FELIKS BANEL

Bone, The Sheriff and . . . Tuna?: 45 years of Mariner nicknames

Sep 7, 2022, 12:26 PM | Updated: 1:25 pm
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Photo from the British Columbia Postal History on Flickr

It’s September and somehow the Mariners continue to flirt with their first post-season appearance in two decades. Regardless of what may happen in any games between now and October (or in any other potentially heart-breaking season, for that matter), one part of the team that’s been consistent in good years and bad is player nicknames.

Who could ever forget the likes of Cuffs, The Sheriff, and, of course, good old Tuna?

Nicknames are everywhere in families and in many workplaces, but pro-athletes seem to have the best ones that honor – or sometimes even poke fun at– specific skills or physical attributes.

More from Feliks Banel: All Over The Map: Mysterious handprints and footprints in ancient lava

From around the Pacific Northwest, there is “Downtown” Freddy Brown from the glory years of the Supersonics, who still resonates decades later. It seems that Beastmode (is it even necessary to identify this as Marshawn Lynch’s handle?) will never be forgotten, regardless of how long it takes for some TBD quarterback to surpass the Seahawk achievements of the Russell Wilson era.

Win or lose, baseball seems to dominate the nickname game, with a number and variety far more than football and basketball, or other faster-moving sports. The pace of the game, while considered by some to be a liability in this light-speed age, allows a lot of time for those nicknames to be repeated by the broadcasters. With pitch counts for at-bats sometimes stretching into the double digits, nicknames can be savored like a fine beverage – giving baseball something of literary quality that doesn’t emerge as easily as it does in other athletic pursuits ruled by periods, quarters, halves and clocks.

Seattle sports historian Dave Eskenazi told KIRO Newsradio that even before radio – more than a hundred years ago – there was already at least one great baseball nickname around here.

“His name was Frank Raymond, and his nickname was ‘Tealy,’” said Eskenazi. “He managed a championship team here in 1912 [and] was kind of a good fielder, no-hit shortstop for many years.”

“He was a little guy, about five-foot-three and a redhead,” Eskenazi added, which might have inspired this baseball player’s early Northwest nickname.

“A buddy and I finally tracked down the origin of the nickname,” Eskenazi continued. “And it said it came from a teal duck.”

One variety of teal – as some bird enthusiasts probably already know – is described as a small duck with cinnamon-colored head, or, in other words: Frank Raymond. “Tealy” hasn’t had the enduring quality of “Downtown” or “Beastmode,” but the premise of any sports nickname, says Dave Eskenazi, has at its roots in the feelings of love and familiarity by fans for the players.

“I think because they make fans feel closer to the team, it’s like a term of endearment,” Eskenazi said. “If you have a teammate calling another teammate a certain nickname, and you [as a fan] can say that out loud, too, you feel more a part of the festivities. I think that’s the essence of it.”

David Eskenazi says this was certainly the case for Seattle’s most popular and most successful professional baseball team before the Mariners: the Seattle Rainiers (née Seattle Indians) of the Pacific Coast League in 1930s and 1940s.

“Most guys had nicknames then,” Eskenazi said. “‘Jo-Jo’ White, whose name was Joyner White […] was from Red Oak, Georgia, and when teammates from far-flung places asked him where he was from, he said, ‘Georgia’ [in a Georgia accent, this sounded like ‘jo-jo’], and they started calling him ‘Jo-Jo,’” Eskenazi continued, describing the outfielder who played for Seattle from 1939 to 1942.

‘Kewpie’ Dick Barrett was called that, Eskenazi says, “because he looked like a Kewpie doll. And there was ‘Farmer Hal’ Turpin, because he had a farm in Yoncalla, Oregon,” Eskenazi continued. “And Bill Lawrence, the great centerfielder from the Seattle Rainiers, he was ‘Highpockets’ because he was so tall.”

If Randy Adamack were to be given a term of endearment by Mariners fans or by a Mariners broadcaster (or by some random radio historian), one good option would be “Mister Nickname.”

Adamack is in his early seventies. He’s semi-retired from the Mariners ballclub after a long career in the front office, and most recently served as senior vice-president and advisor to the chairman and CEO. Adamack, who grew up near Cleveland and worked for the team now known as the Guardians, came to Seattle in the summer of 1978, in the middle of the Mariners’ second season, to work in communications.

A few years ago, Adamack – who’s become something of an unofficial historian for the team – put together a master list of Mariner nicknames going all the way back to 1977. To do that, he called on his own first-hand knowledge from those decades around the clubhouse, and he reached out to several people, such as longtime Mariner trainer Rick Griffin, to get their input too.

