Blind Mumbling

A compilation of writings that never got anyone excited.

Name:
Location: N. Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, United States

Former teacher, co-editor of Total Football and the author of more than 20 books and over 200 articles, most about sports history. His credits include Pro Football: When the Grass Was Real, The Hidden Game of Football (with John Thorn and Pete Palmer), Baseball Between the Lies, The Importance of Napoleon, and the Battle of Stalingrad. He is presently Executive Director of the Pro Football Researchers Association.

Friday, November 25, 2005

BASEBALL'S FAMOUS NICKNAMES

By Dr. Charles T. Gregory (Guest Blogger)
Professor of Leisure History and Comparative Phrenology, Mountebank University

One of the continuing glories of baseball is the plethora of colorful nicknames affixed to its stars of the past. A great deal of research has gone into unearthing the origins of these nicknames. I'm more than familiar with the agonies of research from my efforts in compiling A History of Balls of the Base Variety Recently, I've become interested in the derivations of many famous nicknames.

For example, how Ty Cobb's difficulty in handling George Winter's curveball in 1907 caused an exhultant Red Sox fan to cry out in his Italian accent, "He no hit-a George-a peetch!" and thus give Cobb a nickname for the ages.

Equally famous is George Ruth's receiving a lifetime nickname for his performance as the second lead in the St. Mary's School for Boys' stage production of Paul Bunyan and His Blue Ox.

Indeed, many famous nicknames were attached during school days and lasted through careers. Everyone is familiar with how Harold Traynor's excellence in geometry earned him the admiration of his classmates and the appelation "Pi-R-Squared" Traynor (later shortened by newspaper men to fit into headlines). Or how first grader Harold Reese's insistence on printing some of his alphabet in miniscule size gave him his lasting nickname.

An astonishing number of nicknames stem from the inability of children to properly pronounce the names of their older siblings. A well-known example is Lemuel Speaker who had difficulty with the the name of his big brother Chris.

Vernon Gomez is unusual in that he received his nickname when reading aloud from his third grade textbook and stumbled over the famous French hero of the American Revolution, Lafayette.

Often the receiving of a nickname was an unpleasant experience for the receiver. Biographer C. Foote Knoat has written feelingly about the temporary arm trouble that afflicted Tommy Henrich as a high school sophomore and his embarrassment when his weak outfield throws caused other team members to christen him "Old Re-layable."

Children can be so cruel. One need only remember the brutal hazing suffered by a youngster named Cuyler when he inadvertently stuttered over his own last name. In later years, the young man paid bitter tribute to that early trauma by signing autographs, "Hazing Ki-Ki-Cuyler." Worse yet was the ridicule heaped on young Jesse Burkett after the other children learned of his unfortunate infestation with vermin.

Usually the nickname hung on long after its reason for being had passed. Upon reaching adulthood Gordon Cochrane never suffered the fainting spells that so often caused him to drop "as though given a mickey finn" as a youngster. And the full-grown Denton Young exhibited none of the melancholia that haunted the teenage "Sigh" Young.

However, it's likely that Joseph Floyd Vaughan's admiration for the stories of Rudyard Kipling -- hence his nickname "R.K." -- continued throughout his lifetime.

The majority of nicknames, of course, referred to some personal attribute of the player. Fair game was a player's politics ("Red" Ruffing), religion ("Rabbi" Maranville), off-season employment (cabdriver Lewis "Hack" Wilson), or physical appearance ("Wall-eye" Moses).

One nickname that had always puzzled me was "Yankee Clipper." I had somewhat assumed that the second part referred to some talent that Joe DiMaggio showed as a barber, either in the tonsorial manner or in the baseballese denotation of one who razzes, jeers at, and ridicules an opponent. But the first part was a complete mystery in that DiMaggio hailed from San Francisco rather than the Northeast.

At last, in desperation, I decided to contact the great centerfielder himself.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find his address. But I was able to locate a Mr. Walter Board, the catcher on DiMaggio's high school team. Mr. Board was kind enough to write the following explanation:

"I'll never forget that day. Our high school team was playing the S.O.B.'s at the Santa Oro Bambini High School field. Joe hit a home run that just carried over the very short leftfield fence and the Santa Oro Bambini team began ragging him about his `Chinese' homer. Well, Joe was always quick-witted. As each of our succeeding players came to bat, he'd call out as though introducing them on a public address. But he gave everyone nicknames that had something to do with China. I remember Charles Garden was `Chunking Charley,' Peter Blard was `Peking Pete.' I was kind of chubby, so Joe called me `Great Walter China.' We were having a wonderful game. Everytime Joe called a nickname, it seemed like we got a hit. I blasted a double, the only extra base hit I ever made in my life.

"Well, the Santa Oro Bambini players were fit to be tied. We batted around. `Shanghai' Shultz was on first when Joe came up again. Only since he'd been the one doing the nicknaming, he didn't get one at first. And, funny, the S.O.B. pitcher whipped over two quick strikes. Then the pitcher made a mistake. Joe was standing outside the batter's box putting some dust on his hands when the fellow sneered, `Oh, and who are you, Mr. Chinese Nickname-Giver?'

