When the initial post on this subject went over the 5,000-word mark, I figured I’d better start a new post to handle all the input I was getting. The project is described in more depth in the predecessor post, but it’s about asking various baseball fans to pick their favorite obscure baseball figure from the past. As the word “figure” indicates, the person doesn’t have to be a player; it can be anyone employed within the game itself, by a team or by a league, including umpires, coaches, scouts, and front office personnel (but not the media).
The idea is that time and a focus on sabermetrics and efforts to determine who should be in the Hall of Fame have left many uniquely interesting and/or appealing retired/deceased baseball people by the wayside. So, I’m asking for help in bringing to light some old baseball people who are worth remembering.
If you’ve come by this post and have someone in mind, just put his name in the comments. I’m only asking for a name, but if you’ve already written something online about the person (it can be either a man or a woman, of course), I’ll link to that; and if you want to write a few sentences talking about your favorite obscure baseball figure, that would be fine. Most of the links go to the Wikipedia pages for the figures chosen. (I’ve also posed this question to people on the Baseball Fever website, and you can read that message board thread too.)
Here are some from people who responded to a posting on the Seamheads Facebook page:
Great idea, Arne. My pick would be John “Lefty” Sullivan – the popular strikeout king of Chicago’s semipro leagues in the 1920s. Blazing fastball and a great spitball; his only weakness was a heart condition that made him dizzy when he bent over to field a ball, so he was bunted out of the American League after 4 games with the 1919 White Sox. I interviewed his grandsons and wrote about him for the BioProject.
Coco Laboy had an amazing rookie year with the Montreal Expos in their first ever season in 1969 hitting 18 HR and knocking in 83 runs. He never came close to a season like that in the next four seasons of his career. I also like the Mets announcer Bob Murphy used always tell fans how Coco got his nickname from his grandmother for his love of chocolate milk.
Boots Day. Love the name. My childhood best friend and I used to joke about him. “He is no Boots Day” we used to say. We discovered him via a Topps baseball card.
Doug Ault, who was the first matinee idol of the Toronto Blue Jays. On Apr. 7, 1977 he swatted two home runs on a snowy afternoon at Exhibition Stadium. The Jays won their first ever game 9-5. After a good opening month, reality set in for both Ault and the Blue Jays, and the home runs became rarer, and the struggles with his swing had him finished as a major leaguer by 1980. He wound up with 17 career home runs. Later he became a coach and manager in the Blue Jays farm system. Much beloved by Jays fans for that glorious opening day, he would show up occasionally whenever the old timers were saluted. Tragically, Ault died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2004 at the age of 54.
Moose Stubing. 5 career ABs,, no hits, all pinch-hit appearances with the Angels in 1967. Managed in the PCL for years, wining the title with the Edmonton Trappers once. He’s now a scout, if Wikipedia can be believed. I remember him from the times he brought his teams into Hawai’i to play the Islanders in the early 1980s.
not necessarily rare but always liked red ruffings name and bump wills too. wonder what would possess someone to call their kid bump?
I was always a fan of Coot Veal.
Here are some from people I’ve emailed:
From Mike Lynch, who runs Seamheads: Smead Jolley, who spent only four years in the majors despite hitting .305 with a 112 OPS+ because he was one of the worst fielders in MLB history. Jolley committed 44 errors in only 413 games; Andruw Jones has committed 48 in 1,926 games. So you can see how bad he was, especially when compared to one of the best ever. But the guy could hit: in 16 minor league seasons, Jolley batted .367 with a .584 SLG and racked up 3,043 hits, 640 doubles and 336 homers. In 1928, he batted .404 with 52 doubles, 10 triples and 45 homers for San Francisco. If there had been a DH back then, Jolley might have been one of the great sluggers of his era. Instead he spent most of his career in the minors.
