Great Baseball Nicknames

Now that another ho-hum football season has passed, Spring Training is imminent as thoughts turn to mitts-a-poppin’ when pitchers and catchers report next week.  Last year MLB brought back the concept of nicknames on jerseys for “Players’ Weekend” in August, highlighted by a Mets-Phillies game in conjunction with the Little League World Series in Williamsport.    This year’s game will feature a Pirates-Cubs Sunday night matchup, August 18 on ESPN as the 2019 MLB Little League Classic.

Phillies Nickname Jerseys

The Phillies nicknames were comparatively lame, with Rhys Hoskins as “Big Fella”, Aaron Nola as “Nols”, and Jake Arrieta as “Snake”.  I say “comparatively” because none of the current names can hold a candle to my favorite nicknamed ball player as a kid, the Phillie’s own Willie “Puddin Head” Jones of 1950s fame.

Most baseball nicknames make obvious sense.  Clarence “Choo-Choo” Coleman was a catcher selected by the Phillies in the Rule V draft from the Dodgers in 1961.  Clarence was always known as Choo Choo and signed his cards that way, a moniker he acquired due to his surprising speed.

choo_choo_coleman_autograph

When the Mets selected him from the Phillies in the expansion draft that formed their team in 1962, Clarence formally became Choo Choo.

Choo Choo Coleman Mets

Another speedy ex-Phillie with a two pronged nickname that the 1962 Mets featured was Richie Ashburn, dubbed “Putt Putt” by no less than Ted Williams who quipped that Ashburn ran as if he had an outboard motor in the seat of his pants.  But my favorite remains Puddin Head, Ashburn’s teammate on the 1950 Whiz Kids, whose nickname was enshrined on the back of his 1949 Bowman baseball card.

puddin Bowman

Puddin Head seems to be a pejorative stemming from Southern literature, and popularized by Twain.  But the origin of Willie’s odd nickname is ensconced in mystery.  Some say that Willie was neither swift of foot nor intellect, despite having soft hands at third base, a canon of an arm, and thunder in his bat.  Others claim that it was more of an innocent nickname, stemming from the popular 1930s song featuring Woodenhead, Puddin Head Jones.  Here are the lyrics:

There was a most peculiar kid in our town
Was always late for school
He never learned to tell a verb from a noun
And always broke the rules
Though they looked upon him as a clown
Yet he wasn’t such a fool

Oh, Puddin’ head Jones was fat and funny
Dumber than sticks and stones
Now that is just why the kids all called him
Woodenhead, Puddin’ Head Jones

He couldn’t spell Constantinople
Didn’t know beans from bones
All those pencils and books, they were never made for
Woodenhead, Puddin’ Head Jones

Teacher told his mother she would take him right in hand
And teach him a thing or two
Like his older brother he began to understand
He learned everything that she ever knew

All of the kids to the teacher carried
Candy and ice cream cones
But who do you think the teacher married
Woodenhead, Puddin’ Head Jones

After he got married, he went out and got a job
And kept at it night and day
Money stuck to him as close as corn upon the cob
He never spent it in a cabaret

Stock market crashed, then came depression
Bankers cut down their loans
But who do you think had all the money
Woodenhead, Puddin’ Head
Woodenhead, Puddin’ Head Jones

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 6.25.55 AM

During his playing days the Phillies’ Puddin Head lived in Broomall, PA, and supplemented his income in the off season by selling Christmas trees.  The seasons turn with increasing frequency these days, and as the van loads baseball gear in Philly this week for the trip down to Clearwater, young boys in old bodies will be reminded of what makes spring a time of renewal.

About Leonard J. Press, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Developmental Optometry is my passion as well as occupation. Blogging allows me to share thoughts in a unique visual style.
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