Baseball is a sport steeped in a rich historical tradition. Known as the Unites States’ national pastime since as far back as 1850, the list of teams, players and leagues that contribute to baseball’s past is a long one. One of the benefits of this rich history, buffeted by the tremendous historical tracking provided by sites like Baseball Reference, is access to a treasure-trove of hilarious old-school baseball names.
Baseball players in the late 1800s and early 1900s carried hilarious names. I’ve never completely understood why, because it’s not as if other famous United States’ persons from that period went by particularly funny monikers. Theodore Roosevelt? Woodrow Wilson? Henry Ford? All fairly standard fare. Perhaps part of this discrepancy is due to deep nicknaming tradition in baseball, which still exists today. However, whereas player nicknames today pop up informally in TV broadcasts and interest message boards, player nicknames at the turn of the 20th century actually served as official names in programs, box scores and periodicals.
The golden age in old-school baseball names likely occurred in the late 1800s, when the likes of Cupid Childs, Oyster Burns, Orator Shaffer, Candy LaChance and Cannonball Titcomb dotted the landscape. There has been no shortage of internet fodder detailing amusing appellations of baseball’s past, so in an effort to make this post original (and more difficult) I will restrict the analysis to players that played after the MLB’s official formation in 1903. I also did not consult any other ‘best name’ articles, instead relying on hours of source research to turn up some hidden gems. So, without further ado, the 10 best names in MLB history:
10. Bunny Brief
Exercise caution googling this one at work, because you might stumble upon some pretty scandalous lingerie pics. Anthony “Bunny” Brief was born in in 1892 in Remus, Michigan and played parts of four MLB seasons at first base and left field with the St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates. Although Brief’s last taste of MLB action occurred in 1917, he played in the minor league American Association through 1928 and did quite well for himself, earning several 40 home run seasons for the Kansas City Blues. How did Mr. Brief earn the name ‘Bunny’? I’m going to guess he was quite fast. That, or he had a voracious sexual appetite.
Sweetbread Bailey was a right-handed hurler who pitched to a short three-year MLB career with the Chicago Cubs and Brooklyn Robins from 1919 to 1921. His birth name was, no joke, Abraham Lincoln Bailey. The Great Emancipator was a pretty tough act to follow, so I’m guessing that Bailey didn’t mind his adopted name ‘Sweetbread’. The central question is whether Bailey earned his nickname because of an unbridled love for cow pancreas, or an affinity for sugary baked goods. Bailey’s Wikipedia page might offer a clue, as it claims that Sweetbread also went by Shortbread (although no source is listed, so I’m skeptical), which is a simple biscuit made from flour, water and sugar. Perhaps this will always be one of baseball’s great mysteries.
08. Nick Altrock
One of baseball’s original funny guys, Nick Altrock’s on and off again MLB career spanned an astounding 26 years between 1898 and 1924. Altrock was actually one of the best pitchers in baseball with the White Sox from 1904 to 1908, but an arm injury derailed his career in 1909. Some argue that Altrock’s injury resulted from neglect related to spending more time drinking and partying than preparing for games, which is a nice way of saying he got into a bar fight and messed up his arm. He hooked on with the Washington Senators in 1912 in the role of, no joke, “comedy coach”, lightening spirits in the dugout while occasionally appearing in blowout games late in the season. Altrock holds a distinction as the oldest player in MLB history to hit a triple, doing so at the spry age of 48 in 1924.
07. Hippo Vaughn
James Leslie “Hippo” Vaughn was one of the best pitchers in baseball for the Chicago Cubs in the mid-to-late 1910s. He stood at an intimidating 6’4″ and mowed down hitters with his blazing southpaw fastball. For a bit of random trivia, Vaughn pitched in the only double no-hitter in baseball history, going toe-to-toe with Cincinnati Reds pitcher and inferior name-haver Fred Toney before losing in the 10th inning. The elephant in the room regarding Vaughn is how he got the name ‘Hippo’. Given that hippos are large animals I was fully expecting a Colon or Sandoval-esque tummy, but Vaughn looks quite slim. Perhaps Giraffe Vaughn would have been more apropos.