"’I'll tell you who I am,' Joe said, stepping back into the box, ‘I'm the Yangtze Yclepter!' And he hit another homer.

"I guess the name sort of stuck."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE, Part 2

When kids play with toy guns today, they have to use plastic guns that are orange or red so that no crook will try to stick up a 7-11 with a toy gun. I guess nobody worries about color blind crooks.

Personally, if I was a clerk in a Stop ‘n Go, I’d rather face a junkie holding a plastic gun than a junkie with a real one. Oh, sure, I might be a little embarrassed to find out afterward that I had to change my shorts without ever being in real danger. Nevertheless, no matter how kindly a druggie with a real gun might be, he could get the hiccups from excitement and blow my butt off.

There are laws today against selling toy guns that look real. Maybe there shouldn’t be.

When I was a kid, back in the 1940s, you could buy realistic plastic six-guns complete with realistic wood bullets in any toy store. Then as the war went on -- the real war, that is – other realistic guns began to show up. There were Colt 45’s, German Lugers, and even Thompson sub-machineguns. The pistols all shot caps, but the Thompson had a little handle that you pulled to get a brrraaaccckkk noise that sounded about as much like a machinegun as Hope sounded like Crosby.

Funny thing. We always had a whole bunch of real guns at my home. My father’s hobby was "checkering" gunstocks. He’d sit down with a plain gunstock and begin etching parallel lines into the wood with a little two-bladed tool. Then he’d come back with parallel lines running diagonally across the first set. He’d surround the crossed lines with an etched border, usually a diamond or rectangle. When he was done, he’d have an attractive decoration on the stock. Other gunowners were always asking my father to put one of his decorative designs on their favorite hunting rifles.

When my father went into the army to save the world from Hitler, he left all his own guns hanging in a closet. I knew where the key was. I could have taken a real gun out to play. We played shoot-‘em-up games every day. It never occurred to me or anyone else to bring a real gun.

I know one reason for me was a little meeting the local hunting club had. All the fathers brought their kids in for a lecture on gun safety. We weren’t too thrilled to be there. Most of us had been hunting and shooting targets with our fathers for years. We knew all about gun safety.

One of the fathers got up in front to talk to us. He was carrying a rifle which he took over to a kid in the front row. He asked the kid to make sure the gun wasn’t loaded, which it wasn’t. Then the man began lecturing us on how we should be careful with a gun. He talked for about fifteen minutes using the empty rifle to illustrate his points.

We kids were almost asleep when he aimed that rifle at the back of the room. "You know," he said, "old Joe back there and I had an argument before the meeting. I told him it was a good thing my rifle wasn’t loaded." We gave an obedient chuckle, and he pulled the trigger.

The rifle was empty. We’d seen it was empty. The explosion in that little room roared like the end of the world. The flame shot five feet out of the barrel. Everyone’s eyes went to the back of the room where Joe was surely dead.

He was standing there laughing. The man with the rifle laughed too. "I coulda sworn that gun wasn’t loaded," he said. "Good thing I missed old Joe."

Of course it was a trick. Somehow he’d slipped a blank into the rifle. Trick or not, the point was made. In all these years I’ve never been near a gun that I didn’t see in my mind that spurt of flame from that unloaded rifle. I check and then check again.

I’ve seen people protesting against stores that sell toy guns – even toy guns with orange barrels. They say that kids who play with toy guns will come to bad ends. Although I haven't kept track of all the fellow gunkids, as far as I know, none of us ever grew up to commit a crime with a gun.

I think people who rant against toy guns are off base. Instead, rage against the ease of getting real guns; if a kid wants a real gun, he can probably rob someone with a knife to get one. I'm afraid that demonizing guns just causes kids to become dangerously curious -- like they do with sex.

Friday, November 11, 2005

GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE, Part 1

MOVIES KILL PEOPLE

When I was a kid during World War II, we all played "Guns." That's what we called our war games. Sometimes it was all of us together trying to take the imaginary machine gun at the top of a real hill. Sometimes it was a variation on hide and seek, more like hide and bang-bang-you're-dead.

Our favorite game was to see who could die "neatest." We got that idea from watching movies. The State Theater ran a weekly diet of B-movie double features -- all westerns, war films, and mysteries. By dinner time every Saturday, we’d seen more than two dozen movie actors bite the dust. Very early in our movie-going, we began noting the more esthetic dyings. We’d even cheer them.

Naturally, we’d discuss the films afterward – sort of Ebert and the Dead End Kids. We could have reviewed the plot, admired the acting, lauded the camera work, or hummed the music. Instead, our admiration most often fell on how someone was gunned down. The next step was to act our favorites out. And from there, boys being boys, a competition evolved.

