This article was written by James K. Skipper Jr.
This article was published in the 1982 Baseball Research Journal
In 1959 Bill Bryson remarked in Baseball Digest: “The masculine character of the big leagues has been laced with some contradictory names and nicknames of feminine nature.” For the past several decades sportswriters have referred, often with amusement, to a particular player or players whose nickname had definite feminine connotations. Recently Vic Maestri even titled his sports trivia and quiz book on three of these nicknames – Little Eva, Baby Doll and Blondy Ryan. However, to the best of my knowledge no one has made female nicknames the subject of research. Usually writers are concerned only with a particular nickname or at best a few. The treatment is incidental or tangential to the main theme of their column or article. The purpose of this report is to present a more complete listing and analysis of major league players with feminine nicknames than has been compiled before.
In the course of conducting research on baseball nicknames in general, (see BRJ 1981, pp. 112-118) and using the 1969 and 1979 editions of the Baseball Encyclopedia as a guide, I discovered 53 ballplayers whose nicknames met my criteria for inclusion in the exclusive feminine category. My interest is not in ordinary nicknames. Therefore, for my research nickname is defined as any name used to identify a player in the Baseball Encyclopedia which is not derivative of any of the legal names listed for a player or the common nickname for his first name. Thus, Connie Mack and Connie Ryan are not included even though Connie is a feminine name since this nickname is derivative from their first name — Cornelius. Similarly I have excluded Patrick Donovan (Patsy) and Grayson Pearce (Gracie) since their nicknames are also derived from their first names. Although I have seen reference to George Magoon being called Maggie, the Baseball Encyclopedia lists only Topsy as a nickname.
It should also be pointed out that some players’ real first names could be construed as feminine such as June Green, Vivian Lindaman, and Gail Henley. They, too, fail to qualify. Finally, and perhaps arbitrarily, I have decided that such nicknames as Sugar, Peaches, Buttercup, Cuddles, Candy, Cupid, Bubbles, Kitten, Beauty and Silk Stocking are not exclusively feminine. Therefore, I have chosen not to include them in my list. The same is true of Babe. Babe is so associated with Ruth, that within baseball it has no link to the female sex. Certainly there is room for disagreement with my criteria and others may choose to expand my list of choices. And, there may be ones I have missed, or the Baseball Encyclopedia failed to include.
With these qualifications in mind, the 53 major league players whose nicknames qualify them for inclusion in the feminine category are presented alphabetically in Table I. Forty of them are women’s first names or short names. Patsy, with four, is the most popular followed by Polly, Dolly, and Tilly with three each. In addition, there are two Grandmothers, a Mother, Old Woman, Lady, She, Sis, Queenie, Toots, Pigtail, Baby Doll, and a Blondy and a Blondie.
Similar to the general trend of baseball nicknames, use of feminine ones has decreased over time. Twenty-five of them were given to players who began their careers between 1900-1920. After the 1920s the number of feminine nicknames declines rapidly. There are only three in the 1930s and three in the 1940s. The first major leaguer to receive a female nickname was Charles Pabor. He played from 1871-1875 and was called the Old Woman In The Red Cap. The last ballplayer to receive a feminine nickname was Saturnino Minnie Minoso who began his career in 1949 and for all practical purposes retired in 1964. The Baseball Encyclopedia does not list a feminine nickname for any player in the last 30 years. It is unlikely that female nicknames will ever be as numerous as they were shortly after the turn of the century.
Fifteen (28%) of the players with female nicknames were in the majors for only a “cup of coffee” staying one season or less. Their nicknames probably brought them more notoriety than their deeds on the field. On the other hand, several players with feminine nicknames had distinguished careers. Besides Minoso who batted .298 and hit 186 home runs for the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox, Baby Doll Jacobson compiled a career mark of .311 in 11 years in the majors, and Ginger Beaumont the same figure for 12 years. Little Eva Lange hit a lusty .330 in seven years with the Chicago Cubs while playing several different positions. Grandma Murphy, who was also referred to as Fireman and Fordham, won 93 games and had 107 saves in 13 years. He also played in six World Series, winning two games and saving four others. Finally, Sadie McMahon achieved a won-lost record of 177-125 in nine years in the 1890s. In 1891 he won 36 games and lost 21. He had 57 starts, 55 complete games, and pitched 509 innings. Quite a feat even by pre-1900 standards.
Attempting to discover the origins of baseball nicknames is oftentimes struggling for the impossible. Many were simply never recorded. This is doubly true with feminine nicknames, since many date from the game’s infancy and many of the players made only brief appearances in the majors. Bryson writes:
Origins of most of the feminine nicknames has been lost in the mists of antiquity. . . . No explanation has survived of why Philip Powers was called Grandmother when he was catching in the majors from 1878 through 1885, nor why Walter Watson was Mother in a brief 1887 pitching stint with Cincinnati of the American Association.
