Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Harry Eells: Slippery When Nicknamed

Slippery Eells (Center). Also pictured: Addie Joss envisioning your slow death by his hand1, Elmer Flick preparing to throttle the photographer with his cleats, Claude Rossman moments before vomiting on the back of Harry Bemis' stupid head2.

People may describe eels in many ways. In various parts of the human world, they may be considered the following words: delicious, limbless, slender, moray and electric.

But none of these was the nickname that stuck with Cleveland Naps' pitcher Harry Eells. Rather, a teammate, classmate, ladymate, first mate or enemymate stuck him with a much finer nickname: Slippery. No other nickname so accurately describes a player's career, for Slippery Eells pitched just 14 times in 1906, his only season in the major leagues. Like trying to catch an eel with bare hands, Slippery's opportunity was fleeting3.

Eells' brief swim in the big leagues netted him a respectable 4-5 record and an average-for-the-era 2.61 ERA. His control sometimes floundered and he walked 45 in 86.1 innings. However, in one of his eight starts, Slippery Eells shut out the previous season's champions, the Philadelphia Athletics4.

Harry Archibald Eells, born in rural Iowa, pitched with great success in 1904 with the Missouri Valley League's Joplin Miners. He moved to Kansas City later that season to pitch for the Blues of the American Association (AA). In a full year with the Blues in 1905, Eells struggled, posting a 7-23 record while walking 135 batters in 279 innings. Oddly enough, someone thought highly enough of Slippery to sign him to play for the big leagues.

He pitched briefly with the AA's Toledo Mud Hens in 1907, but Slippery Eells retired before the season's end to begin selling real estate in California. He died exactly one year before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor; one of his three sons served in World War II as a colonel.

Read more about Slippery Eells here.

1Addie Joss is an interesting character in his own right and was a very popular player. The lanky Hall of Famer pitched with a unique corkscrew-sidearm delivery that left hitters bewildered. He once pitched a perfect game on just 74 pitches (allegedly) and occupied himself in the offseason by writing a popular baseball column for the Toledo News Bee. Sadly, his career was cut short by tubercular meningitis, which took his life at just 31. Read his story here.

2 See the actual and entire 1906 Naps team photo here. For the names, check out this forum thread.

3 Apologies for this heavy-handedness.

4 Perhaps it's a coincidence that Eells didn't last long after facing the club of the one and only Ossee Schrecengost.
Addie Joss hung around the big leagues after throwing a perfect game against Schrecengost's club and all he got for it was a plaque.

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