As an avid speller and Scrabbler, long names have always had a special place in my heart. In my mind, whether the last name can fit on the back of the uniform is almost as interesting as the person wearing it. So, I’ve taken the entire baseball player register from 1871-2010 (nearly 17,000 names) and computed the name lengths. Here is the story of the longest names, in chronological record-setting order*:
In 1876, Whitey Ritterson (name length: 15) laced them up in 16 games for the National League’s Philadelphia Athletics. Fortunately for any name length-statisticians of that era, even though Whitey wasn’t his given name, his real first name (Edward) maintained the 15-letter total length.
Buttercup Dickerson wasn’t as fortunate as Ritterson, as Dickerson’s 1878 debut would have set a new name length record of 18. Alas, Dickerson’s parents didn’t build him up by actually naming him Buttercup. The estate of “Lewis Dickerson” gets some lovely consolation prizes, as well as the home version of our game.
Debuting in the same year as Dickerson, the same fate fell on the wonderfully-monikered Alamazoo Jennings, whose real first name was Alfred. Jennings appeared in but one game for the Milwaukee Grays (and as a catcher in that contest, he committed four errors and allowed ten passed balls). It would be interesting to find out how someone who appeared in but one game ended up with such a “nickname”, if in fact it was the team that bestowed it upon him. It wasn’t like he was from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Oh well, another project for another day.
1879 saw the name length record officially raised to 16, as Charlie (Charles) Osterhout appeared in two games for the Syracuse Stars. Osterhout was actually born in Syracuse, made his pro debut at age 23 in the same city and also died in Syracuse in 1933.
The name length record jumped to 18 in 1882 when Charlie (Charles) Householder suited up for the Baltimore Orioles. Unlike his long name predecessors, Householder had more than a cup of coffee in the Majors, playing in 74 games for the O’s in 1882, and another 76 for the Brooklyn Atlantics two years later.
22 years later, Charlie (Charles) Loudenslager’s very brief career began and ended . . . one solitary game for the 1904 Brooklyn Superbas for the 19-letter man. But that did break Householder’s record.
And that’s the way it stayed for 90 years, until William VanLandingham toed the rubber for the San Francisco Giants. The 20-lettered VanLandingham was a 5th-round pick out of Kentucky in 1991 who went 8-2 in 14 starts in his 1994 debut. His innings pitched jumped from 84 in 1994 to 122.2 and then to 182.2, before he crashed and burned in 1997 (when he offered up 6.0 walks per nine versus 5.3 strikeouts).
The 20-letter name torch is now being carried by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who debuted in 2007 and is now with his third organization (Braves to Rangers to Red Sox). Its too bad VanLandingham retired, for he would have been only 37 when “Salty” debuted, and the mind boggles at the “longest batterymates” record they most likely would have set.
[Addendum: Saltalamacchia also holds the record for longest last name in MLB history (14 letters).]