“The other thing I did,” Adamack told KIRO Newsradio, “was I kind of laid out a ‘ground rule’ that it wasn’t just a matter of adding an “ie” or a “y” to a name like ‘Cammie’ or ‘Boonie,’ as examples.”

And, in a controversial move that eliminated players like A-Rod, for a player to qualify for Adamack’s nickname list, the nickname “had to be something that wasn’t just initials.”

Adamack doesn’t have a single favorite, but high on his list is catcher Bob “Scrap Iron” Stinson.

Stinson was called “Scrap Iron,” Adamack says, “because he was a hard-working, tough guy. He was not a superstar-type player, but had a decent major league career. I think it was a matter of his demeanor and the way he carried himself as much as anything else.”

Here are some other highlights from Adamack’s Mariner player nickname list.

Rightfielder Jay “Bone” Buhner

“He’s told me that he got that nickname when he was playing, I think it was, junior college baseball,” Adamack said. “He was an outfielder, and he went out toward the wall to make a play, and the ball hit him in the head and they started calling him ‘Bonehead.’ And then it just got shortened to ‘Bone.’”

Pitcher Norm “The Sheriff” Charlton

“He just had this that way about him,” Adamack said. “He’s from Texas. He was kind of a tough guy, and after an inning when he got the side out, he would twirl his glove, sort of like a gun, you know, but he would just twirl it like a basketball player would turn a basketball on his finger.”

Dave “Tuna” Heaverlo

There was a reliever from Ellensburg named Dave Heaverlo (pronounced “HAV-er-low”) who, Randy Adamack says, was one of the first major league players to shave his head. A game-night printed program sold at the Kingdome during the 1980 season reported that this led to Heaverlo being called “Beldar,” after the ‘conehead’ character on Saturday Night Live portrayed by Dan Ackroyd.

Adamack says that Dave Heaverlo preferred an alternate other than “Beldar.”

“The nickname that he uses himself, and that I remember from back in the day, was ‘Tuna,’” Adamack said.

Tuna?

“Because it’s just his body type,” Adamack said. “It looks like a tuna . . . you know, there’s not much shape to it. I’ve gotten a couple of emails from him, text messages or whatever, recently, and he signs it ‘Tuna.’”

Jerry “Gabby” Narron

Here’s one from the “ironic nickname” category.

“We had a catcher named Jerry Narron who was very quiet,” Adamack said. “Never said a word. And so his nickname was ‘Gabby.’”

Henry “Avo” Cotto

Here’s a nickname for an outfielder that, some might agree, is just plain bad.

“One that I’d never heard of before but a couple of people told me about is Henry Cotto,” Adamack said. “His nickname was ‘Avo,’ as in ‘Avocado.’”

Groan.

Bill “The Inspector” Caudill

There was one Mariner 40 years ago who actually had two nicknames, and who was one of the earliest major league baseball players to have his own walk-up music: the “Pink Panther Theme.” The player was relief pitcher Bill “The Inspector” Caudill.

“He got a Sherlock Holmes cap, you know, that had the front and the back both the same,” Adamack said. “And he had this magnifying glass. He went around one time when our team was not hitting at all, we weren’t scoring any runs. He was ‘inspecting’ the bats” – to try and solve the mystery of the missing hits – “and we had pictures of it, [where] he’s looking through the bats.”

“And we just started calling him ‘The Inspector,’” Adamack said.

As a reliever, whose entry into the game was usually accompanied by a delay – for the walk from the bullpen and for some warm-up pitches from the mound – it was perhaps inevitable that old Kingdome organist Dick Kimball began playing the Henry Mancini-composed theme from the Inspector Clouseau films starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling investigator.

But “The Inspector”, says Randy Adamack, was not Bill Caudill’s original nickname. That would be “Cuffs,” as in handcuffs.

“He might have gotten in some trouble on the road in Cleveland, really minor trouble,” Adamack said. “He either was handcuffed or, somehow, Caudill talked a policeman out of a pair of handcuffs, and he brought them back to Seattle with him.”

“He would handcuff people to the bench,” Adamack continued, describing antics that might not be looked on the same way 40 years later. “It would all be in fun, but I mean, he handcuffed the owner’s wife one time to the dugout bench, and she was there until the game almost started before he finally let her go.”

Along with the walk-up music and two nicknames, Randy Adamack says Mariner manager Rene “Lache” Lachemann also devised a custom signal for when Bill Caudill’s services were required on the mound.

“’Lache’ would put his two wrists together like they were handcuffed,” Adamack said “And that was a signal for ‘Cuffs’ to come into the game.”

One can only imagine what gesture good ol’ ‘Lache’ might have come up with to summon Frank Raymond.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or question, please email Feliks here.

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Bone, The Sheriff and . . . Tuna?: 45 years of Mariner nicknames