Nicknamed “Tomato Face”—and looking at his photograph, it’s not difficult to see why—Nick Cullop enjoyed (or labored through) a five-year sojourn that took him to as many cities.
A light-hitting outfielder who singled in his first trip to the plate, Cullop—not to be confused with the mildly successful pitcher of the same name from a generation earlier—traded in his New York Yankees pinstripes for a Washington Senators “W” after the 1926 season, then quickly bounced to the Cleveland Indians, before returning to the minors.
Resurfacing with the Brooklyn Robins in 1929, Cullop played the following two seasons for the Cincinnati Reds.
Never more than a bench player, Cullop finally got a chance as a semi-regular for the 1931 Reds.
Unfortunately, his bat didn’t. Tomato Face struck out a league-leading 86 times.
This, in itself, is not really noteworthy—until one realizes that he registered this dubious mark in only 359 plate appearances.
To gauge Cullop’s penchant for walking back to the dugout, consider that runner-up Woody English whiffed but 80 times in a league-leading 727 plate appearances.
And among his own teammates, Cullop whiffed more than the next two most strikeout-prone Redlegs, Harvey Hendrick and Estel Crabtree, who, combined, suffered through strike three just 73 times in 1,069 trips to the plate.
In fact, since 1900, Cullop needed the fewest plate appearances to lead his league in strikeouts—and this includes the truncated 1918 and 1981 seasons.
Only four other players since the start of the 20th century came close to reaching Cullop’s mark of futility: Bill Cunningham (96 Ks in 368 PA in 1911), Babe Ruth (58 Ks in 382 PA in 1918), Vince DiMaggio (83 Ks in 379 PA in 1944), and Pat Seerey (99 Ks in 365 PA in 1944, against only 19 walks).
Striking out so often can cost a player his job—and it sure did Cullop.
Returned to the minors after the 1931 season, Cullop continued a long and successful career in the farm system. He continued playing through 1944, and after looking back on 23 seasons in the minors, Cullop could boast a .312 average and 2,670 hits, as well as a 49-49 pitching record, accumulated in his early days on the diamond.
He further managed minor-league teams throughout the 1940s and 1950s, garnering a respectable 1109 wins on a .497 winning percentage.
Getting into just 173 Major League games during his career, Nick Cullop spent barely more than a season in the Bigs, yet his professional baseball career lasted nearly four decades.
Not bad for a guy named Tomato Face.