I can remember the moment I first laid my eyes on a baseball card in 1964 and ever since, I’ve been captivated by their designs, colors, statistics, photography and yes, a plethora of unusual names and nicknames.
Through the years, collecting baseball cards has been one of my passions and I’ve been able to spend many hours examining my cards and building sets. But the start of this year’s baseball season a few weeks ago reminded me that the never-ending parade of interesting baseball names is constant and a direct link to many moments I’ve spent chuckling over names contained on the 2 ½- by 3 ½-inch pieces of cardboard and 2021 is no exception.
One of the first cards in my collection was a 1962 Cal McLish, who at the time was pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies. McLish was born in Anadarko, Oklahoma in 1925 and his father was three-quarters Cherokee Indian. His full name at birth was Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish, which would have been enough to make me laugh, but his nickname among his teammates was “Bus,” short for “Buster.”
Sometime during the 1969 season when I was a junior in high school, I purchased a box of old baseball cards from the 1950s from a neighbor. One of the cards in the shoebox was a 1959 Whammy Douglas when he was featured on a 1959 Cincinnati Reds card although shoulder problems prevented him from ever playing a game for that team.
Charles William Douglas had lost an eye at the age of 11 and overcame his vision problem to make it all the way to the major leagues pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unfortunately, he wore a glass eye that gave him an ominous look on the pitcher’s mound. Batters he faced thought it was an “evil eye” and he was “putting the whammy” on them, hence his humorous nickname.
Also in that same shoebox was a 1959 Granny Hamner card when he played second base for the Philadelphia Phillies. I thought Hamner’s nickname was a riot when I first saw that card and perhaps it was prompted by a lack of speed or penchant for wearing bonnets, but the joke was on me. Hamner’s actual first name was Granville, shortened to “Granny.”
In the late 1970s, I derived a few laughs from cards in my collection containing players with unusual nicknames such as a 1970 card of Oakland A’s pitcher John “Blue Moon” Odom, a 1968 card of Chicago White Sox outfielder Walt “No Neck” Williams and 1967 card of Minnesota Twins pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant.
Blue Moon Odom was given that nickname by an elementary school classmate in Georgia who thought his round face resembled the moon. No Neck Williams got his nickname because of his 5-foot-6 stature combined with his muscular torso and relatively short neck. Grant was first called “Mudcat” when he was a rookie pitching for the Cleveland Indians. His teammate Larry Doby said that Grant was “as ugly as a Mississippi mudcat” and the nickname somehow followed him around through his entire 14-year career in the major leagues.
If you think modern-day names and nicknames on modern-day baseball cards are any less strange, you are wrong. There have been cards for Coco Crisp; Razor Shines; Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd; “Boof” Bonser; Tim Spooneybarger; Mark Lemongello; and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. And the nickname of former outfielder, first baseman and designated hitter Matt Stairs was the “Wonder Hamster” for reasons unknown.
While watching a Detroit spring training game last month, a rookie’s unusual name caught my attention right away and I was happy to learn that he made the opening day roster and is doing well on the field early this season for the Tigers. Outfielder Akil Baddoo sounds like he should be in a Flintstones cartoon, but he’s a 22-year-old Rule 5 draft selection taken this winter by Detroit from Minnesota’s farm system who hit a home run on the first pitch he saw in the major leagues while playing in his very first game.
As a lifetime baseball card collector, discovering unusual player names are simply a fact of life for me and have given me many smiles and laughs and I expect it will continue in the future. And by the way, today marks the 100th birthday of the late Hall of Fame pitcher Warren “Hooks” Spahn, so labeled by teammates not because of his pitching but rather for the shape of his nose. <