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Nashua’s Ross publishes, co-authors new book

NASHUA – It seems like every professional baseball player, or two out of every three, over time, has or has had a nickname.

For example, locally, we all remember Butch Hobson, the former Red Sox player, manager, whose real name is Clell Lavern Hobson. There are 27 players in baseball history nicknamed Butch, but the most popular nickname?

It’s “Lefty” – some 190 players.

When you hear “Babe”, you automatically think of Babe Ruth.

“I’ve got 32 other players whose nickname is ‘Babe,'” said Nashua’s Joe Ross, the publisher and co-author of a just-printed book, “The Nicknames of Major League Baseball.”

Ross has found there’s 42 “Buds,” 46 “Bucks,” 140 “Red.”

“Some of whom have red hair,” he said, “or, if you look at some pictures of them now, no hair.”

The book, which he wrote with Rich Renneboog of Ontario, Canada, is 404 pages of lists, with some brief explanations for a nickname here or there. You can look up a player and his nickname, or look up the nickname and find how many players have it.

“If you like food, there’s everything from ‘Buttermilk’ to ‘Yams’,” he said. “And if you like animals, everything from ‘Ant’ to Weasel’. Fantasy characters? Dragon to Werewolf. …”

And on it goes.

Ross, who was the professional independent baseball team the Nashua Pride’s official scorer for the first few years of it’s decade-long run, is no stranger to sports/baseball history. He sends out a daily “Sports History” list of briefs, basically a “This Day in Baseball History” to clients, teams, etc. from his publishing company, Rosstrum Publishing.

Ross, 78, began his interest in sports and baseball history during his days as the Pride’s official scorer. He would often join visiting team broadcasters who were doing road games solo as their color man,

One of the broadcasters with the now-defunct Atlantic City Surf was trying to do it, but as Ross said, he didn’t have a big database to draw from, especially in the early days of the internet being an everyday tool.

“I thought, ‘There’s a business here somewhere’,” he said. “And that was the start of it. I started doing the research and doing the data base.”

He turned it over to the broadcaster but he didn’t feel he had a complete data base. Once that happened, he would go to the minor league national convention, set up a booth and in one year signed up about 20 teams and it’s grown from there. Many use it during their team broadcasts.

“Today is Baseball History is now heard

coast to coast, border to border,” Ross said. “For those that use it, obviously. Nobody is going to use it all, because at the height of the season, it can run to 14-15 pages. The broadcaster will cherrypick.

He picks things that will affect his team, players who played for his team, record setting things or funny things.”

Ross feels his perceived market for it is minor league radio. It became a nationwide thing; it includes every member of the Hall of Fame, day born, day died, record setting, etc.

“My favorite, of course, are the funny things,” Ross said. “And most of those came from the early days of baseball where you had one umpire, if you were really lucky.”

How did Ross build the database? He’s used Baseball Reference, but if you look at his “Nicknames” book, the acknowledgements take four pages and a lot of those sources are used for This Day in Baseball.

What is it about sports history that draws Ross repeatedly in?

“I’m pretty good at it,” he said. “I don’t know that I love it, but I don’t mind doing it.”

Ross hasn’t made a full living out of it as of yet. History is used as a shared advertising medium as if it’s used, it has to include being brought to listeners by whichever product Rosstrum Publishing lists. For example, the current ones emailed out say they are “brought to you by The Nicknames of Major League Baseball, now available for ….”

That’s the theory, Ross says, as books have always been part of his family. Ross grew up in Lynn, Mass., was admittedly a poor athlete, but became a high school referee instead. He had worked basketball from youth level to college, and also officiated high school and soccer games.

Ross’s entrance into the literary world came after a murder mystery novel he wrote, which he felt did not meet his or anyone’s standards, would “never see the light of day.”

He then determined he could be “a good publisher, an excellent editor, and a good non-fiction writer, when it involves research and things like that. I’m good.

“I find out where to find the information and I do. I use books, I use the websites, I use anything I can find to do it.”

The “Nicknames” book has over 400 pages, and Ross still figures he missed some. How did he get the idea for it, along with Renneboog? It just came to him, as there are nicknames throughout his “This Day in Baseball.”

“Where do these nicknames come from?” Ross said. “Many don’t know. My favorite is Mickey Mantle. Mickey was named after Mickey Cochrane. But Cochrane’s real name was “Gordon”, not Mickey.

“How would you like to be rooting for ‘Gordon Mantle’?” he said. “His parents didn’t know. So they still named him Mickey.'”

And as Ross notes in his introduction, Babe Ruth was often called “The Sultan of Swing”. But of course, that was also used for famed musician Benny Goodman.

