him off the bases. Yost coaxed pitchers into yielding I,614 walks to him--almost a walk a game through his long career--which places him fifth on the all-time bases-  on-balls list.

"The Weatherman"  Mickey Rivers had a knack for predicting weather.

"The Warrior"  Paul O'Neill had this name pinned on him  by George Steinbrenner as a nod to the Yankee outfielder's fiery ways.

“Wee Willie”  He was born March 3, 1872, in Brooklyn, New York. He died on January 1, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York. William Henry Keeler made his debut at the Polo Grounds as a member of the New York Giants on September 30, 1892. He singled off the Phillies' Tim Keefe for the first of his 2,926 career hits.  The son of a Brooklyn trolley switchman, Keeler Two years later became a member of the famed Baltimore Orioles.                                                                          

A lefty all the way, he weighed only 140 pounds and was a shade over 5'4". His tiny physical stature earned him his nickname, but pound for pound he was one of the greatest hitters baseball ever produced. Keeler played for 19 years and recorded a lifetime batting average of .345, fifth on the all-time list. He collected 2,962 hits in 2,124 games, spraying the ball to all fields. Wee Willie's greatest year was 1897, a season in which he batted .432, recorded 243 hits and 64 stolen bases, and scored 145 runs. He swung a bat that weighed only 30  ounces, but as he said, he "hit 'em where they ain't" --and that was more than good enough to gain Keeler entry into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1939.

Keeler opened the 1897 season with two hits in five at bats against Boston. Then for two months the slight southpaw swinger slapped hit after hit, game after game - from April 22 to June 18 - for 44 straight games. His record stood for 44 years until Joe DiMaggio came along and snapped it in 1941.

The Sporting News offered this mangled prose about Keeler as a fielder. "He swears by the teeth of his mask-carved horse chestnut, that he always carries with him as a talisman that he inevitably dreams of it in the night before when he is going to boot one - muff an easy fly ball, that is to say, in the meadow on the morrow. 'All of us fellows in the outworks have got just so many of them in a season to drop and there's no use trying to buck against fate'."

In 1898, a year after Keeler batted that astonishing .432, he set a mark for hitting that will probably never be topped, notching 202 singles in just 128 games. He truly was hitting them where the fielders weren't. It was a season in which the left-handed bat magician recorded 214 hits. His batting average was .379, but the incredible amount of singles amassed saw him register a puny .410 slugging percentage.  That 1898 season Keeler came to bat 564 times in 128 games and walked only 28 times and did not strike out.    

A slugger he was not. But, oh what a hitter!                                                                    

William Henry Keeler played 19 years in the major leagues  and finished his career with a .345 lifetime batting average. Quite justifiably the little man was one of the first to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hal of Fame in 1939.                                                  

“The Whip”  A 6'6" right-hander, Ewell Blackwell had a sidearm motion and a crackling fastball that terrorized National League batters in the 1940's and 1950's. The former Cincinnati star's right arm seemed to "whip" the ball in at the batter, and that's how his nickname came to be. Winner of sixteen straight games in 1947, he struck out almost a batter an inning during his ten year career.                                                                     

“Wild Horse of the Osage” Johnny Leonard Roosevelt Martin, better known as Pepper Martin, starred for 13 seasons with the National League's St. Louis Cardinals. He could hit, he could run, he could field, he could throw, he could win--and he did all of these things with wild abandon, with an élan and a verve that earned him his nickname. If he couldn't stop a hard smash down to his third-base position with his glove, he would stop the ball with his chest. If he could  not get into a base feet-first, he would leap into the air and belly-flop his way there. Martin took the extra base, risked the daring chance, played with fire and fury. Three times in the mid-1930's he led the league in stolen bases, and throughout that decade he functioned as the horse that led the Cardinal "Gashouse Gang" (see GASHOUSE GANG).

"Wizard of Oz"  An abbreviation of his first name and tip of the cap to Ozzie Smith for his peerless fielding skills. No other shortstop could get to the ball as fast as, and utilize the fielders around him like Ozzie.

"Yo-Yo" - for small size and hyper activity,  Luis Arroyo

"You Could Look It Up" Casey Stengel began his major league playing career in 1912, his managing career in 1934. He played for 14 years, managed for 25 years. His baseball career ended in 1965 after stints with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Giants, New York Yankees, New York Mets. Casey could talk for hours about baseball and life. And sometimes in the  midst of animated conversation about a utility outfielder on the old Boston Braves, or a balk by a forgotten pitcher on the Pittsburgh Pirates--to emphasize that he was not relating fiction he would exclaim: "You could look it up!"

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

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. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.


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