Friday, July 29, 2011

Ab Wright: Not a workout device

Seriously, this post is somehow not about a piece of exercise equipment1, called the Ab Wright, to help you tone up and have the ladies all up ons.

Rather, this post features Okie two-sport athlete Albert Owen Wright, better known as Ab Wright. After attending Oklahoma State University, Ab stomached 18 seasons in the minor and independent leagues, starting in 1928. He began his career as a pitcher but moved to the outfield in 1930. In the fall of that year, he caught on as the NFL's Frankford Yellow Jackets'2 running back for four games. While that was the extent of his two-sport career, he joined a number of baseball players who played other sports professionally.

Wright's big-league baseball legacy is just 393 plate appearances as a backup outfielder in two seasons, one with the Cleveland Indians and one with the Boston Braves. What makes his career unique is that the two seasons came nine years apart. His stay with the Indians lasted for 1935 and he reappeared in 1944 with the Braves. It would be easy to chalk the interval up to wartime military service, but Wright was apparently not drafted. Wright was 35 when the U.S. entered the war and 37 when he showed up with the Braves3.

Ab instead spent the interim in independent leagues, including six excellent seasons with the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association (AA) from 1939-1944. Ab won the 1939 AA Triple Crown, hitting .369 with 39 home runs and 159 runs batted in. Just two years earlier, some 19-year-old kid named Ted Williams had done the same thing for the Millers.

All told, Ab abbed nearly 2,000 games in the minors, ripped 317 home runs and stomach-muscled a career batting average of .3244. That kind of performance makes it difficult to digest Ab gutting out nearly two full decades in the minors, ending in 1946. But big-league clubs only came calling twice.

Little information on Wright's life after baseball exists. However, there's little doubt that, with the decade in which people would literally buy anything looming, he could have made a small fortune on a device to remove the unsightly flab caused by the newfound leisure time of the decade's pseudo-futuristic lifestyle5.

Wright died in Muskogee, OK6, in 1995, just 80 miles from his place of birth in tiny Terlton. In the years between 1946 and 1995, he must have watched as America got fat and lazy, and he must have seen an opportunity. Somewhere in his estate's personal effects, I'm confident you'll find a yellowed cocktail napkin. It's buried somewhere beneath his barely scuffed football helmet and the dried leather carcass of his old baseball mitt. The napkin features a simple technical drawing. The imprint of a pint glass is unmistakable. In the lower right corner, it rings pencil scrawl, which reads "Ab Wright's Ab Right." The design is perfect.

1 At least it wasn't. But it's hard not to veer in that direction when the player's name is a pun of something that should have existed.

2 The Yellow Jackets were an NFL team in Northeast Philadelphia from 1924-1931. I don't know much about NFL history, but that time period is pretty hard to follow at first glance.

3 I am aware that the draft included players up to the age of 45. But Wright must simply have not been drafted. However, many baseball players did fight in World War II, and they were occasionally replaced by older (like Ab Wright) or even younger players on occasion.

4 While these numbers sound impressive, they are far from records. Buzz Arlett hit 432 home runs in the minors from 1918-1937. He played one major league season in 1931 with the Philadelphia A's, where he absolutely crushed the ball. However, his defense was bad enough that he was sold to the Baltimore Orioles (then of the International League) and never played in the majors again.

5 Can I have my flying car yet? I'll settle for a nuclear-powered car. Or even a turbine-powered one.

6 The 1951 film "Jim Thorpe, All American" was filmed in Muskogee. Like Ab Wright, Thorpe was a multisport athlete from Oklahoma, though Thorpe was much more famous.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Don 'Stan the Man Unusual' Stanhouse: An inspiration for chain smoking

The ninth inning of a close baseball game is a tough time to pitch. In the first half of the 20th century, few baseball teams carried a specialized pitcher whose job it was to finish ball games. But teams started designating certain pitchers to throw the end of close games some time around 1970. Although usually effective, these pitchers seldom resembled modern closers, who typically strike out heaps of hitters.

But the closer has always attracted a few "personalities." Perhaps the pressure of the situation draws a certain type of person, but closers have historically been wild, had terrible facial hair, sculpted greasy-looking mullets, made bizarre Internet videos with "The Machine" and, occasionally, been the scorn of an entire nation because of racially insensitive comments.

Before these came Don Stanhouse, an innovator. His lasting nickname, "Stan the Man Unusual1," indicates part of his colorfulness. But the nickname that describes his on-field performance is more telling. Irascible Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver2 called Stanhouse "Fullpack" during his stint with the O's in 1978 and 1979. Stanhouse earned this nickname by allegedly causing Weaver, a heavy smoker, to burn through a whole pack of cigarettes while pacing the dugout during Stanhouse's late-inning appearances. This was made possible not only by his harrowing escapades in close games, but also by the glacial pace at which he worked on the mound.

