Thursday, August 18, 2011
Hank Arft: Bow Wow
Onomatopoeia can play a major role in dictating nicknames. And sometimes people's actual names are onomatopoeia. And sometimes people's actual names being onomatopoeia can lead to them earning a nickname that is also onomatopoeia. First baseman Hank Arft's last name earned him the nickname "Bow Wow1." It's pretty clever, if a bit self-evident.
Arft debuted in 1948 for the mid-century St. Louis Browns, one of the truly terrible teams in baseball history. From 1946 until the team left St. Louis in 1953, the Browns never finished higher than sixth place in the American League2. Bill Veeck bought the Browns in 1951, and the team turned into a circus for its final three years, as is well-documented.
Arft's career with the Browns was lackluster. In 300 games, he hit 13 home runs while batting .253/.352/.375. His numbers, however, fail to tell Bow Wow's whole story.
Arft, a Missouri native, signed with Browns in 1940 as an 18 year old. In his first three minor league seasons, Hank hit the ball well.
But Bow Wow's hardball ambitions were interrupted, like so many others', by World War 2. Arft enlisted in the Navy3 and served on the Destroyer Escort USS Goss. His vessel was present in Tokyo Bay on VJ Day (September 2, 1945) when the Japanese formally surrendered.
After the war, Hank returned to the Browns' organization. He had a tremendous minor league year in 1947, batting .366 while putting up an incredible slugging percentage of .615. He split the next two years between Browns' affiliates and the parent club before sticking with the club permanently in 1950. As a starter in 1951, Bow Wow batted .261, good for second on the Browns among players with 300 or more plate appearances . Unfortunately for Arft, his big-league career ended in 1952 after just 15 games with the Browns. He retreated to the Pacific Coast League, putting up decent numbers for the Portland Beavers.
After the PCL's 1954 season, Hank Arft returned to Missouri, where he went into business running a funeral home. His family still co-owns and operates the business today. Bow Wow died in 2002 at the age of 804.
1 At 5'10" Hank Arft was relatively short for a first baseman, a position where height typically matters. As such, Some5 say that Arft may have been the original Li'l Bow Wow.
2 Ironically, the Browns were at their best during the height of World War 2, winning the American League pennant in 1944 but losing in the World Series to their crosstown rival St. Louis Cardinals. It was the Browns' only World Series appearance.
3 This is the story that historical records indicate. However, recently uncovered documents have led Some5 to say that Arft may have been a spy with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was a precursor to the modern CIA during World War 2. Because of his espionage ability and last name , his OSS Code Name was, in fact, Snoop Dogg3A.
3A Fret not, I can actually hear the collective groan at this. I apologize accordingly.
4 It's not Ludacris to suggest that his funeral services were held at the family-owned funeral home.
5 Please note that "Some" is, in fact, properly capitalized here. Some news organizations maintain "Some" as a perfectly reasonable and reliable news source.