(Mike adds: “He’s not my favorite but from 1907-1921 Ed Konetchy accumulated 3,080 total bases. Only Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker had more during that span, yet you never hear of Konetchy. I thought I knew every significant ballplayer until I discovered Konetchy while writing my Black Sox book. Somehow he landed in the minors after the ’21 season even though he was only 35 and had hit .299 with a career-high 11 home runs. He hit .345 with 41 dingers for Ft. Worth in 1925 at the age of 39.”)
2 – Warren Newson, who was probably born 10 years too late.
3 – Joe Horlen, who had the lowest ERA in the AL from 1963-1968. When you look at the ERA leaderboard from that time, he sticks out:
The first one that comes to mind is Cesar Tovar, a utility player and leadoff hitter for that great late ’60s Twins team that would’ve gone to the World Series if not for that great, late ’60s Orioles team.
Michael Clair, who runs Old Time Family Baseball:
There are just so many to choose from–I’m pretty fond of Kevin Rhomberg (I wrote a short piece about him here) and Toad Ramsey, but my personal favorite may be Dave ‘Lefty’ Brown. He was a Negro Leagues pitcher who was signed off of a chain gang, played for a few years, was accused of murder, and had to go on the lam. He ended up playing baseball across the country under a variety of aliases while the FBI searched for him and no one is really sure when he died. That’s an extremely truncated life story, but lot of the info I’ve found on Lefty is here if you’re interested.
Chris Donnelly, author of Baseball’s Greatest Series: Yankees, Mariners, and the 1995 Matchup That Changed History (read an interview about it, or buy the book):
Randy Velarde. All allegations aside, he endured through some of the worst Yankee clubs ever and was a major part of the team’s comeback in the mid 90s. He never put up big numbers with the Yankees, but you could always expect a good average, an occasional home run and pretty solid defense, whether it was at third, short, second, or somewhere in the outfield. He also hit Randy Johnson like no one else could. Just an all around solid player who nearly got the Yankees to the ALCS in 95.
-1st Baseman of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues.
-Manager of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues.
-1st Black coach in MLB history as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
-A Scout for both the Cubs & Royals.
-A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee from 1981 to 2000 (played a role in inducting 6 Negro League players from 1995–2001 when the HOF previously had a policy of inducting 1 Negro League player per year)
-Helped get the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City up and rolling.
-His interview segments in Ken Burns’s Baseball documentary brought recognition of the Negro Leagues to another generation of Baseball fans who in most cases knew very little of the League and it’s stars. As a 13 year old when the documentary came out, he sparked interest in the Negro Leagues that I did not have before therefore setting a life long love affair with learning more….so in a way that’s a personal reason however I have read similar stories more than once like this.
O’Neil fell short of the HOF in 2006 unfortunately and I still have hope that he can make it posthumously. I have written/posted photos of Buck many times on my blog, but back in December I had a post dedicated to just O’Neil.
Shawn Anderson, who runs the Hall of Very Good blog:
It’s Ross Grimsley. I sponsor his page on baseball-reference, use his likeness as my site’s logo (t-shirts are available) and will be dedicating a week in May to him. Did you know that May 16 is the 40th anniversary of his big league debut? I’ve already got some good support…trying to track down Grimsley himself for an interview.
Pat Lackey, who runs Pirates website Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?:
Louis Bierbauer played for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1889 and defected to Brooklyn of the Player’s League in 1890. The Player’s League folded and the Athletics were supposed to retain his rights in 1891, but he signed with the Pittsburg Allegheneys instead. In the common parlance of the time, it was said that Pittsburg “pirated” Bierbauer from Philadelphia. Eventually, the name stuck.
Steve Keane of The Eddie Kranepool Society and This Call To The Bullpen Podcast:
How about Effa Manley first female owner of a professional baseball team when she owned the Brooklyn/Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues
(Another good name is John Montgomery Ward who played and managed in the late 1880’s and was voted in to the Hall of Fame went to Columbia Law School and started the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players the first pro sports union.)
