The Baseball Player Name Hall Of Fame: Where Cannonball Titcomb Shall Never Die

nameheadline

We have now been without baseball for nearly three months. Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training within three weeks, which means baseball writers have precious little time in which to screw around. To that end, let's spend a little time celebrating one of the things baseball does best: offering career paths to guys with weird names.

Throughout the course of baseball history, tens of thousands of men have played the game professionally, so it's natural for there to be plenty of funny names in the box scores. Players like Coco Crisp, Milton Bradley, and Rusty Kuntz are contemporary examples; search deeper in the records and you'll find names such as Bob "Death To Flying Things" Ferguson and Dick "Dr. Strangeglove" Stuart.

I've spent far more time than I should poring through the cavernous archives of Baseball-Reference with Adam Jacobi, editor of Black Heart Gold Pants and former editor around these parts. He's responsible for finding some of the names below. Some were suggested by others, and many I found myself.

In the absence of any official curating body, this can serve as a sort of Baseball Player Name Hall of Fame, and we can call these fellows the first class of inductees. The photos you see below were taken from Baseball-Reference, which believes them to be in the public domain.

You're welcome, of course, to submit other nominees in the comments. I could have made this list a hundred items long, and it still would have barely scratched the surface.

 

Al Kaline

Al_kaline_medium

(Baseball-Reference page here)

It seems to me as though no matter how big and important a man gets, he shouldn't supersede our appreciation of words, but it's happened plenty of times. Al Kaline is one example. He was a terrific baseball player, a Hall of Famer, and a famous person. And yet, even after tossing his name around for 50 years, we either have not noticed or haven't bothered to mention that his name is Alkaline.

Granted, Alkaline is not as provocative as Rusty Kuntz (or at least the mythical Rusty Kuntz with the "Kuntz" that is pronounced how we wish it were pronounced), but it's still a comic book name. Nobody talks about it. He has a battery name!

We see the same phenomenon with Babe Ruth, who, of course, was one of the very most iconic Americans of our history. Babe is a pretty silly name for a giant American hero to have, but no one cares. In the interest of bringing this double-standard to light:

 

James Baby

Year Lg Lev Aff W L ERA IP SO
1974 GULF Rk MON 1 0 1.50 12.0 10
1975 2 Lgs Rk-A MON 4 8 5.29 63.0 4
1975 PION Rk MON 3 5 4.50 56.0
1975 FLOR A MON 1 3 11.57 7.0 4
2 Seasons 5 8 4.68 75.0 14
Rk (2 seasons) 4 5 3.97 68.0 10
A (1 season) 1 3 11.57 7.0 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2011.

 

The humor of this name benefits from sequence, I think. If his name were Baby James, we'd figure that Baby was a nickname, or that he had eccentric parents, or something. But James Baby? It's so simple and weird that I laughed out loud upon coming across it. The Baby family. A family full of babies. You got a baby dad, and a baby mom, and the baby dad comes home from baby work in a diaper, holdin' his baby suitcase, oh my Goodness, that's so cute I'm gonna have a heart attack. Next slide!

 

Grant Balfour

Year Tm W L ERA IP SO
2001 MIN 0 0 13.50 2.2 2
2003 MIN 1 0 4.15 26.0 30
2004 MIN 4 1 4.35 39.1 42
2007 TOT 1 2 7.66 24.2 30
2007 MIL 0 2 20.25 2.2 3
2007 TBD 1 0 6.14 22.0 27
2008 TBR 6 2 1.54 58.1 82
2009 TBR 5 4 4.81 67.1 69
2010 TBR 2 1 2.28 55.1 56
7 Seasons 19 10 3.81 273.2 311
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2011.

 

MRS. BALFOUR. What should we encourage him to be when he grows up?
MR. BALFOUR. A pitcher.
MRS. BALFOUR. A major league pitcher? Do you know how astronomically unlikely that is?
MR. BALFOUR. We must find a way.
MRS. BALFOUR. Okay, well, what should we name him?
MR. BALFOUR. Grant. Grant Balfour.
MRS. BALFOUR. Hmm, that's a nice... wait. That would be a terrible name for a pitcher to have! Why do you want to name him that?
MR. BALFOUR. I hate him.
MRS. BALFOUR. How can you hate him? He's just a newborn baby!
MR. BALFOUR. I hate babies.

 

Vinegar Bend Mizell

Vinegar_bend_mizell_medium

(Thanks to @krisitay for the suggestion. Baseball-Reference page here)

Vinegar Bend was nicknamed "Vinegar Bend" because he grew up in Vinegar Bend, which is a town in Alabama, where one would expect a town named Vinegar Bend to be. He later became a U.S. Representative, just like every other pitcher from the 1950s I can think of (Jim Bunning).

