Dennis Boyd, who pitched for the Red Sox in the 1980s, grew up playing baseball in the hot summers of Mississippi. Every time he’d drink a beverage to cool down, he supposedly remarked that it was so smooth, it was “just like drinking oil.”
Nick Cullop got the nickname “Tomato Face” because his face turned bright red whenever he got angry, usually after striking out. His face turned red a lot in 1931—he led the league in strikeouts that season. Bonus: That year, Tomato Face played for the Cincinnati Reds.
THE GROUNDED BLIMP
Ernest Phelps was a heavyset guy, which earned him the nicknames “Babe” (like Babe Ruth) and “the Blimp.” In the 1940s, his team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, began to fly to road games, but Phelps opted to take the train because he was afraid of flying, which made him “the Grounded Blimp.”
THE HUMAN RAIN DELAY
Before every pitch of every at-bat, Mike Hargrove (the 1974 Rookie of the Year) attempted to psych out pitchers with an annoyingly long ritual: He’d step out of the batter’s box, adjust his helmet, adjust his batting glove, pull each of his sleeves up, adjust his gloves again, wipe his hands on his pants, adjust his helmet again, etc., and then finally get back in the batter’s box. The process took up so much time that sportscasters started equating Hargrove’s at-bats with a rain delay.
Pro sports is a tough, macho world. Unlike many of his Detroit teammates, Charles Baldwin (who played in the 1880s) didn’t drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, and made it a point never to curse. His teammates thought that made him rather ladylike.
Richie Ashburn ran around the bases so fast that Ted Williams nicknamed him “Putt-Putt,” commenting to a reporter that Ashburn “ran as if he had twin motors in his pants.”
OLD ACHES AND PAINS
Luke Appling drove his White Sox teammates crazy during the 1930s and ’40s because he constantly complained about minor medical discomforts, like a sore back or a sprained finger.
This nickname would mean something entirely different today, but in the 1940s, “gay” meant “happy,” and Joe Page, a top relief pitcher with the Yankees, was well known for his sunny disposition.
In 1965 Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley signed pitcher Jim Hunter and decided Hunter needed a flashy nickname. Off the top of his head, Finley created a story that Hunter had earned the nickname “Catfish” as a little boy after he’d caught a giant catfish. The name stuck, and over his entire major league career, Hunter was rarely referred to as Jim.
DUCKY WUCKY MUSCLES
Joe Medwick waddled when he walked, so fans in the 1930s nicknamed him “Ducky Wucky,” or just “Ducky.” But Medwick wasn’t chubby—he was actually very muscular, so his St. Louis Cardinals teammates (probably too scared to call the tough Medwick “Ducky Wucky”) called him “Muscles.”