Joe Tetrault, whose baseball site is Tetrault Vision:
My favorite obscure baseball figure is not particularly obscure. No one with as striking a biography as he has can qualify. But he’s not famous. Moe Berg. The Catcher Was a Spy told his story of his duel life as a baseball player and military intelligence gatherer prior to the Second World War. His is just a damn fascinating story.
– Dave Cash, because he taught a young Phillies team how to win.
– Ken Brett, George’s brother, because it was fun seeing a pitcher hit that well.
– Willie Montanez, because of his entertaining catches of easy popups and fly balls (okay, coulda used some mustard, but still fun…).
Jason Rosenberg, who runs It’s About The Money:
Despite growing up a Yanks fan, I remember the guys they played, and the oddballs stick out. Here are a few:
- John Wockenfuss, because of that odd batting stance, name and facial hair
- Chet Lemon, because of the batting stance, bat pointed high in the sky
- Amos Otis, only because when I was just a few years old, I named my stuffed dog “Amos Otis”
I grew up in Milwaukee during the golden era of the Milwaukee Braves and would like to submit the name of Billy Bruton, who played center field for 7 years alongside Henry Aaron. Aaron makes many mentions of Bruton in his book, “the Hammer”. Bruton was an instrumental player in the Braves success from 1956-59, when they came within a game or two of winning four straight National league pennants (Brooklyn barely beat them out in 1956 and the LA Dodgers won a playoff from them in 1959). Bruton was active in the local NAACP in Milwaukee during that time and was a big social influence on Aaron.
Another player from that era was a teammate of Frank Robinson on the Reds, an outfielder named Vada Pinson. I don’t believe Pinson is in the Hall of Fame, though he was a premier base stealer during that era and hit for high average. Pinson also later coached for many teams, including my now home town Seattle Mariners. Both these players began their careers in the last stages of the Negro Leagues and were part of the large influx of African-American players who played prominent roles on good National League baseball teams of the mid-1950’s to mid-1960’s era.
From freelance writer Kevin Glew, who runs the Cooperstowners in Canada blog:
My favorite obscure player would be James “Tip” O’Neill, who hails from Woodstock, Ontario. Here is a bio I wrote about him for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame:
“Tip” O’Neill honed his baseball skills in the ballroom of his parents’ hotel in Woodstock during his youth. After starring locally, nationally and internationally with barnstorming teams, the gifted youngster was signed by the American Association’s New York Metropolitans.
Sometimes dubbed Canada’s Babe Ruth, the talented Canadian made his major league debut as a pitcher on May 5, 1883. A formidable moundsman (his career ERA was 3.39), O’Neill was hampered by arm problems early in his career. Fortunately, his bat was potent enough to convince the St. Louis Browns to employ him in their outfield.
It was in the Gateway City that O’Neill would become major league baseball’s first Triple Crown winner in 1887. In that magical campaign, he set big league marks in hits, doubles, slugging percentage and total bases. His batting average was an astounding .492 (walks were included as hits that season, but even without the walks, his average was .435, the second highest in big league history). Largely due to his hitting heroics, the Browns would capture four consecutive American Association championships from 1885 to 1888.
When his playing days were over, he moved to Montreal where he helped secure an Eastern League franchise for the city. One of the greatest Canadians to play in the big leagues, O’Neill’s legacy lives on. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame hands out the Tip O’Neill Award annually to the player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to baseball’s highest ideals.
Rob Nelson, former Portland Maverick and proprietor of Big League Chew:
Steve Collette He was the manager of the 1977 Beavers. A magical guy, brilliant manager; hugely talented. He died way too young. Without him, Big League Chew never would have happened. He had me as his pitching coach in 1977, when we had the idea for the gum. He was the reason the Mavs had a magical last season: we had the best winning percentage in baseball in 1977: 44-22. Several ball fields are named after him in and around Salem, where he was from.
[Collette was a member of Linfield College’s 1966 national championship baseball team]
I have three – Julio Becquer, Jackie Reed and Chet Trail.
