Baseball: Past and Present

With Steelers mania in my hometown of Pittsburgh at full throttle during this week leading up to the Super Bowl, I decided to add a little balance to my life by finally sitting down to watch the 20-DVD Major League World Series set issued last year by Major League Baseball.

I worked my way up to the 1957 World Series that pitted the New York Yankees against the Milwaukee Braves. Watching the clips from Game 3, I was surprised to see Harry “Suitcase” Simpson at first base for the Yankees.

Even though I’ve never been a Yankee fan, my Bronx-raised father avidly rooted for the Bombers. And in 1957, my family lived in Puerto Rico where the Armed Forces Radio game of the week always featured, or so it seemed, the Yankees. So I was somewhat surprised that I had no clear recollection of Simpson’s brief Yankee days which totaled 99 games in parts of 1957 and 1958.

Still, as I watched Simpson stroke a first inning RBI single, I was happy to be reminded of him. “Suitcase,” I thought, is a great nickname. One of my minor peeves about modern baseball is the virtual disappearance of creative nicknames. “A-Rod,” “K-Rod,” “I-Rod,” and “Gorzo” aren’t nicknames in the true sense of the word.

I grew up with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Bob Prince who had a way with nicknames: Vernon “Deacon” Law, Don “The Tiger” Hoak, Bill “The Quail” Virdon, Gene “The Stick” Michael, and Dave “The Cobra” Parker all have solid baseball rings to them.

Prince and his broadcasting partner Jim Woods also had great monikers. They were, respectively, “The Gunner” and “The Possum”

Going back further in baseball history, nicknames were even more colorful: “Noodles” Hahn, “Hippo” Vaughn, “Piano Legs” Hickman and “Three-Finger” Brown for example.

Digging deeper, the story I found behind Simpson’s nickname floored me. If I asked 100 of my contemporaries to explain how Simpson became known as “Suitcase,” I’m confident that they would all answer that it was a reference to his numerous trades that caused him to constantly be packing his suitcase. After all, Simpson was traded eight times during the four years from 1955 to 1959.

But according to the Cleveland Indians official 1952 sketch book, Simpson got his nickname from sportswriters who likened him to the Toonerville Trolley character named Suitcase Simpson. The date of this revelation, 1952, was years before Simpson’s multiple trades. And the sketch book added the mostly useless information that Simpson’s childhood nickname was “Goody” which came from his willingness to help out his neighbors in his childhood hometown of Dalton, Georgia.

A few other forgotten facts about Simpson surfaced during my research. “Suitcase” was a better than average player during his short eight year career.  For the Kansas City Athletics during his All Star 1956 season, Simpson hit 293 with 21 home runs and 105 RBIs. That year, Simpson led the league in triples with eleven. He won the triples title again in 1957 with 9. In 1955 with the Athletics and the Cleveland Indians, Simpson hit .300

As the old saying goes, you learn something new every day– but rarely about “Suitcase” Simpson.



4 Comments so far

  1.    Vincenzo on February 3, 2011 8:58 am      

    Although I still lived in NY during the 1957 & 58 seasons, I, too, cannot remember Simpson in a Yankee uniform. If Gil Hodges was the protypical first baseman, then his closest rival was William “Moose” Skowron of the Yankees. A bit of triva: both wore the number, “14,” and both were tactiturn Midwesterners: Hodges from Indiana, Skowron from Illinois.
    For Simpson to have played first base during the Series must have meant that Skowron could not, for Skowron was part of those Yankee teams of the 1950′s which, with one exception, bested my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. It is not for nothing that the Broadway musical was entitled, Damn Yankees, for they caused a lot of heartburn – acido in my family – to the denizens of the Borough of Kings.

  2.    Suitcase2 on September 15, 2011 4:14 pm      

    Thanks for setting the record straight about Harry’s nickname. I have tried for years to inform the misinformed. I can’t believe the myth about Suitcase being derived from all of Harry’s travels has prevailed as the origin of his nickname. Keep up the good work.

  3.    cyndi on October 23, 2012 9:53 pm      

    I have lived in NE Dalton, GA since 1961, the community I grew up in has been called Tonnerville. I now lived in the house that used to have the Toonerville zoo. I always wondered how we got our name of Toonerville. We are on the map, but recently found out about “Suitcase Harry” , i’ve always been told we earn our name from a cartoon, but never realize it was suitcase and from our home town of Dalton, ga. NEAT!

  4.    Larry on March 20, 2013 3:15 pm      

    For what it’s worth – from an old A’s fan: I seem to recall the A’s announcers, during Mr. Simpson’s time here, saying that the ‘suitcase’ nickname came from his exceptionally large shoes. I don’t recall the size, but that’s what they said.

Name (required)

Email (required)

Website

Speak your mind

  • Written by Graham Womack