Baseball Names - and How They Got That Way! (M)
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. For those of you who liked Part I, Part II,
Part III, X and all the others and wanted more, here is more, just a
sampling. As always, reactions and suggestions always welcome
Mickey Mantle and Roger
Al Hrabosky, who arrived
in the major leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1970, is a
self-created image. Originally a clean-cut pitcher, Hrabosky allowed his
hair to grow long and cultivated a beard and a moustache. He then
developed a procedure on the pitching mound designed to annoy,
frustrate, and sometimes anger batters. He would step off the mound,
walk in the direction of second base, pound his glove, talk to himself,
trot back to the mound, glower in to the catcher, and release his pitch.
Pleasing to the crowds, an aid to, in Hrabosky's phrase, "psyching
myself up," the image and the routine fattened the pitcher's paychecks.
There are those who declare that Hrabosky may be Hungarian, but he
surely isn't mad.
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
Fans at Louisville in
the minor where Earle Combs starred called him that because of his speed
and base stealing skills.
MAN, THE (STAN THE MAN)
Stanley Frank Musial, St. Louis Cardinal baseball immortal, batted .315
as a rookie in 1942, when he was 21 years old. In 1962, at the age of
41, he hit .330-one point under his lifetime batting average. Musial is
the all-time Cardinal leader in games played, runs, hits, doubles,
triples, homers, and total bases. His twisted, crouched, coiled stance
at the plate enabled him to slash the ball with power or stroke it with
finesse to any part of the playing field. Musial was an especially
successful hitter in the small confines of Ebbets Field. His specialty
was slamming frozen rope doubles off the outfield walls. Dodger fans had
difficulty pronouncing his name, sometimes calling him "Musical." Many
of the black Dodger fans simply referred to Musial as "the Man" in
tribute to the power and style he displayed. Eventually fans all over
the league used this nickname-a reference not only to Musial but to the
respect due his power and authority.
MAN IN THE IRON HAT
Yankee owner Captain
Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Hutson wore the same squished derby hat over and
MAN NOBODY KNOWS Catcher
Bill Dickey, Yankee immortal, because of his blandness.
MAN OF A THOUSAND CURVES
His nickname was a bit
hyperbolic, but the major league batters who swung at his stuff and came
up empty might not disagree with it. For Johnny Sain, talented star of
the Boston Braves and other teams, curveball pitches were a trademark
and the reason for his nickname. He allegedly had such pitching skill
that his curves dropped, darted, hesitated, broke wide, broke fast,
broke slow, broke twice. There may not have been a thousand curves, but
there were enough variations on these curves Sain possessed that the
effect on batters was the same.
MAN O’ WAR
Sam Rice was a fleet-footed outfielder
and was called Man O' War" after the famous racehorse of his era.
MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN
During the late 1 940's and into the 1950's, Don Mueller of the New York
Giants appeared to have a special gift with a bat in his hands. His
lifetime batting average was a respectable .296, yet he never led the
league in any hitting category. His nickname came from his expert
bat-manipulation and his ability to hit the ball where he wanted it to
Ralph Houk, for rank held in the Armed Forces and demeanor
Hall of Fame Manager Joe McCarthy, , for his commanding style.
Marvin Eugene Throneberry was perhaps born to be a New York Met. His
initials spelled out the name and his personality and limited skills
underscored the characteristics of the 1962 New York expansion team.
Throneberry, who looked like Mickey Mantle batting but did not get the
same results, labored through a seven-year, four-different-team major
league career- the Mets were his last team. He is a gentle, fine humored
man, and sportswriters hung the nickname on him in good-natured jest.
Throneberry loved it and went along with their efforts to depict him as
a clown. Once a teammate dropped an easy fly ball. Marvelous Marv smiled
and shouted, "What are you trying to do anyway, steal my fans?"
MASTER BUILDER IN BASEBALL
Jacob Ruppert, and that he was.
Mel Ott was a power-armed right fielder for 22 years with the New York
Giants. He smashed 511 home runs in a fabled career that saw him
average better than a hit a game while compiling a lifetime batting
average of .304. Ott became a Giant at the age of 16-and that's how his
nickname came about. Ott's Hollywood-type beginning was recalled by
Eddie Logan, Giants equipment manager, who was about the same age as Ott
at the time and was sent to pick up the youth: "We had the 9th Avenue El
at the time. Mr. McGraw had told him to ride the El to the last stop,
which was the Polo Grounds. He took the El the wrong way and wound up at
the Battery. I looked for the straw suitcase. I found him. I said,
'C'mon boy, let's go.' He got the biggest thrill riding back on the
train." Labeled "McGraw's baby," Ott was in only 35 games in 1926, then
82 in 1927. "He's too young to play big-league ball," McGraw said, "but
I am afraid to send him to the minors and have a manager there tinker
with his unorthodox batting style. The style is natural with him. He'll
get results as soon as he learns about big-league pitching." And he did.
