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Cannonball Titcomb: The Greatest Name in Baseball

By

Charles Francis

Baseball fanatics love making top ten all time great lists. Recently I ran across
what I consider a rather unique one, a list of top ten left-handed pitchers who
also played third base. And low and behold there was the name of a pitcher from
Maine on it. That name was Cannonball Titcomb.

According to this particular list maker, Cannonball had three games at third and
fielded cleanly on all three occasions. Checking this out I discovered an error.
Cannonball only filled in at third twice. His other venture into the field was at
second. So much for this particular fan generated list.

Perhaps, however, Cannonball Titcomb deserves another crack at a top ten all time
baseball list, a list where he would be- hands down- #1. That list would be a list
of the top ten greatest baseball names of all time. After all, Cannonball was a
pitcher and what better moniker for a pitcher than Cannonball?

Cannonball was a West Baldwin, Maine boy. He played baseball back in the 1880's.
The record indicates he was a pretty fair pitcher who played for a weak team, two
mediocre ones and a top notch one. The top notch team was the New York Giants.
Cannonball won a game for the Giants in post season play against the St. Louis
Browns. That was when post season competition had yet to be named the World
Series.

Cannonball's other teams were the Philadelphia Quakers, Philadelphia Athletics,


and the Rochester Broncos. The Quakers were the poor team and the A's and Broncos
the mediocre. As to how poor the Quakers really were, under their new name of
Phillies they once sported the longest World Series drought in baseball history,
ninety-seven years. That drought began in 1883. Cannonball joined the Quakers in
1886. The Chicago Cubs recently broke the Quakers-Phillies record.)

Cannonball's real name was Ledell. There are a variety of explanations as to how
he came by the nickname. One, of course, has to do with his pitching. A
sportswriter for the Philadelphia Inquirer once described Titcomb's pitches as
coming at opposing batters "as if shot from a cannon."

Then there is a trivia site on the World Wide Web that simply says anything was
better than Ledell. Still another explanation has to do with Cannonball's physical
presence.

The source of this latter theory is the same one who said Cannonball played three
games at third base. This list maker- who shall go nameless- suggests the nickname
came from the fact Titcomb was built like a cannonball. He was 5'6'' and weighed
157. At least those are his stats when he was a player. If you take a good look at
one of Cannonball's pictures from when he was a player though he looks quite
dapper and not the least "cannonballish."

Surprisingly there are some very good pictures of Cannonball. They were taken in
1886 when he broke in with the Quakers. They are part of the A. G. Spaulding
Baseball Collection, the precursor of baseball cards. Cannonball would have been
twenty when they were taken. What one sees in looking at them is a clear-eyed,
good looking, young man. He isn't the least intimidating.
Cannonball was born in West Baldwin in 1866. Baseball was popular in small Maine
towns even in that long ago time. There were a lot of town teams and rivalry
between them was keen. Cannonball wasn't the only Maine boy to make it in the big
leagues back then either. Sid Farrar from Paris Hill was playing with
Philadelphia's other team, the Athletics of the American Association, when
Cannonball broke in with the Quakers. When Cannonball went to the A's in 1887,
they played together.

Cannonball's worst year was his first with the luckless Quakers. He lost all five
of his starts. His best year was 1888 when the Giants beat the Browns in post
season play. He went 14-8 during the regular season. His last year, when he was
with the Broncos, he was 10-9. Never much of a batter, he had a lifetime average
of .098. That was when pitchers were part of the regular batting order. In 1888,
however, he did hit ten home runs. That put him among league leaders. Homers were
relatively rare back then.

Cannonball's major league baseball career ended with the Broncos. Ironically, 1890
was the only year the team was in existence. He did, however, play for a number of
semipro teams in New Hampshire where he eventually settled.

Cannonball Titcomb passed away quietly at the age of eighty-four in Kingston, New
Hampshire in 1950. It has only been in recent years that his name has surfaced as
baseball fans come up with new lists of trivia about the nation's pastime. As to
whether Ledell "Cannonball" Titcomb deserves to be known as the greatest name in
baseball, that is up to the list makers.