While baseball statisticians have figured out a way to measure nearly all aspects of the game, they've fallen short in their ability to describe a pitchers' stat for "anxiety caused." However that stat may turn out to be calculated, Stanhouse probably set several records for it. As the Orioles' closer in 1978 and 1979, Fullpack allowed 1.439 runners per inning pitched (WHIP) and also averaged 6.3 walks per 9 IP (BB/9)3. When combined with a low strikeout rate (4.6 K/9), it's clear that Stanhouse occasionally had some difficulty finding the strike zone. More often than not, Fullpack escaped the trouble, but not before Weaver would nearly have a coronary.

Off the field, Stan the Man Unusual was notorious for his exploits, which seem to have never been published anywhere due to their prurient nature. His hair was unstoppable and may have had its own personality4. His screams before games disturbed those unfamiliar with him. And Don fancied himself a ladies man. The Baltimore Sun quoted him as saying, "Tell me one person in the world who doesn't like women. My trouble is that I like too many of them5." His personality was apparently not well-liked by the Montreal Expos, who sent him to Baltimore in a trade for, in part, Purveyor of Fine Red Beards Bryn Smith, then a youthful minor leaguer.

Stanhouse came from the southern Illinois billiards mecca (not really) Du Quoin, where he played high school baseball and football. The Oakland Athletics drafted him in 1969 but sent him to the fledgling Texas Rangers in 1972 with future GNIB-er Jim Panther while Stanhouse was still in the minors. He debuted for Texas that year as a starter and pitched parts of 1973 and 1974 with the Rangers as a spot starter. The Rangers dealt Stanhouse to Montreal for Willie Davis, and Stan the Man found himself used as a part-time starter for the Expos in 1976 before moving to the bullpen, where he found some success, for most of 1977. The Orioles took him in 1978, and the rest, as Weaver would say, gave everyone heart palpitations.

Stanhouse, having caused Earl Weaver irreparable harm to the lungs, heart and psyche, was granted free agency by the O's after the 1979 World Series6. He struggled through injuries in 1980 after signing a big contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who released him in frustration before the 1981 season started. Stanhouse signed with the Orioles in 1982, but whatever mojo his hair contained had dissipated at that point. He hung on until the end of the year, when Baltimore released him for the second and final time.

Today, Stan the Man Unusual is a venture capitalist whose hair is no longer exciting. He's been married to the same woman for thirty years and is, by all accounts, a usual person.

Read a "Where Are They Now" article on Don Stanhouse here. That's not a recommendation; you MUST read it.

1 This moniker was allegedly coined by Orioles starter and 1979 Cy Young Award winner Mike Flanagan. While Flanagan lacked hair up to Stanhouse's level, he equaled him with a strong mustache showing.

2 If this is the first you've ever heard of Earl Weaver (and even if you're familiar), do yourself a favor and get acquainted (NSFW language). He even mentions Don Stanhouse and smoking, among other things. Watch this one, too (also NSFW language).

3 While a WHIP of 1.4 isn't unheard of in today's game for a closer, a walk rate of 6.3 BB/9 is (at least for an extended period of time). Fullpack averaged 5.4 BB/9 in his career, so control was always a problem for him.

4 His hair, however, pales in comparison to that of Oscar Gamble, Bake McBride or even modern-day hair-star Coco Crisp.

5 Read this article in tiny, tiny print here.

6 Fullpack famously did his best to blow a five-run lead in the 1979 American League Championships with the California Angels. Weaver left him in to finish the game after Stanhouse had given up four runs because Weaver "still had three cigarettes left."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Peaches Graham: Another damn backup catcher

Today's Great Names in Baseball entry is yet another backup catcher. Of the few previous posts, two have been turn-of-the-century backup backstops: Malachi Kittridge and Boileryard Clarke. Some may claim the perceived bias is due to my affinity for catchers, as I played the position in my younger days. But these claims of bias are untrue and will be crushed the way Grand Moff Tarkin crushed those rebel scum1.

Allow me to explain my method for choosing the players featured on this blog2. I went through all players from 1900-19903 with more than 50 at-bats per season or 10 pitching appearances per season (and a few more whose names sounded promising) from Baseball-Reference's complete team and individual stats. I picked names that I found interesting and compiled them on a spreadsheet with tabs separating them by decade. When I'd finished, I put all 1,004 of the names on a single tab. I then use a random-number generator to pick a number between 1 and 1,004, and the player in that numbered slot wins the honor of being written about.

And so the random numbers selected George "Peaches" Graham, a big-league backup catcher from 1902-1911, for today's post.

While Graham, of rural Aledo, IL, debuted in the big leagues with the Cleveland Bronchos4 in 1902 and pitched a game for the Chicago Cubs in 1903, he spent most of those years with the Rock Island Islanders of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League (IIIL). Peaches raked in the IIIL; his partial stats indicate that he hit .271 and .301 in 1902 and 1903, respectively. From there, he toiled in the minor leagues until 1908 as a member of the Colorado Springs Millionaires4A (Western League) and Minneapolis Millers (American Association).

