Cooperstown Confidential: Dr. Strangeglove and Mr. Cooperby Bruce Markusen
June 12, 2009
Nicknaming has become somewhat of a lost art in the modern game, though it has made a small comeback in recent seasons with creative nicknames pinned on Eric Byrnes (“Captain America”), Khalil Greene (“Spicoli”), Travis Hafner (“Pronk”), and Carlos Lee (“El Caballo,” or “The Horse). At one time, nicknames were a huge part of the game’s subculture, largely because of the influence of headline and beat writers at newspapers and local team broadcasters. Nicknames have always added a splash of color to the game, while often telling us something about a player’s personality or appearance. Without nicknames, baseball would be a little bit duller.
As a regular part of “Cooperstown Confidential,” I’ll be presenting a feature called “The Nickname Game,” a history of some of the most intriguing nicknames in baseball history. In this week’s installment, I’ll spotlight one of the most original and inventive of all baseball nicknames. For that we turn to an iconic player from the 1960s who earned every bit of his medically plated nickname.
By the summer of 1964, Dick Stuart had firmly established his reputation as one of the worst defensive players in the major leagues. The starting first baseman for the Red Sox, Stuart couldn’t do anything well with the glove. With hands of stone, miniscule range, and poor instincts, Stuart achieved the Triple Crown of fielding ineptitude. I never actually saw Stuart play, but I've heard so many stories of his lack of defensive prowess that some of them must be true. Besides, he reached double figures in errors eight times during his 10 full seasons at first base.
With such statistical and anecdotal evidence, it’s safe to say that Stuart was legendarily bad when it came to the business of guarding first base. So it was quite appropriate that in 1964 one of his teammates fitted him with the nickname of “Dr. Strangeglove.” The creation of such a name relied heavily on Hollywood; the Peter Sellers black comedy, Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, had just been released in theaters on Jan. 29. By placing the letter “g” between the “e” and the “l” in Strangelove, the unnamed Red Sox teammate had devised a pithy play on words while tapping the popular culture of the day. The timing could not have been better either, considering that Stuart had made 29 errors the previous season, a simply remarkable achievement for someone playing first base.
Stuart’s haphazard fielding had nothing to do with the movie’s plot, in which an insane general tries to initiate nuclear holocaust while politicians do their inept best to save the world. The supremely talented Sellers played three roles in the film, including the title role of “Dr. Strangelove,” an important scientist in Nazi Germany. Stuart was similarly schizophrenic to the versatile Sellers; as poor a fielder as Stuart was, he was often a feared slugger, once hitting 35 home runs for the Pirates and a career-high 42 bombs for the Red Sox.
Not surprisingly, the creative and appropriate moniker of Dr. Strangeglove took hold quickly and never let up, becoming almost mandatory whenever Stuart’s real name was uttered. When another 1964 film, Goldfinger, achieved a level of mass popularity, a few folks tried to attach the nickname “Stonefingers” to Stuart, but that label never really caught on.
Late in his career, Stuart made a surprisingly dandy play at first base while playing for the Dodgers. The Dodgers’ official scorecard for the game included the following notation: “Dr. Strangeglove, indeed!”
Stuart passed away from cancer in 2002, but he’ll remain Dr. Strangeglove, forever.
Two months into the season, we’ve already seen two managers lose their jobs. Colorado’s Clint Hurdle and Arizona’s Bob Melvin were the first two field bosses to hit the firing line, but they will surely not be the last. So who will be the third? There seem to be plenty of candidates, from Washington’s Manny Acta to Cleveland’s Eric Wedge to Kansas City’s Trey Hillman. Although all three men could lose their jobs this summer, I’ll place my bet on Houston’s Cecil Cooper, who may become the first victim of the Astros’ rebuilding program. The Astros have played better of late, but owner Drayton McLane has an itchy trigger finger that may be one losing streak away from being put into action. An old school hardliner, Cooper is not well liked within his own clubhouse and seems to have lost a good majority of his players. He also has the appearance of someone who does not like his job; Cooper sometimes leaves the stadium within an hour after the end of a game, not exactly a prototypical work schedule for a modern day manager.
If Cooper joins Phil “Scrap Iron” Garner, Jimy Williams, and Larry Dierker on the Houston managerial unemployment line, the Astros will likely consider several candidates, including at least three in-house names.
Sean Berry: Currently the Astros’ batting coach, Berry has become a favorite among the Houston media, largely because of his intelligence, enthusiasm, and work ethic. In contrast to Cooper, who last played big league ball in the 1980s, Berry played in the major leagues far more recently, which may give him better ability to relate to today’s player. One concern with Berry could be his recent bout with cancer; the Astros may want to wait a bit longer before subjecting Berry to the physical and mental stresses that come with the thankless work of managing.
Tim Bogar: Now the first base coach for the Red Sox, Bogar has ties to the Astros’ organization as a former player from 1997 to 2000. As a minor league manager, Bogar forged a winning percentage of over .600 and earned praise as one of the game’s top managerial prospects. The Red Sox would have to give the Astros permission to tap Bogar in mid-season, but given their first-place standing in the American League East, they might be in a giving mood.
Dave Clark: Houston’s third base coach has an upbeat personality and a good resume, but he will be a tough sell to Astros fans because of some of the questionable baserunning decisions he’s launched from the coaching box. Still, Clark has plenty of successful managing experience in the minor leagues, having led three different teams to league titles. That kind of managerial record may have far more pertinence than a few unwise "sends" of runners to home plate.
Jose Cruz: He’s a long shot, especially since most teams don’t promote their first base coaches to the managerial post, but the Astros could make an exception for one of the most beloved players in franchise history. Other than Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and possibly Nolan Ryan, Cruz might be the most popular of all the Astros old-timers. That fact won’t make Cruz a good manager, but it could buy some time with Houston fans while the oldest team in the major leagues starts the overdue process of rebuilding its farm system and its core of young talent.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.