Names and nicknames. I’m not sure what we call a situation like P.T. Barnum or S. E. Hinton a.k.a. Susan Eloise Hinton. An acronym name? Initial name? The S.E. was used to disguise her female identity to trick male book reviewers.
Initials became fashionable at some point and like most fashions – long hair, fishing, country music, drugs – they seeped into baseball. I enjoyed the carnival toothpick antics of U.L. Washington and the dominance of J.R. Richard and well, I still enjoy saying their names.
A few people told me Steve was too common a name and Myers not much better and when I told them my middle name was Craig, they insisted I go with S.C. Myers for Dreaming .400 or Steven C. Myers, but not Steve Myers.
They scared me so I looked it up and sure enough, Myers is the 75th most common last name in America and Steve is typically the name of an elevator repairman or a hair dresser. But mom and dad gave me Steve and Myers and Craig so that’s good enough for me.
But then v referred to me as a Slick and I knew we were getting somewhere. The giving of a nickname feels warm. Trumpets blast. I had to surrender. As a teenager, friends called me Stiv in tribute to Lords of the New Church lead singer – Stiv Bators. And I wore it proudly. I loved that band, still do, but the name was often misconstrued as master bators by the girl scout crew so I dropped it.
Then there was Steveerini, Stevereeno and even Stevedore, but they were too cute and too much like my birth certificate. Slick, on the other hand, hints about possibilities, slipping into a new beginning, every damn waking day. Thanks v! And the naming comes at a very appropriate time, on the brink of my story in Spitball, a slick pitch and the story itself?
I don’t want talk too much about it, only a bit about Al Simmons. The eventual Hall of Famer was born and raised in Milwaukee, died and buried there too. This fact plays a prominent role in the story which is called “Along the Dirty River.”
Simmons was born Aloysius Harry Szymanski or that’s how it’s spelled on his tombstone, Milwaukee’s south side. There are other variations of his Polish name and that speaks volumes as to why he changed it in the first place. He got tired of people mispronouncing it and like all ethnic groups, he took flack for being who he was.
I think it was a construction company with the name Simmons that he liked so he changed his name to Simmons and Al and presto abracadabra America. Simmons is not discussed much in Milwaukee and yet, he is the greatest hitter to ever be born there, Harvey Kueen a close second. I don’t think Simmons is discussed much anywhere.
I drool at 1930. Simmons hit 36 home runs and strike out only 34 times that year, 39 walks, drove in 165 runs, hit .381. He was a swinger! It helped to have Jimmy Foxx and Mickey Cochrane as teammates, but whatever, a batter still needs to hit the ball. The Philadelphia Athletics won the World Series that year and Simmons hit more home runs than suffering succotash strikeouts. Blows my mind. That doesn’t happen very often.
Simmons was a right-handed batter, nicknamed Bucketfoot Al because his front foot didn’t stride towards the pitcher. It went towards third base or in the bucket and he didn’t like that nickname because critics called him a yellow belly coward…afraid of the ball.
Simmons finished with 2,927 hits and a career batting average of .334.
There’s only been one book dedicated to his life, but Bucketfoot Al did wonders for the kid in my story or the memory of him.