After family and baseball, my greatest love is horror, which puts Halloween near the top of my favorite times of the year. Frankly, there isn’t much of a connection between baseball and All Hallows’ Eve, at least until we start exploring the creative world of nicknames. With that in mind, let’s present our All-Halloween baseball team:
Richie “The Gravedigger” Hebner—Always a favorite of this columnist, Hebner earned his nickname for obvious reasons; he toiled as a gravedigger during the off-season, when players actually worked in the winter. Proud of his unusual winter occupation, Hebner once bragged to a reporter about his high level of skill in digging graves. “I’m good at this,” Hebner said matter of factly. “In ten years, no one’s ever dug themselves out of one of my graves yet.” Hebner was also a pretty good hitter, at first for the Pirates and then the Phillies before his career took a downward turn with the Mets.
Julian “The Phantom” Javier—A slick fielding second baseman for some great Cardinals teams of the 1960s, Javier earned this moniker because of his ghostlike quickness in completing the double play. He was usually overshadowed by Hall of Fame contemporary Bill Mazeroski, but was nearly his equal when it came to turning two with quickness, precision, and flair. To younger fans, Javier is better known as the father of former major leaguer Stan Javier, a onetime Yankee who became a decent fourth outfielder type for the A’s and Giants.
Frank “Creepy” Crespi—There’s some debate about how Crespi picked up his name—some speculate that he bore a rather cruel resemblance to a film villain called “The Creeper”—but there’s no doubt that the label remains one of the better nicknames of all time. Though he played a little bit of shortstop, Crespi was primarily known for being a dandy defensive second baseman who once teamed with Marty Marion on the middle infield for the Cardinals. Crespi appeared destined for a long career in St. Louis, but he suffered such a severely broken leg while playing ball for the U.S. Army in 1943 that he never returned to the major leagues.
Oliver “The Ghost” Marcelle—He’s the only one on our team that didn’t play in the major leagues, but he more than qualifies as a lifelong Negro Leagues standout. Marcelle was called “The Ghost” because he never seemed to be in his hotel room where he belonged; instead, he was usually out on the town, often drinking and sometimes fighting. Marcelle’s reputation as a heavy boozer with a mean temper hurt his popularity with teammates and opponents, but some observers steadfastly called him the greatest third baseman in the history of the Negro Leagues.
Pat “The Bat” Burrell—I’m cheating somewhat with this one, since “The Bat” refers to the lumber Burrell carries to the plate, rather than those creepy creatures that sometimes make our way into our attics and basements. But beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to finding players to fill out our Halloween trick-or-treat bag. As for Burrell, the newly crowned Phillies world champion will be looking at a rich pay day this winter as a free agent; he might be a long shot target for the Yankees, considering their lack of right-handed hitting in 2008.
Jo-Jo “The Gause Ghost” Moore—A native of Gause, Texas, where he grew up on a spinach farm, Moore looked ghostlike because of his frail, nearly gaunt appearance. In spite of his build, “The Thin Man” became an excellent left fielder with a strong arm. Offensively, he spent much of his career as a leadoff man, despite being a notorious first ball hitter. Opposing managers sometimes fined their pitches for throwing Moore strikes early in the count.
Bris “The Human Eyeball” Lord—A journeyman outfielder with a name that came out of an Edgar Allen Poe novel, Lord excelled defensively and became known as the “Eyeball” because of his terrific vision. His keen eyesight helped him in the field, where he developed a reputation as a rangy center fielder with a strong and accurate arm. Unfortunately, his 20-20 vision didn’t translate into outstanding hitting ability; he managed a career average of only .256 and an on-base percentage of .304, which explains why he remains best known for being traded for Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Owen “Spider” Clark—Not much is known about this 19th century journeyman, but fans of the horror classic Arachnophobia will surely be pleased by his inclusion. Clark’s 28 games behind the plate qualify him for the catching job, by far the most difficult position to fill on our Halloween team.
Candido “Candy” Maldonado: There’s nothing terrifying about Candido’s nickname, but other than horror, candy is what usually comes to mind on Halloween night. (I used to love those miniature Milky Way and Nestle’s Crunch bars, in particular.) At times a starting outfielder and at times a dangerous pinch-hitter, the free-swinging Maldonado enjoyed some productive seasons with the Giants and the Indians in the late eighties and early 1990s, including a career-high 95 RBIs for Cleveland in 1990.
