"My be ball is a be ball ’cause it ‘be’ right were I want it, high and inside. It wiggles like a worm."
So walking the bases drunk became another way of saying loading them up with runners. Barnstorming with a black team meant scuffling, because the battle was constant. Young pitchers who were sacrificed in games that were beyond reach or did not matter were, for reasons no one could explain, called sockamayocks. Count on a 100-proof guy. Beware of nasty types or anyone slick enough to have oil on his bottom; both were as unwelcome as an undertaker at a marriage breakfast.
If giving words new meaning gave the guys a sense of belonging, being baptized with a nickname showed you had really arrived. Some epithets were bestowed by the press, like when Damon Runyon dubbed Ted Radcliffe “Double Duty” for his stellar play as pitcher and catcher. Sometimes it fit their looks, like when Norman Thomas Stearnes flapped his elbows like a “Turkey” as he ran. “Rube” Foster earned his in 1902 by vanquishing the great white strikeout ace “Rube” Waddell. Willie Mays traded in “Buck” for the “Say Hey Kid” when he moved from blackball to white.
No one was better than Satchel at inventing handles for players, white ones as well as black. Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog already had one, “Whitey,” but that did not stop Satchel from calling him “Wild Child.” It was natural for Satchel to brand fireballer Bob Feller “Bob Rapid,” less obvious why he chose “Old Homer Bean” for Dizzy Dean. Many of his new names were simple cases of not remembering the old ones – as in Tom Lemons for Cleveland Indians sinkerballer Bob Lemon, “Catch” for all of his receivers, and “Bo” for just about everybody. Pity the teammate Satchel pigeonholed as a “Hawgcutter,” another way of saying bonehead. All his nicknames had a common theme: They were a way for this bashful man to reach out to fellow ballplayers.
Satchel renamed his pitches, too. Call a fastball a fastball and no one paid attention. Fireball, bullet, and rocket were so hackneyed, even in mid-century, that they seemed flat. Whispy-dipsy-do was another matter. Satchel loved to riff on his releases: “I got bloopers, loopers and droopers. I got a jump ball, a be ball, a screw ball, a wobbly ball, a whipsy-dipsy-do, a hurry-up ball, a nothin’ ball and a bat dodger. My be ball is a be ball ’cause it ‘be’ right were I want it, high and inside. It wiggles like a worm. Some I throw with my knuckles, some with two fingers. My whipsy-dipsy-do is a special fork ball I throw underhand and sidearm that slithers and sinks. I keep my thumb off the ball and use three fingers. The middle finger sticks up high, like a bent fork.”