How Walter Beck Got His Nickname . . . Not His Groove Back

Hack Wilson was a powerful slugger who played for several teams. He is one of the most accomplished power hitters in the game during the late 1920s and early 1930s. His 1930 season with the Cubs is considered one of the most memorable individual single-season hitting performances in baseball history. His record of 191 RBIs in 1930 remains unbroken.

In 1934, Wilson played right field for the Dodgers. A reporter said the oddly shaped outfielder was “built along the lines of a beer keg, and was not wholly unfamiliar with its contents.” He was 5-feet-6, weighed 195 pounds, and wore a size five-and-a-half shoe.

Wilson got drunk the night before a game against the Phillies at Baker Bowl. A man named Walter Beck was pitching for the Dodgers that day—and he was taking a beating. Ball after ball sailed over Wilson’s hung-over head and slammed into the wall behind him, which, because it was made of tin, gave out a huge BOOM at each bombardment. Hung over, the sound must have been excruciating. No matter. Wilson chased each thunder-emitting ball down.

Casey Stengel, the Brooklyn manager, came out to remove the beleaguered Beck. Beck argued with Stengel, not wanting to leave. Stengel held out his hand for the ball, but the angry Beck turned and hurled it out to right field where it banged off the wall. The exhausted Wilson, his hands on his knees and his head lowered, heard the ball ricochet. Thinking Beck’s lousy pitching had inspired yet another hit, Wilson quickly turned and raced to the wall. With Stengel, Beck, and the fans watching, Wilson retrieved the ball and threw a perfect strike to the second baseman.

The noisy incident would bequeath on that day’s pitcher his nickname, Boom Boom Beck. In 265 career games, Beck had a 38–65 won-loss total. Other than a stint as a pitching coach for a couple of years in the 1950s, Beck, other than his nickname, is another forgotten entry in the nonexistent Baseball Encyclopedia of Obscurity.

How Hack Wilson got his name is a story for another day. Hack Wilson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979.

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