Nicknames of Yankee starting pitchers: Catfish, Babe, Gator, Whitey …

16 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

The Yankees’ starting pitchers through the years have had some fun nicknames.

I’m mostly going to concentrate on nicknames here. I’ve linked to other posts, where you can read of the accomplishments of most of these pitchers. But I summarize the career briefly if a pitcher didn’t merit mention elsewhere.

Sorry, nicknames based in your given name don’t count. For instance, if I could pitch and had pitched for the Yankees (if only …), I’d need something better than Steve or Stevie (given name Stephen) to make this list. I’m pretty sure fans and/or teammates could have found a nickname playing with my last name. Especially the way I no doubt would have pitched.

Here, in the order I like the monikers, are my favorite nicknames of Yankee starting pitchers:

Catfish


Have to start here, of course. I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the story of Charlie Finley giving Catfish Hunter his nickname, but it’s a good story. Given name was Jim. I covered his Yankee career in a post on Hall of Famers.

Babe, Bambino

Babe Ruth started only four games as a pitcher for the Yankees, but the Babe had one of the best nicknames in the history of baseball (with an Italian sub-nickname that got attached to a curse), so I gotta include him here. Real name: George Herman Ruth.

Gator

Pinstripe Alley says Ron Guidry never particularly liked the nickname (he was also known as Louisiana Lighting). But I rank this nickname high because Gator and Catfish were teammates for five years, without Gator ever eating Catfish. Would not happen in a Louisiana swamp. I live in Louisiana now. I’m hoping to connect with Guidry someday.

Whitey Ford

Whitey signed this ball "Ed. Ford" before his better-known nickname stuck. The ball belongs to my son Mike.

Whitey signed this ball “Ed. Ford” before his better-known nickname stuck. The ball belongs to my son Mike.

Edward Charles Ford had three nicknames that stuck. Ed, Eddie and Ted were not among them. But one of my sons has a ball he signed “Ed Ford.” I have one signed “Whitey.”

Ford’s SABR Biography Project bio by C. Paul Rogers III says Lefty Gomez (who gets a mention later in this post) managed Ford in the minor leagues and started calling the light-haired pitcher “Blondie” and “Whitey.” “Whitey” stuck.

Rogers says catcher Elston Howard nicknamed Whitey “Chairman of the Board,” which also had some staying power.

Rogers says manager Casey Stengel started calling Ford “Slick,” the name he used in his autobiography, Slick: My Life In and Around Baseball. By the way, Casey’s real name was Charles Dillon Stengel and he also had a second nickname, the “Old Perfessor.”

More on Ford (and Gomez) in my post on the Yankees’ Hall of Fame starting pitchers.

El Duque

Real name Orlando Hernandez. More on him in the post on Yankees with family members who played in the majors.

Spud Chandler

Real name Spurgeon Ferdinand Chandler. More on him in the post on Cy Young Award winners (though he won the MVP in the years before the Cy Young Award started).

Bullet Joe Bush

The nickname, originally started in the minor leagues (Missoula) as “Joe Bullet,” referred to his fastball. Of course. It morphed into “Bullet Joe” in the majors. I will address him in more detail in my next post, listing the amazing group of teammates he played with.

Sad Sam Jones

In the SABR Baseball Biography Project, Alexander Edelman explained his nickname:

The Associated Press obituary explained the origin of his nickname, ‘Sad Sam, the Cemetery Man,’ as emanating from ‘a new sportswriter whose only acquaintance with the pitcher was watching him from the press box. The dour features of the pitcher at that distance completely hid the twinkle in his eye.’ The story deemed him a ‘whimsical and quietly humorous man, brimful of quips and backwoods humor.’

More on Sad Sam in the posts on Yankee 200-game winners and Yankees who pitched no-hitters.

The Whip

Ewell Blackwell started only six games for the Yankees in 1952-3. But he was a six-time All-Star for the Reds and “The Whip” is too good a nickname not to include here.

