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March 8, 2011

Changing Speeds

What's In A Name?

by Ken Funck

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Like many of you, I spent time this past weekend preparing for a fantasy draft or auction, typing lists of player names into spreadsheets, ranking them, and assembling a draft strategy. A large number of factors come into play when ranking players—age, long-term vs. short-term value, positional need, injury risk, ceiling vs. likelihood of meeting it, and whether the player is on a team you’re comfortable rooting for. However, there’s one final tiebreaker for me that can come into play: whether or not I like the player’s name. All else being equal, I’ll take the player whose moniker is more enjoyable for me to say, type, or think about.

Now, admittedly, it’s rare when all other things are so equal that I would let a player’s name be the final arbiter—but it’s not unheard of. My most memorable example was when I couldn’t decide between two young shortstop prospects for my AL-only Strat league: B.J. Upton and Hanley Ramirez. They were so inseparable in my mind that I went with Hanley (immediately ahead of my main rival, who drafted B.J. with the next pick) only because I thought I’d enjoy hearing his name more in my internal game-day monologue. I picked right, of course—or at least I would have been right, if Hanley hadn’t been shipped to the NL to help Boston win a title before he could help me win one.

Names can be important—ask anyone who markets a new product—so it’s surprising to me that more players, with millions of dollars at stake, haven’t changed their names to make them more appealing or memorable to organizations or fans or sponsors. If your name is Adrian Williams, people may or may not remember you; if your name is Terwilliger Justice, or Doritos Jones, or Romanceo Sir Tasty Maxibillion, they likely will. When I entered BP Idol, I actually wondered whether to publish as Ken Funck, or Kenneth Funck, or K. Arthur Funck (yes, it was actually the Ken part I considered ditching), before finally settling on my current nom de plume, “Nate Silver.”

A great name certainly makes you more memorable. There are two types of players I remember from my early childhood: those with great talent (e.g., Jimmy Wynn) and those with great names (e.g., Chico Salmon). Some players retain their fame for a specific event, like Steve Blass Disease, Tommy John Surgery, or the Brock-for-Broglio trade. Other names, however, are just so different, so appropriate (or not), or so interesting that they stay with you long after you hear them. Below are some of my favorite player names—some of them great players, many of them not—that have stuck with me over the years for different reasons. They’re mostly pitchers, due to a recent memory-stoking stroll through my indispensable copy of The Neyer/James Guide To Pitchers. I’d love to hear some of yours.

 

NOT OF THEIR TIME: Player names that seem incongruous to the era in which they played.

Nick Altrock (1898-1933): Alt-rock as a musical genre was nowhere to be found in the first few decades of the twentieth century, but it’s appropriate that Nick Altrock spent more time as an entertainer than a pitcher. After injuries derailed his promising White Sox career after the 1906 season, Altrock spent the next few decades as a coach for the Washington Senators, making infrequent mound appearances and pinch-hitting as publicity stunts, culminating in a Minoso-esque plate appearance in 1933 when he was 57 years old. Altrock was also noted for the comic antics he performed while coaching third base, including a hilarious one-man wrestling routine that, unfortunately, was probably not the inspiration for Graham Chapman’s similar bit. If you consider grunge to be alt-rock, perhaps he was baseball’s one-man Jim Rose Circus of the early twentieth century.

Urban Shocker (1916-1928): Gun to my head, I’d probably choose this as my favorite baseball name of all time. Shocker pitched on the legendary 1927 Yankees, but his name seems more befitting of a New York Post headline from the seventies than a player from the Roaring Twenties.

Red Ames (1903-1919): How could this guy not have pitched in the early 1950s, since his name is seemingly ripped straight from one of Joe McCarthy’s Senate floor tirades? Surprisingly, he wasn’t a lefty.

Oil Can Boyd (1982-1991): Sure, his nickname was an affectation and an homage to his Negro League father, but it’s a great name. How many of you would remember Dennis Boyd’s career so clearly?

Catfish Hunter (1965-1979): While you can’t blame Jim Hunter for his nickname—it came from Charlie Finley—it is fairly incongruous, both with regard to the era in which he pitched and with the entire method usually employed to capture catfish. You “fish” for catfish—one common, if sometimes demeaned, method is “jug fishing,” which involves dangling a bunch of baited hooks under a floating plastic jug while drinking Bud Light—but you don’t “hunt” them. There’s no such thing as a catfish hunter.