Since there is yet again no mention on the vast system of informational tubes regarding the genesis of Graham's nickname, it seems safe to assume that, while playing in Colorado Springs, George Graham ate a bucket of peaches on a roadtrip dare from teammate Bunk Congalton. This alone would have (A) nauseated most normal people, (B) turned them off to peaches forever and (C) caused severe and irreversible gastrointestinal problems. And while Graham experienced both (A) and (C), he nevertheless collected 9 hits in a four-game series against the Des Moines Prohibitionists4A. As a result, Graham ate a peach in the dugout before every game for the remainder of his career, convinced that the fruit contained something far better than the meatiest of strength tonics5.

In 1908, Graham caught on with the Boston Doves6, where he led the league in passed balls in just 75 games. The following season, his defensive troubles continued, as he committed 22 errors in 92 games behind the plate. His offense, while average, was probably not good enough to overcome his defensive shortcomings, though he did start the majority of the Doves' games in 1910 (The Doves finished last in the National League that year).

He was traded to the Cubs in 1911, and then moved on to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1912, where he finally hit his first major league home run after more than 1,100 plate appearances in the big leagues. Incidentally, this home run was also hit in Philadelphia off Rube Marquard, just as one of Home Run Baker's World Series home runs had been the year before, albeit in different Philadelphia ballparks.

Peaches Graham was done in the big leagues by mid-1912, when he returned to the minors. He finished his career in the lower leagues, playing stints with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Wichita Witches4A, the Des Moines Boosters (formerly the Prohibitionists) and, finally, two teams in the IIIL.

Details on his later life are difficult to find, but his son Jack Graham was born in Minneapolis in 1916, after Peaches had hung up his spikes for good. Jack would go on to have a long minor-league career as an outfielder and first baseman in several minor league systems, hitting 384 home runs in 15 minor and independent league seasons, including 48 with the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League in 1948. Yet he only played two full major-league seasons in 1946 and 1949, hitting 24 home runs in his second season7.

Peaches Graham never saw his son play big-league ball. He died in Long Beach, CA, in 1939. He was cremated, his remains cast into the Pacific Ocean in a peach basket8.

1 Wait, that didn't end well, did it? Sorry, other-kind-of-nerd-besides-baseball (OKONBB) moment.

2 Please note that this is Eric's method for choosing players. Steve's method may differ.

3 There will be more names added from 1800s players, 1990-present and the Negro Leagues. The current list was designed to give me material while I finish compiling names.

4 Not a typo, and no I don't understand the spelling either. See footnote 4A.

4A Baseball mascot names were far more interesting many years ago.

5 Clearly this is all a fabrication. Congelton actually made Peaches drink two gallons of homemade peach schnapps, ironically rendering Graham blind for the duration of a series with the Prohibitionists. His blindness cleared up during a three-game set against the St. Joseph Saints the following week. Peaches was so relieved that he gave up drinking and baseball altogether and went into the murderin' business with Ossie Schrecengost.

6 The Doves, formerly the Boston Beaneaters, eventually became the Boston Braves, the Milwaukee Braves and, finally, the Atlanta Braves.

7 Read an interview with Jack Graham here.

8 OK, this is also fabricated, except the cremation part. Or is it8A?

8A If it's on the Internet, it's fact.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Frank "Home Run" Baker: Taking his ball and going home since 1915

His eyes1 shot a fleeting glance into the Polo Grounds stands, but they didn't see anything in particular. His mind instead dwelled on the stitched white ball in Christy Mathewson's leather mitt, just as it had the day before in Rube Marquard's. He dug into batter's box and took a strike from the beloved "Matty," who was just two outs away from a 1-0 shutout and a World Series lead for the Giants. The next pitch buzzed in, and with a crack of the bat, the ball flew high over Red Murray's right field patrolling grounds and into the right field stands2. John "Frank" Baker had tied Game 3 of the 1911 World Series with a home run in the top of ninth inning. He would later score one of the Philadelphia Athletics' two runs in the 11th inning to give the A's a win in the game and a 2-1 lead in the World Series over the New York Giants.

A day earlier, he had given the A's the lead with a similar home run to right off Rube Marquard. It was a magnificent feat in the Deadball Era; in the six game series, only one other home run was hit3. Baker had crushed two pitches at monumentally important times in consecutive games, helping the A's to their first championship. Frank Baker was christened "Home Run" by the press, and the name stuck.

At first blush, Home Run Baker's career home run totals don't impress: just 96 home runs in 13 seasons. But in the Deadball Era, Baker's power was enough to lead the league in home runs for four straight seasons from 1911-1914. The totals say a lot about the era: 11 in 1911, 10 in 1912, 12 in 1913 and 9 in 1914. Baker played in that stretch as part of the $100,000 Infield, which led the A's to three American League pennants in four years.

But third baseman Baker featured more weapons than the long ball. He batted better than .319 in all seasons between 1911-1914, and his patience at the plate helped him eclipse a .400 on-base percentage twice. His career triple slash of .307/.363/.442 was great for the era, and his exploits earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame4.

