The Nickname Game: The left fieldersby Bruce Markusen
July 09, 2010
Left field is supposedly the least challenging of the three outfield positions, but that doesn’t mean it is lacking in colorful, creative nicknames. Let’s look at six of my favorites, beginning in the 19th century and traveling through to the 1990s.
Charlie “The Old Woman in the Red Cap” Pabor: A singles-hitting outfielder and occasional pitcher in the old National Association from 1871 to 1875, Pabor is by far the most obscure player to make our list, but his nickname is also the most bizarre, the longest, and the most inexplicable. As “The Old Woman in the Red Cap,” Pabor was the first major league player to be given a feminine nickname, making him the predecessor to Ginger Beaumont, Baby Doll Jacobson, Sadie McMahon and Minnie Minoso.
I haven’t been able to pin down why Pabor was called The Old Woman in the Red Cap, but the lack of an origin shouldn’t prevent this wonderfully weird nickname from making our list.
In an unrelated side note, Pabor compiled one of the worst managerial records of all time. In three brief stints, his teams won only 13 games, lost 64, and posted a winning percentage of .169.
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson: The most popular nicknames attach themselves to the first name of the player, creating a new identity in the process. Perhaps there is no better example than “Shoeless Joe.”
As timeless as this nickname has become, it does require a longer explanation. According to Jackson biographer and author Donald Gropman, the nickname was created by the appropriately named Scoop Latimer, a reporter working for a newspaper in Greenville, S.C. Playing in the minor league Carolina Association in 1908, Jackson suffered bad blisters on his feet whie breaking in a new pair of baseball shoes. He then reverted to his old pair, but found that his feet still hurt. So rather than sit out Greenville’s game that afternoon, Jackson played while wearing only his stockings on his feet. That gave Latimer more than enough material for his next article. He printed the name “Shoeless Joe” in the next edition of his paper, resulting in the birth of one of baseball’s lasting nicknames.
Stan "The Man" Musial: Most nicknames originate with teammates, media or fans from a player’s home city. In rare situations, the opposition fan base provides the creative impetus. That was the case with Musial, who usually pounded the ball from corner to corner at old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. With the Dodgers once again on the receiving end of one of Musial’s hitting sprees, this time during the 1946 season, some of the Ebbets Field faithful began to shout, “Here comes that man again!” Some of the sportswriters in attendance heard the refrain and began applying it to Musial in print. Thus, “Stan the Man” was born.
Prior to 1946, the Cardinals legend carried another nickname. Born and raised in Donora, Pa., Musial featured a lean, lithe build. Combining those two factors, he was known as “The Donora Greyhound.” But that moniker lacked the lyrical, rhyming quality of Stan the Man, and eventually became forgotten to most fans, except for those who resided in the Pennsylvania town.
Frank "The Capital Punisher" Howard: He played more right field than left field with the Dodgers, but the Washington Senators wisely moved him to a fulltime post in left, where his weak throwing arm became less of a hindrance.
The simultaneous move to Washington eventually brought with it the nickname that tied in geographical location with Howard’s ability to overpower baseballs. At the same time, the name became a play on the controversial subject of capital punishment. Controversial or not, “Capital Punisher” brilliantly and accurately captured Howard’s abilities as a slugger, which reached a peak in 1970, when he led the American League in home runs, RBIs and walks.
A less popular nickname, but one that was no less appropriate, also coincided with his Senators’ tenure. Reporters occasionally referred to him as the “Washington Monument,” a fitting moniker for a man of Howard’s dimensions. At 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, Howard topped most major leaguers in terms of both height and weight.
A third nickname came Howard’s way during his Dodgers days. During his rookie season with Los Angeles, teammates started calling him “Hondo” because of his resemblance to the title character in the 1953 film starring John Wayne. Though Hondo is the least creative of the three nicknames, it is the one by which Howard is still referred to in baseball circles. (And for what it’s worth, Hondo is Al Bundy’s favorite film of all time.)
Dave "Kong" Kingman: Although he played more games at first base, Kingman put in his fair share of time in left field, particularly during his prime years with the Mets and Cubs. Kingman swung so hard and swatted home runs of such incredible proportions that he earned the colorful label of “Kong,” which was occasionally lengthened to “King Kong.” (He also had long arms that gave him something of a primate quality at the plate.) He was less frequently called “Sky King,” a tribute to the ridiculously high fly balls and pop-ups that he tended to hit.
The free-swinging Kingman spent most of his career piling up home runs and strikeouts, along with fielding miscues, while bouncing from team to team as a baseball vagabond. Kingman’s prickly personality didn’t help matters. Extremely quiet and shy, Kingman became a brooding figure in the clubhouse, one who was not particularly popular with teammates or members of the media. In one season alone, he played for four major league teams, including one in each division—the Mets, Padres, Angels and Yankees.
Jeffrey "Penitentiary Face" Leonard: Yes, nicknames can be less than kind. Sometimes the player’s feelings are just not given any preferential treatment. Such is the case with the scowling Leonard, who could have served as an extra on just about any prison movie of the 1980s.
Given his moon-shaped face, and the lack of an accompanying smile much of the time, Leonard had the look of someone posing for a mug shot. Hence, “Penitentiary Face” became a somewhat comical attachment to his persona. For those preferring a more politically correct name, the longer “Correctional Institute Face” became an alternative. But it lacked the punch of Penitentiary Face.
Leonard acquired another nickname during one of his minor league stints. While playing for Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League, Leonard felt isolated and alienated from teammates and the coaching staff. In an ill-advised reaction, he vowed to start swinging at the first pitch every time he stepped to the plate. Teammates dubbed him “Hac Man.” Even after he made it to the major leagues to stay, Leonard didn’t exactly abandon his free-swinging ways. He never drew more than 47 walks in any big league season, and usually finished somewhere in the range of 25 to 35. That would explain his career on-base percentage of .312.
Honorable mentions: Jesse "The Crab" Burkett Rico "The Beeg Man" Carty Greg "The Bull" Luzinski and Ted "The Splendid Splinter" Williams.
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.
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