Super Chief

Allie Reynolds' autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

Allie Reynolds’ autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

I hope Allie Reynolds liked the nickname, which Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen started using after Reynolds’ second no-hitter. But I’m not comfortable with even a flattering nickname that defined Reynolds by his ethnicity, part Creek Indian. As I recounted in more detail in an earlier post, he absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame. And he’s the only Yankee with two no-hitters.

Tiny Bonham

Big guy whose given name was Ernest Edward Bonham. Warren Corbett’s SABR bio explains the nickname:

Tiny Bonham got his ironic nickname because he stood 6’2″ and weighed well over 200 pounds with ‘a torso like a blacksmith,’ according to Sporting News publisher J.G. Taylor Spink. Many stories referred to his large size, but none suggested that he was fat. He said his size and strength were the product of ‘manual labor of the toughest kind.’ He grew up doing chores on the family farm and worked on the Oakland docks and in a northern California lumber camp.

Some literal-minded writers tried to change his nickname to ‘Jumbo,’ but it was ‘Tiny’ that stuck. He told a radio interviewer, ‘Call me Ernie, call me Tiny, call me Jumbo, call me anything, just as long as I can go on winning.’

The Big Unit

Unlike Bonham, Randy Johnson‘s name did reflect his size, 6’10”.

Slim Love

Thanks to Patrick Abdalla for pointing out this one after I originally posted: “Slim” is kind of a weak nickname, but more polite than “Fats” or a nickname pointing out someone’s obesity. Edward Haughton Love was 6-7 and weighed 195 pounds, so I get why they called him Slim. I hope he didn’t outgrow the nickname in middle age (as I would have, if they had called me that in my youth). He started 29 games and won 13 for the 1918 Yankees, the high point of a six-year career.

Doc Medich

Real name George Francis. He was actually a freakin’ M.D. (went to med school at the University of Pittsburgh) who played baseball. He was involved in several incidents at ballparks where he provided medical treatment, possibly saving lives.

He had a decent pitching career, too, starting with three strong years as a Yankee, including a 19-15 season in 1974. The Yankees traded him after the 1975 season for Ken Brett, Dock Ellis and Willie Randolph. Brett never contributed to the Yankees and Ellis pitched well for the 1976 American League champs, but Randolph anchored the Yankee infield for more than a decade.

Medich pitched 11 years, winning 124 games. After retiring from baseball, he became an orthopedic surgeon.

Doc Gooden

Real name Dwight. He wasn’t actually a doctor. But he threw a lot of strikeouts when Julius Erving was “Doctor J” in basketball. So Gooden became Dr. K, shortened to Doc. More about him in the post on Cy Young winners.

Dock Ellis

His actual given name was Dock Phillip Ellis, but I wanted to list Doc, Doc and Dock here, so I did anyway. It sounds like a nickname, doesn’t it?

Ellis was stellar for the 1976 Yankees, going 17-8 and winning a playoff game against the Royals (he also lost a World Series game to the Reds). That was his only full year in pinstripes.

Ellis was a good but not great pitcher, winning 138 games and never winning 20 (he was 19-9 for the Pirates in 1971, his only All-Star year). He’s best known for his 1970 no-hitter (for the Pirates) under the influence of LSD. I know I’d have to be hallucinating to pitch a no-hitter (or think I had). Nice that Robin Williams took note of how incredible that feat was:

Bump Hadley

Given name Irving Darius Hadley.

He was a two-time 20-game loser for the St. Louis Browns. But drop him into a four-time World Series champ that featured Hall of Fame hitters Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Bill Dickey, and Hadley was a pretty decent fourth or fifth starter. He won 14, 11, 9 and 12 games, mostly as a starter, for the 1936-9 Yankees and went 2-1 in World Series play. That loss was ugly, though. He got four outs and gave up five runs, giving him a 33.75 ERA for the Series.

I have no idea why Hadley was called “Bump.” Maybe a reference to the pitching mound?

