"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Baseball Player Name of the Week

Today’s old-school classic is:

The Only Nolan.

His mother (presumably) called him Edward Sylvester, but The Only Nolan is certainly catchier. The origin of his nickname is the subject of some debate; some say he was quite literally baseball’s single solitary Nolan, others that he reminded someone of then-famous burlesque performer Francis “The Only Leon” Leon, who performed in both blackface and drag. As usual I chose to believe the more interesting tale. In any case, while he is no longer baseball’s only Nolan he remains a noteworthy character.

According to Wikipedia, he was dropped from his first team, the Indianapolis Blues, in 1878 after claiming he had to attend a funeral and instead attending a saloon; BR Bullpen has it that he was caught visiting a whorehouse instead of his brother. He hitched on with other teams, but in 1881 he was blacklisted from the league (along with future Name-of-the-Week contender Lip Pike) for “confirmed dissipation and general insubordination,” some variation of which I hope to have on my gravestone some day.

But you can’t keep a good Only Nolan down, and he turned up again in Delaware a few years later, where he supposedly once caused an opposing outfielder’s error, A-Rod style, by yelling “look out for the fence!” He ended up with an uninspiring-for-the-times 2.98 ERA and a 23-54 win-loss record, with accompanying 82 ERA+, over parts of five seasons. After his playing career he went on to become, of all things, a police officer in his native Paterson, NJ, until his death in 1912 at the age of 55 - “after being ill but one day,” as his New York Times obituary put it.

Even The Only Nolan’s team names were excellent: the Indianapolis Blues, the Pittsburgh Allegenys, and my favorite, the Wilmington Quicksteps (who also included 1B Redleg Snyder and SS Oyster Burnes, scored 35 runs and allowed 114, and went 2-16 before disbanding). In fact, even his catcher with the Indianapolis Blues had a fantastic moniker: Silver Flint. There are now multiple Major League Nolans, but The Only is definitely my favorite.

2 comments

1 The Mick536   ~  Nov 9, 2010 4:10 pm

Retrosheet says he umpired for two days in 1881. I wonder if that was during the period he was blacklisted?

2 The Mick536   ~  Nov 9, 2010 4:18 pm

Great fictional piece on him in Show Trains Literary Journal. I truly recommend it, especially anything the celia tan writes about the Yankees.

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