February 26, 2006

Woody Allen Didn't Name His Kid Satchel For Nothing

There is something wildly fantastic about finding a card where the player is referred to by his nickname, like Peanuts Lowery or Chili Davis (and can you imagine if Yogi Berra played today? He would definitely have had a lousier nickname, or may have just gone by ‘Larry’, and the guys at ESPN would’ve had to come up with something, which would have been a disaster, as most nicknames that originate out of the mouth of Stuart Scott are generally bad news. And think of the implications: Yogi Bear would’ve probably existed, but under the name Harmon Killebear the Talking and Bear-Killing Bear. Boo-Boo may have just been called Error (or Dick Stuart (whose own, real-life nickname was ‘Dr. Strangeglove,’ one of the better nicknames in the last fifty years)), and without Yogi Berra in the major leagues in the Forties, Fifties, Sixties—hell, forever--I would bet you that means no Larsen perfect game, no Yankee Dynasty, and most importantly, no Dale Berra drug scandal in the Eighties, because, let’s face it, Dale wouldn’t have been in the majors, nor been born for that matter.

But baseball card nicknames also feel kind of arbitrary, like the chief card editor gathered others in the office one cold and gray Friday afternoon and said “Ladies and gentlemen, after much deliberation, I’ve decided to give role player Bill Barnes a new nickname. We feel it would drum up national interest in the Tigers if someone on the team had a nickname—in a fun-loving, nostalgic way, ’cause that’s what we’re here for, right? To spread some goddamn fun-loving nostalgia [and yes, I did picture the chief card editor in suspenders, a toupee and chomping a unlit cigar]. So we drew names out of a hat and Barnes came up. Now, I’m going to read a list of potential nicknames and we’ll vote by a show of hands. Okay, here we go…’Red.’ Uh huh, okay, no votes. ‘Doc.’ O-kay, no votes. ‘Stretch.’ Maybe a little too Willie McCovey, but c’mon people, we gotta give the poor bastard something. No votes, huh? Fine, ‘Stretch’ is out.”

And it would go on like that until the chief card editor would leave for the weekend, and the next morning he would wake up early, walk the dog and after a quick once around the block, collapse in front of the TV and flip channels, eventually landing on Muppet Babies, and as he falls asleep, the name ‘Skeeter’ repeats in his mind, plays prominently in his dreams and is on the tip of his tongue when he enters the office on Monday morning. “Okay, people, I’ve got it: ‘Skeeter.’ What you think?” Everyone would raise their hand, just to get their crazy boss off their backs about coming up with some dumb nickname for a role player who’ll never play his way off the bench anyway.

But the editor will be right about one thing: the poor sap who gets Skeeter Barnes in his or her pack will—for a moment, however brief—feel a little closer to the ideal image of baseball they carry somewhere inside of them, one where players are named Preacher Roe, Three-Finger Brown and Skeeter Barnes.

But just one final note about nicknames (for now anyway, because, really, a discussion about nicknames should never have to end, especially without pointing out that Cookie Lavagetto sounds like a venereal disease). Who ever referred to Tim Raines as ‘Rock’? Was I completely out of the loop? Doc Gooden I get; Fleer referred to Dwight as ‘Doc’ on a card in its 1987 set. Doc Medich I get; his name calls for it, it’s obvious. But ‘Rock’? Was that a drug-related nickname that someone at Topps misinterpreted, thinking it had to do with his body type? So many unanswered questions…Also, I think it's terrific that Mookie Wilson became the 1980s poster child for fun-loving, nostalgic nicknames that are neither nostalgic (who else was ever named Mookie? (besides Mookie Blaylock)) nor may be rooted in fun-loving origins.

13 comments:

Kevin said...

Great post. About "Rock." I only recently read and discovered that Tim Raines took hits of cocaine DURING games to keep his energy up. Apparently, he kept the stash in his back pocket, thus introducing the world to his headfirst slides. Guess "Rock" takes on a whole new meaning there.

Drew said...

