Unusual Names from the Baseball World
As Abbott and Costello would say, they sure give baseball players peculiar names nowadays. As I researched my book, Baseball State by State over a five-year period, I kept coming across players with unusual names. So I included many of them in the book, which devotes a chapter to each state and includes all-time teams by players’ state of birth along with a list of over 1,600 player nicknames.
Keep in mind that my book only included players from the United States and Canada, so that excluded lots of funny-looking names from international players. What follows is an all-time team of players with unusual names.
Catcher: Tony Suck, Illinois—Chicago native Tony Suck was aptly named—he batted .151 and slugged .161 during his brief career from 1883-84. He was even worse in the field, committing 32 errors in 32 games at catcher, 16 errors in 15 games at short and five errors in 13 games in the outfield. He managed to play one errorless game at third, but only because no balls were hit to him. Here’s the kicker: he legally changed his last name to Suck. His given name was Charles Anthony Zuck. Keep in mind that “Suck” did not have a negative connotation back then, but we’re guessing his direct descendants are not thrilled with his name choice.
Honorable mention at the catcher position goes to Tuffy Gosewisch, Biff Pocoroba, John Wockenfuss, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Casper Asbjornson, Malachi Jeddidah Kittridge, Johnny Gooch, Gene Vadeboncoeur, Doug “Eyechart” Gwosdz, Creighton Gubanich and Osee Schrecongost.
First base: Doug Mientkiewicz, Ohio—The scourge of baseball writers and announcers everywhere, Mientkiewicz produced 899 hits over a 12-year career that produced an OPS+ of 100—he was average in everything but his last name.
Honorable mention at first base goes to Negro Leaguer Willie Bobo, who batted .308 in eight seasons; Micah Kila Ka’aihue of Hawaii and Harley Boss of Louisiana.
Second base: Rougned Odor, Venezuela—As previously mentioned, my book only included players born in the United States and Canada and came out while Odor was in A ball, but it’s hard to top the hilarious name of the Rangers’ second baseman. Not surprisingly, his nicknames are Stink or Stinky.
Honorable mention at second base goes to Jewel Winklemeyer Ens of Missouri, Mark Grudzielanek of Wisconsin, Craig Smajstrla of Texas (hitless in three career at-bats), Cassimir Kwietniewski of Michigan (who changed his name to Cass Michaels) and Bill Wambsganss of Ohio, who turned in the only unassisted triple play in World Series history in 1920.
Third base: Garth Iorg, California—Way goofier name than his brother Dane, whose 10 years in the majors was one more than Garth.
Honorable mention goes to Zelous Wheeler of Alabama, Brent Dlugach of Arkansas, Pelham Ballenger of South Carolina, Urbane Pickering of Kansas, Ezra Midkiff of West Virginia and Rocco Krsnich of Wisconsin.
Shortstop: Sigmund Gryska, Illinois—The Chicago native played two years for the St. Louis Browns in 1938-39 and ended up with 23 career hits and a .329 average before leaving baseball behind to serve in the United States Navy during World War II.
Honorable mention at short goes to Ken Szotkiewicz of Delaware, who managed nine career hits with a .107 average.
Outfield: Johnny Dickshot, Illinois—Dickshot not only had an unfortunate name, he was the self-proclaimed “ugliest man in baseball” and went by the nickname “Ugly.” Either he was trying to deflect attention from his last name or he had self-esteem issues, but he did bat .276 for his six-year career.
Another colorfully named outfielder from Waukegan was Jigger Statz, who collected nearly as many hits in professional baseball as Ty Cobb. Unfortunately, 3,356 of his 4,093 hits came during 18 seasons spent with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League. Statz batted over. 300 12 times and recorded 200 hits nine straight years in the minors, finishing with 1,996 runs and a .315 average. He produced when given a chance in the majors, batting .319 with 209 hits and 110 runs scored for the Cubs in 1923. If you total his hits in the majors and minors, then Statz ranks fourth in career hits as a professional, just two behind Hank Aaron.
Outfield: Chicken Van Winkle Wolf, Kentucky—His first name is actually William, but that’s boring. Chicken Wolf was a 19th century player who plated 1,439 hits over an 11-year career, leading the American Association with 197 hits and a .363 average in 1890. He owns the distinction of being the only player to play in the American Association for its entire 10-year existence, then he ended his career with two hits in the National League for the Cardinals in 1892.