Baker's career numbers would probably have been better if he hadn't sat out 1915 because of a contract dispute with A's owner/manager/robber baron Connie Mack5. Baker wanted a pay raise, so he held out the whole year and played semiprofessional ball in the backwaters of the budding Northeast Megalopolis.

Mack sold Home Run's contract to the New York Yankees in 19166. Baker's year off led to him falling from superstar status to a very good player, and he hung up his spikes at the end of the 1919 season. However, he returned in 1921 to play on the Yankees' first two pennant-winning teams of the Roaring Twenties before hanging it up for good. As the Pinstripes' part-time third baseman, Baker hit at essentially the league average. He was replaced by Joe Dugan, who had actually played third base in Philadelphia shortly after Home Run's departure.

So Baker had Dugan murdered by former A's catcher Ossee Schrecongost in 1923. Baker was indicted and incarcerated for his crimes and sentenced to life in the gulags7.

And he never hit a home run again8. The end.

1 Baker holds the all-time record for most furrowed brow.

2 The Polo Grounds was a stadium of extreme distances. The short left-field and right-field corners captured what were essentially pop-ups for home runs, while the power alleys and straightaway center were absurdly deep and essentially impossible to reach. Willie Mays' famous catch in the 1954 World Series was so deep in the Polo Grounds' right-center gap that it would have cleared most fences of the time by a considerable margin.

3 The other homer was also hit by an A's player; center fielder Rube Oldring drove home all three of the A's runs in Game 5 with a shot into the left-field seats at the Polo Grounds. The A's lost this game 4-3.

4 Baker was inducted into the Hall in 1955. His career numbers don't have the aggregate totals that many other HoF'ers of the era do, but his offensive domination as part of the $100,000 Infield lends itself to legend.

5 The robber baron part is pretty uncharacteristic, at least compared to some penny-pinching owners of the day. By all accounts, Mack was considered a gentleman of the game.

6 Perhaps the link at this point is a bit excessive, particularly because I don't much care for the Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry. But it is funny to see and/or hear children doing obscene things.

7 OK, so I made this part up. But I thought the narrative needed it. I mean, somebody named Ossie Schrecengost probably should kill people for a living; Schrecengost actually died in 1914. Home Run Baker, however, lived to see his Hall of Fame induction; he died in 1962 in Trappe, MD, where he'd grown up. As best as I can tell, he never spent time in the gulags, although I can find no Internet source that specifically says he was never sent to Siberia for internment.

8 This is also untrue, but less untrue than the previous fib. Baker never hit another home run in the majors. He did, however, play for the Easton Farmers in the Eastern Shore League in 1924, where he hit 6 more home runs. Also on Baker's Eastern Shore club was a 16-year-old catcher named Jimmie Foxx. The league also featured a young Red Ruffing pitching for the Dover Senators.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Normally, this post would come before others, but the posts older than this one came from Eric's other blog.

Enjoy the wealth of information on obscure and awesomely named baseball players of the past, present, and, uh, well the past.

Eric is currently compiling an exhaustive list of possible posts. The list already features more than 700 possible names, so we'll hopefully be bringing you the best baseball names for a long time.

In the meantime, look for a few posts from contributor Steve and feel free to peruse the links to the right and the short bios presented below.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Great Names in Baseball: Barney "The Yiddish Curver" Pelty

[Editor's note: This is a guest post written by good friend, fellow baseball enthusiast, and ambiguously names Steve Davis. Thanks for contributing Steve!]

Greetings, faithful reader. My name is Steve - unless you're hispanic, then my name is Esteban. Despite an irreconcilable disagreement in regard to how one is intended to spend time at a bowling alley1, Eric and I have a mutual appreciation for projectiles that are dispatched skyward from ground level and the people that make this possible.

You may be asking yourself, "why is this man2 who is not Eric writing things to me on Eric's blog?" This is a valid question; let me assure you that your concerns are important to me and will be addressed in the order which they were received. It's quite simple, really - I'm here to tell you about Barney "The Yiddish Curver" Pelty, who hailed from Farmington, Missouri. While I'm not from Farmington or even Missouri at all, chances are I'm more from Farmington than you are3, and that gives me a decided advantage in the knowing of things about people from there.

In the days before baseball was racially integrated, any number of other factions were targeted and ridiculed. Among many people of the day (and, sadly, also in the current day), the Jewish were unwelcome. This caused many Jewish baseball pros to conceal their beliefs and even change their names in an attempt to make a peaceful living. Barney Pelty was not one of these pros.

Born and raised in the aforementioned Farmington, Pelty played college ball at the Carlton Institute in said town. After a transfer that saw him briefly play at Blees Military Academy, he began his professional career in 1902 by signing on with the minor league Nashville Vols. An arm injury saw him bounce back to semipro ball before resurfacing the next year with the Cedar Rapids Rabbits4. However, the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Browns quickly took an interest in the young man with a large nose5. The Browns purchased his services for $850, making him among the first Jewish players in the American League. Unlike other players, he was proud of this fact and openly touted the nickname “Yiddish Curver.”

