Ferguson: Where have baseball's nicknames gone?

TSN.ca Staff
8/16/2013 11:51:24 AM
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When you're typing the name Alex Rodriguez or 'A-Rod' almost every day, it gets you to thinking about many things, including why there are so few nicknames in baseball anymore. There used to be a time when it seemed all the stars had a handle.

There was 'Rocket' Roger Clemens, Bill 'The Spaceman' Lee, Randy 'Big Unit' Johnson, and just 'Lefty' for Steve Carlton to name just a few for pitchers.

Then there were the stars and the baseball legends such as George Herman 'Babe' Ruth, the 'Sultan of Swat,' Stan 'the Man' Musial, 'Hammerin' Hank Aaron, 'the Kid' Ken Griffey Jr. and that other 'Kid' – late great Hall of Famer Gary Carter. You can come up with so many more yourselves.

What surprised me, when I did a little digging, was the most popular nickname ever is 'Doc.' Marlin Bressi did an article for Yahoo in 2011 detailing 81 different players with that nickname.

I even managed to come up with a few more that weren't on that list - Roy 'Doc' Halladay, Ron Taylor known by all in these parts as 'Doc' Taylor, because he actually is a practicing physician in Toronto. Another name I remembered from his brief stay with the Blue Jays was right hander Danny Darwin, who was known as 'Doctor Death,' for not being afraid to throw high and tight on batters.

And then there was the late 'Dock' Ellis, who spelled his with the K. And the greatest 'Doc' of them all was probably New York Mets star Dwight Gooden who short-circuited his outstanding pitching career by abusing drugs and alcohol.

The 'Doc' I really wanted to tell you about though, is  Maurice 'Mike' 'Doc' Powers - a catcher who began his big league career in the late 1800's and played thru the early 1900's mainly for the Philadelphia A's.

I always thought the first and only baseball death, related to an on-field incident, involved shortstop Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians. On August 16 of 1920, Carl Mays - a hard-throwing, side-winding pitcher - hit Chapman in the head with a pitch. He collapsed and died in hospital 12 hours later.

That incident led to the outlawing of the spit ball and a rule change whereby umpires would remove balls from games as soon as they became scuffed or scratched or anyway discoloured.

I was surprised to find out Chapman may not have been the first to die because of something that happened in a Major League game. On April 12 of 1909, the Philadelphia A's were playing their season opener at Shibe Park. It was quite a sight - the first stadium ever built entirely of concrete and steel, a state-of-the-art facility for its time.

Mike 'Doc' Powers was in the twilight of his career in 1909 at age 38. He was also a licenced, practicing physician. In the later years of his career 'Doc' Powers was known as the 'Personal' catcher of Future Hall of Famer Eddie Plank. Powers was also considered to be the unofficial pitching coach of the A's and the right hand man to their legendary skipper Connie Mack.
At some point early in this 'Opening Day' game against the Red Sox, Powers made a Herculean effort to catch a foul pop and crashed hard into a wall.

By the seventh inning he was doubled over in pain in the dugout. 'Doc' Powers insisted, he should finish the game, which ended as an 8-1 victory for Philadelphia.

After the game, Powers was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with gastritis and or Peritonitis. Two days later he was operated on for a twisted/strangulated intestine. A surgeon removed a section of the intestine. Unfortunately, gangrene had begun to set in and after two more operations 'Doc' Powers died on April 26 of 1909.

Powers, over the last two weeks of his life, was reluctant to blame his condition on baseball. He actually thought he became ill from eating a spoiled cheese sandwich during the game. Author Brian McKenna, who deeply researched this story, mentioned it could have been a pre-existing condition that just happened to surface on that day.

'Doc' Powers' funeral was on April 29 and the entire A's and Washington Senators teams were on hand, along with players from four other teams. So popular was Powers that thousands of mourners had to be turned away.

Two years later on July 1 of 1910, the A's organized what might have been the very first benefit game. Eight thousand dollars was raised for 'Doc' Powers' children.
I found another fascinating 'Doc' as well. 'Doc' Cramer played in the majors for 20 seasons up until 1948 and helped the Detroit Tigers win the 1945 World Series over the Chicago Cubs - the last time the Cubbies made it to the Fall Classic. Cramer finished with a .296 batting average and 2,705 hits. That's the most hits for any player before 1975 who didn't wind up in the Hall of Fame.

Roy Halladay (Photo: Canadian Press)


(Photo: Canadian Press)
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