Outfield: Rusty Kuntz, California—Luckily, it’s pronounced “Koonts.” Otherwise, can you imagine the poor World Series announcer in 1984 who had to say, “Now batting for Johnny Grubb, number 47, Rusty Kuntz.” During that at-bat, Rusty drove in what proved to be the game-winning and Series-winning run with a bases loaded pop to second. He just won a second World Series ring this year serving as the Royals’ first base coach.
You could put together a whole team of players with unfortunate names. Dick Pole, we’re thinking of you, and let’s not forget Dickie Thon, George Burpo, Harvey Grubb, Clyde Kluttz, Josh Booty, Charlie Manlove, Jack Glasscock and Pete LaCock.
Honorable mention outfielders include Smead Jolley of Arkansas, Julius Willigrod of Iowa, Hercules Burnett of Kentucky, Wirt Virgin Cannell of Maine, Kimera Bartee of Nebraska, Libeus Washburn of New Hampshire, Will Pennyfeather of New Jersey, Terrmel Sledge of North Carolina, Thomas Umphlett of North Carolina, Carden Gillenwater of Tennessee, Matt Tuiasosopo of Washington and Fabian Gaffke of Wisconsin.
Right handed starter: Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish, Oklahoma—There is nothing like having parents who have a good sense of history. It was definitely a good call to just go by “Cal.” McLish pitched 15 years in the majors, going 92-92 and making one All-Star team. Cal had a brother, Ed, who played in the minors and had just one lousy middle name.
Honorable mention righties include Orval Overall of California, Boof Bonser and Anders Gar Finnvold of Florida, Eli Grba of Illinois, Cyril Slapnicka of Iowa, Jerry Ujdur of Minnesota, Elam Vangilder of Missouri, Mark Lemongello and Huyler Westervelt of New Jersey, Meldon Wolfgang of New York, Herman Fink of North Carolina, Moses Yellow Horse of Oklahoma, Pembroke Finlayson and Van Lingle Mungo of South Carolina, Fabian Kowalik of Texas, Clarence Podbielan of Washington and Camille Van Brabant of Canada.
Left handed starter: Ledell “Cannonball” Titcomb, Maine—The southpaw from West Baldwin was a 19th century player who went 30-29 with a 3.47 ERA across five seasons, tossing a no-hitter in 1890.
Honorable mention southpaws include Emil Yde of Illinois, the incomparable Emil “Hill Billy” Bildilli of Indiana, Delancey Currence of South Carolina, Kevin Mmahat of Tennessee and Billy Gobble of Tennessee.
Relief pitcher: Verle Tiefenthaler, Iowa—Evidently if you had a funny name you had a good chance of being buried in the bullpen. That’s where we find Tiefenthaler, who appeared in three games for the White Sox in 1962 and produced a 9.82 ERA.
Honorable mention relievers include Marc “Scrabble” Rzepczynski and Tim Spooneybarger of California, David Aardsma of Colorado, Mauro Gozzo of Connecticut, Franklin Funk of District of Columbia, Burke Badenhop of Georgia, Bryan Clutterbuck of Michigan, Heathcliff Slocumb of New York, Oswald Orwoll of Oregon and Justin Duchscherer of South Dakota.
Manager: Avitus “Vedie” Himsl, Montana—A grand total of 23 people born in Montana have made it to the major leagues, yet the state has produced two major league managers: current Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons and Vedie Himsl. Himsl was part of the ill-conceived “College of Coaches” rotational system deployed by the Chicago Cubs in 1961 at the suggestion of backup catcher and coach El Tappe. Actually, it was Tappe’s idea to rotate coaches through the minor league system—it was owner Philip Wrigley’s idea to try it at the major league level, which Tappe justifiably thought was nuts. Wrigley won out and declared that the team’s eight coaches would rotate in and out as manager, with the idea that each had something uniquely positive to contribute and players wouldn’t start tuning out the same voice. Himsl was one of four coaches who managed games for the Cubs that year, guiding the team to a 10-21 record during a season in which they placed seventh and were the laughingstock of the league. The “College of Coaches” system was abandoned early in the 1962 season.
If you need a pinch runner, then Drungo Hazewood from Alabama is your man. Mark Funderburk from North Carolina can serve as designated hitter, he of the 25 career hits.
As I point out in my book, more than 1,000 major league players have been born in Illinois including two Moxies, two Paddys and a Chappie, Hobie, Cozy, Jocko and Hunkey. Illinois can also lay claim to a catcher named Al Unser, a second baseman named Don Johnson and a pitcher named Phil Collins.
