August 15, 2012
The Fabulous Major-League Baseball Rock n’ Roll Revue
Everyone who has seen Brian Wilson pitch has had two different, concurrent reactions. The first is to recoil in horror at the black alien life-form consuming his face; the second is to make a Beach Boys joke.
What most people don’t do, however, is take the next step: wonder if they could field a baseball team composed entirely of rock-star namesakes. But I am not most people; I am a weird baseball-slash-music obsessive. I took the names of rock and roll legends and scoured Baseball Reference to find players by the same (or nearly the same) name. This was both more stupid and more fun than you might have imagined.
First, I realized I needed to come up with some criteria. Which “rock stars” would I pick? And what kind of players? I decided to try and put the best team on the field, both from a music and baseball perspective. For no good reason at all, I started out with Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Artists. Totally arbitrary, but a good enough jumping off point for my purposes, at least until someone develops WARP for musicians. From there I tried to find the best baseball players of the same name, using WARP when faced with a choice between two players. Using this sophisticated scientific model, I was able to cobble together a starting lineup and a pitching rotation that could totally make the Hall of Fame (the one in Cleveland, though, not the one in Cooperstown.)
Your Starting Lineup
1. Ray Charles, SS (Raymond “Chappy” Charles)
Chappy was born Charles Shuh Achenbach, and for reasons lost to history, changed his name to Raymond Charles. He was nicknamed “Chappy,” but to us he’s Ray “The Genius” Charles, the inventor of soul music and no. 10 on the Rolling Stone list.
Chappy/Ray was an infielder for the Cardinals and the Reds, and was sub-replacement in three seasons. Our team is off to a great start!
2. James Brown, 3B (Jimmy Brown)
Hitting second is James “Jimmy” Brown. The Godfather of Soul was born in 1933 in South Carolina, while Jimmy was born in 1910 in North Carolina. This is totally gonna be one of those Lincoln/Kennedy things! Brown played for the Cardinals from 1937 through 1943, when his career was interrupted by World War II. When he returned after his military service, Brown played one more year in the bigs, for the Pirates.
Over his 8-year career, James “Jimmy” Brown put up an 85 OPS+ and better than replacement. He even made the All-Star team in 1942. Improvement!
3. Prince, 1B (Prince Fielder)
Did you know that Prince (I mean “The Artist” or “The Symbol” or whatever, not Cecil’s son) was actually named Prince? It’s true! His given name is Prince Rogers Nelson. I always assumed it was some bullshit name he gave himself, like “Madonna” or “Engelbert Humperdinck.” But no, dude was actually named Prince. And, since no one named “Prince Nelson” has ever played professional baseball, I’ve taken the liberty of taking a “Prince.”
And I’m already regretting my self-imposed “pick the better player” rule, because Prince Fielder is just way too obvious. I would have much rather picked Prince Oana, a Hawaiian-born pitcher/left fielder for Detroit and Philadelphia. He’s way more intriguing, and is wearing an amazing “FT.W” hat in his B-R picture. But we desperately needed a power-hitting first baseman, and Fielder’s 20.9 WARP and career .307 TAv improves this team dramatically. So Cecil’s kid it is.
4. David Bowie, CF (Davy “Kangaroo” Jones)
You did know that the Thin White Duke was born David Jones, didn’t you? But apart from a birth name and a cleft chin, Bowie doesn’t have much in common with ol’ Kangaroo Jones. Kangaroo was born in 1880, and attended NIU, probably the second-most famous insitution in Dekalb, Illinois. During his 15-year major-league career, Jones played for the Tigers, Cubs, Rebels, Orphans, and Browns, and put up a dead-ball-era 103 OPS+ (nine career home runs!). Pretty sure his power will play up in the modern era, though.
5. Mick Taylor, RF (Michael Taylor)
Before you ask, yes, there were lots of other Rolling Stones’ namesakes I could have selected. There was a Brian Jones, a Charlie Watts, and even a Ron Wood. But all those guys were minor leaguers and never made it to the show. So in order to represent the Stones, the no. 4 artist on the Rolling Stone list, I went with Oakland’s Michael “Mick” Taylor. (Cue the Ron Wood vs. Mick Taylor debate!)