Kevin beat me to it, but that's the same story I've heard.

Great blog, by the way. If you keep writing, I'll keep reading.

JT said...

I always thought that calling Dwight Gooden "Doc" was pandering ... he had a terrible year in 1989 and then only one more good year (wins wise at least) in his career in 1990. Of course I'm biased cause my Dodgers kicked some Met's butt in 1988...

:-)

JT said...

I always thought that calling Dwight Gooden "Doc" was pandering ... he had a terrible year in 1989 and then only one more good year (wins wise at least) in his career in 1990. Of course I'm biased cause my Dodgers kicked some Met's butt in 1988...

:-)

The Rev said...

Fantastic blog! I must link to it from mine.

I remember the 1985 Donruss set, which featured Dennis Boyd's nickname "Oil Can", and eliminated the name Dennis from the card in favor of it. And it also featured one of my favorites in Shooty Babbitt too!

turbobrown said...

Would you be jealous if I told you I had an autographed Skeeter Barnes card?

Drew C said...

I just did a little research in newspaper databases on the origins of the "Rock" nickname. Here it is, as told by Raines in the Chicago Tribune:

"I want to be called `Rock' because everybody calls me that unless it's somebody who doesn't know me.... I've had the name since my first year in professional baseball," said Raines, who broke in with the Sarasota Expos in 1977. "My teammates noticed that I was short and stocky. They said, `You're built like a little rock.'

"At first, I didn't like it, because I thought they were getting on me about it. It just stuck, and I got used to it.

"As a matter of fact, everyone calls my son (Tim Jr.) `Little Rock.'" (Chicago Tribune, Feb. 24, 1991)

A few notes on physique: Raines Sr. was listed at 5-8, 180 in his playing days. His son, Tim Jr., a 26-year-old outfielder who came up in the Orioles' organization and is now in camp with the Twins as a non-roster invitee, eventually grew to be bigger than his father -- he's 5-10, 195.

At least a couple of times, Raines Sr. tried to give his nickname a more public status. But it didn't stick. Here's what happened with the Expos:

"LF Tim Raines agreed to an EXPOS request that he drop the idea of changing his name to Rock. `They told me they have a promotion involving $4 million of my posters signed Tim Raines,' he said." (USA Today, April 11, 1988)

Then after he was traded to the Chicago White Sox, he tried to go by Rock again, but went back to Tim after he got off to a slow start:

"Sunday, waivers were asked on `Rock' for the purpose of giving it an unconditional rest. Raines is `Tim' again. Raines had asked the club to refer to him as `Rock,' a longtime nickname, in all its announcements and publications. He had tried the same thing for a while in Montreal, too, but it didn't take. It wasn't going well in the American League, either. Last week at Yankee Stadium, fans made fun of the entire process by chanting `Tim-mee, Tim-mee.' Sunday [April 21, 1991], Rock went 0 for 4, dropping his batting average to .116. `I thought about it after the game,' Raines said. `I'm going to Dana Noel (of the Sox public-relations staff) and telling him to change it.'" (Chicago Tribune, April 22, 1991)

Anonymous said...

Mookie Wilson's real name is William Wilson. Mookie was a nickname that his Grandmother gave him as a child.

The only reason I know this is because he will forever be one of my favorite players.

Tony Mendocino said...

I love that Topps was never shy to go with a nickname, leaving Fleer and Donruss in the dust. However, they had the bizarre tendency to Americanize the first names of Latin players ("Bob" Clemente? "Robby" Alomar? "Benny" Santiago?), something that still remains a mystery to me.

JT said...

One of my favorite names for a player was:

and Smokey Burgess, who was once the best pinch hitter in history.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/b/burgesm01.shtml

Anonymous said...

Smokey Burgess being the obvious counterpoint to Whitey Ford, following in the great tradition of Chief Bender ...

Anonymous said...

My C: Drive is named Skeeter Barnes.

I named my E: Drive Frank Tanana, which isn't nearly as cool.

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