Mudcat Grant (1958-1971): Similarly, if there ever was such a thing as a mudcat grant, awarded to researchers to fund the study of what we here in Wisconsin call a “bullhead,” former senator Bill Proxmire would surely have awarded it a Golden Fleece Award. You can’t blame Jim Grant for keeping the name, however, since it was bestowed on him by Larry Doby.

 

OF THEIR TIME: Player names that fit perfectly in their era.

Jack Chesbro (1899-1909): Happy Jack is in the Hall of Fame and was the first Yankees pitcher to ever, well, be a Yankees pitcher, starting their first game (as the Highlanders) in 1903. To me, though, his name has always sounded like the ultimate turn-of-the-century moniker. There’s no reason for this, other than it just sounds right to me. Whenever I read about, say, Teddy Roosevelt shaking hands with 8,513 people at an event in 1907, I assume that 8,320 of them are named Jack Chesbro. Most Spanish-American War veterans were named Jack Chesbro, as were about half of the cavalrymen that took part in the Wounded Knee Massacre—the rest were all named William Hendershot.

Orval Overall (1905-1913): A star pitcher on the last Cubs team to actually win a championship, Orval Overall sounds like a man that lived up the road from my homesteading Swedish and Norwegian ancestors. Appropriately, Overall was from a town called Farmersville; inappropriately, he was from a wealthy family, attended the University of California, and was president of his freshman class.

Old Hoss Radbourn (1881-1891): Need I say more?

Doc Medich (1972-1982): The television series "M*A*S*H" ran from 1972 to 1983. Coincidence? I think not.

Pat Rapp (1992-2001): The much-traveled fifth starter would have been a bigger star in the nineties if he had improved his flocabulary and learned to freestyle.

 

SCOUTING REPORTS: Names that may or may not accurately describe the player’s approach.

Chief Bender (1903-1925): Our own Larry Granillo (boy, it feels good to write that) yesterday touched on Bender’s advice to America’s youth, but didn’t mention that the great Ojibwa pitcher did, indeed, possess a wicked curveball.

Johnny Niggeling (1938-1946): A late-blooming knuckleballer, Niggeling was that rarest of pitchers whose name accurately describes the action of his pitches.

John Montefusco (1974-1986): The Count was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1975 and already had a great nickname, but to me his name always sounded like the perfect description of a pitcher that had perfectly befuddled opposing hitters: “He’s kept the Dodgers off-balance and completely Montefusco-ed all day.”

Randy Lerch (1975-1986): Fans of "The Munsters" will understand why this is the perfect name for a pitcher who stood a slender 6’5”.

Mike Fetters (1989-2004): As he stared in with that famous scowl, Fetters was thinking how he was going to tie hitters up inside with his next delivery.

Steve Trachsel (1993-2008): The Human Rain Delay was so deliberate, it should become standard usage to describe any wasted energy on the mound as “trachseling around.” Alternatively, you could say that a pitcher is “bringing the game to a complete contreras.”

Craig Lefferts (1983-1994): If you take the words “crafty lefty” and puree them with an egg and a roll of Certs, this is the pitcher you’d get.

John Rocker (1993-2003): The gift that keeps on giving. First off, when I was in Little League, there was this kid named Sullivan who threw twice as hard as everyone else, while his coach would yell from the dugout “Rockin’ and firin’, Sully. Keep rockin’ and firin’.” As soon as I saw the name John Rocker I expected him to pitch just like Sully did, and I wasn’t disappointed. Next, his full name is John Loy Rocker, which sounds like a name some blonde blues-rocker heisted from John Lee Hooker without giving appropriate credit. Then there’s the question of whether Rocker is a little crazy, and the whole Kenny Power connection. One of the most descriptive player names ever.

Carl Scheib (1943-1954): He can paint that corner for $29.95.

Mike Cuellar (1959-1977): Possessor of one of my all-time favorite baseball names, Cuellar was a past master of the screwball, a queer pitch that’s notoriously difficult and painful to throw.

Curt Schilling (1988-2007): Pitcher, grognard, MMORPG enthusiast, political activist, hosiery stylist, steroid denouncer, and all-around self-promotional genius. Ask not for whom the Curt shills; he shills for he.

