What's In A Baseball Name? Some Are More Unusual Than Others


Sloppy Thurston cartoonUnknown author

By Elizabeth Muratore

If there’s any sport known for having players with fantastic names, it’s baseball. Many of the most iconic baseball players in MLB history came packaged with nicknames so synonymous with the player that it’s hard to imagine the man without the moniker: “Dizzy” Dean, “Babe” Ruth, “Lefty” Grove (and Lefty O’Doul, and Lefty Gomez), Ted “The Splendid Splinter” Williams, Willie “The Say Hey Kid” Mays. The list goes on and on.

But what about some less well-known baseball players that had fantastic names? There have been countless players in the sport’s history that may not have racked up 50 bWAR or 700 home runs, but had such a great name that they’re worth remembering for that alone. Here are a few of my favorite less-heralded baseball names scattered throughout MLB history.

Soup Campbell

That’s right folks, there is actually a Baseball Reference entry for a player called Soup Campbell (his real first name was Clarence). A Virginia native, Campbell spent two seasons in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians in 1940 and 1941, hitting .246 over 139 games in that span. His career was cut short after he then enlisted in the U.S. Army and served from 1942 to 1945 – he returned to the Minors after that, but never again cracked a Major League roster.

Campbell is not the only MLB player with the last name of Campbell to be nicknamed “Soup” -- recent baseball player Eric Campbell also acquired that nickname -- but he is the only one to formally be called “Soup” on both his Baseball Reference and MLB player pages.

Sloppy Thurston

This right-hander and Los Angeles native, whose real name was Hollis John Thurston, wavered between “sloppy” and “tidy” throughout his career, which lasted from 1923 to 1927 and 1930 to 1933. Apparently, he acquired the nickname “Sloppy” almost completely as a joke; according to the book Lefty: An American Odyssey about fellow pitcher Lefty Gomez, Thurston was “perhaps the most impeccably dressed man in baseball, a trait he was convinced made him more attractive to female baseball fans.”

Thurston bolstered his legacy after his playing career ended by working as a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1939 to 1945 and helping discover the talents of future Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner. However, one of the sloppiest days of his career came on Aug. 13, 1932, when he tied a modern MLB record by surrendering six home runs in one game.

Shadow Pyle

It is highly likely that Harry Thomas “Shadow” Pyle’s actual shadow was longer than his Major League career. The southpaw started five career games for the Philadelphia Quakers and Chicago White Stockings in 1884 and 1887, respectively, completing four of those starts. He also weighed only 136 pounds, hence the nickname “Shadow.”

Jumbo McGinnis

Despite what his nickname might suggest, Jumbo McGinnis stood at only 5-foot-10 when he played in the American Association from 1882 to 87. His moniker supposedly derived from his weight -- it is listed on Baseball Reference at 197 pounds, but he reportedly would often weigh north of 200 pounds in the offseason before shedding weight in time for Opening Day. However, his given name of George Washington McGinnis might be even more majestic than his nickname.

The St. Louis native pitched five seasons for his hometown St. Louis Brown Stockings and compiled a 102-79 record with a 2.95 ERA overall in his six-year career. Maybe the most “Jumbo” thing about him was his workload -- over his first three seasons from 1882-84, McGinnis averaged 375 innings pitched per year.

Shooty Babitt

Based on the time frames I’ve referenced in this article so far, this might sound like the name of another 1880s player who coexisted with the Wild West, but that is not the case. Shooty Babitt’s only Major League service time occurred in 1981 with the Oakland Athletics. The Oakland native appeared in 54 games that year and hit .256, finishing fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. However, the A’s went in a different direction at second base the following year, and Babitt never again cracked an MLB roster, though he later embarked on a post-playing career as a scout and TV analyst.

Pickles Dillhoefer

Originally named William Martin Dillhoefer, our friend Pickles got his nickname as a child growing up in Cleveland from folks enamored by the “Dill” portion of his last name. He spent five seasons in the bigs from 1917 to 21 with the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, and St. Louis Cardinals. Right after his rookie season, Dillhoefer was involved in a trade for a future Hall of Famer when the Cubs sent him to Philly in a deal that netted Chicago Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander, who was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1938.

Not to be outshined, Dillhoefer was a serviceable backup catcher throughout his big league career. His life was tragically cut short in 1922 when he, at age 28, died of typhoid fever just weeks after getting married.

Chicken Wolf

Yes, there was an actual player from the 1800s with this nickname. His real name was almost as good: William Van Winkle Wolf. But head over to Baseball Reference, and he’s listed as Chicken, a nickname he acquired as a teenager after eating a hefty portion of chicken before a game. Wolf had the distinction of being the only baseball player to appear in all 10 seasons of the American Association’s existence, from 1882 to 91. His best season came in 1890, when he led the AA in batting average (.363), total bases (260), and hits (197).

Wolf was born and raised in Louisville, Ky., and died in Louisville in 1903. By then, he might as well have been called Kentucky Fried Chicken Wolf.

Elizabeth Muratore is one of the editors of the Here’s the Pitch newsletter. She also works as a homepage editor for MLB, writes for Rising Apple and Girl at the Game, and co-hosts a Mets podcast called Cohen’s Corner. Elizabeth is a lifelong Mets fan who thinks that Keith Hernandez should be in the Hall of Fame. You can follow her on Twitter @nymfan97.

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