 

Urban Shocker

Urban_shocker_medium

(Baseball-Reference page here)

Born in 1890 to parents Suburban Surpriser and Rural Subject of Mild Interest.

A year ago, Urban Meyer shocked us all when he announced he was retiring as football coach of the Florida Gators. Months later, after he decided to stick around, Urban Meyer's Gators were shocked by a loss to Mississippi State, their third in a row. And yet, nobody went with the "Urban Shocker" headline. He wasn't some hyper-obscure player! He was one of the best players on the 1927 Yankees!

Perhaps they're saving it for the ultimate Urban Shocker, which is when you realize that Urban Meyer is on Baseball-Reference.

 

Greg Legg

Year AB HR RBI BA OPS+
2 Seasons 22 0 1 .409 134
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/19/2011.

 

(Thanks to @thekidcanada for the reminder)

A friend of mine is a DJ for a radio station. Years ago, while he was on air, I instant-messaged him the simple words, "greg legg."

He isn't a baseball fan, and just like most of the rest of us, he had no idea who or what Greg Legg even was. Mid-sentence, he saw my message, started laughing on-air, and could barely finish his sentence.

I encourage you to try this yourself. Scrawl "greg legg" on a gallon of milk for someone to find next time the refrigerator door is opened. Sneak "greg legg" into a PowerPoint presentation. Anything. You will light up a life.

 

Wonderful Terrific Monds III

(Suggested by, like, 300 billion people)

Year AB HR RBI BA OPS
7 Seasons 1916 55 243 .281 .790
AA (4 seasons) 963 30 119 .279 .783
Rk (4 seasons) 238 7 40 .290 .870
A+ (2 seasons) 350 8 43 .269 .698
A (1 season) 365 10 41 .290 .846
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/19/2011.

 

During the mid-1990s, the Braves had legions of promising offensive bats in their system. The top tier consisted of Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Ryan Klesko, Javy Lopez, and Jermaine Dye. There was a second tier of guys I irrationally assumed would be just as good: Tony Tarasco, Jose Oliva (R.I.P.), Mike Mordecai, and Wonderful Monds.

Wonderful Monds was not just as good. He never made it to the major leagues, left the game at age 26, and now operates a car cleaning service in Florida. I'm glad that even after baseball didn't pan out, he's doing what he loves to do, and we have every reason to assume that Wonderful's Cleaning Service is a "delightful" establishment.

 

Sad Sam Jones

Jonessa01_medium

(Suggested by Bill Barnwell from Football Outsiders)

Sam Jones didn't have a nickname as eccentric as some of the others you see here, but "Sad Sam" is an example of how adhesive language apparently was in the olden days. You make shoes? Your last name is Shoemaker. You looked sad once? Well, then, your name is Sad Sam Jones, and it will be forever.

 

Oil Can Boyd

Year W L ERA IP ERA+
10 Seasons 78 77 4.04 1389.2 102
BOS (8 yrs) 60 56 4.15 1016.2 103
MON (2 yrs) 16 14 3.15 311.0 116
TEX (1 yr) 2 7 6.68 62.0 61
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/19/2011.

 

I was first made aware of Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd's existence when I ripped open a pack of 1990 Donruss. Upon seeing his name, I immediately marked out, firmly convinced that it was an error card, and showed it to my mom. She observed that it would be a very unlikely error for a baseball card company to make, and that it was probably just an unusual nickname.

I didn't believe it. I tried to construct a scenario in which "Oil Can" was on the card inadvertently, because if it were, it would be worth thousands of dollars. Perhaps a guy in the printing room tripped on something -- an oil can, yes, that would make sense -- and it spilled on the baseball card. But how astronomically unlikely would it be for a spill from an oil can to spell out "Oil Can"? Perhaps instead, a disgruntled employee figured that nobody was paying attention and started typing whatever he wanted. I thought about this for a long, long time.

And then I looked up and saw that I was writing this article. Oh, hello there!

 

Ugly Dickshot

Johnny_dickshot_medium

(Suggested by our Phillies blog, The Good Phight)

Listen, man, it's kind of hard to get a good one. They generally just aren't terribly pleasant sights to begin with. No need to get down in the dumps about it. Another one? Fine, just -- here, just give me the camera. Last one.

(Ugly Dickshot. Holy s***, everybody.)


Razor Shines

AB HR RBI BA OPS+
81 0 5 .185 25
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/19/2011.

 

A man named Razor Shines has no place in baseball. He should be sitting on a wooden barrel firmly planted in bayou marsh, strumming a banjo with his hook-hand, and mumbling lyrics through his corn-cob pipe that begin with a thorough explanation of how to lash together a raft of felled beech trees, but end up devolving into a frank indictment of his log cabin and its inability to thwart the intrusion of rain and local fauna.