“Benny did not play baseball,” Ross wrote, “but that’s all right. Ruth didn’t play the clarinet.” Ross left out middle names players were/are referred by. “I don’t consider that a nickname,” he said. “Occasionally there are some who slipped in with that, but that wasn’t my intent.”

When Ross and Renneboog finished the published version, the formatting was difficult, because every page had to be done separately. “You have to do things in order,” Ross said. “That was the hardest thing. That is the biggest amount of work.”

Ross is obviously his own publisher. Finding a printer isn’t a problem as the literary world is loaded with them, but he also need one with distribution connections (Amazon, etc.). Book distribution is of course the key – and the hardest task.

Dealing with bookstores isn’t always the easiest. “I’m a small company,” he said. “They want publishers who accept returns. I’m not willing to accept returns (books not sold).”

In any event, the book lives on. Some stores who don’t sell it, however, will order it on request.

Renneboog, meanwhile, helped Ross compile everything for “Nicknames” and is out of southwest Ontario, not far from Beachville, home of the first documented game of baseball in North America in 1837. He’s been a fan since he was introduced to the sport in the 1950s, and is now in his 60s, working as an author, and also edits environmental/scientific books as well as fiction.

Renneboog looked up the initial round of nicknames, then Ross “refined it.”, looking up the nickname origins, etc. They’ve known each other for about four years, Renneboog has written several books, mainly non fiction.

He answered an email Ross put out in literary circiles, and “we got together, decided who was going to do what, who was going to pay for what. And here we are.

“He sent me a whole list he had, he had the majority of them. I then used the sources I have. Baseball Reference has a nickname file, but mine is more complete.”

Ross is also a member of SABR, which is the Society of American Baseball Research, so used some connections there.

“Baseball probably has the most written about it than any other sport,” Ross said. “The sources are never ending – there are thousands of sources in baseball that aren’t available in every other sport.”

Ross would love to expand “Today in Baseball History” to other sports. The sources, though, he said, “are not as prolific. It’s much more difficult in those sports (football, basketball, etc.) than it is in baseball. Baseball has so many sources, it isn’t even funny.

“The information is just overwhelming. I could probably double my ‘Today in Baseball’.”

Especially as records keep getting broken, he said.

Ross toyed with the idea for “Nicknames” for about a year. He went back and forth on the idea and how much work it might take.

“But, no matter how much work you think is involved, you’re wrong,” he said. “It’s much more.

“At first when I started it I figured a couple hundred pages,” he said. “I didn’t expect 404. And it’s not 404 pages with pictures and that sort of thing. And it’s all names, in small type.”

Was Ross shocked about the number of nicknames?

“Not really,” he said, but added a few things did shock him.

“I was shocked at the number of people whose nickname was ‘The Franchise’,” he said.

That was 21 in all, including notables such as Roger Clemens, Lou Brock, Ken Griffey, Jr., Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken, Jr., Tom Seaver – and less notables such as Todd Zeile and Ruben Sierra.

“How many franchises are there, right?,” Ross said. “But some of it is very interesting. There’s animals, foods, safety people – sheriffs, lot of sheriffs.”

The funniest? He likes Buttermilk, Weasel.

“How would you like to run into a game where your nickname is ‘Weasel?'” Ross said with a chuckle.

After doing his work on professinal baseball cities, Ross probably says that could be it for his baseball projects. He actually once thought about going to work in the game, talking with Mike Veeck, famous for his ownership of the independent league St. Paul Saints, and of course son of the late baseball eccentric owner Bill Veeck.

He met Veeck as his teams carried “Today in Baseball”, and they talked. But Ross felt that he was just not the right age (in his 60s at the time) to undertake the daily grind of a baseball job.

Then what’s next? He’s planning on another book listing the cities of baseball – every city on continental North America where baseball professionally is played. So that’s any level, and that would certainly include Nashua.

The Cities book should be long, and Ross is doing this one alone. He’s up to cities in Kansas and it’s already 90 pages. He hasn’t even gotten to baseball cities in Canada and Mexico.

“The only thing I’m not including are collegiate level stuff,” he said, since it’s the amateur level.

He’s found going through his research that in just Kansas there were 200 professional leagues alone.

Does Ross miss the Pride games?

“A little bit,” he said. “I miss being the official scorer. I knew the rules. I read the rules before the season and several times during.”

And scoring is such a subjective thing, although Ross saw his job as to try to make it more objective, by the book. He’d even have disagreements with Howe Sports Data over a couple of scoring decisions as they reversed a couple of his rulings. He’d get told “Nobody else does that.”

And nobody probably delves into as much baseball research, at least no one locally, as Ross.

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Note: The Nicknames of Major League Baseball is available from Rosstrum Publishing or can be ordered from any local bookstore if it’s not carried.

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