Special attention also goes to Maryland, which is the home state of Cletus “Boots” Poffenberger, who was truly an all-time great character in action and name. The Williamsport-born righty pitched in 57 games from 1937 to 1939, compiling a 16-12 record. During his rookie season, Boots came out of the bullpen on June 11 to allow just one run in 6-2/3 innings to defeat Lefty Grove for his first win. A month later he pitched a five-hitter on July 11 to outduel Bob Feller 3-2. The Yankees’ Frank Crosetti got him to fall for the hidden ball trick a few days later, but that was just a rookie mistake.
Boots would go on to fashion a 10-5 record that year, leading Tigers fans to believe he could be a key part of the rotation. Boots, however, was more interested in securing and consuming his next case of beer and having a good time. When he showed up at all, he was typically drunk or hung over, which caused the Tigers to hire a private investigator to tail him. The Tigers quickly dropped him, and he had more fines and suspensions than wins in his short time with the Dodgers.
Boots refused to report to the Dodgers’ minor league team in Montreal because he didn’t think the night life there was very promising, so he didn’t pitch anywhere the rest of 1939. He was doing well with the Nashville Vols—winning 26 games in 1940—until the game in 1941 when a somewhat inebriated Poffenberger decided to chuck the baseball at the umpire for calling too many balls on him.
Maryland has produced some other memorable names such as Hanson Horsey, Dorsey Riddlemoser and Carlton Molesworth. It’s a safe bet they all got teased a bit in their youth. At least Molesworth could go back to his high school reunion and brag that he made it to the majors as a pitcher, although he probably left out the fact that he went 0-2 with a 14.63 ERA. That’s better than Riddlemoser, whose one-game career produced an ERA of 18.00 with a 4.50 WHIP, while Horsey’s one major league appearance resulted in a 22.50 ERA. If you want your son to grow up to be a Hall of Fame player, don’t name him Cletus, Dorsey or Hanson, especially if you have a funky last name.
Molesworth may not have done much as a major league pitcher, but he went on to a distinguished career as an outfielder and player-manager with the Birmingham Barons. He managed the Barons from 1908-22, serving as player-manager for many of those seasons and winning pennants in 1912 and 1914. Burleigh Grimes and Pie Traynor played for him on the Barons and he was in the dugout when historic Rickwood Field first opened in Birmingham in 1910. Molesworth, who accumulated 1,712 hits over 14 minor league seasons with a .298 average, is a member of the Birmingham Barons Hall of Fame.
If you are looking for a drinking buddy among major leaguers, then you can look up Johnny Walker, Guido Martini, Billy Lush, Johnny Lush and Jack Daniels, who all would have fit in nicely with Harvey’s Wallbangers on the 1982 Brewers.
One of the best baseball names ever is an outfielder from Florida named Wonderful Terrific Monds III, a name that puts a lot of pressure on you to produce. He didn’t make it into my book, because I only listed major league and Negro League players and Monds never made it out of the minors. His father, Wonder Monds II, played one season in the NFL and his brother Mario also played in the NFL.
There must be something about having a funny name that prevents talented players from becoming stars. In searching the rolls of Hall of Fame inductees, I could only find four players with mildly unusual names: Elmer Flick, Kiki Cuyler, Napoleon Lajoie and Enos Slaughter.
However, if you start looking up the stats of the oddly named players, you find Carl Spongberg from Idado with a 9.00 ERA in one major league appearance; Marshall Boze of Arizona, who went 0-2 with 7.79 ERA; Augie Swentor from Connecticut, who struck out in his only career at-bat; Harry Colliflower of Maryland, who went 1-11 with a 8.17 ERA; and Bill Goodenough of New York, who batted .161 with five hits for the St. Louis Browns in 1893 before being judged not good enough.
Baseball, as it turns out, is a name game. Don’t even get me started on the nicknames, because there is a story behind all 1,600 I have compiled. Frank “Toys in the Attic” Bertaina, Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stuart, Nick “Tomato Face” Cullop, Pearce “What’s the Use” Chiles. If you want to understand why baseball is America’s pastime, start with the names.
Chris Jensen, who grew up outside Cooperstown, N.Y., is the author of “Baseball State by State: Major League and Negro League Players, Ballparks, Museums and Historical Sites.” You can reach him on Twitter at @yankfan81.