Over the course of the next 10 seasons in St. Louis6, Pelty proved to be a very solid pitcher on a generally terrible team. He experienced what was certainly his greatest success during the 1906 season7, going 16-11 with a 1.59 ERA over 260.2 innings and allowing a WHIP of only 0.951. This gave him the second lowest ERA in the American League that season, and it is telling that he still barely managed to eclipse a .500 win-loss record behind that performance. As it turns out, that season’s 1.59 ERA still ranks as the lowest mark in the history of the St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles franchise.

Pelty retired at the end of 1912 with a tidy 2.63 ERA for his career, which still stands as the best mark ever recorded by a Jewish pitcher. It should be noted, though, that he put these numbers up in the deadball era and was only moderately better than the average pitcher over the course of his career – in this context, he falls well below more notable Jewish hurler Sandy Koufax by a wide margin. Despite his useful pitching, Pelty finished his career with an unremarkable record of 92-117.

During the offseason and after his retirement, Pelty kept himself busy running a bookstore, managing semipro teams, working as an inspector for the Missouri State Food and Drug Department, and participating in local politics back in his hometown of Farmington. He did resurface in 1937 to face off against the great Grover Cleveland Alexander in an exhibition game which, in keeping with his career norms, he lost. Pelty would die two years later in his hometown at the age of 58.

1 Eric’s idea vs. Steve’s idea

2 Not actually me. Googling my name is not fruitful.

3 May not be true. I don’t know where you are from.

4 I long for the days when a major professional sports franchise would exist in a place like Cedar Rapids. Bless you, Green Bay Packers.

5 I wanted this not to be true. Unfortunately, it was.

6 Much like the Yiddish Curver, I also work in St. Louis. Even more reason for me to know things.

7 Interestingly, Pelty spent the 1906 season with the historic Branch Rickey as his catcher.

Great Names in Baseball: Wish Egan

The great halls of baseball's history are filled with people who made little impact as players but who found a niche in the baseball world elsewhere. This includes big names like Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, front-office types like Moneyballer GM Bily Beane, or tell-all author Jim Bouton. Many retired players find jobs as managers or coaches of minor-league or independent-league teams. And more than a few become scouts for big-league clubs. Aloysius Jerome "Wish" Egan was one such player.

Google doesn't seem to have an answer to the origins of Egan's nicknames, but Egan may have simply wished he'd been better on the mound. Egan, a native of Evart, Michigan, began his big-league career with the nearby Detroit Tigers in 1902. Though he only pitched in three starts and lost two of them, he posted an above-average 2.86 ERA in those starts. However, the Tigers didn't feel confident in Wish's ability, and he found himself pitching for the Louisville Colonels of the American Association for the next two years, racking up 44 wins.

The St. Louis Cardinals took a chance on him after that, and Egan put up below-average numbers for the Cards in 1905, though the rest of St. Louis team wasn't much to write home about. Wish made 16 appearances for the Cardinals in 1906, but his poor performance spelled the end of his major-league baseball career.

Like so many players before and since, Wish toiled in lower leagues for a few more years. He yielded so-so results for the Kansas City Blues in 1907 and 1908. In 1909, Egan found himself in the California League as a member of the San Jose Prune Pickers, for whom he won 18 games in 33 starts. Egan made his final professional baseball appearances in 1910 with the Newark Indians of the Eastern League.

But in 1910, Egan got his big break. The Detroit Tigers hired him as a scout. He would hold the position until his death in 1951. In the 41 years in between, the list of great Tigers ballplayers Wish found is impressive.

Egan's best find was a 15-year-old southpaw from Detroit who was found playing sandlot baseball in 1936. Wish taught the kid how to throw a curve ball and, three years later, Hal Newhouser would make his debut with the Tigers. Newhouser became an unstoppable force for the Tigers from 1944-1948, earning back-to-back MVP awards in 1944 and 1945. He would also make three starts against the Chicago Cubs in the 1945 World Series. He lost the series opener before redeeming himself with a victory in Game 5 and another win in the final game of the series. Dizzy Trout, another of Wish's great finds, picked up the Tigers' win in fourth game of the series.

Like many other Great Names in Baseball players, Wish Egan wasn't the best of his generation. Nor was he even in the top 75%. But as many mediocre players have done since, he found his calling in the game after falling short on the field.

Read one obit here. And another here.

Great Names in Baseball: Malachi Jeddidah Kittridge

Like any real 'merican, I enjoy a solid Biblical name. And also like any real 'merican, I love baseball. So I really enjoy it when baseball players have solid Biblical names. From throwbacks like Hall-of-Famers Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown1 and Zachariah "Zack" Wheat to mid-century mediocre pitchers Saul Rogovin and Zebulon "Red" Eaton2 to modern-day trainwrecks like Hiram "Kyle" Davies and Elijah "All-Around Great Guy" Dukes.