In spite of this, the origins of a few of the nicknames have survived, albeit in sometimes fragmentary and incomplete reports which are difficult to verify by more than one source. Perhaps a natural question to ask is whether the feminine nicknames arose because of real or alleged effeminate characteristics of the ballplayers. While it is difficult to tell from incomplete data, some do tend to support that hypothesis, while others do not. Readers may make their own interpretation. For example, Lee Allen recounts the unique manner in which Arthur Shafer received the nickname of Tillie:
Arthur Shafer, a pink-cheeked quiet and respectable young man reported to the Giants in 1909. When John McGraw introduced him to the players in the clubhouse by saying, `Men I want you to meet Arthur Shafer, our new third baseman.’ One of the veterans of the team, Cy Seymour, ran over to Shafer, kissed the startled recruit on both cheeks and screamed, `Hello Tillie! How are you?’ — After that it was Tillie Shafer to players and fans alike. A natural ballplayer, but ridden unmercifully, Shafer became depressed and quit the game, entering the haberdashery business.
There is also evidence that the great Yankee relief pitcher, Johnny Murphy, did not care for his nickname Grandma. It was given to him by his teammate, Pat Malone, because of his sedate and reserved disposition. Charles Baldwin acquired the nickname of Lady from his teammates because he did not smoke or swear and never joined them in drinking bouts so common among ballplayers of his era.
William Jacobson, a 6 foot, 2½ inch, 210-pound giant, earned his nickname of Baby Doll while playing for Mobile in the Southern Association in 1912. In the home opener on April 15, he hit a prodigious home run and the band immediately broke out with one of the popular tunes of the day: “Oh, You Beautiful Doll.” An enterprising sports reporter picked it up and the next day the Mobile Register carried a picture of Jacobson with the overhead caption: That “BABY DOLL”.
Other players had less feminine connotations to the origins of their female nicknames. For example, Charles Beaumont was called Ginger for his sandy colored hair and Wilfred Ryan, Rosie due to the hue of his face. William Gray received his nickname Dolly from the title of a song popular just after the Spanish-American War — “Good-By Dolly Gray.” William Lange, who was 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighed 200 pounds, was tagged Little Eva after a stage heroine popular before 1900. Finally, Allen relates the manner in which Russell Blackburne acquired the nickname of Lena. It happened in 1908 when he was playing for Worcester, Massachusetts. Worcester was playing Brockton on Decoration Day. Brockton had an outfielder named Cora Donovan.
When Blackburne returned to the bench after making an inning-closing play so brilliant the fans arose to cheer, one noisy rooter seated directly behind the Worcester dugout, yelled, “Oh you Lena! Are you any relation to Cora Donovan?” It was Lena Blackburne after that.
In reality the origin of feminine nicknames parallels that of baseball players in general. Some are given by fans as in the case of Lena Blackburne where logic fails to explain fully the association. Others are provided by teammates and sportswriters. Certainly, sportswriters have been instrumental in popularizing nicknames. Physical features, mannerisms and disposition play an important part in the naming process. Yet, in other cases, a nickname may be derived from something as far removed from either the game or the players as the title of a popular tune or a slang expression. Such is the richness and history of baseball nicknames.
The popularity of feminine nicknames is probably gone forever. The origin of some may never be discovered. We may never know how much (if at all) they were based on effeminate characteristics of the players. Although there were only 53 of them in the history of major league baseball, they added much to the humor and tradition of the game. In most cases the nicknames became more well known than the players’ given names.
This discussion would not be complete without the mention of at least one other player with a female nickname. Although he never played in the major leagues, he is a member of the Hall of Fame. His name deserves to be remembered with the others — William Johnson. They called him Judy in the Black Leagues.
Table I. Feminine Nicknames
|William Bransfield||1898, 1901-1911||Kitty|
|Elias Funk||1929-1930, 32-33||Liz|
|Edward Gharrity||1916-1923, 29-30||Patsy|
|John Hollingsworth||1922-1924, 28||Bonnie|
|Stephen Houck||1879, 80-81, 83-87||Sadie|
|William Jacobson||1915, 17, 19-27||Baby Doll|
|William Lange||1893-1899||Little Eva|
|Howard McLarry||1912, 15||Polly|
|John McMahon||1889, 97||Sadie|
|Saturnino Minoso||1949-1964, 76||Minnie|
|Johnny Murphy||1932, 34-43, 46-49||Grandma|
|Frank Oberlin||1906-1907, 09-10||Flossie|
|Charles Pabor||1871-1875||Old Woman in the Red Cap|
|Philip Powers||1878, 80-85||Grandmother|
|William Riley||1879||Pigtail Billy|
|John Ryan||1930, 33-35, 37-38||Blondy|
|Wilfred Ryan||1919-1926, 28, 33||Rosy|
|Arthur Shafer||1909-1910, 12-13||Tillie|
|Ulysses Stoner||1922, 24-31||Lil|
|William Styler||1919-1921, 30-31||Lena|
|Oliver Tebeau||1887, 89-1900||Patsy|
|Roy Wolfe||1912, 14||Polly|
*I would like to express my gratitude to the following individuals who have contributed materials and leads to my on-going research on baseball nicknames: Pat Boyer, Kit Crissey, Gene Elston, Michael Frank, Al Kermisch, Nathaniel Levison, Roy Lowry, Bob McConnell, Ken Nester, Tom Shea, and Johnnie Shevalla.