Baseball History: Odd Player Nicknames of the Dead-Ball Era

Baseball history is full of colorful players, some of whom went by even more colorful nicknames. For whatever reason, baseball’s dead-ball era (1900-1919) was chock full of players with unusual monikers. This article pays tribute to baseballers of dead-ball era who were known by these strange names.

Sweetbreads Bailey (Chicago Cubs, Brooklyn Robins, 1919-1921). Born Abraham Lincoln Bailey, “Sweetbreads” was a mediocre pitcher who posted a career record of 4-7, with an ERA of 4.59. Although not much has ever been written about Bailey, it is possible that he earned the nickname for his smarts, since sweetbread is a culinary term for cooked animal brains. This explanation is as good as any, since the name “Brains Bailey” wouldn’t have looked very good on a baseball card.

Jigger Statz (Chicago Cubs, New York Giants, Boston Red Sox, Brooklyn Robins, 1919-1928). Arnold “Jigger” Statz was an effective hitter during his nine-year MLB career, batting .285 with 17 home runs.

Nig Cuppy (Cleveland Spiders, St. Louis Perfectos, Boston Beaneaters, 1892-1901). Nicknamed because of his dark complexion, Cuppy’s nickname would be considered racist today. However, this was a common nickname for several dark-complected Caucasian baseball players around the turn of the 20th century (Nig Clarke, Nig Fuller, and Nig Perrine also played ball during Cuppy’s era), which demonstrates how our national pastime can reflect American culture. Baseball’s dead-ball era also featured 22 players nicknamed “Heinie”, which was a derogatory term for those of German descent. This is another example of baseball reflecting American culture; the United States and Germany were enemies at the time.

Mysterious Walker (Cincinnati Reds, also played with Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Brooklyn, 1910-1915). Frederick Mitchell Walker earned his nickname while pitching under a pseudonym in a rival professional league. This was not an uncommon practice back then, as it allowed a player to participate in multiple leagues at the same time (unlike today, there were several rival “major leagues” competing for national attention). With a career record of 7-23, perhaps Walker simply preferred not to have his real name known.

Snooks Dowd (Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Athletics, Brooklyn Robins, 1919 and 1926). Although best-known as a college football star for Lehigh University, Raymond “Snooks” Dowd also played part of two seasons as an infielder for the Tigers in 1919 and the Robins in 1926. He compiled a lifetime batting average of .115 in sixteen MLB games.

Baby Doll Jacobson (Detroit Tigers, also played with Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston, and St. Louis, 1915-1927). William “Baby Doll” Jacobson was a star outfielder for most of his major league career. He retired with a career batting average of .311 (95th all-time).

Noodles Hahn (Cincinnati Reds, New York Highlanders, 1899-1906). Frank “Noodles” Hahn was a star pitcher throughout his eight-year career, posting a win-loss record of 130-94 with 917 strikeouts and a career ERA of 2.55.

Queenie O’Rourke (New York Highlanders, 1908). James “Queenie” O’Rourke played one MLB season in New York, where he tallied 3 RBI and a .231 batting average. The origins of his nickname, unfortunately, remain unknown.

Dummy Hoy (Cincinnati Reds, also played for six other teams between 1888 and 1902). Born William Ellsworth Hoy in 1862, “Dummy” was given his nickname because he was completely deaf. Much like the once-common players’ nicknames like Nig, Heinie, and Rube, “Dummy” was a common and socially-acceptable term which would be insulting by today’s standards. With a career average of .288, with 2,044 hits and 596 stolen bases, many baseball historians believe that Hoy belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

From the downright silly to the blatantly offensive, baseball players have sported a wide assortment of unusual nicknames over the years. Perhaps one reason why baseball nicknames were so common during the dead-ball era between 1900 and 1919 is because this was a time in American society when it was permissible to label a person because of his appearance, ethnicity, or physical handicap. While those days are long gone, the players who embraced these monikers live on in the pages of baseball’s immortal history.

(Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, BaseballLibrary.com, MLB.com)