But those names all pale in comparison to the majestic moniker of 16-year veteran Malachi Jeddidah Kittridge3. Like many of the other Great Names in baseball, Kittridge fell short of being a superstar. And like Boileryard Clarke, "Jedediah" Kittridge was a backup catcher. He straddled the Liveball Era of the late 1800s and and the Deadball Era of the early 1900s, though his batting numbers lean toward the Deadball type: His career slash line is .219/.277/.274, but his career spanned from 1890 to 1906.

His defense was average for the standards of a turn-of-the-century catcher, throwing out 39% of baserunners4. So what gives? Why keep him around for so long if he was average defensively and terrible at the plate?

Backup catchers hold a lot of value in the big leagues. They tend to be smart players who understand what goes into a game and how to get the most out of pitchers. In a sense, they become secondary managers, and many of them go on to become actual managers5. This includes Kittridge, who was briefly named manager of the 1904 Washington Senators. Unfortunately, his tenure as player-manager lasted only 17 games, of which the Senators won only 1.

Kittridge spent his early career with the Chicago Colts6 before playing stints with the Louisville Colonels, Washington Senators (the National League team), Boston Beaneaters, and the Washington Senators (the American League team). He was traded to the Cleveland Naps in 1906, where he only played 5 games before heading into the obscurity of the minor and independent leagues of the early 1900s. Kittridge played seasons or partial seasons with increasingly oddly named teams. They were, in chronological order: Montreal Royals, Dayton Veterans, Scranton Miners, Elgin (IL) Kittens (where he was apparently the only player), and, finally, the Saginaw Krazy Kats. He played his final baseball game at the age of 41.

With a history of mediocre-to-bad baseball and terrible managing, Kittridge suffered the ultimate indignity of dying in Gary, Indiana7, in 1923 at the age of 52. But, unless your name is Zebulon Gethsemane Ichabod, his gravestone probably looks a lot cooler than yours will.

1 How did "Three Finger" Brown get his nickname?
2 With a first name like "Zebulon," you'd think his teammates could have come up with a better nickname than "Red." But I guess he wasn't around the majors long enough to earn a nickname like Zebulon, God of Curve Balls. Oh, well.
3 Early baseball players are frequently found to have spelled their names a lot of different ways. . The player in question has also had his last name spelled "Kittredge" and "Kittridge" and has had his middle name spelled "Jedediah" and "Jeddidah."
4 39% of runners thrown out is actually excellent for a modern catcher. But baseball strategy has greatly changed. Without going into great detail, teams around 1900 tried to steal a lot more bases with just about anybody on the team, which led to lower stolen base percentages.
5 Many of MLB's current managers fit this bill: Ned Yost, Joe Girardi, Eric Wedge, Bob Melvin, Bruce Bochy, Clint Hurdle, and Mike Scioscia, though he was mostly a starting catcher.
6 Again, the Colts predated the Chicago Orphans, who became the Cubs.
7 Gary was probably a decent-enough industrial town in the first quarter of the 20th century. While it's not stated anywhere, it seems likely that Kittridge moved to Gary, where work was plentiful, to find a job after his playing career finally ended in 1911.

Great Names in Baseball: Cupid Childs

Baseball fans loves fat guys. Maybe fans identify better with them because heavier players look more like common American slobs than the sculpted superstars whose strength is not shrouded by extra heft. Clarence "Cupid" Childs was one such player. But unlike modern heavyweights such as pitcher Ray King or first baseman Prince Fielder, Childs played a more physically demanding position: second base.

He was agile enough to stay at the position for his entire career and round enough as a kid to be called "Cupid." He played mostly in the 1890s and made an appearance in the first couple years of the new century. At 5'8" and 185 lbs., Childs was among the heavier players of the era. While this is about average for a modern ballplayer, the turn of the century saw players who were typically toothpick-thin. That Childs was fleet enough to steal 269 bases in his career is a testament to his athleticism.

Childs' never hit with the power of the biggest big man of all, Babe Ruth. Rather, at his peak with the Cleveland Spiders1 in the 1890s, Childs was a patient hitter who averaged nearly a walk per game while batting in the low-to-mid .300s. His career .416 on-base percentage ranks 24th all-time, but Childs' decline in his final four years brought that number down. In his prime seasons of 1892-1894, he drew 344 walks while striking out only 43 times.

Childs was moved to the St. Louis Perfectos in 1899, as both St. Louis and the Spiders were owned by the Robison Brothers, who saw ownership of both clubs as a way to slide good players to one team to be competitive. And while the Perfectos went 84-67 that season, they finished a disappointing fifth in a competitive league2. And Childs missed part of the season with malaria. Yes, Cupid got malaria3.

