Thursday, June 30, 2011

Great Names in Baseball: Buck Hooker

As someone whose last name is a commonly used word, I empathize with people whose last names are fodder for jokes. But far be it from me to let a great baseball name like William "Buck" Hooker skate by without mention. Buck Hooker was not a great baseball player; he wasn't good or even mediocre. He spent most of his professional baseball career in the lower leagues in the early 1900s with mixed results. His major league statline totals only 2 games: a lone start in 1902 (he lost) and a scoreless 2-1/3 inning relief appearance in 1903. Like the man himself, his MLB career was short.

I could let this entry go at that, as I initially thought that is probably an incidental and innocent nickname from a different era. "Buck" was and is a common baseball nickname, and word meanings change greatly over time1. But part of me doubts that Hooker's nickname was innocuous. If you believe what you read on the Internet, the use of "buck" to mean "a dollar" dates back to 1856 and use of the word "hooker" to mean "prostitute" also began in the mid-1800s--long before the man in question was born to his Hooker mother2. So it stands to reason that, sometime during his career, the young male Hooker picked up the less-than-majestic nickname from some mischievous teammates. Given the cheap nature3 of his name, perhaps it's no surprise that his big-league legacy is very forgettable.

Sorry, Buck Hooker; you were no Buck Freeman. You were no Buck Freeman, either.

1 But what gay and heady times those were when two bums could freely discuss Merkle's Boner.
2 Please note that I am only stating fact, not judging his mother a trollop.
3 If you believe the Internet, $1 in 1902 is currently worth $24.86. What would you buy with that money? You could purchase a Hooker 'n' Heat record.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Great Names in Baseball: William 'Boileryard' Clarke

In the Deadball Era, ballplayers were men, men were scoundrels, and nicknames were not derivative combinations of letters from first and last names. Each turn-of-the-century team was obliged to have a Red, a Doc, a Kid, a Silent John (or Jack)1, and a Rube. But along with that cast could be found gems like Boileryard Clarke.

One might fancy that Clarke earned his moniker from a train-like build or from his mighty and lengthy home runs. Rather, Boileryard earned the nickname from his "terrible voice," which apparently sounded like a cacophony of steam engines2.

Clarke's offensive numbers don't truly stand out. He spent most of the 1890s as a backup catcher on the great Baltimore Orioles squad, who won National League titles from 1894-1896. In Baltimore, he first played with Hall of Famer/Renowned Asshole John McGraw, as well legends/scalawags Wee Willie Keeler, Kid Gleason, and Hughie "Ee-Yah" Jennings. By the numbers, Boileryard was a replacement-level player in Baltimore, though he hit .297 in 330 plate appearances in 1896. Behind the plate, he was at least competent and possessed a strong arm, which threw out 42% of baserunners in his career.

After Baltimore, Clarke split time as the Boston Beaneaters'3 backstop in 1899 and 1900 before moving to the newly-formed American League and the truly terrible Washington Senators, who made him their starting catcher from 1901-1904. Boileryard was a mediocre player on a Senators squad that could hit but had a hopeless pitching staff. Boileryard contributed to a team effort that led the team to a mighty 38-113 record in 1904.

Clarke finished his big-league career as an unproductive backup catcher on the World Champion 1905 New York Giants under the guidance of former Baltimore teammate McGraw. Clarke had the pleasure of not only catching Superstud-of-All-Time Christy Mathewson, but also the crudely nicknamed wonder Dummy Taylor4.

In 1910, Boileryard Clarke took the helm of the baseball squad at Princeton University, where he coached for 34 years until he finally retired from baseball in 1944.

Read more here.

1 Part of me thinks that any player nicknamed "Silent John" probably had a stack of trunks filled with prostitute bodies that he took on road trips. Baseball players weren't known to be particularly agreeable fellows during this time, and there's something sinister about being "Silent" amidst such chaos. Or it's just my imagination.
2 It's difficult to imagine an equivalent nickname today. The closest equivalents we have to a boileryard are probably airports or highways. But "Road Noise" Clarke or "Taxiway" Clarke doesn't really have the same ring to it, does it?
3 Actual team name.
4 He was deaf and therefore nicknamed "Dummy." More on this in a later post.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Great Names in Baseball: Orvil Overall

Feast your eyes on the great Orvil Overall, one of the workhorse starting pitchers from the great Chicago Cubs teams of the late 1900s1.

Overall came to the Cubs in 1906 after a mediocre 300-inning campaign the previous year with the mediocre Cincinnati Reds and was a fixture at West Side Park2 until 1910. He then resurfaced for a few innings with the 1913 Cubs.

Overall, Overall pitched to a 3-1 record in the World Series for the Cubs in 1906, 1907, 1908, and 1910, including picking up two wins the last time the Cubs won it all3.

Overall was something of a strikeout king for his era, leading the league in strikeouts per innings pitched in both 1908 and 1909.

So we salute you and your great name, Orvil Overall.

Read more here.

1 The decade, not the century.
2 West Side Park (the second one) was the predecessor to Wrigley Field. It was bounded by Taylor, Wood, Polk, and Wolcott streets, which is not the location of the UIC Medical Center campus.
3 That's 1908, in case you didn't know.