Bruce Sutter (1976-1988): Sutter may not have invented the split-fingered fastball, but he certainly mastered it, and when he did it seemed as if no one had ever made major league hitters look so silly. They call it a “splitter” now, but if there were any justice, they’d call that pitch a Sutter.

Dan Quisenberry (1979-1990): When a fireballing closer strikes out the side to earn the save, his opponents say “he buried us.” When a sidearming closer allows two groundball singles and gets three groundball outs, his opponents say “he Quisenberried us.” Unless they’re in the National League, in which case they were “Tekulve-ed.”

Brandon Belt (2011?-????): Great name now that his power has arrived.

Stephen Strasburg (2010-????): For some reason, the first time I heard of Strasburg his name immediately reminded me of Major Strasser, the German official trying to catch Victor Laszlo in Casablanca, and I could never get that particular mnemonic pairing out of my head. Once I saw him cut his swath through the National League with German efficiency, I knew I would never get rid of it. And no, I’m not calling Strasburg a Nazi…

 

ONOMATOPOEIA: Names that sound like something the player does.

Kruk: The sound made by the foot of a left-handed hitter stepping in the bucket when facing Randy Johnson.

Cuellar: The vibrating sound waves made by a spinning screwball.

Mohorcic: The sound of a sinker hit hard on one hop to the third baseman.

Clontz: A reliever’s first-pitch fastball clanging off the foul pole for a three-run home run.

Goltz: The swallowing noise made by a general manager before explaining to the media why his big offseason free-agent acquisition is tanking.

Plank: The sound of Billy Sullivan’s line shot catching a pitcher on the shins.

Plunk: Obvious.

Twitchell: The nervous tic afflicting managers when a swingman is starting an important game. (Okay, so that’s not onomatopoeia. Deal with it.)

 

NAMES THAT ARE JUST PLAIN FUN TO SAY: If these were beverages, reviewers would say they have “excellent mouth feel.” Oh, and by the way, forget all that crap about “cellar door.” The most beautiful word in history is “Aberystwyth.”

Mike Cuellar

Kyle Heckathorn

Cody Scarpetta

John Frascatore

Cecilio Guante

Kirby Higbe (always sounds like igpay atinlay to me.)

Derek Lilliquist

Diomedes Olivo

Hipolito Pichardo

Jose Paniagua

Floyd Youmans

Brian Schlitter

Demetrius Odysseus (last name omitted)

That last guy wasn’t a ballplayer, but a guy I knew at university. He could have gone around insisting everyone call him Odysseus, but instead he went by “Odie.” For someone proudly named Ken Funck, that just seemed like the greatest waste of name resources in history.

Ken Funck is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ken's other articles. You can contact Ken by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Managers Of The Year,  Names

51 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Chiefsnark

Curt Schilling is on the Federal Reserve All-Star team, along with Hunter Pence, Brad Penny, Grant Jackson, Norm and Dave Cash, Don Money, Sterling Hitchcock, Bill White, Buck O'Neil, and Felipe Lira.

Mar 08, 2011 03:51 AM
rating: 8
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Great list, Chiefsnark -- right on the money. Let's add Shawn Green, while we're at it.

Mar 08, 2011 05:13 AM
 
apbadogs

I've always thought you could look at a player's name and know if he might be good or not. Mickey Mantle, great. Babe Ruth, great. Duke Snider, great. Ben Zobrist, not so much. Mickey Tettleton, not so much. It really works...name any player that is considering a very good to great player and his name will roll off your tongue.

Mar 08, 2011 05:19 AM
rating: 1
 
Greg Pizzo

Not to pick nits, Ken, but Lurch was on the Addams Family.

Mar 08, 2011 05:24 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

True -- my bad. Addams Family was the far superior show as well, though my wife inexplicably preferred The Munsters. She still does a mean Fred Gwynne impression.

Mar 08, 2011 05:29 AM
 
CRP13

I'd make a special list for guys like Coco Crisp and Milton Bradley. I would title that category, "What Were Their Parents Thinking?"

Mar 08, 2011 06:10 AM
rating: 4
 
sykojohnny
(225)

Sugar Bear Blanks with the Braves.

Mar 08, 2011 06:15 AM
rating: 0
 
jhardman

No Josh Outman, perhaps the greatest name for a pitcher? Or Toby Harrah, the palindrome? (As an aside, I keep waiting for Sarah Palin to make a new word/campaign slogan with a variation of "palindrome". If the shoe fits....)

