When I reviewed team rosters from the early century for this blog, I noticed several nicknames persist on teams throughout baseball history, particularly in the early days of the game. It was almost as though the league had sent out a form that read like this:
Place check next to each nickname. Each line must be fulfilled to be allotted umpires and league permission for Opening Day of Base Ball:
_____ Lefty (Pitcher only)
_____ Chick, Ducky, or Buck (Any is acceptable)
_____ "Big [Player Name]"
_____ "Silent [Player Name]"
_____ Rube or Babe (Either is acceptable)
_____ Cy (Pitcher only)
I've clearly mixed and matched several different eras of the game, but the point remains: These were extremely common nicknames.
The 1901 Detroit Tigers would have fallen short on several names, but they made up for it with an excess supply of one name. The Tigers started three "Kids:" second baseman William "Kid" Gleason, shortstop Norman "Kid" Elberfeld and outfielder William "Kid" Nance.
Kid Gleason famously managed the notorious 1919 Chicago White Sox, though he claimed to know nothing about the Black Sox Scandal. In 1901, Gleason hit a respectable .274/.327/.364 with 12 triples.
Kid Elberfeld batted .308/.397/.428 in 1901, leading the team in all three rate stats. He also drove in 76 runs to lead the team in that category while striking out just 17 times in 508 plate appearances. Nicknamed "The Tabasco Kid" for his burning temper, Elberfeld notoriously assaulted umpires on at least two occasions1. Naturally, he opened a baseball school of some sort after retiring.
Kid Nance played no more after 1901, a campaign in which he hit .280/.355/.373. Ironically, only Nance was under the age of 25 in 1901; Gleason was 34, Elberfeld 26. Nance's B-R mug falls in the "menacing" category of turn-of-the-century ballplayer portraits2. Perhaps he's considering how best to spend his per diem after the game: Carousing with scoundrels or patronizing the brothels.
The Kids (along with a Pop, a Doc, a Sport and Davey Crockett) led Detroit to a third-place finish in the Junior Circuit's inaugural season. It was Detroit's highest finish until Ty Cobb arrived and led the Tigers to three straight pennants (but zero World Series victories3) in 1907-1909. By that time, the Kids had moved on to other American League clubs. Perhaps Cobb's powerful bloodlust led him to kill and eat them (or at least scare them off), much the same way some male animals cannibalize younger males to eliminate competition in the wild. Here is a photo of Cobb immobilizing Kid Elberfeld in preparation for killing. Cobb, ever the capitalist, paid someone else to finish the job.
Read about Gleason here, about Elberfeld here and about Nance here. Click here to see a picture of the 1901 Tigers.
1 Ironically, the American League was founded on the principles of clean players playing a clean game. Elberfeld apparently cared little for this notion.
2 Other categories include the Gentleman, the Faded Crop, the Haunting Eyes, the Near Rampage, the Aloof Slugger, the Stoic, the WTF? and the Jim Delahanty.
3 In the 1907 and 1908 World Series, the Chicago Cubs won their only two World Series. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Honus Wagner bested Cobb's Tigers in the seven games of the 1909 series.