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Getting a Handle on Them 

by Howie Stalwick

Great baseball nicknames have gone the way of the 50-cent bleacher ticket, but the colorful nicknames of major leaguers of the past have left a lasting legacy.

Whatever happened to memorable monikers like Bob "Death to Flying Things" Caruthers, Earl "Stem Engine in Boots" Moore and Pepper "The Wild Hoss of the Osage" Martin?

Today's money-soaked game needs more players like "Jughandle Johnny" Morrison, "Raw Meat Bill" Rodgers and Abraham "Sweetbreads" Bailey. Let's not forget Sammy "Babe Ruth's Legs" Byrd, Willie "Puddin' Head" Jones and Arlie "The Freshest Man On Earth" Latham.

The Baseball Hall of Fame includes wonderful names like Babe "The Sultan of Swat" Ruth, Ted "The Splendid Splinter" Williams, Tony "Poosh 'Em Up" Lazzeri, Joe "The Yankee Clipper" DiMaggio, Bob "Rapid Robert" Feller, "Gorgeous George" Sisler, Lou "The Iron Horse" Gehrig, Carl "The Meal Ticket" Hubbell, Paul "Big Poison" Waner, Lloyd "Little Poison" Waner (Paul's younger brother), James "Cool Papa" Bell and "Wahoo Sam" Crawford.

Many nicknames derive from ballplayers' love of poking fun at the physical appearance of teammates and rivals. We have been exposed over the years to Walt "No-Neck" Williams, Dick "Turkey Neck" Hall, Guy "The Blond Guy" Hecker, Ernie "Schnozz" Lombardi, Julie "Flop Ears" Wera, Gene "Half-Pint" Rye, Dave "Porky" Odom, Charles "Piano Legs" Hickman, and Jimmy "The Human Mosquito" Slagle.

A player's hometown or other connections with his past often result in an odd soubriquet. That explains the likes of Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, Frankie "The Fordham Flash" Frisch, Ty "The Georgia Peach" Cobb, Lou "The Arkansas Humming Bird" Warneke, Red "The Nashville Narcissus" Lucas, Guy "The Mississippi Mudcat" Bush, Joe "The Gause Ghost" Moore, Vic "The Springfield (Mass.) Rifle" Raschi, Amos "The Hoosier Thunderbolt" Rusie, Juan "The Dominican Dandy" Marichal and Gus "Ozark Ike" Zernial.

Standout pitcher Tony Mullane was known as "The Apollo of the Box" when pitchers threw from a "box" before the turn of the century. Happy-go-lucky Yankee pitcher Lefty Gomez was tagged "The Gay Castillion" when "gay" referred to happiness. "Shoeless Joe" Jackson picked up his nickname when he decided to keep playing one day after losing a shoe.

First baseman Dick Stuart, a horrendous fielder, was christened "Dr. Strangeglove." Moe Solomon, who went 3-for-8 in his only two big league games, will be forever remembered as "The Rabbi of Swat." Negro leagues star Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe earned his nickname by routinely catching the first game of a doubleheader before pitching in the nightcap.

Some players wish they'd never "earned" a nickname, of course. The list includes Hugh "Losing Pitcher" Mulcahy, Bill "Wagon Tongue" Keister, "Pigtail Billy" Riley, Happy "Dimples" Iott, George "Twinkletoes" Selkirk, Charles "Pussy" Tebeau, Eddie "The Brat" Stanky, Phil "Grandmother" Powers, Mark "Humpty Dumpty" Polhemus, Louis "Buttercup" Dickerson, Jimmy "Foxy Grandpa" Bannon and Frank "Dodo" Bird.

Modern-day baseball rosters need more names like Luke "Old Aches and Pains" Appling, Charlie "King Kong" Keller, George "Pea Soup" Dumont, Bill "Blab" Schwartz, Charlie "Swamp Baby" Wilson, Ron "True Creature'' Robinson and Lou "The Nervous Greek" Skizas.

Not to mention Tom "Old Emergency No. 1" Letcher, Fred "Dandelion'' Pfeffer, George "Prunes" Moolic, "Voiceless Tim" O'Rourke, Myles "Duck Eye" Thomas, "Shady Bill" Leith and William "Peek-a-Boo" Veach.

And let's tip the cap one more time to Joe "Ubbo Ubbo" Hornung, Johnny "Hippity" Hopp, Hank "Bow Wow" Arlt, Doug "Eyechart" Gwosdz, Mike "The Human Rain Delay'' Hargrove, "Whoa Bill" Phillips, Frank "Stuffy Goldbrick" Butler, Dixie "The People's Choice" Walker and last, but certainly not least, Frank "Toys in the Attic" Bertaina.

Publication date: 04/29/04

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