Mar 08, 2011 06:23 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Considered putting in Robb Nen.

I've been waiting for the media to call Todd the "Palin-drone".

Mar 08, 2011 06:40 AM
 
BillJohnson

I've never understood how Bob Walk, Homer Bailey, Elmer Singleton and Jerry Wild could become pitchers. On the other hand, why didn't 1960s Cardinals farmhand Harry Fanok have more success than he did?

Mar 08, 2011 08:20 AM
rating: 1
 
newsense

You forgot another thing a pitcher should not do-

Grant Bal-four

Mar 08, 2011 13:35 PM
rating: 1
 
dianagram

My own team of Scrabble-acceptable names

http://themeteams.blogspot.com/2010/09/all-time-scrabble-all-star-team.html#comments

Mar 08, 2011 08:34 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Fantastic. Why am I not surprised you did this, Diane? Hopefully, the league will soon be infused with players like Constantine Qat and Hung-Chi Ka, making your least even more valuable for the casual Scrabble player.

Mar 08, 2011 09:26 AM
 
69wildcat

One of the all time great ballplayer names, Biff Pocoroba; and yes, Biff is the man's given name.

Mar 08, 2011 09:20 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Great name -- and close to my wife's favorite baseball name: Buddy Biancalana. She called him "Big Bad Bat-Wieldin' Buddy Biancalana" based on a Topps card I had.

Mar 08, 2011 09:33 AM
 
kcshankd

Razor Shines

Mar 08, 2011 09:31 AM
rating: 0
 
cubfan131

Coco's real first name is Covelli so we can't blame his parents.

Mar 08, 2011 09:36 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

Seriously? If my parents named me Covelli Crisp, I'd STILL blame them.

Mar 10, 2011 06:16 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

I believe this man has the best combination of given name and nickname:
http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/l/lordbr01.shtml

Mar 08, 2011 09:45 AM
rating: 0
 
Swingingbunts

Van Linge Mungo anyone?

Mar 08, 2011 10:27 AM
rating: 0
 
Swingingbunts

Van Lingle Mungo!

Mar 08, 2011 10:32 AM
rating: 0
 
Drew

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/card/card.php?id=DICKSHOT19100124A

Mar 08, 2011 10:35 AM
rating: 1
 
Nate W.

Don't forget about Richard Henry Pole.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/p/poledi01.shtml

Mar 09, 2011 11:10 AM
rating: 0
 
ahemmer

This is why Gauntlett Eldemire was the first pick in my fantasy draft.

Mar 08, 2011 10:38 AM
rating: 0
 
ObviouslyRob

Thought there might have been an "inappropriate" section here. No love for Dick Pole?

Mar 08, 2011 10:39 AM
rating: 3
 
JimmyJack

Or Johnny Dickshot?

Mar 08, 2011 20:34 PM
rating: 1
 
Pinson

For the "fun to say" section...gee...Did you ever hear Vin Scully say the words John CAN-duh-LAIR-ee-uh? Glad you got Biancalana in there, Funcky. How 'bout that memorable 6-3
Biancalana-to-Balboni? Just once I would like to have heard Vin say, "...and coming to the plate is Roland Americo Biancalana, one of those regal names Americanized downward to 'Buddy.'"

Mar 08, 2011 10:57 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Scully saying "Candelaria" doesn't stick in my mind, but my internal Scully-voice is now saying that, and it's wonderful. My internal Scully-voice also frequently comments on my dinner.

I do, however, remember Harry Caray's pronunciation of "Andres Galarraga", which became a 10-syllable word.

Mar 08, 2011 11:34 AM
 
BillJohnson

What Harry did to Mike Cuellar's game would have been enough to get him made _persona non grata_ in Cuellar's home country of Cuba, too.

Mar 08, 2011 13:41 PM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

Aargh. Cuellar's "name," not "game." Sorry. BP Webmaster, isn't there ANY way to make it possible for commenters to edit their own contributions?

Mar 08, 2011 13:43 PM
rating: 1
 
NYYanks826

Uh, hello? Shigetoshi Hasegawa anyone?

Mar 08, 2011 12:00 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Not bad, but I prefer me some Shingo Takatsu.

Mar 08, 2011 16:49 PM
 
sroney

Joe Grzenda is memorable in a weird way.

One of my favorites was Brock Davis.