Michael’s only had 56 total big-league plate appearances, but he’s putting up decent numbers in Triple-A Sacramento, and could still figure it out, especially the power side. So I feel pretty good about giving him the bulk of the starts in right field.
6. Moe Tucker, LF (Michael Tucker)
OK, this one is a total stretch, but I can’t not have a VU representative on the team. That would be totally untenable. There was an L. Reid and a Nico (Genesta), and no Sterling Morrison or John Cale, so I’m going with Moe. And B-R, Baseball Almanac, and various other sites all list Tucker as having no nicknames, so I’m taking it upon myself to bestow one upon him. Michael Anthony Tucker, you will henceforth be known as “Moe.” Go forth and drum … adequately.
Tucker played for 73 major-league teams during his 12-year career, and put up a .261 TAv and 8.5 WARP. I would’ve been tempted to hit him higher in the order, but he’s 41 and has probably lost some of his speed.
Moe Tucker was the drummer for possibly the greatest rock band of all time, and now spends her time with family and attending Tea Party rallies.
7. Smokey Robinson, 2B (Yank Robinson)
Smokey was born William Robinson, Jr., so playing the role of Smokey will be William “Yank” Robinson. I’m still wondering if the nickname refers to a noun or a verb, but maybe it’s best that its origin has been lost in the sands of time.
Smokey came in at no. 32 in the Rolling Stone list, partially on the strength of the many great songs he sang, but bolstered by his many incredible compositions for other Motown artists. Yank wasn’t nearly as great in his chosen profession, but he did manage a 105 OPS+ in 10 seasons.
8. Chuck Berry, C (Charlie Berry)
Had Chuck Berry not ever picked up a guitar, rock n’ roll might still exist—then again, it might not. But it would certainly bear no resemblance to what we know today as rock n’ roll. As preposterous as it is, the scene in “Back to the Future” where Marvin Berry calls his cousin Chuck to let him hear “the new sound” (played by a white guy, lol) kinda makes sense, because Chuck Berry’s sound may as well have come from another time -- or even another planet. It was that novel. Berry is no. 5 on the list, and, if anything, I’d argue that that’s low. We’re talking Willie Mays-level talent here.
Unfortunately, Charlie Berry was no Willie Mays. He was white, and a catcher, and not all that good at baseball, as it turns out. His 84 OPS+ looks downright hilarious alongside the Say Hey Kid’s 156 OPS+. But we’re not even talking about Willie Mays here, so whatever. We needed a catcher, and Charlie “Chuck” Berry is that catcher. I did briefly consider Gerald Robert Zimmerman, who would’ve corresponded to the no. 2 artist on the Rolling Stone list, but he couldn’t hit his weight.
9. Johnny Ramone, SP (John Cummings)
Some of you might remember John Cummings. I sure don’t. Looks like the Mariners tried him as a starter in his first two years at the major-league level, and then he bounced around as a reliever for three more years, before hanging ‘em up after the 1999 season.
Frankly, I was really hoping I could dig up a Doug Colvin (a relative of Tyler’s, perhaps?) or a Jeffr(e)y Hyman, but no such luck. I couldn’t even find a Marc Bell! (I knew I’d never find a Thomas Erdelyi.
So I’m stuck with Johnny, my least favorite Ramone, a notorious dictatorial jerk. Makes you wonder if he missed his calling as a baseball manager. His given-namesake, John Cummings, managed only a 6.45 FRA and 0.00 WARP in his career. I hope our offense can score some runs, because we’re gonna need ‘em.
Mick Jones; (Michael Jones, LHP)
Not the load from Foreigner, either.
Michael Jackson (Michael Jackson, RHP)
I was definitely tempted to go with Jonathan Papelbon here, for reasons only Jon Bois can explain.
John Paul Jones (John Paul Jones, RHP)
JPJ remains one of my biggest inspirations, despite having played that ghastly recorder part on “Stairway to Heaven.”
Joe Strummer (Jon Mellor, RHP)
Yes, the Clash get two representatives, because they are the only band that matters.
And your closer, of course, is Mike Love.
It’s Brian Wilson (Brian Wilson, RHP, closer)
Did I miss any famous musicians who share a name with a ballplayer, or vice versa? Let me know in the comments!
Ian Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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