Friday, February 6, 2009

Scientific William

The once famous third baseman Bill Hague, who in his day was known as "Scientific William," is now one of the ticket takers at Athletic park, Philadelphia. Between that and a nice morning paper route Bill manages to make a comfortable living.
-The Atchison Champion, June 12, 1891

Hague, who started at third base for the Brown Stockings in 1875, died just a few years later in 1898. But the most important thing here is that nickname. Somebody needs to get that up on Baseball Reference because it's a classic.


David Ball said...

Yes, all the fuss everybody makes about "Death to Flying Things," and yet this wonderful nickname is completely forgotten. I have sometimes seen it in the Cincinnati Enquirer as "Cientific Bill." I would love to know where it came from and what it meant.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

I think that I like Cientific Bill better than Scientific William but it's a tough call. No information on how the nickname originated but I assumed it had to do with his style of play-smart, scientific baseball, etc. Not sure if that term would have been used at the time but that's what comes to mind.

Still, Death to Flying Things has to be the best nickname of all time.

Richard Hershberger said...

The merits of this particular nickname notwithstanding, I am not a fan of collecting colorful nicknames and putting them in the standard databases. This misrepresents contemporary reality. "Death to Flying Things" is clearly a different sort of creature than is "Babe", and "Dummy" or "Chief" are somewhere in between.

Did people actually call out, "Hey, Death to Flying Things!" at Ferguson? Of course not. They either called out "Hey, Bob!" or something unprintable (it being Ferguson, after all...).

Take another classic, Wes "Icicle" Fisler. Was "Icicle" real? Absolutely. I have seen several references to it from during his lifetime. But even so there is a retrospective air to it: talking about back in his playing days. I have never seen a casual contemporary usage, in the way you can find any number of casual uses of "Babe" Ruth.

There isn't a clear solution here. It would be faintly absurd for a database to insist on talking only about George Ruth. But going down that road you rapidly find a competition for finding ever more colorful, if rarely used, nicknames to add to the list. Then you end up with the vintage base ball crowd, where you pick a nickname for yourself and everyone has one. feh