Biscuit Pants, the Little Steam Engine, the Piano Mover and more used to dominate the ranks of Major League Baseball.
I was reading something online this weekend about how Blake Griffin needs a nickname. And the most popular ones proposed seem to be “Blake Superior” and “High Griffinition.”
And all I could think about was… if this was 1889 and he was playing baseball (not throwing a medicine ball into a peach bucket) for the Boston Beaneaters, the Cleveland Spiders, the Pittsburg (pre-h) Alleghenys, or the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, his nickname would be something like “The Rootin’ Tootin’ Okie” or “The Workin’ Man With the Big Right Hand.”
Conclusion: Old timey nicknames are, and always will be, better.
This is a list of 11 old timey baseball nicknames that are wonderful. They’re not the only wonderful old timey baseball nicknames, but they’re bully representatives. And next time you shudder when you hear a nickname… Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, LeBron “King” James… just kick back and find solace in these.
1 | Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson (1871-1884)
His full name is Robert Vavasour “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson. They don’t make ’em like that anymore. His career batting average was .265, so I’m not sure that baseballs were the flying things he was terrorizing — maybe he was a good duck hunter in the offseason? Or maybe he fought in the Civil War (the ages work out) and he would intercept the South’s flying… well, not planes, obviously… flaming moonshine projectiles?
Upon further review, it turns out he got the nickname because he played in the era before fielders routinely wore gloves, and Death to Flying Things was particularly adept at catching fly balls with his bare hands. Which makes the nickname even better.
2 | Lou “Biscuit Pants” Gehrig (1923-1939)
They already named a disease after his real name. Maybe it’s time to use this nickname in the same capacity. Could it work as a new name for incontinence?
3 | Pud “The Little Steam Engine” Galvin (1875-1892)
“Pud” is also a nickname, his real first name is James. “Pud” was bestowed upon him because “his pitches made hitters look like pudding.” “The Little Steam Engine” was bestowed upon him because he was durable.
And he WAS. Back then they only had two-man pitching rotations. So he threw 6,003 innings and 646 complete games (both of those are second all-time behind Cy Young and will never, ever, ever, ever be touched). He also factored into a billion decisions; career record of 365 wins and 310 losses.
He died at age 45. Probably because his arm fell off.
4 | Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown (1903-1916)
It’s a great nickname, and one that Jim Abbott probably should’ve adapted during his playing days. More importantly, Mr. Burns gives “Three Finger” Brown a shout-out during one of my all-time favorite Simpsons episodes, the Power Plant softball team episode.
For reference, he did just have three fingers. He lost two in a farming accident when he was young. He learned to use his lack of fingers as an advantage; to help him throw a nasty curveball. I wonder if that’s why there was a girl at my high school whose nickname was also Three Fingers Brown? I’ve never seen her curveball, though, so I can’t be sure.
5 | “Gentleman” George Decker (1892-1899)
“Gentleman” is such a smooth and evocative nickname… and one that has completely died. I’m not sure that there’s a player in any professional sport right now who could take the nickname “Gentleman” in good conscience. When the most “aw, shucks” player of the past two decades starts sexting penis pictures to every woman on the team’s payroll, you know that nickname is out of vogue.
6 | Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy (1935-1940, War, 1945-1947)
This nickname would never stick in the modern era — too many egos — but it sure would be apt now. And, yeah, Mulcahy didn’t have a particularly impressive go of it. He only spent four of his seasons on the full-time roster and lost 18, 20, 16 and 22 games respectively.
And while I don’t really value pitcher wins and losses as a valuable baseball metric — at some point you just have to notice that it’s both walking and quacking like a duck.
7 | Frank “The Piano Mover” Smith (1904-1915)
You’ll always win me over with nicknames after mostly-defunct occupations that make me think of Laurel and Hardy films. You give a player a nickname like the Bugle Boy or Haymonger or Spittleman or Tinsmith and I’ll be happy to declare that the art of nicknaming is back.
8 | George “High Pockets” Kelly (1915-1932)
Ol’ High Pockets is in the Baseball Hall of Fame and has actually been called the worst Hall of Famer ever. (At least until Jeter gets voted in.) So if you ever get the chance, let High Pockets know he made my top 11 old-timey nicknames list. Maybe that’ll cheer him up.
*Note – you’ll have to pass the word along via Ouija board.
9 | Burleigh “Ol’ Stubblebeard” Grimes (1916-1934)
You can tell a good old timey nickname if you can add the word “ol'” in front of it and it sounds perfect. For instance, The Ol’ Bambino works. The Ol’ D-Wade doesn’t.
Burleigh Grimes already has an “ol'” built into his nickname, making it something of an automatic qualifier for incredible. Today Burleigh would be nicknamed “The Burly Man” which would not resonate.
10 | William Van Winkle “Chicken” Wolf (1882-1892)
Not sure how the chicken-wolf dynamic quite played out, but it can’t be because Chicken Wolf was a coward. During the offseason, he worked as a firefighter — and ended up dying from brain trauma he suffered putting out a fire.
More proof he wasn’t a coward? He played 11 seasons when he could’ve retired after 10. And we all know 11 is the golden number, and only playing 10 seasons is for cowards.
11 | George “Twinkletoes” Selkirk (1934-1942)
I debated between Twinkletoes Selkirk and Joe “The Gay Reliever” Page for this spot but they both lead to the same conclusion. Their nicknames would never fly today, but the mere sound of them, in all their antiquated glory, probably creates a stirring in Ken Burns’ loins.
I would’ve loved a nickname like Twinkletoes when I was playing sports (aka middle school). But since I was about 5-foot-nothing with size 12 shoes, there was nothing at all twinkly about my toes. I was shaped like a capital “L,” for what that’s worth.