Wednesday, March 24, 2010
These last two weeks are always the longest, so to pass the time, I'll be posting a different baseball-related list each day from now until Opening Day. Call it "The Twelve Days 'til Baseball."
To kick it off, here are my picks for the 12 greatest baseball player names in history. These may not be the greatest players ever, but their names are either so melodic, so perfect for the game, or so odd as to never be forgotten. To get the full effect, in your mind imagine James Earl Jones intoning each name in that deep, rich, Darth Vader voice.
Let's count 'em down, shall we?
12. ELIAS SOSA
A right-handed relief pitcher who bounced around among 8 teams in his 12-year major league career, Sosa's lifetime W-L record of 59-51 with 83 saves and lifetime ERA of 3.32 are respectable enough numbers. He makes my list out of personal nostalgia: when my brother and I were collecting baseball cards as kids in the '70s, it seemed as though every other pack of cards we bought contained Elias Sosa. We would announce the acquisition of yet another duplicate of his card by saying his name in a very sing-songy way, running the two names together and dropping pitch on the first syllable of "Sosa." We thought that was hysterical. We were 6 and 10 at the time, OK?
11. JOHN MONTEFUSCO
Named the National League Rookie of the Year in 1975, and a member of the 1976 National League All-Star Team, John Montefusco's last name alone is a thing of majestic beauty: MonteFOOSko. But, combined with his nickname, John "The Count of" Montefusco, he is elevated to pantheon of great names.
10. CHIPPER JONES
Even though he plays for a team I, as a Phillies fan, consider "the enemy," I must begrudgingly give Jones his due. Over the past 16 seasons he has proven himself to be one of the best in the game, and good thing too. I mean, with a name like Chipper Jones, what else would he do besides play baseball?
9. CATFISH HUNTER
Jim Hunter was a damn good pitcher - good enough to be elected to the Hall of Fame. But in his early days with the (then) Kansas City A's, infamous owner Charley Finley decided all of his players needed flashy, catchy nicknames. Hunter had very little flashy about him at the time, so Finley invented a story out of whole cloth about Hunter catching the largest catfish anybody in his hometown had ever seen when he was a boy, and from that day forth, he was Catfish Hunter. I think a nickname with no connection to the real world at all deserves mention on this list!
8. WILY MO PENA
Yep, that's how he spells it. One L. Drives me nuts every time I see it - I keep wanting to call him "Wiley". Still, his name is fun to say. And after his being released by both the Nationals and the Mets last year, who knows how many more chances we'll get to hear sportscasters say it?
7. BAKE McBRIDE
Arnold Ray "Bake" McBride lasted ten seasons in the majors with the Giants, Phillies, and Indians. Over that time, "Shake 'n' Bake" (as he was affectionately called as he sped around the bases) not only sported one of baseball's greatest names, but also one of baseball's greatest afros - second only, perhaps, to the legendary Oscar Gamble afro (just wait...)
6. TIE: BLUE MOON ODOM / VIDA BLUE
Teammates on the legendary pitching staff that was part of the Oakland A's dynasty in the early 1970s, Vida Blue and John "Blue Moon" Odom had opponents singing the blues game in and game out. But what were the odds of having two outstanding pitchers with "Blue" in their names on a team whose colors were green and gold?
5. EPPA RIXEY
The early part of the 20th Century was a haven for great and unusual baseball names, but one of my favorites of the era was Eppa Rixey. In my lifetime, I've never known of any other person with either that first name or that last name. Rixey pitched for twenty years in the majors, splitting his career between Philadelphia and Cincinnati, and retired in 1933 as the winningest pitcher in National League history until he was surpassed by Warren Spahn.
4. BOOG POWELL
When a 6'4", 230-pound gorilla tells you he wants to be called "Boog," you call him "Boog". The Oriole legend became known first as an all-star first baseman, then, after his career ended in 1977, as a beer commercial pitchman. Nowadays, he can be found sometimes manning the grill at Boog's Barbecue in Camden Yards. If you see him there, say "Hi Boog!" Just try to say it without laughing.
3. BUDDY BIANCALANA
"Buddy Biancalana." It rolls mellifluously off the tongue. Try it: "Buddy Biancalana." His name became famous in the mid-80s thanks to David Letterman. As Pete Rose was counting down to passing Ty Cobb's all-time major league hits record, Letterman began the Buddy Biancalana countdown. Buddy retired a little shy of Cobb and Rose, with 113 career hits, but as he quipped to Letterman, "I'm closer to Cobb than you are to Carson!"
2. JOE CHARBONEAU
"Super Joe" Charboneau is one of baseball's all-time great flops. When he burst on the scene with the Cleveland Indians in 1980, his 87 RBIs and .289 batting average were good enough to earn him AL Rookie of the Year honors, and baseball thought they had their next big star. The media played up his charismatic personality and quirky off-field behaviors (he drank beer through his nose and did his own dental work). The next year, he struggled to get his average as high as .210, and became the first Rookie of the Year to be sent back to the minors the following season. He came back to the Indians for 22 games in 1982 but played even more poorly, and that was it. Still, the name lent itself so well to the hype: for that one great summer, cries of "Go Joe Charboneau!" could be heard all around Cleveland.
1. VAN LINGLE MUNGO
Far and away the greatest name ever in Major League Baseball. A fair-to-middling pitcher for the Dodgers and Giants in the 1930s and 1940s, his name was so singularly fantastic that in 1969, David Frishberg had a minor hit record with a bossa-nova number called "Van Lingle Mungo." Stringing together nothing but names of ballplayers from the past as lyrics, Mungo's name became sort of an odd refrain repeated occasionally throughout. Enjoy Frishberg's composition in the following video clip:
OK, those are my picks. Any names you want to add to the list?