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Thursday, May 21, 2009
My Morning in ExileI'm the king of multitasking, there is none higher, sucka part-time bloggers should call me sire:
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 11:42am
I would’ve posted this on CtB, Craig, but I’m not sure everyone over there even reads the full posts. I much prefer the discussion around these parts…
You know how one of the big complaints against older sportswriters is their selective memory when it comes to players’ performances, attitudes, and demeanors from prior generations? Like, how, in their minds, everyone in the 50s and 60s and 70s was just the absolute perfect ballplayer who would never do the same kind of drugs/tv commercials/other-immature-or-non-professional activities that today’s players seem to do in spades, even though we know that to be untrue (and even though writers were complaining of exactly the same thing in 1950)? and that comparing today’s players to someone like Ted Williams, one of the absolutely exceptional people ever to play the game of baseball (both personally and professionally), is just 100% unfair since there is no way that Ted Williams reflects the typical ballplayer of his day?
Well, that’s what I think is going on with us when we lament the lack of good nicknames. Yes, the Babe, and Oil Can, and the Big Train, and Hammerin’ Hank are all fantastic nicknames, but aren’t they the exception and isn’t that why we remember them? If everyone had fantastic names back then, then we’d be able to list dozens of nicknames from the 70s and 80s and every other decade, instead of just a few. In addition, I’d be willing to bet money that there were dozens of players in those days who were also referred to as Smithy or Jackie or Burnsie… it’s just a natural thing to do when talking among friends/teammates. But it’s the great ones - the ones that develop naturally - that find their way into history, and become the ones that we compare everything else to. Just like ballplayers…
In 20 years time, people will be wondering where all the cool nicknames like Big Unit or Mad Dog or Pronk went (though I seriously doubt anyone will ever miss the K-Rod or A-Rod nicknames…)
Posted 05/21 at 01:23 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
I dunno, Lar. I happen to have Bill James’ NHBA in my office right now, and I opened it up to the 70s. His list of good nicknames from that decade is as follows:
Sugar Bear (Larvelle Blanks)
From this list only Pudge’s and to some extent Fidrych’s remain in popular consciousness. Add in Charlie Hustle and the other, more well-known ones of that era. My guess is that at any given time before then there were tons of nicknames floating around, not all good of course, but they were there. As I sit here now I can’t even think of nine players from the past ten years with nicknames like that (meaning: unqiue as opposed to diminuitives or plays on names; not saying they have to be good). Let’s see:
I’m sure I’m missing some, but I wonder if we get too far beyond 10, and they’ll all be stars or near stars. Why don’t the workaday players get them anymore?
Posted 05/21 at 01:35 PM
I’m not at all surprised about the level of support for Bobby V (despite remembering very well my thoughts on his departure from the Mets…) I saw the documentary shown on ESPN that was made by a couple of NYU students about Valentine and the Marines, and he has a level of celebrity in Japan that’s just amazing. He really seems happy there in a way that he wasn’t with an MLB team.
And I’m with you on the absolute ridiculousness of the Dodgers’ proposal… blech. Made a comment over at NBC on that one.
Posted 05/21 at 01:54 PM
That’s fair, Craig. Obviously there were more than we remember today. Maybe I’m wrong.
I just did a super-quick, super-simple query of the lahman database. The lahman db, like Baseball Reference itself, includes player nicknames. So, for Albert Pujols, you might find “The Machine”, “Prince Albert”, “Phat Albert”, or “El Hombre” while for Ivan Rodriguez you might see “Pudge” or “I-Rod”. I can’t vouch for all the nicknames (is Jim Miller really known as “Rabbit”? Who’s Jim Miller?), but someone must think that they’re well known enough to be included.
Anyhow, I did a super-quick query and looked for any nicknames for players who played in 2008 (so Moose and Mad Dog will be included). You can see the results here (I bolded some of the better/well-known ones… I don’t agree that they’re all good, though). There are definitely some interesting names on there(and lame ones). A few choice ones that we may be forgetting:
Big Donkey Dunn
Posted 05/21 at 01:59 PM
Posted 05/21 at 02:14 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Lar—Great spreadsheet. I think I may need to cry “uncle” here. Maybe it’s not a lack of nicknames, just the fact that we tend not to use them very often. That’s less a baeball problem than it is a societal one in that our papers and broadcasts just don’t use the vernacular like they used to. My heart and temerament are in the 1930s and 40s, so maybe this is just my problem.
Posted 05/21 at 02:18 PM
Count me out on the Ballpark of the Future. I am heartily irritated by the obnoxious half-inning gimmicks that keep coming up in the park. It’s almost as if they’re embarrassed by the baseball game and want you to pay attention to anything else. AAA ball is particularly annoying about that: “Stand up and scream for the Domino’s Pizza Scream!” No. “Now let’s do the Q-Doba chant for a free burrito!” No. “Who wants a Security Service Field T-Shirt?!” Not me, pal. Phooey.
Posted 05/21 at 02:28 PM
(FYI for those who clicked on the spreadsheet earlier: I added a few more “sheets” to it to cover nicknames throughout the 20th century. See “Baseball Nicknames”)
No need to cry “uncle”. I wasn’t trying to prove you wrong or anything. I’m right with you… I think it’d be nice to have more good nicknames and to use them more often. When I saw “Oil Can” Boyd instead of Dennis Boyd on that 1988 Topps baseball card, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Same with Rock Raines (it just occurred to me, but did he get that nickname because of his drug problems?). Nowadays, it seems that we either get really simple nicknames or we get deliberate, uninspired nicknames that no one ever really uses (maybe it’s true in St Louis, but it seems to me that Pujols doesn’t actually have 4 nicknames…).
Of course, that’s probably true of olden days too.
Posted 05/21 at 02:32 PM
I don’t know about everyone else, but the music, the races and crap, all the “interactivity” - makes me like the ballpark *less* than if it was just a diamond and some grass. I think, while catering to certain segments of the population (i.e. kids, casual fans) MLB (and other sports for that matter) may be losing more “diehards” than they think . . .
Posted 05/21 at 02:49 PM
Matt S said...
Appreciate all the great posts. BUT I think your take on the Peavy trade is a bit off. I see very little value (measure in WPA vs. dollars) in it for the Chi. Sox, especially if they have to pick up his option year as a condition to the trade going through. See Fangraphs excellent post on the subject here: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/peavy-to-the-white-sox
Posted 05/21 at 03:53 PM