 

Pearce "What's The Use" Chiles

Pearce_chiles_medium

(Baseball-Reference page here)

Thanks to this fantastic piece of research from Ron Schuler, we do know a couple of things about Pearce Chiles. As a base-running coach, he buried an electric buzzer in a puddle of mud as part of an elaborate sign-stealing scheme. In his limited career, his at bats-to-RBI ratio was similar to Joe DiMaggio's. Wanted by authorities in the late 1890s, he went on the lam and never re-surfaced.

We don't know what happened to him, and we have no confirmation of his death. He could still be out there today, all of 143 years old, bummin' around this planet, determined not to rest until he finds out what the use is. I couldn't tell you, old man.

 

Heinie Meine, AKA "The Count Of Luxemburg"

Heinie_meine_medium

(Baseball-Reference page here)

Note the spelling. Heinie Meine was not the count of Luxembourg, the tiny European nation. I suppose the Luxemburg in question was Luxemburg, Iowa, population 246.

Iowa is a strange place, one in which Heinie Meine is a normal name to have, and one in which a far-flung hamlet, isolated from the greater society since its inception over a hundred years ago, has seen its system of government organically devolve into a monarchy. The King wears a crown of straw, and the Queen's jewels are but kernels of corn.

Through the system of nobility, Meine enjoyed the status of count, but he was exiled forever after placing last in a contest which judged who could clap his or her hands the slowest. (Remember: rural Iowa.) He discovered the game of baseball and took to it instantly, as the motion of throwing a baseball is nearly identical to Luxemburg's traditional gesture of expressing the need or desire to thresh wheat.

 

Dad Meek

AB HR RBI BA OPS+
18 0 2 .333 85
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/19/2011.

 

Hey, um, kiddo? Could you eat your mashed potatoes before having dessert? If you want to. It's fine if you do or don't. Oh, I wish you wouldn't... please don't squish your mashed potatoes in your hands and say, "fart fart buttfart." Well... I guess you can. No big deal... goodness, you would make your father very happy if you didn't stand on the table, spit your mashed potatoes everywhere, grind pepper all over my plate, and declare the pepper grinder to be a "butt machine." That's not even how a butt machine would work, if such a thing even existed to begin with. I will too make you go to your room! I, okay, nevermind, I won't, nevermind.

 

Mysterious Walker

Mysterious_walker_medium

(Baseball-Reference page here)

BATTER looks at a 2-0 pitch.
UMPIRE.
Ball three!
MYSTERIOUS WALKER. What do you think the next pitch is going to be?
BATTER. A ball.
MYSTERIOUS WALKER. SHUT UP, IT'S A MYSTERY
BATTER. You are going to grant me a base on balls.
MYSTERIOUS WALKER. Am I, or am I not? NOBODY KNOOOOOWWWS
UMPIRE. Are you going to throw, or what?
MYSTERIOUS WALKER. (gazes wistfully into horizon)
UMPIRE. We get it. Just throw ball four, like you always do.
BATTER looks at a 3-0 pitch.
UMPIRE. Ball four!
MYSTERIOUS WALKER. (widens eyes, makes jazz hands at half-speed, peers around slowly at nothing in particular)
BATTER. He's been playing for years and he's walked everyone he's faced. How is he still in the league?
UMPIRE. Who knows? It's a mystery.
MYSTERIOUS WALKER. (points excitedly) HA!
UMPIRE. Son of a--
MYSTERIOUS WALKER. (slowly pulls cloak over head, dances the Charleston)

 

Kid Fears

Year Age Tm Lg Lev Aff G W L W-L%
1898 -- San Antonio TL C 1 of 2
1898 -- Topeka KSSL N/A 1 of 1
1 Season
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/19/2011.

 

Rest assured, because monsters, swimming lessons, going to the dentist, the dark, your parents getting divorced, not fitting in, wetting the bed, not keeping astride with an increasingly dot-com world, the Russians, burglars, terrorists, hornets, clowns, the story from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in which the girl unties the ribbon from her neck and her head falls off, the scene from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure in which Pee-Wee's bike is lowered into a pit of fire by a clown surgeon, long division, the weird sound the downstairs toilet makes when you flush it, and booster shots bumbled around in the minor leagues for a little while before retiring in 1898.

 

John Boise

(Baseball-Reference page here)

SPELLED IT WRONG, TRY AGAIN

 

Bristol Robotham Lord, AKA "The Human Eyeball"

Bris_lord_medium

(Baseball-Reference page here)

There's a whole lot going on with this one. This guy had "robot" in his name, and was born 30-plus years before the coining of the word, "robot." What would a robot ham be like? Would a ham be retrofitted to be robotic, or would robots actually grow flesh and be slaughtered for meat? How? Apparently there's a "lord" of robot hams? If his subjects are getting slaughtered all over the place, he must be a really crappy lord!

