On July 9, 1851 Red Woodhead was born. Red saw only minor time during the early days of baseball, but commenced a tradition of July 9 being the birthday of, shall we say, intriguingly named players. Richard looks at some.
Certain dates in baseball simply have different implications. May 27, birthday of both Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas, for example is a Hall of Fame day. March 8, my birthday, has two men who arguably belong in the Hall of Fame—Jim Rice and Dick Allen—but are not, for various reasons.
July 9 has not produced anything close to Hall of Fame talent. The nearest is probably Willie Wilson, but despite the long-time Royal’s 668 stolen bases he is not really that close. What July 9 does feature, however, is some players with truly outstanding names.
This started with Red Woodhead, the first player born on July 9 to play in what is now recognized as a major league. Woodhead wasn’t much of a player; he appeared in one game in 1873 and then reappeared for just more than 30 games for the Syracuse Stars. Woodhead’s career line included a .154 average and 23 strikeouts against no walks.
It is only fair that I point out that Red wasn’t his real name, he was born James Woodhead. Although I can’t find any photos of Red, I think it is a fair assumption that the nickname came from his hair, like that of every other player nicknamed Red in the history of sport.
Sadly, Woodhead died just two years after his career ended. However, it was not a total loss as 1881 saw the passing of the name torch to the Leon Mark Dolan. While Leon isn’t a bad name in and of itself, like Woodhead his real distinction comes from his nickname: Biddy Dolan.
I can’t speculate quite as easily on the source of Dolan’s nickname. There was a one-time Irish patriot turned British supporter who shared the name—actually, she was “Croppy Biddy” Dolan—but that connection seems tenuous at best. Given the influence of the Irish in the early history of baseball, I can’t rule it out entirely.
What I can rule out is that Dolan was likely to be the best player to emerge on July 9. Dolan appeared in just one season in the short-lived Federal League, manning first base for the pennant winning Indianapolis Hoosiers. (Speaking of outstanding names, the Federal had some, including the Pittsburgh Rebels and St. Louis Terriers.)
Dolan hit just .223 (with a .646 OPS), far below what was required even in an era when first base defense was given more importance than it is today. Of course, he also made seven errors in 31 games at first, so that didn’t help him either.
Actually, I’m really fond of Jim Scoggins; it’s just fun to say. Scoggins. Go ahead, try it. I’ll wait.
See? Fun. Anyway, in 1932 in Sandersville, Ga., Orville Inman Veal was born. Veal was never much of a hitter, despite once hitting .297 in a very limited time. He finished with a lifetime .231 average and none of the patience and power that would justify putting someone with that average into the lineup.
Veal nonetheless saw action in nearly 250 games off a strong defensive reputation. What makes him notable, however, is his nickname. When Veal came up he got off to a strong start, hitting over .350 through his first 21 games. (He would then revert to form, hitting .206 the rest of the way.)
So, the story goes, Veal performed well in a doubleheader against the Yankees. Casey Stengel then asked Veal’s manager, Bill Norman, “where you been hiding that Cooter Veal?” And a nickname was born: Coot Veal. And no, why Veal reminded Stengel of a “Cooter,” or turtle, I will never know.
Finally we come to my personal favorite name, and the first to not require a nickname to reach its quality. On July 9 of 1933, Raymond Roy Rippelmeyer entered the world. He was commonly known within the game as Ray Rippelmeyer—sometimes spelled Ray Ripplemeyer.
Rippelmeyer did not have much of a career as a player, putting up a 5.49 ERA in his only season, good for an ERA+ of just 74. He would stay in baseball for a long time thereafter, though, serving as a pitching coach, including around the Mets’ organization for many years. Rippelmeyer is still alive today, and still attending baseball-related events.
But enough about his career. There are a couple of things I like about his name. For one, there’s the alliteration factor. All those R’s have a ring to them. Moreover he was born in Valmeyer, Ill. That makes him Rippelmeyer from Valmeyer. I’ll grant it’s not quite the “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.” level of greatness, but it’s pretty solid.
Rippelmeyer has been the last of the really marvelous names from July 9. Hal Haydel—there’s that alliteration again—played a couple of seasons in the 1970s, but that can’t really compete. Of course, you might notice that the constant theme among these players is that none of them were really good.
I’m not going to go so far as to claim that a captivating name is a bad sign for one’s professional career. After all, Candy Cummings—who allegedly invented the curveball—is in the Hall of Fame.
Nonetheless, if the lessons of Ray Rippelmeyer, Biddy Dolan, Coot Veal and others are anything to take away, it is that a name I enjoy is probably not a recipe for success.