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— Part 3: Sea World and things that make folks squirm —
 

Because catcher Fred Walters played just 40 games for the Boston Red Sox in 1945 (and batted just .172), he might be easily overlooked in a discussion of sports heroes. But the guy was good enough to play baseball, football and basketball at Mississippi State, and caught a touchdown pass in the 1937 Orange Bowl. You hardly ever hear of an athlete playing two sports in college these days, much less three.

Walters is listed as being six-foot-one, 210 pounds; however his nickname suggests he was heavier.

He also was a bit older than the average college graduate, 25-years-old when he made his professional baseball debut with Little Rock of the Southern Association in 1938. By 1942, he was with Louisville of the American Association, but already 29. He spent 1943 working for the FBI in a war-related assignment, but was back with Louisville in 1944, batting .278, good enough for the Red Sox to bring him up the next season.

But his feeble batting average earned him a trip back to Louisville about two months after the 1945 season began. In 1946, he took over as manager of the Louisville team, and continued to manage in the minor leagues until 1950, after which he became a basketball and football referee for the Southeastern Conference. He also was the sheriff of Jones County, Mississippi. He died in 1980; he was 67.

 

Martin "Marty" Marion was an eight-time all-star in his 11 seasons as shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals (1940-50), with his nickname representing the way he seemed to have extra arms for the way he covered his position. Many regard him as the best who ever played the game, though younger Cardinals might put up an argument for Ozzie "The Wizard of Oz" Smith, who came along years later.

Marion wasn't much of an hitting threat, though his .263 batting average was more than enough to meet the Cardinals' needs, since they won four National League pennants with "The Octopus" in the line-up, and went on to win three of their four World Series.

At six-foot-two, 170 pounds, Marion was also called "Slats." A back injury sidelined him in 1951 when he became manager of the Cardinals. The next year, he joined the St. Louis Browns, playing 67 games and managing the team for the last 103 games of the season. He managed the Browns one more season, and later managed the Chicago White Sox for awhile.

 

Carlos Luis Hall, better known as Charley Hall, qualifies as a baseball legend. His nine-season career in the major leagues was spread over 13 years. He did most of his pitching in the minor leagues, winning an incredible 277 games, with 165 of them for St. Paul Saints of the American Association. He was a 20-game winner for St. Paul five times, including four seasons in a row. He pitched four no-hitters in the minors, and carried another no-hitter into the 12th inning before losing. In 1915, he set an American Association record by winning 16 games in a row.

His major league teams were Cincinnati (1906-07), Boston Red Sox (1909-13), St. Louis Cardinals (1916) and Detroit (1918). He had his best success with the Red Sox (12-9 in 1910; 15-8 in 1912), and was credited with the first win when Fenway Park opened in 1912, and Boston beat the New York Highlanders in extra innings.

As for his nickname, it was given him by Red Sox fans who thought when Hall was used as a first or third base coach, he sounded like a sea lion barking.

 

Catcher Thurman Munson died August 2, 1979 when the private plane he was flying crashed in an airport near his Akron, Ohio, home. Two of his friends were passengers on the plane, and they survived. Munson was only 32 years old at the time of his death, and in his 11th season with the New York Yankees.

"The Walrus" was just one of his nicknames, pinned on him because of his walrus-like mustache. He also was called "Tugboat" and "Squatty Body," and was the best catcher in the American League, and the toughest. If it hadn't been for Cincinnati's Johnny Bench, Munson might have been regarded as the best catcher of his time.

His lifetime batting average was .292, and he hit over .300 five times, including three years in a row. He was the 1970 rookie of the year in the American League, and in 1976 was the league's most valuable player.

 

George "Catfish" Metkovich was an outfielder-first baseman for the Boston Red Sox (1943-46), then bounced from team to team, with his longest stop being in Pittsburgh where he had his best season (.293) in 1951. He fared much better in the minor leagues, particularly in the Pacific Coast League.

