This annotated week in baseball history: Jan. 25-Jan. 31, 1891by Richard Barbieri
January 30, 2009
On Jan. 31, 1891, Goat Cochran was born. Cochran was just one of the players born on this date who would go on to earn a memorable moniker. Richard looks at some of the more distinctively dubbed players.
Last week I wrote about the less talented brothers of some great pitchers. This allowed me the chance to both point out an interesting trend—how many outstanding hurlers have had pitching siblings—and write about said outstanding hurlers.
So naturally this week I am going to follow it up by writing about people with funny names. But you'll have to cut me a little slack. I am only human, and today features people (nick)named Goat, Steamboat, Pinky, Stuffy, Honey and Jot. Can't pass that up.
Starting from the eldest, we come to Jot Goar, who was born in 1870. His given name was Joshua, which I like because I have a cousin with that name. He doesn't know it yet, but he has just gotten a new nickname. Jot was a fairly terrible pitcher; his just over 15 innings matched his 15.85 ERA. He is the only man to play in the major leagues with that nickname.
In case you were wondering, "jot" in the sense of "write down quickly" had long-since entered the lexicon by the time Goar was playing in the majors; it dates to at least the early 18th century.
Nicknames are often awarded to the greats—"The Sultan of Swat" or "The Splendid Splinter"—but also can find themselves attached to the less successful. Take Alvah Cochran, or as he was known around baseball, Goat Cochran. Alvah is itself a pretty rare name (it comes from a Biblical figure of no special distinction). The most historically notable is Alvah Roebuck, as in Sears Roebuck.
Cochran, however, was not to baseball what was Roebuck was to retail. He pitched a grand total of two innings, giving up three runs on five hits.
Next up is Steamboat Williams, born Rees Williams, who played for the Cardinals. The obvious theme here is that odd birth names (Reese, Alvah) lead to nicknames. To my endless frustration, I can't work out why he was nicknamed Steamboat. He was the first player to reach the major leagues born in Montana, so "Big Sky" Williams would have seemed a more probable moniker than the quintessentially southern steamboat.
(I did consider that he was connected to Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, but that was released 12 years after Williams ended his career, so that's not it.)
Steamboat is, on the other hand, a pretty awesome nickname. In some ways it is a shame it was wasted on a guy with a career 4.20 ERA. That sounds good, except he pitched in 1914 and 1916, which means the equivalent career ERA for a guy in St. Louis last year would be 5.99.
Moving on, we come to the only players to have careers of any substance while battling the apparently twin impediments of being born on Jan. 31 and having a funny nickname. The first is Stuffy Stewart, who played for St. Louis, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh and Washington over an eight-season career that stretched from 1916 through 1929.
Unfortunately for Stuffy (whose given name was the rather more routine John Franklin), those eight seasons stretched across 13 years due to a variety of circumstances. Some were Stewart's own responsibility: He was a career .238 hitter with virtually no power. On the other hand, some was out of his control: He spent two years during the World War I serving (domestically) in the Army.
Before we get to the best career of the crop, this roundup would not be complete without touching on Honey Barnes. Barnes appeared in one game for the Yankees, in 1926, drawing a walk in his only plate appearance. This puts him in rare company, as one of only 57 players who have at least one plate appearance but no at-bats. Barnes is even more rare for being one of 16 non-pitchers to have managed that.
(The all-time leader in this department is Jose Parra, who has four plate appearances resulting in two walks and two sacrifices for zero at-bats.)
Now we come to the most successful of the birthday bunch. While this day saw the birth of three elite Hall of Famers, none of the nickname crowd made the list, which is why we've come to Pinky Hargrave. (The Hall of Famers are Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks and Nolan Ryan.)
While Pinky was not a Hall of Fame talent, he did have a lot going for him. He was born in 1896 as William McKinley Hargrave in Indiana, named to honor the man who would be elected President just 10 months later. Moreover, his older brother was the equally excellently nicknamed Bubbles Hargrave.
Just like his brother, Pinky was a catcher, but unlike his brother he was not a sometimes great hitter. While the elder Hargrave hit enough to receive MVP support in three seasons—he finished sixth in 1926—Pinky never managed such a feat. He nonetheless finished his career with a 99 OPS+, certainly a respectable total for a catcher.
Pinky began his career relatively late, not debuting in the major leagues until he was 27, but nonetheless appearing every season in the big leagues until he was 37 in 1933. Of course, being a catcher who sometimes hit and sometimes didn't meant Hargrave bounced around a fair bit. He played for five major league teams, and was part of transactions that also sent (or would have sent; things got complicated) him to the American Association and International League. Hargrave was variously traded, purchased and drafted from one to another through his career.
After his career ended, Hargrave hung on in the lower ladders of major league baseball, lasting until 1936. He later was employed as an electrical worker in his home state, and died there in 1942.
Modern nicknames are nothing like those of days past, so we are unlikely to get a collection of contemporary players with names like Honey, Steamboat or Pinky. But we can hope, and if it ever does happen, I'll be here to tell you about it.
Questions, comments and thinly veiled threats can be mailed to Richard on the back of a twenty dollar bill or e-mailed to him at RichardBarbieri@yahoo.com