The nickname game: second base

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.
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Comments

  1. Bob Rittner said...

    Last year, playing primarily at 2B, Ben Zobrist acquired the nickname Zorilla. I think it was his manager, Joe Maddon, who initially used it. In any case the reference was to Godzilla in recognition of Zobrist’s surprising display of power in 2009. (I don’t think the reference is to Gorilla, but I suppose that is possible too.)

    Strangely, there actually is an animal named Zorilla. It is a type of weasel. Maddon is an erudite man, but I doubt he knew that when he applied the name to Zobrist.

  2. salvo said...

    I always liked Creepy Crespi. He’s one of the few who actually looked exactly how his nickname suggested he looked.

  3. Northern Rebel said...

    Of course there’s Rabbit Maranville, who’s nickname origin is probably obvious. Maranville was such a great 2nd baseman, and leader, that he had a full time job in the thirties, when he was somewhere around 40 yrs old. He only hit .218, with no power or speed, yet was considered too valuable to replace in the lineup.

    A legitimate HOF’er!

  4. Dean Chace said...

    There have been a few decent nicknames in the latter half of the 20th century, too. And at second base, I would put forth Rex “The Wonder Dog” Hudler. Not a great second baseman, but a steady performer for several years, whose versatility was hard to match throughout his career, as he appeared at nearly every position.

  5. Bruce Markusen said...

    Guys, I had originally thought “Poosh em Up” was a chant referring to the idea of Lazzeri advancing the baserunners, but the sources I consulted, including BR Bullpen, all indicated that it was meant to refer to hitting a home run.

  6. Red Nichols said...

    Poosh-em-up?  Musta referred to the great San Franciscan’s ability to move the runners forward, n’est-ce pas? Not necessarily to hit the ball over the fence.  In any case, a great ballplayer in any era.  .  .

  7. Kahuna Tuna said...

    If you go back to the nineteenth century you pick up a few more good nicknames:

    Hardy Richardson — “Old True Blue”

    Claude Ritchey — “Little All Right”

    John O’Brien — “Chewing Gum”

    Sam Wise — “Modoc”

    Jimmy Williams — “Button”

    And, of course, John Alexander McPhee, Cincinnati starting second baseman from 1882 to 1899, ranked 30th at his position by Bill James in the NBJHBA, was known by a nickname meaning “fussy old woman”:

    “McPhee had picked up the nickname ‘Biddy’ or ‘Bid’ as a young boy as he dabbled about in the kitchen of a hotel run by his uncle in Aledo, Illinois. The name, earned not on a ball field but in a family atmosphere, stuck. He was devoted to his widowed mother, a sister and two brothers, and made a home for all of them in Cincinnati. It was reported that his baseball salary went toward the comfort of the family.”  Richard L. McBane, <i>A Fine-Looking Lot of Ball-Tossers:  The Remarkable Akrons of 1881 (McFarland, 2005).

  8. Mark Levine said...

    How about the old Angels’ second baseman Bobby Knoop who local sportswriters called “Nureyev” because of his acrobatic plays.

  9. wsk said...

    when childs was playing, teams used four different railroad stations in pittsburg & allegheny city.
    ‘the’ has a very specific meaning.
    really, what sloppy research, writing, and editing.
    try to do better.
    thanks,
    kevin

  10. Kahuna Tuna said...

    Lou Bierbauer didn’t really have a nickname, but he’s the reason the Pirates are named the Pirates.  That is worth something when you think about it.

  11. BlftBucco (Bob) said...

    Funny you should mention Felix “The Cat” Millan as an honorable mention.

    I thought cats always landed on their feet when dropped.

    I guess Ed Ott proved that wrong, or maybe Millan’s nickname wasn’t appropriate.

  12. Will said...

    Hey there Bruce:

    In doing some research for a recent blog entry on Ron Davis (you can read it by clicking my user name). I could fine no mention of Ron Davis being involved in saving lifes during the KC Hyatt Regency Collapse. At the time, my research indicates he was waiting tables in a restaurant on the Upper West Side. Thought you be interested to know (or able to provide clarification).

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