About that nickname. He didn't get it for the size of a catfish he caught, nor for a fondness for eating what many consider the best-tasting fish. No, Metkovich was so nicknamed by Boston teammates after he made the mistake of stepping on a catfish when he set out to remove a hook from the fish's mouth. If you know anything about a certain catfish peculiarity, you can guess what happened next: the fish punched its sharp dorsal fin through the sole of Metkovich's shoe, penetrating his skin. In stepping off the fish, the player also injured his ankle.

Another freshwater fish is represented by Dizzy Trout and his son, Steve, both mentioned more elsewhere, And one of today's best ballplayers is Mike Trout.

There have been seven players with the last name Bass. Another fish is the last name of Galen Cisco. There were three players named Pike — "Lip" Pike, Israel Pike and Jess Pike. And then there's "Slippery" Eels.

 

Jesse Burkett was one of two famous players nicknamed "The Crab," Burkett because of his surly disposition. He had a reputation as a man who enjoyed kidding people, but disliked it when the tables were turned. Though just five-foot-eight, 155 pounds, Burkett was said to be in the middle of every fight that broke out during a game..

Also, he was a mediocre fielder, and was plagued by his defensive mistakes, such as 1895 when he led the National League in batting with a .405 average, but made 38 outfield errors.

He played for the Cleveland Spiders from 1891 through 1898. He led the league in hitting again in 1896, batting .410. He switched teams in 1899, going to the St. Louis Perfectos. Once credited with batting over .400 that season, research has lowered his average to .396. (Ed Delehanty of the Philadelphia Phillies won that year's batting title in any event, with a .410 average.)

Burkett retired after the 1905 season — with a lifetime batting average of .338 — and was a successful minor league manager for several years. He wasn't the only well-known baseball player with the rather unpleasant nickname:

 

Johnny Evers is most famous for being the middle man in the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double play combination made famous first in a 1910 poem by New York Evening Mail columnist Franklin Pierce Adams, then promoted many years later for baseball's Hall of Fame by sportswriter Grantland Rice.

The Chicago Cub infielders were not brilliant at completing a double play, but they were good, and they happen to have been important members of a team that won three consecutive National League pennants (1906-08), winning the World Series in the last two of those years. They were headed for another National League pennant in 1910 when Adams wrote this:

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Thirty-six years later, with Frank Chance long dead, Joe Tinker at 66 years of age, and Evers 65, and in poor health, the Hall of Fame's veterans committee took another look at the Cub teammates, with Grantland Rice urging their induction. And so it came to pass, and people have been debating their worthiness ever since.

Evers, the second baseman, had a .270 lifetime batting average, with two outstanding seasons at bat — 1908 when he hit .300, and 1912 when he inexplicably exploded to hit .341. After getting just three hits in his first World Series, he went 21-for-56 in three others, a .375 batting average. He missed the 1910 World Series with a broken leg.

Evers was called "The Crab" for two reasons. Originally, the name concerned the way he crouched as he scrambled after ground balls, looking like a crab. Later, the nickname was said to better reflect his personality. He was a high-strung, very intense individual, who missed much of the 1911 season because of a breakdown.

He was one of the smartest, most observant players, and helped determine the outcome of the 1908 pennant race by alerting umpires to a mistake by New York Giant rookie Fred Merkle, who failed to touch second base after an apparent, two-out, game-winning single by Al Bridwell. This was a crucial game between teams virtually tied for first place. When Moose McCormick, who'd been on third base, crossed home plate, Giant fans thought their team had won, but Evers retrieved the ball — some insist it wasn't actually the ball Birdwell had hit — and touched second base, claiming this made Merkle out, ending the ninth inning with the score tied, 1-all.

After much squabbling, the decision fell to league president Harry Pulliam, who ruled the game a tie, and ordered the teams to play a makeup game, which the Cubs won, to advance to the World Series.