Julio Becquer was a back-up first baseman for the Senators in
the 50s. Family lore has it that I heard my brothers trying to
trade his baseball card so often that my first words were
Jackie Reed was a defensive replacement for Mickey Mantle from
1961-63, getting 129 AB in 222 games. In 1962, he replaced
Mantle in a game that went 24 innings and at the time was (and
may still be) the longest game ever played (in minutes). Reed
ended the game with his only major-league home run.
Chet Trail is the only player that has been on a WS roster
that never played a game in the major leagues. A late-season
call-up by the Yanks in 1964 he never saw any action. With
Tony Kubek injured and unavailable for the World Series, the
Yankees needed someone to back up Bobby Richardson and Phil
Linz (Kubek’s replacement), so they included Trail on the
These entries come by way of a post Jason Rosenberg did responding to my project by asking his readers for their picks:
When I was a kid I loved Manny Trillo. I played second base for my little league team, and I always tried to do the sidearm flip to first, which drove my coach nuts.
Also, Biff Pocoroba. “Biff” was in fact his given name.
When I was a kid, my next-door neighbor and best friend found his father’s old baseball glove in their garage. The signature on the glove was of a player his father had never even heard of…Chet Laabs. So, they decided to ask my dad if he’d ever heard of Laabs, to which my dad replied:
“Chet Laabs…oh yeah, pretty good power-hitting outfielder. Played for the St. Louis Browns during the war years.”
Apparently, that knowledge blew everyone’s minds, so ever since my friend and I have had a strange obsession with Chet Laabs.
Jim Mason, who I had my picture taken with on Yankee Photo Day in ’74 or ’75. (It disappointed me at the time. I wanted Roy White.) Mason also had a 4.000 slugging percentage in the ’76 World Series.
Walt Williams, who hit a long fly ball to the warm=ning track in the bottom of the ninth in the second game of a doubleheader the first time I ever went to see the Yankees. The ball was caught, and the Yankees lost 3-2. But if it had gone over the fence, he would have been one of my earliest baseball heroes.
Carlos May, for having a great batting stance and being such a good hitter despite missing a thumb.
Andy Stankiewicz, just for the hell of it. I wish he had stuck around and made big–or medium.
And Bob Shirley, who came into the Yankee broadcast booth while I was listening to a Yankee game appealing for funds to help a policeman in (I think) Seattle who had been injured in the line of duty and needed financial help. I sent off a few bucks, hoping to get a letter back from Shirley. I didn’t, but I did get one from the another officer in the Seattle police, describing the equipment they’d bought with the money to help the officer and his family that touched me very much.
Jerry Dybzinski. Very odd batting stance also.
Orlando Pena. One of first cards. You’ll have to look him up.
Sal Fasano. The best mustache ever in the game.
Kelly Stinnett. I saw 1 of his 65 career homeruns.
Scipio Spinks-In the conversation for top ten all-time coolest baseball name. Pitched for the Astros and the Cards from 1969-1975. Was becoming a dominant pitcher when he collided with Johnny Bench at home plate and tore up his knee.
Ross Moschitto, part-time outfielder for the Yanks in 1965 and 1967 … because my father used to travel a lot to Japan and I thought that Moschitto was the beginning of what would be a stream of good baseball players from Japan. I was right about Japan. But I was wrong twice about Moschitto: he wasn’t very good, and he was born in Fresno, California.
Oscar Azocar…. mainstay of the horrible late 80’s-early 90’s Yankees. Loved the name, the fact that he never walked, and that Phil Rizzuto also loved him.
Benny agbayani was a flash-in-the-pan for the ny mets about 10 years ago. Bobby valentine noticed him while managing in Japan and soon enough he was running down fly balls in the Shea stadium outfield. He had some pop, and some speed for a bowling-ball of a man. Had a lot of energy. He was gone fast.