How does one receive the nickname "The Human Eyeball"? What character trait is so eye-like that it would attract such a nickname? Goodness, I think I need to lie down. 

 

Chicken Wolf

Wolfji01_medium

(Baseball-Reference page here)

Okay, so you have to cross a river, and you have to take a sack of grain, a chicken, a wolf, and Chicken Wolf to the other side with you. The problem is that you can only carry two at once. If you leave the chicken alone with the grain, he'll eat the grain. And if you leave the wolf alone with the chicken, he'll eat the chicken. Can't have that.

So you... so. Okay. You can leave the wolf with the grain, right? Cool, then we just take Chicken Wolf and the chicken across. Then you go back and... wait, would Chicken Wolf eat the chicken? Fine, then instead, you take the grain and Chicken Wolf to the... damn it. It's impossible. You can't do it. It's impossible.

 

Beer (full name unknown)

(Baseball-Reference page here)

The keepers of baseball's historical records refuse to leave any bit of the game's history, no matter how incomplete or trivial, undocumented. When some guy named Beer pitched 19 games for the Lancaster Lanks in 1910, he had no reason to believe that 101 years later, we would be viewing his records on something called the Internet.

Or was Beer really a "he?" We have very little information about Beer. Perhaps, as Mr. Jacobi suggested to me, the manager simply cracked open a can of beer and set it on the pitching rubber. Did they have cans in those days? Perhaps it was a paper carton, or a lid-less clay cup which was, like all other beers of the time, filled at the brewery and then gingerly carried for hundreds of miles to avoid spillage.

 

Larry President

W L ERA IP SO
18 16 3.94 313.0 130
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/19/2011.

 

During his administration, Larry President was so popular that they let him stay after the first pitch to keep throwing pitches! He left office mid-campaign in the wake of his "not very good at baseball" scandal of 1972.

 

Cannonball Titcomb

Cannonball_titcomb_medium

(Baseball-Reference page here)

At 5'6", Cannonball Titcomb was one of the shortest pitchers in the history of baseball. He recorded 30 wins in his career. Hitters were too busy to swing, as the rated-G joke potential of his nickname was at loggerheads with the rated-R potential of his last name, resulting in a case of joke paralysis.

If you stare at it long enough, you eventually begin to wonder what a cannonball titcomb would actually look like. Do not do this.

 

Arlie Latham, AKA "The Dude," AKA "The Freshest Man On Earth," AKA "The Hustler From Hustletown"

Arlie_latham_medium

(Baseball-Reference page here)

Granted, "The Freshest Man On Earth" is a bold claim. I'll allow you to decide whether he lived up to his nickname. Consider the following:

- Arlie Latham was a baseball player in the 1880s and '90s.

- He was nicknamed, "The Dude."

- He was also nicknamed, "The Freshest Man On Earth."

- He was also nicknamed, "The Hustler From Hustletown."

- He used to sing this song, which was written especially for him:

I'm a daisy on the diamond,
I'm a dandy on the stage.
I'd ornament a horsecart
Or look pretty in a cage...
I'm a Hustler from Hustletown,
The Freshest Man On Earth.

- He briefly left baseball in the middle of his career to act on stage.

- When his manager, Charles Comiskey, accused him of falling asleep on the job (either figuratively or, literally, in the dugout), he set off a firecracker underneath third base.

- During one game, it was getting dark, and Arlie asked the umpire to call the game and give his team the win. The umpire refused, so Arlie told a ballboy to line up some candles in front of the dugout. Arlie lit them all, and the umpire walked over and blew them out. Arlie lit them again. The umpire walked over and blew them out again. This continued for several minutes until the umpire declared the game a forfeit and gave Arlie's team the loss.

- Arlie later became a third-base coach. Fred Snodgrass said he "was probably the worst third-base coach who ever lived."

- While on the basepaths, he once evaded a tag by doing a mid-air somersault.

- He loved to organize people to go play "ice polo." We don't know what ice polo is, but he may have helped to invent it.

- He committed 896 errors, the 11th-most in the history of baseball and the most ever by a third baseman (by a practically unbreakable margin). In his day, if a player made no effort to field a ball, it was said that he "Arlie Lathamed it."

- At 49 years of age, he was, and still is, the oldest man to ever steal a base.

It's rare for a man to live up to such a spectacular name, but I think he did. While I haven't audited the freshness of every man who has ever walked the Earth, I think we can pack up the tents.

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