This annotated week in baseball history: Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2010by Richard Barbieri
November 04, 2010
November 5 is the birth date of players who earned seven All-Star appearances, hit more than 800 home runs, and won more than 400 games. But it is also the birthday of a number of players with a memorable name. Richard looks back at those players.
Even in those years when the Yankees win the World Series, I always find the end of baseball season to be a sad day. And while it is tempting to do as Rogers Hornsby did after the season—stare out the window and wait for spring—I do try to find ways to cheer myself up. One of those ways is looking at baseball nicknames from the past. So in the hope of raising everyone’s spirits, this week we’ll look at some of the nicknames from this day in November.
Born in Buffalo just after the end of the Civil War, Elton Chamberlin made his debut in the American Association in 1886 and would go on to a pretty good career, winning as many as 32 games in a season and finishing his career with 157 victories, a number that places in him the top 30 all-time for wins in the nineteenth century. (The record holder is Pud Galvin at 361, if you’re wondering.)
But despite being one of only two Eltons to play in the Major Leagues—the other was Elton “Sam” Langford—Chamberlin stands out for his nickname: Ice Box. Despite his origins in one of New York’s coldest cities, Chamberlin’s nickname apparently came instead from his cool, collected demeanor on the mound. That’s a pretty good one, as these things go.
Chamberlin’s opposite number, at least temperature-wise, is Flame Delhi. Delhi did not match the success of his cooler counterpart, appearing in just one game during his Major League career and giving up three runs. However, Delhi’s legacy is more than just that one inning. Born in Harqua Hala, Arizona—itself a pretty memorable name—Delhi was the first Arizonan to play in the Major Leagues, just two months after the former territory became a state. (The Arizona chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research is named for Delhi in honor of his feat.)
I wrote a column once about players who share their name with a more illustrious figure in history, but must admit it did not occur to me until just now that players could be overshadowed by someone who never actually existed. Such is the fate of Orlin Woodward Rogers. Even then “Orlin” was not a common name, so it is no surprise that a nickname was coming. Hence, when Rogers threw his ten innings for the Washington Senators in 1935 he was known as Buck Rogers.
|Javy Lopez, the HR leader of November 5. But that's not a funny name, is it? (Icon/SMI)|
If you recognize the name, that’s because he shares it with Buck Rogers of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century fame. Although the Rogers TV show was of course many years away in 1935, by that time the Buck Rogers brand included both a daily comic strip, a radio show airing four times a week, and a ten-minute film shot for the 1933-34 World's Fair in Chicago.
Though Buck Rogers is not the cultural phenomenon it once was—the comic strip ended in 1983 and the last television show ended two years prior—its fame continues to easily outshine that of the left handed pitcher who finished his career 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA.
Of course, you might argue that a nickname that dooms you to obscurity is better than one with unfortunate implications. Such is the case with Putsy Caballero. Born Ralph Joseph, both better names than “Putsy,” Caballero made his debut in 1944 at age 16, making him both the youngest Philly and youngest third baseman in the game’s history. He spent most of his teen years in the minor leagues and played his first season as a regular at age 20, one of only two he would have in his career.
Caballero was never a great hitter—his career OPS is just .547—but he was a capable and versatile role player. He played all around the infield, was the Phillies’ primary pinch-runner and sometime pinch-hitter. Caballero filled these roles for many years, including on the 1950 “Whiz Kid” pennant winners.
After his career, Caballero returned to his native Louisiana where he still lives. Caballero unfortunately lost many of the mementos of his baseball career when his house was flooded by Hurricane Katrina, but he was able to save his uniform from the 1950 season. He continues to attend reunions held by the Phillies in honor of the Whiz Kids.
If you, like me, are a Simpsons fan, you might remember the episode when Homer Simpson, owing to a back-story not worth exploring here, changed his name to Max Power. (“I got it off a hair dryer,” Homer explains.) In contrast to the new name giving Homer a sense of confidence, one can only imagine that Les Powers—who made his debut in 1938—had to battle the very idea that he was providing less power to a lineup than another choice.
Unfortunately, less power was indeed the story of Powers’ career, as he had only two extra base hits in sixty-three trips to the plate, and while he continued to play outside of the majors for many years, he would not return to that level after 1939.
Finally, we end with a pair of alliterative names that I simply found too good to pass up. The first is Rasty Wright, who spent five years pitching for the St. Louis Browns in the teens and twenties. Wright was a hot-and-cold pitcher to an almost ridiculous extreme: twice he posted an ERA under three (going 17-9) while the remaining three years of his career featured ERAs of 5.45 and higher, and a collective 7-10 record.
Our last name of the day—with apologies to Greasy Neale, who I couldn’t fit in despite a great name and a .357 average in the 1919 World Series—is my personal favorite of the day: Yam Yaryan. While not his given name of Clarence Everett, it is hard to top such a marvelous nickname. Yaryan’s major league experience was two seasons as a backup with the White Sox, but he also played 20 years in various leagues around the country, starring in Seattle, Memphis, Andalusia and Brewton, among others.
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