Evers later played for the Boston Braves, and was part of the "miracle" team that won the National League pennant, then upset the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. After retiring as a player in 1917, Evers coached, managed, did some scouting, and was general manager of a minor league team in Albany,. New York, near his birthplace, Troy. (His other nickname was "Trojan.")

Later he ran a sporting goods store, though it eventually went bankrupt. He had a stroke in 1942, but lived long enough to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1946, dying a year later. His former teammate, Joe Tinker, died in 1948.

Forgotten by this time was the long feud that existed between Evers and Tinker for more than 30 years. The two men had a fist fight on the field in 1905, a dispute that apparently began when one of them left the hotel where the team had been staying, without holding the carriage for the other, who walked out of the building a few minutes later. There are conflicting versions of who rode off in the carriage.

In any event, Evers and Tinker never spoke to each other after that, not off the field, anyway. They didn't end the feud until a 1937 game at Wrigley Field in which there was a ceremony honoring the third member of their double-play combination, Frank Chance, who had died in 1924 after a long illness. He was 47.

 

Pitcher William John Dietrich was known mostly as "Bill," but also carried a nickname given him, it was said, because he had a round face and wore glasses. Still, "Bullfrog" seems a bit cruel.

It was cruel enough that he toiled 11 seasons (1936-46) with the second-division Chicago White Sox, though the team did manage a third place finish along the way. He also put in six seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics and one with the Washington Senators, and, generally, was better than his 108-128 lifetime won-lost record would indicate.

He had his moments. In 1937, he pitched a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns, and in two other games had no-hitters going until the ninth inning. Available during World War Two, when he was in his 30s, Dietrich was a workhorse for the White Sox in 1944, winning 16 games, losing 17.

 

Thomas H. Ramsey most likely disliked his nickname. The reason for "Toad" seems a mystery. From some of those photos I've seen ... well, excuse my insensitivity, but I suspect it may have been his appearance. He also had a reputation as a heavy drinker, so perhaps that somehow figured into his nickname.

The book, Chris Von der Ahe and the St. Louis Browns, says the pitcher invented the Toad Ramsey cocktail: a pint of whiskey poured into a pitcher-full of beer, which the Ramsey supposedly drank down three times per day.

Ramsey was a left-hander who pitched in the 1880s; he is credited by some as the inventor of the knuckleball, not by design but the result of an injury to the index finger of his left hand. Afterward he couldn’t straighten the finger, so he bent it, with the knuckle tucked against the ball when he pitched.

He played six season in the American Association, which was considered a major league at the time. He won 38 games for the Louisville Colonels in 1886, and 37 games the next season. Traded to St. Louis, he won 23 games (against only 12 losses) in 1890. The totals on those three seasons were 98 wins, 66 losses. However, for Ramsey's other three seasons, he won only 15 games and lost 58, which is why, overall, he had a losing record, 113-124.

He left the St. Louis team after the 1890 season, and never pitched another major league game. He was only 25 years old. He made a few appearances on minor league teams over the next five years, but was done pitching at the age of 30. Ramsey died of pneumonia 11 years later, in 1906.

 

Brothers Snake and Hooks Wiltse were left-handed pitchers who both made it to the major leagues, though Hooks enjoyed more success.

Louis DeWitt Wiltse was born in 1871 in the small town of Bouckville, New York, not far from Hamilton, home of Colgate University. The way he twisted his body when he delivered a pitch may have accounted for being nicknamed "Snake."

Brother George, who was born eight years later in Hamilton, got his nickname not from a curve ball, but from his fielding ability. There are two stories — one was that his New York Giants battery mate, catcher Frank Bowerman, exclaimed, "That's hooking them!" after Wiltse caught a ball that had been hit up the middle; the other (and the version I prefer) is that the manager of the Syracuse Stars, watching Wiltse play first base in 1902, said the player had hooks for hands.