Childs found himself with the Chicago Orphans in 1900, but he was never the same player again. After a disappointing season-and-a-half, the Orphans orphaned Cupid. Cupid played for a bevy of minor-league clubs until 1904. He went to work as a coal driver in Baltimore after that, but Cupid died bankrupt in 1912 of Bright's Disease. He was only 45.

His career was overlooked by the Hall of Fame. They only like fatties who were media darlings, apparently.

1 Cleveland Spiders is probably a better mascot than their current one, which is probably the most offensive mascot in all of sports. They've only gotten away with it because they play in Cleveland, which no one cares about.
2 It may be noted that the 1899 Cleveland Spiders were terrible, winning only 20 games all year. The Spiders folded at season's end.
3 Someone please make a Photoshop of this sentence. If you don't, I may have to make an MS Paint mashup3A.
3A By the way, a Google image search of "cupid malaria" brings up photos of Cupid Childs. So I guess he's famous for something, even if it isn't Hall of Fame worthy.

Great Names in Baseball: Dad Clarkson

Professional baseball has always had its share of related players. From Hall of Fame brother duos like Paul and Lloyd Waner1 to father-son pairings like The Griffeys to multi-generational sets like the Boones, families have contributed to the game's rich history.

The late 1800s and early 1900s saw a trio of Clarkson boys, all of whom pitched in the majors with very different results. The oldest, John Clarkson, was an 1880s superstud for the Chicago White Stockings2 and the Boston Beaneaters, winning as many as 53 games in a season. The youngest, Walter Clarkson, threw for the New York Highlanders and for the Cleveland Naps3 in the 1900s, but he never found lasting success in the big leagues.

In between them came Arthur Clark(e)son, more famously known as Dad Clarkson. The moniker strikes one as odd, since he wasn't even the oldest of the pitching brothers. Because I can't find any results regarding his nickname on the first two pages of the Google search I did, I think it's only fair to start the rumor that he had more than 75 illegitimate children in each of the many cities of the National League4. When Dad's ol' team rolled into town, he'd spend his meager per diem on a section of bleachers for the children. Dad stopped by the section before his starts to promise to bean the hometown team's superstar if one of them would be a darling runt and fetch him a fifth of "Pitcher's Tonic" and the finest toothache drops the closest pharmacy offered. The only time the children were ever happy was when good ol' Dad planted one off Hugh Duffy's forehead. And when Duffy came to, he never once thought of fisticuffs, for although Dad Clarkson was a scrawny chap, men and [Dad's] children alike understand the rule that a serious mustache is not to be trifled with5.

The end.

Oh wait, I didn't even talk about Dad's actual career. In six seasons, Clarkson pitched for four different teams, finishing his major league career with 39 wins and 39 losses. While never an ace, he pitched respectably as a fourth starter on the 1893 St. Louis Browns and on the pennant-winning 1895 Baltimore Orioles, where he likely pitched to Boileryard Clarke at least once. His big-league career ended in 1896, though he reappeared in 1900 as a member of something called the Anaconda Serpents6 in the obscure and likely dangerous Montana State League7.

Dad Clarkson lived in the shadow cast by his Hall of Fame brother John Clarkson, although Dad outlived him by a year. And while John's legacy of masterful pitching is enshrined in Cooperstown, Dad Clarkson's millions of living descendents still cry a tear of joy anytime a hitter is beaned in anger.

1 It's worth noting that the Waners had pretty awesome nicknames, too: Big Poison (Paul) and Little Poison (Lloyd).
2 Oddly enough, the White Stockings eventually became the Cubs. And then the Chicago White Sox were born when the American League was formed in 1901.
3 And what an exciting team the Naps were! They were actually named for their superstar player/manager Napoleon 'Nap' Lajoie.
4 Makes you wonder why Wilt Chamberlain was never nicknamed "Dad." At least, he was never nicknamed that in public; inevitably, some people somewhere called him that.
5 Please note the inclusion of the word "serious." Ironic mustaches deserve to be trifled with plenty. Any encounter between Dad Clarkson and one of his hipster-mustache-wearing descendants bypasses the word "fight" and goes directly to "flogging"5A.
5A Does that make what I'm doing "blogging about flogging?"
6 Anaconda is a city in Montana, although "city" is a loosely used word. According to the Keeper Of All Things, Anaconda has fewer residents now than it did when Dad Clarkson pitched there in 1900. Also, the baseball club owner apparently enjoyed redundant names.
7 The Montana State League is certainly an interesting place for someone from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to end up. The league featured only four teams: the Serpents, the Great Falls Indians, the Helena Senators, and the Butte Smoke Eaters7A.
7A No matter how hard I try, I will always want this to have been the Smokey Butte Eaters7B.
7B Yes, I know it's pronounced "beaut," but it's much funnier to read it as "butt." I will not apologize to the residents of that Butte. Wakka wakka wakka!

