What’s In A Baseball Name? Some Are More Unusual Than Others | IBWAA

Sloppy Thurston cartoonUnknown author

By Elizabeth Muratore

If there’s one sport known for having players with fantastic names, it’s baseball. Many of the most famous baseball players in MLB history have been wrapped in nicknames so synonymous with the player that it’s hard to imagine the man without the nickname: “Dizzy” Dean, “Babe” Ruth, “Lefty” Grove (and Lefty O’Doul , and Lefty Gomez), Ted “The Splendid Splinter” Williams, Willie “The Say Hey Kid” Mays. The list goes on and on.

But what about some lesser-known baseball players who had awesome names? There have been countless players in the history of the sport who may not have racked up 50 bWARs or 700 homers, but had such a great name that they are worth remembering. Here are some of my lesser known baseball names scattered throughout MLB history.

Soup Campbell

That’s right folks, there actually is a baseball reference entry for a player named Soup Campbell (his real first name was Clarence). A Virginia native, Campbell spent two major league seasons with the Cleveland Indians in 1940 and 1941, hitting .246 in 139 games during that span. His career was cut short after he enlisted in the US Army and served from 1942 to 1945 – after which he returned to the Minors but never cracked a major league roster again.

Campbell isn’t the only MLB player with the Campbell surname to go by the nickname “Soup”—the youngest baseball player, Eric Campbell, also adopted the nickname—but he’s the only one officially called “Soup” on both baseball reference and MLB player pages.

Sloppy Thurston

This right-handed Los Angeles native, whose real name was Hollis John Thurston, vacillated between “sloppy” and “neat” throughout his career, which spanned from 1923 to 1927 and from 1930 to 1933. Apparently he was nicknamed “Sloppy”. almost entirely as a joke; according to the book Lefty: An American Odyssey About fellow pitcher Lefty Gomez, Thurston was “perhaps the best-dressed man in baseball, a trait he believed made him more attractive to female baseball fans.”

Thurston reinforced his legacy after his playing career ended by serving as a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1939-45 and helping spot the talents of future Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner. However, one of the sloppiest days of his career came on August 13, 1932, when he set a modern MLB record by giving up six home runs in one game.

Shadow Pyle

It’s highly likely that Harry Thomas “Shadow” Pyle’s actual shadow lasted longer than his major league career. The southpaw started in five career games for the Philadelphia Quakers and Chicago White Stockings in 1884 and 1887, respectively, and completed four of those starts. He also weighed only 136 poundshence the nickname “Shadow”.

Jumbo McGinnis

Despite what his nickname might suggest, Jumbo McGinnis was only 5ft 10 when he played in the American Association from 1882-87. His nickname Supposedly derived from his weight — it’s listed in the Baseball Reference as 197 pounds, but he’s reportedly often weighed north of 200 pounds during the off-season before losing weight in time for Opening Day. However, his first name, George Washington McGinnis, might be even more majestic than his nickname.

The St. Louis native played five seasons for his hometown St. Louis Brown Stockings and compiled a 102-79 record with a 2.95 ERA over his six-year career. Perhaps the most “jumbo-like” thing about him was his workload — in his first three seasons, 1882–84, McGinnis averaged 375 innings a year.

Shooty Babitt

Based on the timeframes I’ve referenced so far in this article, this might sound like the name of another 1880’s gamer who coexisted with the Wild West, but that’s not the case. Shooty babies major league service only appeared with the Oakland Athletics in 1981. The Oakland native appeared in 54 games that year and hit .256, earning him fifth place in American League Rookie of the Year voting. However, the A’s went in a different direction the following year at second base, and Babitt never cracked an MLB roster again, though he later began a career as a scout and TV analyst.

Gherkins Dillhöfer

Originally his name was William Martin Dillhoefer, our friend Pickles got his nickname as a kid He grew up in Cleveland among people who were drawn to the “dill” part of his last name. He spent five seasons in the bigs from 1917 to 1921 with the Chicago Cubs, the Philadelphia Phillies and the St. Louis Cardinals. Immediately after his rookie season, Dillhoefer was involved in a trade for a future Hall of Famer when the Cubs sent him to Philly to win Chicago Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander, who was anchored in Cooperstown in 1938.

Dillhofer didn’t let himself be outshone and was a viable backup catcher throughout his big league career. His life was tragically ended in 1922 when he died of typhus at the age of 28 just weeks after his marriage.

chicken wolf

Yes, there was a real 19th century player with that nickname. His real name was almost as good: William Van Winkle Wolf. But go over there baseball referenceand he is listed as a chicken, a nickname he has acquired as a teenager after eating a hearty portion of chicken before a game. Wolf had the distinction of being the only baseball player to appear in all 10 seasons of the American Association’s existence from 1882 to 1891. His best season was in 1890, when he led the AA in batting average (.363), total bases (260), and hitting (197).

Wolf was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky and died in Louisville in 1903. Back then, he might as well have been called Kentucky Fried Chicken Wolf.

Elizabeth Muratore is one of the editors of the Here’s the Pitch newsletter. She also works as a homepage editor for MLB, writes for Rising Apple and Girl at the Game, and co-hosts a Mets podcast called Cohen’s Corner. Elizabeth is a lifelong Mets fan who thinks Keith Hernandez should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. You can follow her on Twitter @nymfan97.

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