Hector Villanueva was a charismatic Cub for a couple of years in the early 90s I believe. Rollypolly catcher with devastatingly slow legs…he wasn’t much of a major leaguer but fit the lazy confines of wrigley quite well. Years and years after disappearing, he was spotted helping roll out the tarp on a rainy afternoon on the north side. At least it looked a lot like him.
How could anyone forget Billy Monbouquette – loved the name and the player!
Daniel Stubbs was a journeyman first baseman
Who played for the Dodgers and Astros primarily.
Stubbs caught my eye when I was first becoming
A baseball fan back in the mid eighties. He was an
Up and coming prospect for the Dodgers in Albaquerque
And was given a chance at the big league level.
I remember trying to emulate his batting stance on many
A day in my backyard playing fantasy whiffle ball.
Long loping bat with a lot of holes. Very suseptible to breaking stuff
And a better than average glove @ first base.
Still I remember one overcast grey day at Shea Stadium
During the ’88 season when while playing for the Astros
He clubbed a 3-run homer off the nearly unhittable
David Cone. Gary Thorne’s call of that play still
Gives me goosebumps….
Elliot Maddox! was gonna be the superstar centerfielder after Murcer. Got hurt. yanks traded for Mickey Rivers. Never heard his name again.
These entries come by way of a post on the Baseball-Reference blog:
The Littlest Angel, Albie Pearson, was a fan favorite at Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium when he played for the Angels. He was chosen to the All-Star team at least once. He retired at around 30 due to injuries.
Only player to play in two games, for two different teams, in two cities, on the same day. He also picked up a hit in each game, both off of future HOF pitchers.
Blue Jays CF Rick Bosetti
When the fans in the $2.00 seats in the Upper CF Bleachers at Tiger Stadium would treat him like any other visiting CF and yell “Bosetti Sucks”, as he warmed up his arm between innings. he would turn to the crowd and direct them like a maestro.
Using hand gestures, he was able to turn the simple chant where he was build the chant up to a crescendo and then get us to stop at his cue. He would then applaud the crowd.
Duffy Dyer, okay backup catcher for the Mets and some other teams. Always loved the name.
“Super Joe” Charboneau
Mario Mendoza isn’t obscure for the line named in his honor, but is for the two innings he pitched for the Buccos. That happened the same year Tony Dungy briefly QB’d for the Steelers.
And finally Mark Smith because of his time with the Pirates in the late 90s. He was a big kid everyone wanted to see do well. I remember him coming up with a clutch two-run single to win a game somewhere along the line, but the breakout never quite came. He actually kept at it for a number of years and has a story far more common than those of the folks we normally think about. This guy could be the poster boy for remembering that even the ‘worst’ major leaguer is a pretty special athlete, and even a few partial seasons at the league minimum isn’t too shabby. I hope he made a nice life after baseball.
How about Paul Hines. The first player to win the triple crown. He put up decent numbers in his career.
Cecil Travis, subject of the book “Cecil Travis of the Washington Senators: The War-Torn Career of an All-Star Shortstop”
Synopsis: A three time All-Star, Cecil Travis was coming into his prime and already well on his way to a Hall of Fame career when he was drafted for World War II in 1941. He would spend the next four years in the 76th infantry division. When he finally returned to the game, in 1945, Travis was no longer the dominant player he had been. In the three seasons that followed his return-the last three seasons of his career-only once did Travis play in more than 75 games, and his offensive numbers plummeted. Yet his pre-war accomplishments were such that he finished his 12-year career with a .314 batting average and baseball maven Bill James put Travis atop his list of players most likely to have lost a Hall of Fame career to the war.
(Disclaimer: I have no connection to this publication and do not stand to make any profit from its sales)
Many people remember Phil Linz, the utility Yankee infielder famous for the 1964 “Harmonica” incident. (If you’re not familiar with that, Google it)
However, few know this story: In 1965, (I believe) Linz fouled a ball into the stands at Yankee Stadium and hit his mother in the head! In those days of low player salaries, Linz was smart enough to turn the incident into cash by appearing (with his mother), on the TV quiz show, “I’ve Got a Secret”.