Great Names in Baseball: Buck Hooker

As someone whose last name is a commonly used word, I empathize with people whose last names are fodder for jokes. But far be it from me to let a great baseball name like William "Buck" Hooker skate by without mention. Buck Hooker was not a great baseball player; he wasn't good or even mediocre. He spent most of his professional baseball career in the lower leagues in the early 1900s with mixed results. His major league statline totals only 2 games: a lone start in 1902 (he lost) and a scoreless 2-1/3 inning relief appearance in 1903. Like the man himself, his MLB career was short.

I could let this entry go at that, as I initially thought that is probably an incidental and innocent nickname from a different era. "Buck" was and is a common baseball nickname, and word meanings change greatly over time1. But part of me doubts that Hooker's nickname was innocuous. If you believe what you read on the Internet, the use of "buck" to mean "a dollar" dates back to 1856 and use of the word "hooker" to mean "prostitute" also began in the mid-1800s--long before the man in question was born to his Hooker mother2. So it stands to reason that, sometime during his career, the young male Hooker picked up the less-than-majestic nickname from some mischievous teammates. Given the cheap nature3 of his name, perhaps it's no surprise that his big-league legacy is very forgettable.

Sorry, Buck Hooker; you were no Buck Freeman. You were no Buck Freeman, either.

1 But what gay and heady times those were when two bums could freely discuss Merkle's Boner.
2 Please note that I am only stating fact, not judging his mother a trollop.
3 If you believe the Internet, $1 in 1902 is currently worth $24.86. What would you buy with that money? You could purchase a Hooker 'n' Heat record.

Great Names in Baseball: William 'Boileryard' Clarke

In the Deadball Era, ballplayers were men, men were scoundrels, and nicknames were not derivative combinations of letters from first and last names. Each turn-of-the-century team was obliged to have a Red, a Doc, a Kid, a Silent John (or Jack)1, and a Rube. But along with that cast could be found gems like Boileryard Clarke.

One might fancy that Clarke earned his moniker from a train-like build or from his mighty and lengthy home runs. Rather, Boileryard earned the nickname from his "terrible voice," which apparently sounded like a cacophony of steam engines2.

Clarke's offensive numbers don't truly stand out. He spent most of the 1890s as a backup catcher on the great Baltimore Orioles squad, who won National League titles from 1894-1896. In Baltimore, he first played with Hall of Famer/Renowned Asshole John McGraw, as well legends/scalawags Wee Willie Keeler, Kid Gleason, and Hughie "Ee-Yah" Jennings. By the numbers, Boileryard was a replacement-level player in Baltimore, though he hit .297 in 330 plate appearances in 1896. Behind the plate, he was at least competent and possessed a strong arm, which threw out 42% of baserunners in his career.

After Baltimore, Clarke split time as the Boston Beaneaters'3 backstop in 1899 and 1900 before moving to the newly-formed American League and the truly terrible Washington Senators, who made him their starting catcher from 1901-1904. Boileryard was a mediocre player on a Senators squad that could hit but had a hopeless pitching staff. Boileryard contributed to a team effort that led the team to a mighty 38-113 record in 1904.

Clarke finished his big-league career as an unproductive backup catcher on the World Champion 1905 New York Giants under the guidance of former Baltimore teammate McGraw. Clarke had the pleasure of not only catching Superstud-of-All-Time Christy Mathewson, but also the crudely nicknamed wonder Dummy Taylor4.

In 1910, Boileryard Clarke took the helm of the baseball squad at Princeton University, where he coached for 34 years until he finally retired from baseball in 1944.

Read more here.

1 Part of me thinks that any player nicknamed "Silent John" probably had a stack of trunks filled with prostitute bodies that he took on road trips. Baseball players weren't known to be particularly agreeable fellows during this time, and there's something sinister about being "Silent" amidst such chaos. Or it's just my imagination.
2 It's difficult to imagine an equivalent nickname today. The closest equivalents we have to a boileryard are probably airports or highways. But "Road Noise" Clarke or "Taxiway" Clarke doesn't really have the same ring to it, does it?
3 Actual team name.
4 He was deaf and therefore nicknamed "Dummy." More on this in a later post.

Great Names in Baseball: Orvil Overall

Feast your eyes on the great Orvil Overall, one of the workhorse starting pitchers from the great Chicago Cubs teams of the late 1900s1.

Overall came to the Cubs in 1906 after a mediocre 300-inning campaign the previous year with the mediocre Cincinnati Reds and was a fixture at West Side Park2 until 1910. He then resurfaced for a few innings with the 1913 Cubs.

Overall, Overall pitched to a 3-1 record in the World Series for the Cubs in 1906, 1907, 1908, and 1910, including picking up two wins the last time the Cubs won it all3.

Overall was something of a strikeout king for his era, leading the league in strikeouts per innings pitched in both 1908 and 1909.

So we salute you and your great name, Orvil Overall.

Read more here.

1 The decade, not the century.
2 West Side Park (the second one) was the predecessor to Wrigley Field. It was bounded by Taylor, Wood, Polk, and Wolcott streets, which is not the location of the UIC Medical Center campus.
3 That's 1908, in case you didn't know.