To get this out of the way, yes, there are two different players with basically the same name. I’m not sure which one was better so I included both. Socks Seybold, with a ‘y’, was a prodigious power hitter for the Chicago White Sox and held the single-season home run record from 1902 to 1919. He died tragically in a car accident in 1921 at the age of 51. The other Socks Seibold, with an ‘i’, was a right-handed pitcher who bounced between the majors and minors for much his career spanning 1919 to 1933. So, what gives with ‘Socks’? One might think that Socks was one of those generic nicknames given to ballplayers who wore knee-high socks, however these two are the only ones with the Socks moniker in Baseball Reference’s database. In fact, the only other celebrity that I can find with the name socks was Bill Clinton’s cat.
Moses J. “Chief” Yellowhorse, born in 1898 in United States Indian territory in Pawnee (that’s a real place?), Oklahoma to full-blooded Native American parents, first made a name for himself in Chilocco Indian Agricultural High School with a 17-0 win-loss record as a right-handed starting pitcher. He soon joined the professional ranks and made his MLB debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1921. There, he befriended teammate Rabbit Maranville, no relation to Bunny Brief, who allegedly introduced Yellowhorse to alcohol. Chief injured himself in a drunken fall later that season and was never the same after that. The rest of Yellowhorse’s life is a sad story replete with alcohol addiction, however his legacy rings on among baseball’s best names.
04. Slim Love
Slim Love was a baseball player. Now, Slim Love is the branding for a body-shaping fabric that doubles as a burka. How the mighty have fallen. And far Slim Love fell, as he was the tallest baseball player in history upon his 1913 debut at 6’7″. Who did Love steal the crown from? Why, the aforementioned Hippo Vaughn of course. Love was also known for his complete lack of control, leading the league in walks in 1918 with 116. Outside of his height and wildness, Love’s six-year career was fairly nondescript, and he spent another half-decade toiling in the minors before calling it quits in 1930. Love died suddenly in 1952 when he was struck by a car in Memphis, TN.
03. Rusty Kuntz
Rusty Kuntz bucks the trend a bit, because he is not an old-school baseball player. Kuntz was born in 1955 and played seven MLB seasons from 1979 to 1985 with the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers. Kuntz, a versatile bench player, somehow only accrued 441 at bats over those seven seasons. Kuntz retired in 1986 and, after a short stint working for UPS, found a coaching gig with the Houston Astros in the minors. He now serves as the first base coach for the Kansas City Royals, and made a name for himself by forming hilarious name combinations with Royals second baseman Chris Getz when the latter would get on base.
02. Urban Shocker
While I expect some controversy regarding Urban Shocker’s placement on this list, understand that he gets major points for sporting an old school baseball name that was actually his real name (well, close. His real name featured a more hipster spelling: Urbain Shockcor). Shocker pitched almost 2,700 innings in his MLB career to the tune of a 124 ERA+, meaning he was pretty damn good. However, Shocker harbored a long-term heart condition and suddenly passed after a bout of pneumonia at the way-too-early age of 38. The great thing about Urban Shocker’s name is that it stands the test of time, with an endless amount of potential uses in modern day culture. Is it a new John Cena wrestling move? An inappropriate sexual maneuver? A GOP code name for the impact of the new healthcare bill on poor families? The possibilities are endless.
01. Lil Stoner
Ulysses Grant “Lil” Stoner, the second ballplayer on this list to feature the name of a U.S. president, was born the 17th of 18 children to LuRainey Mae and William Caldene Stoner in 1899. Stoner, a right-handed pitcher, almost lost the ability to pitch from a very young age, when his brother Mac cut off Lil’s right index finger with a meat clever. Fortunately the finger was re-attached, however it was always slightly askew, likely contributing to Stoner’s unique pitch movement. Stoner’s unimpressive MLB career spanned nine seasons and 1,000 below average innings pitched prior to retiring in 1932. After hanging up his cleats, Stoner was free to pursue his true lifelong passion: horticulture. I know what you’re thinking, and no, he didn’t grow marijuana (that we know of…). Instead, Stoner became one of the nation’s foremost Iris growers. Stoner lived until 1966, when he succumbed to illness. His death was beautifully detailed by SABR’s Bob Hurte: “Ulysses Simpson Grant Stoner died in Enid, Oklahoma, on June 26, 1966, following a brief illness. He sat in his hospital bed, eating a meal, listening to a ballgame on the radio. At some point, he scratched his head and died.”