Contrast this with the reaction of Oriole’s player Jay Gibbons, who, in 2006, after fouling a ball off his own wife, threatened to sue the league and the team.
I always have liked Johnny Dickshot.
Bill Sharman, Brooklyn Dodgers… later as HOF Basketball player… thrown out of only game from the bench.
Bert Shepard lost a leg as WW 2 fighter pilot… as amputee,pitched 5+ innings in relief with 2 strikeouts in one game for Washington Senators in 1945. Monty Stratton got star treatment with movie starring actor Jimmy Stewart as major league pitcher who lost leg to hunting accident inspired to return to pitch at minor league level.
Charley Lindstrom , son of HOF’er, Freddie Lindstrom, and Hal Trosky, Jr. played together last game of 1958 for Chi. White Sox. Catcher Lindstrom’s one ever game of major league play of 5 innings featured a triple in one official at bat,one run,one rbi,a walk and a passed ball. Trosky,also son of namesake,pitched his last 2 of 3 total mlb innings and got his only major league pitching victory.
Tony Horton … though not totally obscure is often forgotten in the pantheon of characters who have played the game. Horton famously crawled back to the dugout on his hands and knees after being embarassed by Steve Hamilton’s,”Folly Floater”,a modern day “Eephus pitch” made famous by Rip Sewell.Horton’s emotional state led to his retirement less than 2 months after this incident,but not before he hit for the cycle in a game.
Inf-Of,John Miller obscure 60’s player with unique distinction of only major league homeruns were on first at bat,and last at bat (Pinch-hit). Next- pitcher,Henry Mathewson produced 2 saves and a loss in 3 games… obscured by brother,HOF’er,Christy Mathewson. Next- Earle Mack produced a triple,a single,one rbi in 16 at bats,with a stolen base credited.Mack managed briefly in Pa.,obscured by father,HOF’er,Connie Mack.Next- brothers… 60’s pitchers,Diomedes Olivo and Chi-Chi Olivo. Diomedes made his mlb debut at age 41.
I’m not sure he counts as obscure, but I think Van Lingle Mungo trumps Urban Shocker in pure name terms. One of the reasons he’s not obscure is Dave Frishberg’s eponymous song. A lot of the players in that song fall into this category, my favorite would be Sig Jakucki. I don’t know how many hours I spent listening to that song trying to figure out what he was saying when he said “Sig Jakucki.”
Here is another great name: Buttercup Dickerson.
I give you one of the few players whose B-R page is incorrect… Moonlight Graham and his one plate appearance. Yes, he did get one PA, it was a sacrifice fly.
Ron Pruitt. The definition of the utility man: played every position besides pitcher and middle infielder. In 1982, he got into 5 games for the Giants as a September call-up. On the 30th he hit a 2-run walkoff bloop single to keep the Giants’ pennant hopes alive, in one of the most exciting plays I’ve ever seen.
Ted Cox. He played five seasons in the majors, beginning with the Red Sox in 1977. His first seven plate appearances consisted of six hits and a walk.
Lorenzo “Rimp” Lanier. Possibly the “obscurest” of Pirates from years of being a fan. My cousin and I were walking along U.S. Route 19 in Ireland, West Virginia one late summer afternoon in 1971 when we saw a car coming up the road that just seemed a bit “unusual”. There were five people in the car, an older man driving, four younger men…three in the back…with Pirates’ uniforms hanging in the driver’s side backseat window. I have always suspected that those were the first batch of 1971 September call-ups for the Bucs…of which Rimp Lanier would have been one. Since I-79 was not completely finished at that point and that U.S. Route 19 was the main link between Charleston and Pittsburgh and that scenario was a high probability of being true. Every time I see Al Oliver in person I ask him about Rimp…
Jim “Pigpen” Dwyer. Was he really called Pigpen for any good reason?