Mar 08, 2011 14:56 PM
rating: 0
 
JoeSky60

Sorry Ken, but IIRC, Mike Hargrove was the "Human Rain Delay", before Trachsel. Not that Trachsel doesn't deserve it, though. BTW, "Mudcat" Grant was always one of my favorite baseball nicknames.

Mar 08, 2011 15:50 PM
rating: 0
 
Gordon

Mookie Wilson always seemed to fit.

Mar 08, 2011 16:15 PM
rating: 0
 
BrewersTT

I always had fun saying Hiram Bocachica.

Mar 08, 2011 18:02 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Absolutely! I can't say it without making it sound like an excerpt from that "Oh Yeah" song in Ferris Bueller.

Mar 08, 2011 19:09 PM
 
WaldoInSC

All these finely crafted appelations stand in the shadow of minor leaguer Wonderful Terrific Monds III, son of NFLer Wonderful Jr.

Mar 08, 2011 19:24 PM
rating: -1
 
John Carter

At the top of the inappropriate list: Rusty Kuntz

Mar 08, 2011 19:25 PM
rating: 0
 
Morris Greenberg

Dianagram, I think you played in some scrabble tournaments I've played in.

Also, although this isn't baseball, this year, there is a player entering the NFL Draft named Jacquizz Rogers. If only his name could be valid in scrabble.......

Mar 08, 2011 19:43 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Visiting my wife-to-be in Montreal, the announcers at Stade Olympic loved to shout: "JOHN BOC-ca-BEL-la".

However, my all time favorite name for its euphonics is Sixto Lezcano.

Perhaps, I became a baseball fan because of those fantastic names I saw on my earliest baseball cards such as Frank Funk (any relation?) and Gus Triandos. The Pittsburgh Pirates alone had Harvey Haddix, Ted Savage, Bob Friend, Bob Veale, Bob Skinner (and Bob Bailey ... a player known then as Bob Clemente), Roy Face, Al McBean, Vern Law, Bill Mazeroski, and Smokey Burgess.

Mar 08, 2011 19:47 PM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

Tracking the numbers in the daily boxscores for "Lynn" and "Rice" got me hooked on the Red Sox when I was in pre-school. I thought it was so funny that there were players named after a girl and a food. Freddie Lynn is still my favorite player to this day.

Mar 08, 2011 21:44 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

At County Stadium, the PA announcer would say a player's full name, pause, then repeat the last name. Friends who went there in the late 70s have told me about this frequent call and response:

PA: "Sixto Lezcano"

Crowd: "WHO?"

PA: "LEZCANO!"

Mar 09, 2011 05:13 AM
 
DandyDan

The most bizarre use of alliteration is Yam Yaryan, who appears right before Carl Yastrzemski. I myself was always fond of Kirby Puckett.

Mar 09, 2011 03:58 AM
rating: 0
 
DandyDan

one more I forgot, Doug Gwosdz, the Human Eyechart.

Mar 09, 2011 04:06 AM
rating: 0
 
Nate W.

I always like Cal McLish's full name.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/mclisca01.shtml

Mar 09, 2011 11:19 AM
rating: 0
 
chrisekeedei

I'm disappointed, nay, horrified!, that Tony Suck is not mentioned in this article: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/suckto01.shtml

Wonderful Monds was always a favorite baseball name of mine too. His middle name was, of course, "Terrific." Never made the majors though: http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=monds-001won

Mar 09, 2011 14:11 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Cleveland Naps' Elmer Flick led the A.L. in OBA and Slugging in 1905 leading the league in triples 1905-1907. That is an impressive thing to do up against all-time triples leader Sam Crawford in his prime. Flick started with the Phillies in 1898 and led the N.L. in RBI in 1900 - the last year when that was the only major league around. Flick finished his career in 1910 with a 149 OPS+.

Mar 09, 2011 16:57 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

I get dinged for giving a little background on who Elmer Flick was? We would rather have no idea when he lived or whether he was a star or scrub?

Mar 09, 2011 19:33 PM
rating: -2
 
VDracul

William Vanlandingham, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Antonio Bastardo. I like the long name guys.

Mar 11, 2011 06:35 AM
rating: 0
 
summoner

Whenever I hear "Sixto Lezcano" I think of "Three Finger" Brown.

Mar 11, 2011 08:17 AM
rating: 0
 
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