The nickname game: second baseby Bruce Markusen
April 16, 2010
In examining nicknames from baseball history, I’ve already looked at catchers and first basemen who have caught our fancy. Now it’s time to turn the discussion to the second basemen. For some reason, second basemen of recent vintage seem to be lacking in colorful nicknames, so I’ve had to draw from the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century to find the best of the best. In alphabetical order, and with help from some generous readers, here is a sampling of the most interesting second base nicknames of all time.
Clarence “Cupid” Childs: A talented and underrated 19th century second baseman with a knack for getting on base, Childs received his lasting nickname for reasons that remain disputed. According to some researchers, he was called Cupid because of his hot, but somewhat lovable temper. Others believe that the name was an example of the theory of opposites: Childs was known for being a bit pugnacious in his actions. (He once engaged in a nasty fight with Pirates player-manager Fred Clarke at the Pittsburgh train station.) Still another theory, probably the most accuratel, indicates that Childs earned the nickname because of his strangely pudgy build and cupid-like facial appearance. At 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, Childs did not possess the lean look of other middle infielders of the day.
Though best known as Cupid, Childs was also labeled “Fats” and “The Dumpling,” again in reference to his unusually stout build.
Pearce "What's the Use" Chiles: This one is a bit of a stretch, since Chiles appeared in only 28 games at second base, and played mostly as an outfielder and first baseman at the turn of the 20th century. But the name is simply too good to pass up. Chiles’ nickname is reminiscent of something out of an Abbott and Costello sketch. Noted for his constant taunting of opponents, Chiles used to mock batters who happened to hit a pop-up his way by shouting “what’s the use?“ When sportswriters learned of this tendency, they made the words into a nickname for Chiles.
Chiles was actually more than just colorful. Writer Ron Schuler has described him as a “scoundrel” and “ne’er do well.“ Chiles was once charged with “constructive rape” for having illicit relations with a 16-year-old girl, but fled the state of Missouri before authorities could prosecute him. That was just one of Chiles’ repeated problems with local law enforcement.
Johnny "The Crab" Evers: Evers is best known for being the middle link to the famed double play combination featuring shortstop Joe Tinker and first baseman Frank Chance, but his nickname became a memorable reference to his personality. The nickname was the creation of sportswriter Charley Dreyden, who noticed the crablike way in which Evers held on to ground balls before making the throw to first base.
Like many nicknames, The Crab’s meaning evolved and changed. Teammates and opponents, taking took note of Evers’ moody, combative disposition, decided that The Crab fit his personality to a tee. Most notably, Evers developed a long-running feud with Tinker, his shortstop partner. Although the pair turned double plays smoothly and efficiently, they literally did not speak to each other for years.
Charlie "The Meachanical Man" Gehringer: One of the greatest second basemen of all time, Gehringer received his nickname courtesy of Yankees left-hander Lefty Gomez, who admired his rival‘s robotic consistency. Always quiet and never flashy, Gehringer produced at an All-Star level with a routine steadiness that made him easy to overlook.
Gehringer’s managers also appreciated his reliability. “Charlie says ‘hello’ on Opening Day, ‘goodbye’ on closing day, and in between hits .350,” Tigers manager Mickey Cochrane once said of the man who put up huge numbers without fanfare or bluster.
Gehringer’s nickname made him sound like something out of The Twilight Zone, but it also contributed to his underrated status. Whenever all-time or all-century teams are voted upon, the discussion surrounding second base usually involves other immortals like Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby and Joe Morgan. Perhaps Gehringer should be more involved in the debate. A career .320 hitter with more than occasional power, Gehringer controlled the strike zone like few others. He walked 1,186 times, compared to 372 strikeouts. That’s a ratio of better than three to one, a testament to the enormous intelligence and talent of The Mechanical Man.
Tony “Poosh 'Em Up” Lazzeri: Of all the second basemen on our list, Lazzeri might have had the most creative nickname. When Lazzeri came to bat at Yankee Stadium, some of the Italian fans in attendance used to loudly chant “poosh ‘em up.” The terminology is lost in today’s vernacular, but it was the fans’ way of encouraging Lazzeri to hit the ball over the wall and into the stands.
Although the rallying cry became popular in New York, it actually had roots in Lazzeri’s minor league days. As a rookie for Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League, Lazzeri was struggling badly at the plate. A local restaurant owner, a man named Cesare Rinetti, befriended Lazzeri and gave him spaghetti dinners for three straight nights. During the dinners, Rinetti encouraged Lazzeri to “poosh ‘em up,” or to hit the ball out of the park. Rinetti would also yell the phrase when he attended Salt Lake City home games. Lazzeri responded well to the words of encouragement, which eventually made their way to the Bronx.
Honorable mentions: Frankie “The Fordham Flash” Frisch, Chuck "Stone Hands" Hiller and Felix "The Cat" Millan.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.