Ed “The Creeper” Stroud—I haven’t been able to pin down the etymology for sure, but Stroud’s nickname appears to have derived from the way that he “creeped” along the basepaths. A three-time minor league stolen base king, Stroud became a regular outfielder for the Washington Senators from 1967 to 1970 before finishing out his career as a bit player with the White Sox in 1971. He accumulated a career-high .354 on-base percentage while playing for Ted Williams in 1969, and then followed up with 29 stolen bases in 1970. Jeepers Creepers!
Jim “The Mummy” Coates—Some say he had the personality of a mummy, but his lurching build and funereal face had more to do with the acquisition of his monstrous nickname. As Jim Bouton wrote in Ball Four, Coates “could pose for the illustration of an undertaker’s sign… He has a personality to match.” Coates not only had a reputation for throwing at opposing hitters, but also for refusing to become involved in brawls that resulted from his inside pitches. That trait made him unpopular with some of his teammates, but Coates was nonetheless effective as a combination starter-reliever for the Yankees, winning 39 times against only 15 losses in pinstripes.
John “The Count” Montefusco—A note of caution: this one has nothing to do with vampires. Shortly after Montefusco came up with the Giants in 1974, San Francisco play-by-play man Al Michaels tagged him with the nickname “Count,” a play on his last name, which called to mind the Count of Monte Cristo. The nickname was particularly fitting, given Montefusco’s colorful nature. He liked to make bold predictions, once brawled with his own manager, and played practical jokes on gullible teammates like Joe Cowley. He was also a pretty good pitcher—The Count earned Rookie of the Year honors in 1976, won 90 games for his career, and once notched a no-hitter. He also pitched well in parts of four seasons with the Yankees before arm problems ended his career in the mid-1980s.
John “Blue Moon” Odom—The nickname “Full Moon” would have been slightly more fitting for our purposes, but a “Blue Moon” will have to do. As a youngster, Odom often frowned, motivating some of his friends and neighbors to comment on his incessant “blue” moods. That trait, combined with his roundish face, made him a natural to be called Blue Moon. Odom later became an integral part of Charlie Finley’s Oakland dynasty, but the live-armed right-hander saw his career sidetracked by a never-ending run of injuries.
Pedro “Dracula” Borbon—The “Dracula” label evolved because of a pair of biting incidents involving Borbon. The first took place during the 1973 National League Championship Series, when Borbon’s Reds became entangled in a bench-clearing brawl with the Mets. The brawl started when Pete Rose upended Buddy Harrelson, initiating a tussle between the Reds star and the Mets’ diminutive shortstop. As benches and bullpens cleared, Borbon became an active participant in the brawl. During the melee, Borbon lost his cap. Seeing a loose cap on the ground, Borbon picked it up, assuming that it was his. Within a few moments, Borbon noticed a Mets logo on the cap. Upset that he had picked up the wrong cap, Borbon took a healthy bite out of the stray hat. And then in May of 1979, Borbon was enjoying a night out at a Cincinnati disco when he became involved in a fight. During the fracas, Borbon bit one of the disco’s bouncers in the chest, prompting a charge of assault. When asked by a reporter to explain Borbon’s motivation, the bouncer offered his best bit of conjecture “He’s just a habitual biter, I guess.” Borbon’s biting habits overshadowed his pitching; he was a reliable reliever for the Reds, playing a subtle role in the success of the team known as the “Big Red Machine.”
Dick “The Monster” Radatz—If ever a nickname suited a player, the label of “The Monster” fit Radatz perfectly. Radatz was six feet, five inches tall and weighed anywhere from 230 to 280 pounds during his major league journeys. One part Mummy and three parts Frankenstein, Radatz struck an intimidating pose—both on the field and on campus. As a freshman at Michigan State University, football coach Biggie Munn approached the hulking Radatz. “You’re Radatz, aren’t you?” asked Munn. “How come you didn’t come out for football?” Radatz had a ready reply for the question. “No thanks, Mr. Munn,” Radatz said. “I don’t like raw meat.” Radatz ended up making the right choice. With an explosive fastball that creeped near the 100-mile per hour mark, Radatz became a dominant relief ace for the Bosox, before extreme wildness and arm injuries curtailed his career.
So, with greetings to The Gravedigger, The Bat, The Creeper, and The Count, we hope you all had a Happy Halloween.
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for MLB.com at MLBlogs.com.