What’s in a Name?
A Lot of Fun with Negro Leagues Nicknames
By Glenn Guzzo
By Glenn Guzzo
As if the ground-breaking research, the legendary players and the glossy card stock weren’t enough, there’s another reason to glory in Strat-O-Matic’s Negro Leagues set: The most fantastic collection of nicknames in baseball history.
Certainly no Strat-O set has had such a display of nicknames on the cards themselves.
You know Satchel and Cool Papa of course. So well-known for their nicknames we’d have much more trouble recognizing these players by their real first names. Their nickname becomes their real name to us.
It’s never Joe Rogan, but Bullet Joe Rogan. Not Joe Williams, but Smokey Joe Williams.
Of the 103 players in the set, about 40 are identified by their nicknames. It could have been more. It’s only Dick Redding in this set, but the pitcher was known as well as Cannonball Redding – and that’s how he’s ID’d in the Guide Book that Strat-O-Matic includes with the card sets.
Could we identify the Johnsons in this set only by the names of Grant, Oscar and William? Of course not. But give us Home Run Johnson (Grant), Heavy Johnson (Oscar) and Hall of Fame 3B Judy Johnson (William) and we’re in the game.
Nicknames were so common in the Negro Leagues that we’ve got doubles, not even counting Double Duty Radcliffe. We’ve got two Rubes, two Bucks, two Newts. Two “Lefties” don’t show on the cards: Andy Cooper and Dave Brown. We see Home Run Johnson, but not Home Run Willard Brown.
Speaking of Bullet and Cannonball, we could go military with 1B Tank Carr and C Big Bertha Santop (ID’d on the cards only as Louis Santop). “Big Bertha” was a World War I cannon.
We could go farm-fresh with Turkey Stearnes, big Mule Suttles and little man Frog Redus, not to mention Eggy Hensley and Jelly Gardner.
Sticking with the food theme, there’s Candy Jim Taylor and Spoony Palm.
And the Weight Watchers group: For every Slim Jones, there’s a Heavy Johnson, a Tubby Scales and a Fats Jenkins.
Read the comic-book names of Superman Pennington and Ghost Marcelle. There’s a church theme with Rev Cannady and Bingo DeMoss. We’ve got the old men, Pop Lloyd and Cool Papa Bell, and the girls, Bonnie Serrell and Judy Johnson.
If you want to know more about Biz, Chino, Dizzy, Rap, Red, Spot, and Wild Bill, get the set already.
But if you love nicknames like I love nicknames, then here’s more, not on the cards or in the Guide Book. Most of what follows should be credited to Don Zminda’s wonderful book, “From Abba Dabba to Zorro.”
- Hall of Fame SS Willie Wells was nicknamed “El Diablo” for the time he spent in the Mexican League robbing batters of hits.
- Continuing with the Latin theme, Hall of Fame OF Cristobal Torriente was known as “The Cuban Strongboy.” And Hall of Fame P/utility fielder Martin DiHigo was “El Maestro.”
- More Hall of Famers: It’s Ray “Hooks” Dandridge (because he was bowlegged), Dick “King Richard” Lundy (for his royal play) and Judd “Boojum” Wilson (approximating the sound of his vicious line drives). And Louis “Big Bertha” Santop (for his size, the size of his bat and the size of his home runs).
- Spice your announcing with “Gentleman Dave” Malarcher and Ted “Big Florida” Trent.