Want a surefire way to make sure your blog post will be a failure? Write about baseball and you’ll not be disappointed.
There are so many haters out there that I really think it’s a lost cause trying to convert those who can’t be converted, people who think the sport is too slow or too boring or too (fill in the blank). I’m afraid that people like me can try to explain until we’re blue in the face that baseball is the greatest sport ever invented, yet our arguments will fall on deaf ears.
I recently completed a couple of electronic surveys sent to me by Major League Baseball asking my opinion on what I liked and didn’t like about the game. An exercise that should have made me feel upbeat that my input was requested instead left me feeling dismayed that MLB is apparently so willing to change things to court fans on the periphery rather than satisfy its core supporters.
Throw out the 2020 season that was ravaged by COVID-19 and I fail to see how baseball is suffering any kind of decline that cry-poor owners would have us believe. People have been predicting the end of baseball for generations, but it just keeps on keeping on.
The main reason I like the sport is its depth and history, but I fear this constant tinkering with longstanding rules in a pathetic attempt to attract people with shorter and shorter attention spans is a dangerous trend.
Okay, I’ve finished sermonizing and can finally turn to the true purpose of this post, which is to expand a bit on that cherished “depth and history.” I was thinking about some of the great players — not just those players whose names will presumably stand the test of time because of their induction into the Hall of Fame — but those other guys with names that mean something to me personally, but may ultimately be lost to a new generation that seems obsessed with recency.
By “baseball name” I don’t mean players who merely had an appropriate-sounding name, such as Mr. Green the gardener or Mr. Cook the baker, although I will identify a few baseball players with appropriate-sounding names, too. Instead, I mean names that simply ooze baseball as if their owners simply couldn’t have been anything else in life.
For this exercise, I started perusing baseball rosters for the year I was born — 1956 — and continued for about 20 years until I realized I’d already come up with far more names than I could ever write about. A lot of these guys I never even saw play, but for one reason or another they’re still deeply ingrained in my baseball consciousness. It’s part of that depth and history thing I was talking about.
And so, in no particular order, we begin:
There are other Cookies I could have chosen — Cookie Lavagetto or Cookie Cuccurullo — but Cookie Rojas played ball mainly for the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals when I was a teenager, and it’s just one of those names that when I hear it, I’m automatically transported back in time to those games that were playing on the television while I sat at a card table gluing together model airplanes. Decent player but among the greatest of baseball names!
In truth, Sal had retired before I became aware of him, but there’s something about the Italian name and especially his nickname — The Barber — than piqued my interest from the very first time I heard about him. As a pitcher, Sal was a guy who would throw up and in to any batter foolish enough to crowd the plate, thus giving them a close shave and earning the moniker that reportedly belied his true nature as a kind and gentle man. Of course you couldn’t prove that from reading the late Jim Bouton’s famous book, “Ball Four,” in which Maglie featured prominently as a pitching coach.
Like Cookie Rojas, Minnie Minoso was another great Cuba-born ballplayer I first heard about during some random telecast that most likely involved the Chicago White Sox. How could I not sit up and take notice when the announcer said some guy named Minnie was coming up to the plate, especially when Minnie was my great-grandmother’s name? A bit of research tells me there were two other ballplayers named Minnie — Minnie Rojas (apparently no relation to Cookie) and Minnie Mendoza. Seems Minnie is a great name for baseball players and great-grandmothers.
My father wasn’t much of a baseball fan. He was an early example of a guy with the kind of short attention span that wasn’t well suited for baseball, but one thing I remember is him talking about Wally Post and how he thought he was a great player. Whenever I see that name Wally Post or hear it, I think of baseball and my father though I can’t exactly remember the context. Perhaps my own attention span was sadly lacking.
Not only does baseball have a man named Boog Powell, it actually has TWO men named Boog Powell, and they’re not related! What are the odds? The original model was primarily a first baseman for some of those great Baltimore Orioles teams of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The knockoff hasn’t amounted to much, but maybe he’s not done yet. It bothers me that I have three young grandsons who are ostensibly Orioles fans, but most likely wouldn’t recognize the name Boog Powell. That’s something I’ll have to fix once grandpa gets his COVID-19 vaccine and can safely travel again!
Great baseball name, great player, but not worthy of the Hall of Fame. Will the next generation remember that there was a Rocky Colavito? I hope so, but have my doubts. Some names are just too great to fade into history.
Clete Boyer, Earl Battey, Herb Score and Vic Power
These are prime examples of perfect names for the sport they played. I’m sure I could find more if I really applied myself. As an aside, Herb Score’s name is one you mention when haters make the claim that baseball isn’t really a contact sport. His promising career as a pitcher was pretty much permanently derailed by a line drive off his face. Sad.
Can’t say I ever saw him play, but I’m still somewhat attracted rather than repulsed by a name like Rip Repulski. Need I say more?
Vinegar Bend Mizell
A pitcher and a United States congressman, how can you not love a guy who once said, “The worst thing that happened to us back home in Vinegar Bend (Mississippi) was the time we had the fire. It started in the bathroom. Fortunately, we were able to put it out before it reached the house.” His real name was Wilmer, and that sorta explains why he went by Vinegar Bend, which is at least close to where he was born, the town named after a particularly stinky train derailment. And speaking of stink, Mizell the congressman from North Carolina was an arch-conservative and big supporter of Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon, which serves as a grim reminder that baseball and politics aren’t always a good mix.
Felipe, Jesus and Matty Alou
The name Alou is synonymous with baseball and also a great cocktail party stumper for any Gen Z Zoomer you might want to challenge to provide the first names of the three Alou brothers. Just for fun, there is a fourth Alou — Felipe’s son Moises — and all were fine ballplayers, though none is in the Hall of Fame.
Special mention here for Pete Rose, a player I hated when he was playing against my team, but whose name is also synonymous with baseball. Fact is I still hate him because Pete is a lot of things, but primarily he’s an asshole, and not just any asshole, but an asshole who gambled on baseball and is therefore banned from the sport and from the Hall of Fame. If not for that little misadventure, the Hall of Fame would be precisely where Pete belongs. To give him is due, he was a great ballplayer, just a terrible person.
More great names that somehow made a lasting impression, but I can’t let this drag on forever:
Tony Oliva, Al Rosen, Virgil Trucks, Hal Woodeshick, Gino Cimoli, Don Zimmer, Moe Drabowsky, Curt Flood, Ted Kluszewski, Milt Pappas, Dizzy Trout, Mickey Vernon, Chico Carrasquel, Tony Kubek, Johnny Kucks, Don Larsen, Rusty Staub, Vada Pinson, Johnny Podres, John Roseboro, Norm Cash, Tito Francona, Harvey Kuenn, Juan Pizarro, Smoky Burgess, Camilo Pascual, Zoilo Versalles, Tom Tresh, Joe Pepitone, Wally Moon (not to be confused with Wally Post), Donn Clendenon, Dick Allen, Sixto Lezcano, Mark Belanger, Mike Cuellar, Bobby Grich, J.R. Richard, Oscar Gamble and Carney Lansford.