MEAL TICKET, THE
Through the long Depression years, one of the great constants in the
fortunes of the New York Giants was pitcher Carl Hubbell. The Hall of
Famer possessed a left-handed screwball that he threw at different
speeds and blended with a dazzling change of pace. He could make the
ball almost disappear, so sophisticated was his pitching style. Hubbell
won 253 games for the Giants in a 1 6-year career and notched a 2.97
earned-run average. His nickname came from his value to the Giants. He
was a selfless performer. "In a close game, he'd go down to the bullpen
and start warming up. He wanted to show that he was willing and ready,
and he'd defy the manager not to put him in," recalled former Giant
owner Horace Stoneham.
THE MECHANICAL MAN
A Tiger superstar in the
Charlie Gehringer was given that nickname by
Yankee pitcher Lefty
Gomez who said he was automatic.
MENDOZA LINE Batters hitting below .215 are referred to as
below the Mendoza line, a reference to Mario Mendoza, lifetime batting
average - .215.
Waite Hoyt was a cheery soul and worked off-season as a mortician.
MICK THE QUICK
Mickey Rivers, for his speed.
Mickey Rivers, for his
Hall of Famer Miller Huggins played 13 years in the major leagues and
managed for 17 more with the Cardinals and Yankees. A 5'6", 140-pounder,
his small physical stature and his outstanding playing and managing
ability merged into the qualities that produced his nickname.
Former Yankee pitcher
Jim Turner because of his off-season job delivering milk
The franchise began as
the Seattle Pilots in 1969, then moved to Milwaukee in 1970 and picked
up its nickname for the famous breweries in the
Named for the "Twin Cities" where the team is located, Minneapolis and
St. Paul. Franchise moved from Washington DC, as the Senators (from
1901-1960), then to Bloomington, Minnesota as the Twins (1961-81) then
to Minneapolis in 1982.
MINNIE MINOSO His real name was Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Armas
Minoso, but everyone knew him as Minnie, which made it easier for
typesetters, reporters, and fans. Born November 29, 1922, in Havana,
Cuba, Minoso played 15 years in the majors, from 1949 to 1964 (he also
appeared in one game in 1977, while a coach with the Chicago White Sox).
MIRACLE AT COOGANS BLUFF
Throughout the long history of baseball there have been poignant,
exciting, dramatic moments. But very few can compare to what happened on
October 3, 1951 at the old Polo Grounds in New York City. Some refer to
that time as "The Miracle at Coogan's Bluff." Others, especially in
Brooklyn, call it "Dat Day." But no matter what label is applied it was
a time to remember. It was a time when the Giants played out of the Polo
Grounds in Manhattan and the Dodgers entertained millions in their tiny
Brooklyn ballpark, Ebbets Field. It was a time of tremendous fan
devotion to each team.
July Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen had bragged, "The Giants is dead."
It seemed to aptly describe the plight of Leo Durocher's team. For on
August 12 the Giants trailed the Dodgers by 13 l/2 games in the
Then, incredibly, the Giants locked into what has been called "The
Miracle Run." They won 37 of their final 44 games - 16 of them in one
frenetic stretch - and closed the gap.
was a once-in-a-lifetime situation," recalls Monte Irvin, who batted
.312 that year for the Giants. "We kept on winning. The Dodgers kept on
losing. It seemed like we beat everybody in the seventh, eighth and
Giants and Dodgers finished the season in a flat-footed tie for
first-place and met on the first day of October in the first game of the
first play-off in the history of the National League. The teams split
the first two games setting the stage for the third and final game.
Newcombe of the Dodgers was pitted against Sal Maglie of the Giants.
Both hurlers had won 23 games during the regular season.
game began under overcast skies and a threat of rain. Radio play-by-play
filtered into schoolrooms, factories, office buildings, city prisons,
Wall Street teletype intermingled stock quotations with play-by-play
details of the Giant-Dodger battle. The game was tied 1-1 after seven
innings. Then Brooklyn scored three times in the top of the eighth. Many
of the Dodger fans at the Polo Grounds and the multitude listening to
the game on the radio thought that the Giants would not come back.
