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Nicknames a thing of the past/Paul Peterson

August 7, 2012
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

Like the five-cent cigar, full service gas stations and honest politicians, nicknames have pretty much gone by the boards.

It wasn't always that way in this country.

Every sport had great nicknames for its heroes.

Hockey had the Richard brothers in Montreal, the "Rocket" and the "Pocket Rocket." Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion was another good one.

Basketball featured a multi-named star in Wilt Chamberlain, who was known as "The Stilt" and "Big Dipper" for his 7-foot-1 stature. "Goose" Tatum of Harlem Globetrotters fame was another name everyone was familiar with.

Football had its share of nicknames. There was hard-running fullback Alan "The Horse" Ameche of the Baltimore Colts and defensive back Dick "Night Train" Lane of the Detroit Lions who delivered some of the most hellacious hits ever seen on a football field.

But baseball was the king of nicknames back in the day.

Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, Harry "Gunboat" Gumbert, Lynwood "Schoolboy" Rowe and Harry "Suitcase" Simpson were just a few that jumped off the newspaper pages at you.

Then there was Willie "Puddinghead" Jones, Sal "The Barber" Maglie and Ted "The Splendid Splinter" Williams.

Outdoor sports also had their day in the nickname department with Jim "Mudcat" Grant and Jim "Catfish" Hunter.

But the Copper Country also had its share of colorful nicknames -- some of those which had different connotations.

Take John "Wild Ball" Erkkila, who pitched for Wolverine in the Twilight League a half century ago.

Erkkila was one of the first pitchers I ever batted against, and I asked a teammate about his nickname before the game.

"You figure it out," was the short answer I received, leaving me with some trepidation and my front foot firmly in the bucket.

To my astonishment, Erkkila fired three strikes past me that painted the black on the plate.

Much later I learned the nickname was just a ploy by his teammates to get his goat. In truth, he had excellent control.

The late Ron Nettell of Houghton High - a recent U.P. Hall of Fame pick - picked up the moniker of "Wimpy" in his youth.

But on the football diamond and hockey arena, Nettell wasn't anything like his nickname. He had outstanding speed, but wouldn't hesitate to run over an opposing player to get where he had to go.

Mohawk had a sterling catcher nicknamed Bob "Buckshot" Jurmu. I never could figure out if that moniker was earned by his throwing arm ... or his bird-hunting skills.

The same was true for an old local boxer named "Midnight" Malila. I couldn't fathom if Malila had a good knockout punch, or if he spent a lot of time outside the ring late at night.

Some other good local nicknames include Francis "Pea Soup" Ruelle, Charley "Choo-Choo" Mason, Paul "Racket" Coppo and "Fuzzy" Frenette.

But the best nickname (not neccesarily in sports) I recall belonged to a member of my Army basic training company at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Caleb "Ridgerunner" McQuarters was straight from the hills of Kentucky and could shoot the eye out of a squirrel from a half-mile away. He had an Expert rifle medal to prove it.

After one particulary trying day on the obstacle course, McQuarters announced to no one in particular in the barracks that he had enough and was "getting out of this (expletive deleted) place."

Sure enough, when roll call was taken the next morning, McQuarters and two other recruits had jumped over the fence during the night.

I later asked a military police sergeant if the Army would go looking for McQuarters as they did for most deserters.

His reply was simple: "We don't go into those hills, we might never come out alive."

To this day, I can still envision "Ridgerunner" cooking up a batch of moonshine and shooting squirrels in his Cumberland Mountains.

 
 

 

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