Baseball Magazine

Chicken Wolf

By Precious Sanders @pdsanders99
Chicken_WolfJimmy “Chicken” Wolf, 1887 (public domain)

William Van Winkle “Jimmy” Wolf was born on May 12, 1862 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was the only player to appear in the American Association in all ten seasons of its existence. All ten of Wolf’s AA seasons were played for his hometown team, first known as the Louisville Eclipse in 1891, then known as the Louisville Colonels from 1882 to 1891. Wolf set a number of career American Association records: most games played (1,195), total bases (1,921), hits (1,438), doubles (214), and triples (109). 

When the American Association folded, Wolf went on to play for the St. Louis Browns of the National League in 1892, which ended up being his last season in the majors. He played in just three games for the Browns before being let go. He would then play in the minor leagues until 1894, before retiring from baseball.

To Wolf’s family growing up, he was known as “Willie.” The nickname “Chicken” was supposedly given to him by Eclipse teammate, Pete Browning. According to the story, the Eclipse manager instructed the team to eat lightly before a game, but Wolf succumbed to his appetite and stuffed himself on stewed chicken. He then played poorly in the game, committing several errors. Pete Browning made a connection between the stewed chicken and Wolf’s lackluster play and hung the nickname “Chicken” on him. The name caught on with his teammates and the local press. 

About halfway through his professional career, Wolf then became known as “Jimmy” Wolf in the Louisville newspapers. However, the origin or reason for this change remains unknown.

Following the end of his playing career, Wolf returned to Louisville, and in 1894, he joined the Louisville Fire Department. Five years into his firefighting career, while rushing to the scene of a fire, Wolf’s engine collided with a pushcart, and Wolf suffered a serious head injury in the accident. Wolf was declared “mentally unbalanced” and, in 1901, spent time in the Central Asylum for the Insane outside Louisville. Wolf died on May 16, 1903 at City Hospital in Louisville. William Van Winkle Wolf was laid to rest in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery.

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