Spec

Given name Francis Joseph Shea. He got the name because of his freckles, Don Harrison says in Shea’s SABR Bio. He had the best of his eight seasons as a Yankee rookie in 1947, going 14-5. He added two World Series wins against the Dodgers.

Dazzy

Given name Charles Arthur Vance. Didn’t play long for the Yankees, but made it to the Hall of Fame.  SABR bio by Charles F. Faber says he got the nickname for his dazzling fastball as a teen-ager in Nebraska.

Boomer

BoomerGiven name David Wells, and I think he was known more as David than Boomer, but it was pretty close. His Wikipedia entry doesn’t say why he was nicknamed Boomer, but he used the nickname in his autobiography, Perfect I’m Not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball. He shares the name in sports with at least former NFL quarterback Norman Julius Esiason and ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman.

More on Boomer Wells in the posts on 200-game winners and Yankees who pitched no-hitters.

Rags

I tell more about Dave Righetti in my posts on Yankee no-hitters and Yankees who succeeded as starters and relievers. Twists on a last name are pretty common nicknames (don’t I know that?).

Rocket

I almost didn’t include Roger Clemens in this list. I don’t remember anyone calling him “Rocket Clemens.” But in the course of the game or on second reference, he’d just be “Rocket” or “The Rocket.”

Red Ruffing

Given name Charles Herbert Ruffing. One of the most boring nicknames. How many redheads get nicknamed “Red”?

Lefty Gomez

LeftyReal name Vernon Louis Gomez. Lefty may be the most-overused pitcher nickname. Guess which arm he pitched with? I searched “Lefty G” in the Baseball-Reference.com search window and he’s one of five offerings just for that letter of the alphabet. Two of them, Gomez and Grove, are Hall of Famers. I didn’t try any other letters.

I knew he was also called “Goofy,” but didn’t know how many nicknames he had until I read Rogers’ SABR bio of Gomez:

Gomez had a screwball personality as well, once placing a call to South Africa because he just wanted to talk to someone, anyone, there. While lobby sitting one day and watching some goldfish swimming in a bowl, he “invented” a revolving goldfish bowl to make life easier for the older goldfish.2 He famously held up a World Series game he was pitching to watch a plane fly overhead.3 As a result, sportswriters soon begin calling him “El Goofy.” With his Castilian and Irish heritage he was also sometimes called “the Gay Caballero” in the press as well as “the singular senor,” “the lanky Castilian,” “the Hibernian-Hildago” and the Castilian-Celt.”

Who else?

Did I miss a great nickname of a Yankee starting pitcher? Or did this post remind you of another great baseball nickname, from any team or any position (“Three Finger” Brown, anyone?)?

Update: For instance, Facebook friend Patrick Abdalla mentioned Cannonball Titcomb, a 19th-Century pitcher. Not a Yankee, but worth mentioning here because why not?

Indeed, Urban Shocker was his real name. Hasn’t appeared in this series yet because he didn’t win 200 for his career (just 187), didn’t win 20 for the Yankees (but 27 for the Browns, one of four 20-win seasons in St. Louis), didn’t pitch a no-hitter, and (as Jason noted, Urban was his given name). But I put Dock Ellis in here, even though Dock was his given name, so I’m OK with adding Urban. A bit more on him in a later post.

Also in this series

Other posts in this series on Yankee starting pitchers:

Source note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I wrote this series of blog posts over several months, mostly late at night while unable to sleep while undergoing medical treatment. I believe I have fact-checked and corrected any errors, but I welcome you to point out any I missed: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.

Style note: The Hall of Fame has had various committees and rules through the years to elect players who were passed over by the Baseball Writers Association of America as well as umpires, managers, executives and other baseball pioneers. I am referring to them all in this series as the Veterans Committee unless the specific context demands reference to specific committee such as the current era committees or the Special Committee on Negro Leagues. Baseball-Reference.com has a detailed history of the various committees.

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17 responses

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