“I learn to run fast stealing chickens.”–Minnie Minoso
“What’s in a name?”–William Shakespeare
As Major League Baseball kicks off it’s 139th season–the third baseball season for The Blog of Funny Names–what better way to celebrate than another look at some of the sport’s memorable nicknames? (OK, I can think of a better way to celebrate, but i can’t print that on a family blog.). In roughly chronological order here are some of my favorites, along with nickname origins and career low lights.
Billy “Pickles” Dillhoefer– William Martin “Pickles” Dillhoefer (1893-1922) was an undistinguished major league catcher from 1917-1921. Dillhoefer died tragically in 1922, at age 28, from typhoid fever contracted shortly after his honeymoon. His nickname is a play on dill pickles.
Suitcase Simpson–Harry Leon “Suitcase” Simpson (1929-1975) was an African-American outfielder who played for five different Major League teams from 1951-1959. His nickname has been mistakenly attributed to the fact that he was traded several times–at one point from the Kansas City A’s to the New York Yankees and then back to Kansas City. While five different teams certainly was a lot in the pre-free agency era, the nickname comes from the Toonerville Trolley comic strip character of the same name and it predated his franchise hopping. It is also worth noting that playing for five different franchises in today’s game is barely average. The current record for most different MLB franchises played for is 13, held by Octavio Dotel–a handle worth noting even sans nickname.
Minnie Minoso–Saturnino Orestes Armas “Minnie” Miñoso Arrieta, A.K.A. “The Cuban Comet” (b. Havan, Cuba, November 29, 1925) is a former professional baseball player who appeared in the Negro leagues, MLB, Mexican League and independent professional leagues. A 9-time MLB all-star and 3-time Gold Glove winner, Minoso is best remembered for playing professional ball in more decades (seven!) than any player in history, and for being the first Cuban and first black Latino to play major league ball. Subsequent black Latinos, including Hall-of-Famer Roberto Clemente, regarded Minoso as their Jackie Robinson. But Minoso is included here not for these tidbits, nor for his not so unusual nicknames, but for an obscure part of his back story that sets up perfectly for the Mookie Wilson story below. You see, Minoso may be the only professional baseball player ever to get hit by a pitch and hit a home run in the same at bat! It seems that Minoso was in the habit of diving into pitches–a habit that, to this day, leaves him in the top ten on the all-time MLB career hit-by-pitch list. But a little enforced rule requires that a batter, in order to be awarded first base when struck by a pitch, must make an effort to avoid being hit. On one occasion, in the minor leagues, a stubborn umpire cited this rule and refused to award Minoso first base after being hit. He proceeded to homer on the next pitch.
Mookie Wilson–Willaim Hayward “Mookie” Wilson (b. 1956) was a fine Major League outfielder and coach for many years. His nickname comes from his early childhood mis-pronunciation of “milk.” However, he is primarily remembered for the single most famous at bat in World Series history. Appropriately for this article, it was almost the exact antithesis of the Minnie Minoso incident described above. His avoidance of being struck by a wild pitch, followed by hitting a slow trickler that got through the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, capped off an unlikely game-winning rally for the New York Mets in game six of the 1986 series. (See video highlights below).
Chili Davis–Charles Theodore “Chili” Davis (b. 1960) is a former major league first baseman and designated hitter who now coaches for the Oakland Athletics. He was a three time all-star and played on three World Series championship teams (Minnesota Twins, 1991; New York Yankees 1998, 1999). His nickname stems from a childhood incident, when his father gave his hair a bad “bowl cut.” The neighborhood children said it looked like somebody put a chili bowl on his head and cut around it, and the name Chili stuck.
Boof Bonser– Born John Paul Bonser (October 14, 1981), he is a former major league pitcher with the Twins, A’s and Red Sox. His mother nicknamed him “Boof” as an infant. He is unique among today’s honorees in that Boof is now his real name. He changed it legally in 2001. In keeping with 1990’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” philosophy, he never asked his mother why she named him that, and asserts he does not want to know. He was a contestant multiple times in Minor League Baseball’s annual Moniker Madness competition. How he never won is beyond me. I saw him pitch in person for the Twins AA minor league affiliate in New Britain, CT in 2004.
For more baseball and other madness visit me on my own blog. Happy spring, and PLAY BALL!