The Yankees, while a dominating dynasty back then, were a little weak in the nickname game. At least Yanks' pitchers Vernon “Lefty” Gomez and Marius “Lefty” Russo, third baseman Robert “Red” Rolfe and pitcher Charles “Red” Ruffing and catcher Warren “Buddy” Rosar and first baseman John “Buddy” Hassett all thought so.
Sure, the “Yankee Clipper” was a classic nickname for Joe DiMaggio and Joseph “Flash” Gorden was a given, but c'mon, three sets of duplicated names?
One of the quirky, fun things the APBA company does is list players' nicknames on the cards it issues each season. So, while replayers are rolling the games, they are also gleaning yet another tidbit of information from whatever season they are playing.
I've seen some odd nicknames in the 1942 baseball season that I'm nearing completion.
For example, although Washington is the capital of the U.S., the bastion of the development of our country, the Senators embraced a “Hee Haw” hillbilly mentality in its nicknamed players. On the mound, there was William “Goober” Zuber and Hardin “Li'l Abner” Cathey. In New York, the most advanced city in the league at that time, the Giants followed suit with Clifford “Mountain Music” Melton and William “Fiddler Bill” McGee, both pitchers.
Animals reigned as well. John “Big Cat” Mize prowled first base for the Giants and Harry “The Horse” Danning galloped behind the plate for New York's National League team. Smaller animals were also on the field as Lamar “Skeeter” Newsome flitted around like a mosquito on third base for the Red Sox and William “Bullfrog” Dietrich jumped on the mound for the White Sox.
Apparently size was in issue in St. Louis. At times in 1942, the Browns' battery sounded like it needed a Jenny Craig, Inc., nutritional pep talk when Frank “Porky” Biscan threw to catcher Franklin “Blimp” Hayes. But obesity is only in the eye of the beholder. Each player weighed in at a less-than-portly 190 pounds. By comparison today, Prince Fielder, the Texas Rangers first baseman, weighs in at 275 and no one is calling him “Chubby.” But they did call Cleveland Indians pitcher Alfred “Chubby” Dean such in 1942 since he was packing a hefty 181 pounds.
On the other side of the scale was Harold “Pee Wee” Reese, the Dodger's shortstop, who, at 5-10 and 162 pounds, was only dwarfed that season by the Philadelphia outfielder Lloyd “Little Poison” Waner who stood at 5-1 and weighed 151 pounds.
Two of the players in the APBA game shared the odd nickname “Bear Tracks.” Cubs pitcher John Schmitz earned the name for his size 14 shoes and his lumbering way of walking to the pitching mound. The Boston Braves' pitcher Alva Javery also carried that nickname. I couldn't find any information on why he had that name, but he did lead the National League in 1942 with 37 starts. He was also born on June 5, 1918 — a year to the day after my father was born.
The Cardinals had a creative infield. As well as helping anchor the St. Louis team to a World Series title over the two Lefties, Reds and Buddies in New York, they all had creative names. There was the perfectly-named John “Hippity” Hopp at first, the unsettling Frank “Creepy” Crespi at second, Martin “Slats” Marion at short and George “Whitey” Kurowski at third
Their rivals, the Chicago Cubs, showed a cynical sense of humor when naming their players. Outfield William “Swish” Nicholson was given his title for his mighty swing which, sadly, often failed to connect with the ball. He led the league in strikeouts with 83 in 1947 and in 1942, the year I'm doing, he flailed out 80 times. However, in confliction to his nickname, Nicholson led the National League twice in home runs and is only one of six players ever to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded.
The Cubs also named their outfielder Louis Novikoff the “Mad Russian.” Novikoff hailed from the Soviet town of Glendale, Ariz. Backup Cubs' catcher Robert “Grump” Scheffing was named so because of his sour countenance — probably for being the backup Cubs catcher. Later, when he took over as Chicago's manager, his mood worsened. He was then known as “Grumpy.”
But, as is the case in most stories, there's a happy ending. When Scheffing left the field and became a radio broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers, an umpire hollered at him, “Hello, Grumpy.”
“No more,” he called back, according to an April 12, 1964, story in the Toledo Blade that highlighted his move to the radio. “Just call me Smilin' Bob.” Little did Scheffing know that 35 years later his nickname would become the name of the guy touting Enzyte, the enhancement drug.
So, APBA fans, check out those nicknames on the players' cards and learn yet a bit more of the seasons you're replaying. There's hillbillies and large people. There's lions and tigers and bear tracks. And if you get a burning desire for more knowledge, simply call on the 1942 Cincinnati Reds' reliever to put it out. I'm sure Joseph “Fireman” Beggs can help.