Durocher and the Giants never gave up. "We knew that Newcombe would make
the wrong pitch," said Monte Irvin. "That was his history."
Giants came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning - only three outs
remained in their miracle season.
Alvin Dark led off with a single through the right side of the infield.
Don Mueller slapped the ball past Dodger first baseman Gil Hodges. Irvin
fouled out. Whitey Lockman doubled down the left field line. Dark
runners on second and third Ralph Branca came in to relieve Newcombe.
Bobby Thomson waited to bat. Durocher said, "I did not know whether they
would pitch to Thomson or not. First base was open. Willie Mays, just a
rookie, was on deck."
Veteran New York Giant announcer Russ Hodges described the moment to
millions mesmerized at their radios that October afternoon:
"Bobby Thomson up there swinging.... Bobby batting at .292. Branca
pitches and Bobby takes a strike call on the inside corner. Lockman
without too big of a lead at second but he'll be running like the wind
if Thomson hits
"Branca throws ... there's a long drive...it's gonna be, I believe. . .'
precise moment was 3:58 P.M., October 3, 1951.
the Giants win the pennant!" Hodges screamed the words at the top of his
voice, all semblance of journalistic objectivity gone. "The Giants win
the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"
Hodges bellowed it out eight times - and then overcome by the moment and
voiceless, he had to yield the microphone.
Pandemonium was on parade at the Polo Grounds for hours after the game.
For almost half an hour after the epic home run, there were so many
phone calls placed by people in Manhattan and Brooklyn that the New York
Telephone Company reported service almost broke down.
Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca would play out their major league
careers. But the moment they shared - as hero and goat that October day
at the Polo Grounds - would link them forever.
MIRACLE BRAVES The year was 1914, the year World War I began. The
Boston Braves marched from last place in July to the National League
pennant by winning 61 of their last 77 games. That accomplishment was
only a part of what earned the Braves their reputation as a "miracle"
team. In the World Series, the Braves were given no chance to defeat a
powerful Philadelphia Athletics team that boasted such pitching stars as
Chief Bender, Bullet Joe Bush, Eddie Plank, Jack Coombs, and what was
referred to as the "$100,000 infield" of Baker, Barry, McInnis, and
Collins. Boston manager George Stallings was confident. "We'll stop
them. We're coming and they're going."
Behind their powerful pitching trio of George Tyler, Dick Rudolph, and
Bill James, the Braves won the first game, shocking the baseball world,
then the next three, to demolish a dynasty and become the first team in
the history of baseball to win four straight World Series games.
The manager of the "Miracle Braves," George Stallings, piloted four
different teams in a 13year managing career. He won only a single
pennant in all those years-with the 1914"Miracle Braves"-but the
accomplishment was good enough to earn him his nickname.
Mariano Rivera, for his unflappable behavior and skills as a Yankee
George Steinbrenner's sarcastic jibe at Dave Winfield because of his
postseason struggles as compared to Reggie Jackson's successes. It was a
taunt from the Yankee principal owner that Winfield did well in the
month of way when there was no real pressure.
In Game Five of the 1977
ALCS Billy Martin benched Reggie Jackson. In a comeback win against
Kansas City Jackson retuned to slap a single. Thurman Munson
sarcastically called Jackson "Mr. October." The nick-name would have
taken on a different meaning but Jackson fitted the nick-name to his
Name earned by former
Cardinal shortstop Marty Marion because of his unusually long arms. He
was also called "slats" for the gainliness of his appearance. He was an
Derek Jeter, for his
World Series home run, the first of November, 2001.
His size (6'6" and 230 pounds) and his pitching efficiency during his
seven-year stint for the Boston Red Sox in the 1960's earned Dick Radatz
Nickname derived from the 1967 World Exposition staged
in Montreal. It was held two years before the team's inaugural game.
The fair ran for the entire year and drew approximately 50 million
Willie Wilson was given this nickname by his family
because of the funny way he said “milk” when he was a
Home run hit high
and far. See Wally Moon and LA Dodgers.
MOOSE Bill Skowron's,
grandfather as a joke called him Mussolini, but his family shortened the
nickname to Moose. This is another version - that he was named "Moose"
because of his resemblance to Mussolini.
Pitcher Mike Mussina
earned this name for size: Baltimore Orioles ( 1991-2000), New York
Casey Stengel's phrase for journalists he was close to.
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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.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
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The Sporting News, among other publications.
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