As a young man, Snake Wiltse did a lot of pitching in area between Syracuse and Utica, but did not play professionally until 1899. In 1900 he pitched for Toledo of the Interstate League and mostly for Syracuse of the Eastern League, and though he had a losing record, he advanced to the major leagues in 1901, having a 1-4 record with Pittsburgh of the National League, then winning 13 games (against only 5 losses) for the Philadelphia Athletics of the brand new American League. Both Wiltse brothers were better-than-average hitters, as pitchers go, and in his year in the American League, Snake batted .373. On Aug. 10, he set a single-game record for pitchers by getting four extra base hits — two doubles and two triples.

The following year he was 8-8 with Philadelphia, and 7-11 with Baltimore. He batted only .175 with Philadelphia, but two of his hits were triples. He hit .295 with Baltimore, with 10 extra base hits — four doubles, four triples and two home runs. Because of his hitting ability and his versatility, Wiltse played a few games at first base, second base and the outfield for the Orioles.

Baltimore was out of the major leagues in 1903, replaced by the New York Highlanders (later Yankees). Wiltse hung around the Big Apple long enough to lose three games, then went back to Baltimore to play in the Eastern League. He won 19 games, and batted .305. He had a 20-8 won-lost record for the Orioles in 1904.

He remained in the minors until he retired from professional baseball in 1910, after his third season for the Syracuse Stars of the New York State League. One of his teammates during his final season was pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, who was 29 games for the Stars.

The Syracuse newspapers did not call him "Snake," by the way. He was known as "Lew," which, as the linked SABR article explains, confused the issue of how his given first name was spelled. (It was Louis, not Lewis.) Also, the Syracuse papers preferred to called the younger Wiltse by his given name, George, and usually avoided Hooks. They also called Alexander by his first name, and not "Pete," which appears on baseball-reference.com, and probably wasn't in use until Alexander had spent at least a few years in the majors.

Other 'Snakes'

Frederick Marshall Henry of Waynesville, North Carolina, played just 29 games for the Boston Braves during the 1922 and '23 seasons, but he had a 25-season minor league career. While he batted only .187 for the Braves, Henry collected 3,221 hits in the minors, hitting over .300 several times. He also managed for a few years, and when he managed Tarboro (NC) of the Coastal Plain League, the team was nicknamed The Serpents in his honor. (No explanation was given for Henry's nickname.)

In 1939, he left Tarboro to manage the Kinston Eagles of the same league. Tarboro went back to being called The Tars. Henry didn't last long with Kinston. Upset with a call, he attacked an umpire and was suspended for the rest of the season.

But when it comes to being a hothead, Snake Henry had nothing on John "Snake" Deal, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, whose major league experience was a 65-game stint with Cincinnati in 1906. Like Henry, Deal was a first baseman.

Deal was better known around the East as a basketball player, and got his nickname for the way he maneuvered around defenses on the basketball court. He played professional basketball from 1897 to 1919, and for awhile was the coach of the Franklin and Marshall College team.

His temper often got Deal into trouble. Early in the 1900-01 National Basket Ball League season, while playing for the Pennsylvania Bicycle Club team, Deal and a Camden player, Bob Dippy, got into a fight. A punch from Deal broke Dippy's nose, while Dippy managed to knock out two of Deal's teeth. (Deal and Dippy had been teammates on the Camden team a year earlier.)

As a member of the Syracuse Stars baseball team in 1910, Deal had fights with his teammates, though his most infamous moment came during a luncheon in Utica, New York, when he sucker-punched a Syracuse sports writer who had written something Deal didn't like.

He feuded with his Syracuse manager, Ed Ashenback, who called Deal a troublemaker, but team owners placed a higher value on Deal, and during the 1911 season, made him the manager after they fired Ashenback. Syracuse fans were not pleased, and Deal was let go early in 1912.

When John Deal died in 1944, the Philadelphia Inquirer headline identified him as "Ex-Cage Star." His baseball career was mentioned, but he was much more highly regarded for his basketball exploits.

 

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