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Knowing that Shin Soo-Choo is playing the outfield in Cincinnati makes it easier for me gather the strength to face the world each day. Soo-Choo evokes memories of Choo Choo Coleman, the undersized, weak-hitting catcher of the hapless New York Mets of my youth. It’s getting late in July, the pennant races are heating up and the baseball names are as great as ever.
The Red Sox have a catcher named Jarrod Saltalamacchia, whom you imagine went through boxes and boxes of number two pencils filling in the name bubbles on his school achievement tests. Saltalamacchia used to play in Atlanta, where his career unfortunately started just a bit too late to overlap with former pitcher Tim Spooneybarger. Spooneybarger serving up a slippery slider to Saltalamacchia might cause the play-by-play announcer to sprain his tongue.
Has there ever been any human endeavor as blessed with as many great names as baseball? The best players seemed to draw strength from mythical, magical names: Yogi Berra, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Gaylord Perry, Dizzy Dean and Wee Willie Keeler are all in the Hall of Fame. And the wannabe’s ride high alongside the immortals – for every Babe Ruth there is a Babe Herman, every Duke Snider has his Duke Sims, every Ty Cobb a Ty Cline.
John Boozer and Bobby Wine were teammates, and one presumes they drank together as well. Buddy Biancalana, Boots Day and Tito Fuentes sound like a jazz trio and Cocoa Laboy, Pickles Dilhoeffer and Cookie Rojas could fill a pantry. You could fill a flashlight with Al Kaline, who teamed on the Detroit Tigers with the sublimely named Rocky Colavito. Norm Cash was there, too, first baseman on the all-financial team, where he is joined by Bobby Bonds, Ernie Banks, Wes Stock, Don Money and Brad Penney. Lest we forget baseball is a game there was Milton Bradley, and lest we forget baseball has always been a big, bizarre family, there have been players named Razor Shines, Boof Bonser and Shooty Babitt.
There was a pitcher named Dave Heaverlo (heave her low, Heaverlo) and an outfielder named Jim Greengrass. While those names seem to fit, others don’t quite work. Schoolboy Rowe pitched until he was 40 and Preacher Roe threw the illegal spitball. Matt Batts couldn’t hit, Prince Fielder does mediocre glove work and only a fool would leave Johnny Bench sitting on his namesake.
It can be hot and dirty on the diamond, which is attested to by Burleigh Grimes, Greasy Neale and Dusty Rhodes. There are animals galore in the baseball zoo: Bob Moose and Ducky Medwick frolic alongside Goose Gossage, Mudcat Grant and Hawk Harrelson. And there’s a whole aquarium full of Dizzy Trout, Randy Bass, Tim Salmon and Catfish Hunter. There are names that just stick in your subconscious: Pinky May, Gates Brown, Buster Posey, Elroy Face, Tom Tresh, Boog Powell, Bobo Newsom, Sibby Sisti, Wilbur Wood, Coot Veal, Dom Zanni. There are guys with two first names like Tommy John and Hank Aaron, and players with two last names, like Sherman Lollar and Kirby Puckett. And then there’s Nolan Ryan, who got his first name last and last name first. If you need a rhyme, there’s Johnny Kucks and Virgil Trucks, Ferris Fain and Johnny Sain or just plain Ed Head, whose rhyming name was self-contained. One hopes Ed Head was a red head. And a Deadhead.
For every King Kong Keller baseball has a Pee Wee Reese, for each Dan Brouthers a Granny Hamner, for every Happy Chandler a corresponding Frank Funk. There are the exotic: Bill Monboquette and Vada Pinson, Vic Davalillo and Zoilo Versalles. There are the colorful: Lu and Vida Blue, Pumpsie Green and Three Finger Brown, Joe Black and Whitey Ford, plus Reds Ruffing, Rolfe and Shoendienst. There was the anagram Gary Gray, and Kiki Cuyler, the exemplar of alliteration. Aurelios Lopez and Rodriguez had all five vowels in their first name while Kent Hrbek and Eli Grba suffered a vowel drought. Sometimes a name says it all: Early Wynn was as good and Dooley Womack as inept as their names suggest.
I remember being a kid and staring at the names on the baseball card checklists, wondering about the mysteries of Mike de la Hoz, Joey Jay, Bobby Del Greco, Solly Hemus, Peanuts Lowrey, Clem Labine, Dick Radatz, Don Wert, Minnie Minoso, Cleon Jones and Bill Zepp. The 20-year career of Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish seemingly proved that naming your child after a celebrity or two guaranteed success, but the mediocre career of Jesus McFarlane gave the lie to that logic.
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Nowhere that Whammy Douglas, Rollie Fingers, Clete Boyer, Gus Zernial and No-Neck Williams haven’t already been. What are the chances of names like these occurring in the general public? They happen once in a Blue Moon Odom.