Happy Birthday wishes today to The Only Nolan, born on 7 November 1857.
It turns out there were quite a few well-known (to me) ball players born on this day, including Dick Stuart, who had one of the best nicknames of all time. He was known for his defense, which was poor, and they called him Dr. Strangeglove, among other things. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Also on this date, Jim “Kitty” Kaat, Jake Gibbs, Joe Niekro, Buck Martinez, Willie Norwood, (former Twin), and Todd “Former Twin” Ritchie.
But who the heck was The Only Nolan?
Well, The Only Nolan played back in the day. He was a right-handed pitcher for the Indianapolis Blues in 1878, the Cleveland Blues in 1881, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in 1883, the Wilmington Quicksteps in ’84, and the Philadelphia Quakers in ’85. Rather a peripatetic career. In May of ’78, for the Blues, he pitched a two-hitter against the Milwaukee Grays, but barely won the game, 6-5, as the Blues committed 11 errors and passed balls in the field. That must have been an entertaining game to watch.
It seems like The Only Nolan was a bit of a problem. He was kicked off the Indianapolis club in August – said he was going to a funeral, but instead went out drinking. He was allowed back in the league in 1881, but in September of 1881 the league blacklisted The Only Nolan, and a few other players, for “confirmed dissipation and general insubordination.” He only lasted seven games with the Allegheneys before being released for disciplinary reasons. The next year he pitched in five games for Wilmington, and in his final season with the Quakers, he pitched in seven games. Add it all up and you end up with a 23-52 record, a 2.93 ERA, and a great nickname.
Wikipedia reports two possible origins of the nickname. The first was that there were no other Nolans playing then in the Majors. That seems like a pretty unlikely cause for a nickname. The second points to a popular minstrel performer of the time, who billed himself as “The Only Leon,” and performed in both black-face and drag — perhaps Nolan reminded some of this character? This seems unlikely as well, though there is a nice balance in the names Leon and Nolan.
The Only Nolan died on 19 May, 1913, at age 55. He was a police officer for 15 years in Patterson New Jersey. I came across a little news of this in the New York Times:
Well, happy birthday to The Only Nolan; The Only Nolan in baseball with a birthday today.
Speaking of dead, fans of the 1904 Millers might recognize this name: Charlie Frisbee passed away on this date in 1954. Frisbee played outfield for the mighty Mudhens of Toledo in 1904.