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As Long as We Remember...

May 17, 2013

The Irony of Historic Baseball Names

Joe Charlebois

Baseball is full of jargon and terms that are used in common parlance these days, such as “right down the middle” or “grand slam;” but what about the terms in baseball that are the most common and how they can put an ironic twist on the names of some of the players in Major League Baseball history.


Two America’s pastime can’t be played without a bat and ball. But few players have a name that incorporates these to necessary ingredients. Only one player in history had the last name Bat - technically Batts. Matt Batts was a 10-year veteran, who had his best year with the Detroit Tigers in 1952 batting .278, 6 home runs, 24 doubles, 3 triples and 42 RBI.


Historically bats in the early days were made of many materials shapes and sizes – even flat barrels for bunting – but the first wood to be commonly used was ash. In the past decade bats made from maple have been growing in popularity. Use of these two woods is common due to their hardness, balance of weight and strength.


Two major leaguers held the hardwood names of Ash and Maple. Ken Ash, who was a pitcher, played only 58 games. He totaled only 6 hits in a 46 career at bats. Howard Maple only lasted 44 games for the 1932 Washington Senators (AL). They carry the name of Louisville Slugger materials, but they were hardly as hard hitting as their names would indicate.


Four past major leaguers players were “Ball” players. Art, Jeff and Neal Ball all played their careers prior to World War I. The Majors saw the return of “Ball” four in 1998 – however briefly. Jeff Ball only played two games for the San Francisco Giants and was one-for-four with a single.


Two players enjoyed the last name Hit(t). Both were pitchers. Roy Hitt debuted in 1907, followed by Bruce in 1917. Neither of these pitchers played a second season. Possibly they would have instilled more fear if they changed their middle names to “No.”


Cincinnati Red’s “Double” Joe Dwyer lasted only 12 games in his Major League career – all in 1937 – possibly because he couldn’t live up to his reputation. He failed to record any extra base hits in his short stint. Also unable to live up to his name was Houston’s Tripp Cromer. In his 196 games with St. Louis, Los Angeles and Houston, he managed only one triple. At least Cromer donned the uniform number “3” and played third base.


Even though 10 players have played with the powerful name of Homer, they didn’t even tally the same number of round trippers for their entire careers combined (47) as did Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates did in 1971 (48).


Mickey Grasso of Washington played in the clay – he was a catcher; while Cincinnati’s Dain Clay, a speedy outfielder played, on the grass.


Taking the hill or the bump is simply a term that means that a pitcher has been designated to walk up the mound, “toe” the rubber and pitch. Eighteen men with the last name Hill have played in the majors only nine have “taken the hill.” Hilly Flitcraft in 1942 and Hilly Hathaway from 1992-1993 were pitchers. Bump Hadley pitched while Bump Wills did not.


Neither Bill nor Joe Holden – “up for a cup of coffee types” – pitched a scoreless eighth inning to set up the closer. They didn’t hold a runner at first either – they were a center fielder and catcher respectively.


Of the thirty-four men with the last name Walker, 16 were pitchers. Even though their last name was an omen for erratic pitching, they averaged nearly seven years in the big leagues.


Thirty-eight men are nicknamed “Lefty;” not coincidentally they all were southpaws, but many batted right handed or were switch hitters. Thirty-three were pitchers.


In baseball history five men were blessed with the first name “Win.” Appropriately they were all pitchers. Having that first name, however, doesn’t seem to portend great things for pitchers. These men combined for a total win–loss record of 185 to 216. Only Win Mercer who was a turn of the century player – playing primarily for Washington – accounted for a majority of those 185 with 132 wins alone.


Daryl Boston never got the opportunity to wear Boston on the front of his jersey. Tyler Houston never played for the Astros. Seven Brewers have played in the majors, none ever played for Milwaukee. Conrad Cardinal only played 7 games, but it wasn’t for St. Louis; he played for Houston in 1963. Johnny Podres who spent most of his 15 years in the classic blue and white as a Brooklyn – and then Los Angeles – Dodger spent his final year as a “Padre” in San Diego, which was the team’s inaugural season.


Johnny Walker, not of the Cincinnati Reds, but of the Philadelphia Athletics played during the early days of Prohibition as did Pip Koehler 1925.


Those who didn’t play during Prohibition were Ed Pabst (1890); John “Chink” Heileman (1901); Pete Hamm (1970-71);Ed Busch (1943-45); Mike Busch (1995-96), and Harold “Sour Mash Jack” Jack Daniels of the 1952 Boston Braves.


Of the four players named Short none were shortstops. Five Shorty’s played Major League baseball only Shorty Dee (1915) and Shorty Fuller (1888-96) fielded the position. Pete Center, who was a hurler for the Cleveland Indians during World War II, never played the outfield, let alone center field.


In 1893, St. Louis outfielder Bill Goodenough wasn’t good enough.  His .161 batting average in his only 10 games weren’t enough to keep him around past August of that year.


Baseball’s history is full of colorful players, names and history. So, if you have aspirations of a son making it to the Major Leagues, be sure that before you name him Homer you don’t expect him to lead the league in round-trippers.


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