On May 26, 1973, Louis “Chicken” Hawks died in California. Hawks had a limited career, so he did not make the cut for Richard’s All-Bird Team. Read on to find out who did.
Today’s word of the day is ornithology, the study of birds. Having spent a few minutes looking that up, and a few more figuring out how to pronounce it, I had to share that. It is also the jumping-off point for today’s team, composed entirely of those players with bird-related names.
Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, it proved too difficult to assemble a team entirely of those players with bird-related birth names. So instead this team will be composed of those players who earned an avian nickname somewhere along the way.
As is my general rule, I attempted to pick the best player for each position, although I will admit I was also seeking to create some diversity of species in this list. Without further ado, we’ll take a look—a bird’s-eye view, if you will—at the squad:
Catcher: Birdie Tebbetts
Baseball nicknames seem to be split roughly between those earned in the game and those given in childhood. For Tebbetts, “Birdie” came during his youth, when a family member compared his voice to the chirping of a bird. Tebbetts was not only the sort of player who might make the Hall of Very Good—though perhaps not, given the relative mediocrity of his career—but he even went so far as to suggest such a thing himself. After his playing career, Tebbetts served as a manger for many years.
First base: Ken Harrelson
Easily my least favorite broadcaster, and one of the worst general managers in recent baseball history, Harrelson—Hawk—nonetheless earns a spot on this team. As a player, Harrelson’s career peaked in 1968 when he hit 35 home runs for the Red Sox, good for third in the league, led the league in RBIs and earned himself a third-place finish in that year’s MVP vote. Harrelson’s lasting contribution to the game is probably the re-popularization of the batting glove, which enjoyed a renaissance when he began wearing golfing gloves at bat in the mid-’60s.
Second base: Dick Schofield
This is the senior Dick Schofield, father of the more recently active Dick Schofield and grandfather of the currently active—and excessively bearded—Jayson Werth. That’s not quite like being the patriarch of the Alou family—or even the Boone clan—but it is pretty good. Unusually, Schofield’s nickname—Ducky—has been passed on to his son as well, although so far it appears that Werth has not been so blessed. Schofield, a career .227 hitter, today lives in Springfield, Ill., where he was born.
|Goose and Goose (Icon/SMI)|
Third base: Ron Cey
Immortalized during his time in the minor leagues by manager Tommy Lasorda as “the penguin,” for his waddling steps while running, Cey was nonetheless a strong ballplayer. A six-time All-Star and co-winner of the 1981 World Series MVP, Cey averaged nearly 25 home runs a year from 1975 through 1985, a total held down only by the strike-shortened ’81 season. A member of the Dodgers’ infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Bill Russell for nearly nine seasons, Cey is probably the best player of the bunch.
Shortstop: Fred Stanley
Trivia time: Who is the light-hitting middle infield type on the ’78 Yankees whom no one remembers? That’s right, Fred “Chicken” Stanley. Despite his poor offensive performance, and his relative obscurity next to Bucky Dent, Stanley was a useful piece for the Yankees, which is pretty good for someone who debuted for the Ball Four-inspiring Seattle Pilots. Stanley is currently the director of player development for the Giants.
Left field: Joe Medwick
Our second example of a “Ducky,” which is, for the record, my personal favorite nickname on the list. And yes, there was a Hall of Fame-caliber player known to the world as Ducky. It is actually even crazier than that, however, because Medwick was more specifically known as “Ducky Wucky,” owing to his own Cey-like gait. Of course, among teammates he was known as “Muscles” for his build, which allowed him to lead the league, at various times, in doubles, triple and home runs.
Center field: Turkey Stearnes
Stearnes was a star in the Negro Leagues, often credited as one of the greatest all-around players in baseball history. He earned his nickname from a distinctive running style, one that involved a bobbing head and flapping arms. He complemented this with a distinct batting style described as an “an open stance with his right heel twisted and his big toe pointed straight up.” Unusual though it was, Stearnes’ style served him well and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.
Right field: Andre Dawson
The second Hawk to make the list, and the newest member of the Hall of Fame. While Dawson’s career value prompted some—myself included—to doubt if he would earn a spot in Cooperstown, there is no questioning his talents at their peak. During his time in Montreal, Dawson hit for a 122 OPS+ while winning six Gold Glove playing, primarily, center field.
Starting pitcher: Lon Warneke
There are a surprising number of good candidates for this spot, most notably Mark Fidrych. But I’m giving it to the Arkansas Hummingbird, who not only adds a new bird to the list, but was a pretty good pitcher in his own right. A longtime Cub, Warneke won 192 games in his career, including 20 or more three times. His best seasons came in 1932 and ’33, when Warneke went a combined 40-19 with a 2.18 ERA. After his playing career ended, Warneke served as an umpire, working in the 1954 World Series.
Relief pitcher: Rich Gossage
The Goose, of course, is another recent Hall of Famer, albeit one with a stronger case than Dawson. Gossage has since become something of a “get off my lawn” type figure in baseball, bemoaning how current players don’t respect the game. Nonetheless, in his own day the Goose was a dominant reliever—he had six seasons of 87 or more innings with an ERA+ over 150—and helped pitch his team to October four times.
That’s actually a pretty good team, all things considered—maybe even one that could find itself soaring on the wings of victory.