Pretzels Pezzullo. Goober Zuber. Snitz Applegate. Cheese Schweitzer. Bow Wow Arft. Pea Soup Dumont. Yo-Yo Davalillo. Bunions Zeider. Sour Mash Daniels. Stormy Weatherly.
This is an article from the April 16, 1990 issue
Stars of a new comic strip? Fictional characters from a cheap dime-store novel? Names pulled at random from a Manhattan phone book?
Please, you're embarrassing aficionados of The Baseball Encyclopedia. Not only did all these men play ball, but they also played the game well enough to have made it to the major leagues and, thus, into the Encyclopedia. Not a casual achievement when you realize that only about 13,000 ballplayers have Made the Show since records began being kept back in 1871.
Stubby Overmire. Orator Jim O'Rourke. Tacky Tom Parrott. Blimp Phelps. Noodles Hahn. Cactus Cravath. Tomato Face Cullop. And, yes, there really was a Crash Davis.
The odd thing is that fans usually first pick up the book just to find the complete statistics for a particular player. But they almost always become mesmerized by the nicknames they inadvertently come across. Names that ballplayers have been tagged with for all of baseball posterity by a quirk in demeanor, stance, build or manner of speech, or by some other idiosyncratic aspect of their composite baseball personalities.
As editorial director of the 2,780-page volume since 1987, I've become the "keeper of the name," so to speak, and it's a responsibility that I dare not take lightly. Especially because, over the years, followers of the national pastime may have forgotten exactly why Robert V. Ferguson earned the unusual moniker "Death to Flying Things." (In the late 1800s, Ferguson was particularly adept at snaring line drives, i.e., "flying things.") Or that Clarence (Cupid) Childs was so named because he was such an irascible character.
But these days, it's up to me to make the calls on the nicknames of ballplayers that will last into the next century. That responsibility weighs heavily at times. After all, does anybody (except perhaps his mother) call him Dennis Boyd? Should we officially go with Oil Can?
Did you know that there are two Willie Wilsons playing in the majors? One is with the Kansas City Royals; the other is with the Toronto Blue Jays and is better known as Mookie. Speaking of Kansas City players with presidential surnames, remember a utility player named U.L. Washington? Ever wonder what the U.L. stood for? Check out the Encyclopedia and you might be surprised to find out that U.L.'s first name was just that: U.L.
How about shortstop Spike Owen? You might naturally assume that Spike is a nickname, picked up somewhere along the feisty shortstop's playing career. But if you did, you would be wrong. Spike Dee Owen is his full name.
Do you remember when shortstop Jose Gonzalez was known as Jose Uribe? The Giants' infielder officially changed his name in the baseball record books a few years ago. Regardless of the name change, he's still a lifetime .247 hitter.
Lots more nicknames are being added all the time. Some are obvious. Pudge Fisk. Lefty Carlton. Sweet Lou Whitaker. Jack (the Ripper) Clark. Others are a little more creative. Frank (Sweet Music) Viola. "Wally World" Joyner. The Wizard of Oz, as in Ozzie Smith. Tom (the Terminator) Henke. Chris (Spuds) Sabo. Roger (Rocket) Clemens. Lenny (Nails) Dykstra. And of course, my new personal favorite, Julio (Iguana Man) Machado of the Mets.
In a way, it's most appropriate that I do this kind of work, because like all young, aspiring ballplayers, I had the dream of someday making it, of someday seeing my own name for all eternity in the Encyclopedia, just like Peek-A-Boo Veach or Ducky Medwick. And as a baseball is known to take an occasional quirky hop, in a sense my lifelong dream did come true—my name finally did make it into the Encyclopedia. O.K., it's listed in the front, and it's in small type as part of the credits and not in the somewhat more famous Players/Pitchers section, but that's all right with me.
Why? Simply because it's there, and that puts me in the same book with some pretty fair ballplayers. And if you don't believe me, well, as the "Old Professor," Charles Dillon Stengel a.k.a. Casey), used to say, "You could look it up." And I do. Just about every day.
Rick Wolff, who lives in Armonk, N. Y., is a senior editor for Macmillan books.