The way we did it, the designated dyer would stand apart, then advance toward the gang. At a propitious moment, he’d yell "bang" to indicate when he got shot. Then the self-targetted target would go through the throes of dying. A well-done death brought congratulations from our fellow gunners.

Chuckie was oversized, and it made him as awkward as talking about sex with your mother. But, because he fell down a lot anyway, he turned out to be good at getting shot. Except for the times when he fell down before he yelled "bang."

Mickey always overacted with too much clutching his chest and way too much grunting. Unfortunately, when he didn’t get a high rating on his first death, he’d just add more clutches and grunts on the second. By the third time he died, he could take a whole minute from bang to dead.

Most of the gang just copied some death they'd seen in a movie. That was okay, I guess, but it wasn’t very artistic.

I usually got high marks because I would always be involved in doing something else when I yelled "bang" and then I’d let momentum take over so that I would fall oddly and end in an unusual position. It was abstract-expression dying.

On one of my best, I started to throw a hand grenade, a nice roundish rock I’d found. Just as I pulled the pin and drew my arm back, I yelled bang. For a second, I stood stock still, then my hand opened and the grenade fell just behind me. I grabbed my stomach, turned and fell right on the hand grenade. Now, this is what made it great. When I fell on the grenade, I kept my arms and legs under me. Then I yelled "Boom!" and launched myself upward like I was blown up. Being different was always worth some points. As well as being artistic.

If some moviemaker ever put our game in a film, he’d probably try to teach a lesson. Like one day we’d all show up with our toy guns and one kid -- we’ll call him Johnny -- is just sitting there all sad and mopey. We ask him why and he tells us he’ll never play Guns again. He tells us his older brother – that real nice bigkid we met in the first reel – had just been shot at Iwo Jima. Then he points at my pistol and yells, "With a gun like that!"
After that, no one feels like playing anymore, and we all pile up our guns on the grass. We walk away. It starts to rain. The music swells. The end.

Actually, nothing like that happened with us. Nobody’s brother died. My father was in the Battle of the Bulge but came through it okay. We stopped playing Guns because we all got too old to be running around with toy guns.

We realized it was time to quit when a couple of Bigkids we knew happened to walk by while we were engaged in one of our gun battles. They started laughing and pointing fingers. One of them yelled, "Bang-bang!" in a high-pitched voice. The other one yelped, "You missed me! You missed me! " Then they walked off laughing.

We knew we would hear about it in school the next day. Bigkids can’t keep their mouths shut when they can tease younger kids. After a while, Mickey said he’d go inside and get his baseball if Chuckie would run home for his bat.

Friday, November 04, 2005

GUEST LIST #7

Benny Fishel: a good person to have on your side
Min O’Warr: lady who lost only one swimming race
Fidele Wylromeburns: musical arsonist
Orel Saks: expert on French social customs
Ginger Yale: bubbly Ivy Leaguer
Harve Ard: Ginger’s straight-laced boyfriend
Cole Gate: raider involved in energy scandal
Phil Innablank: great test-taker
Sam & Janet Evening: couple known for ability to see strangers across a crowded room
Walt Ewall: rug merchant
Walker Putout: notorious womanizer
Darnell Andamm: smalltime curser
Wade Onismind: worrier
Rhett Ribution: avenger
Millie Meter: silly smoker of long cigarettes
Gus Tatori: big eater
Nanette Well: dined only at the best places
Sam & Ella Outbreak: caterers. Don’t touch the dip! (submitted by Mark Ford)
Anna Mossity: a very unpleasant person
Rhea Sponzabel: take-charge girl
Minnie Skurd: adventurous fashion designer
Boo Derek: a 4
Jeb Pardy: what is a name?
Chick Flick: known to make women cry
Dick Kotomy: of two minds
Vince Auble: doesn’t put up much of a fight
Vern Ali Kwinnox: grows cross at the equator
Sorrell Erosion: gets rid of the dirt
Booker Danno: Hawaii detective stuck with the paper work
Barb d’Comment: lady with a wicked tongue
Mark O’Kane: murderer
Noah Zark: zoo keeper
Ari Ratt: Noah Zark’s landlord
Joseph Jacobson: sharp dresser
Moses Supposes: according to some he erroneously believes his toeses are roses
Gale Luppole: wants your opinion
Dermott O’Logey: suffers from soriasis
Julie DeForth: independent declarer
Liza Lott: cannot be trusted
Talhia O’Story: prevaricator
Sid Dan Shuddup: annoying hyperkid
Moe Grass: groundskeeper
Mel Bourne: Australian who sometimes goes by the name Sidney
Igor Tupleez: yesman
Bela Cotton: large, squarely built, white guy
Heywood Sheelye: suspicious boyfriend
Anne Nomilee: an unusual person
Cary Grunt: charming, urbane movie star who can also play tough guys
Lance Boyle: doctor who restricts himself to minor surgery
Curt Rude: disliked manager who doesn’t explain well to his employees