On Sept. 11, Dave Roberts was born. But save the birthday cards, Red Sox Nation—this Dave Roberts was born in 1944 and is just one of many players who share a name with a far better-known major leaguer.
I’ve used this space in the past to reflect upon the plight of those players who have ordinary baseball careers, only to see their siblings go on to bigger and better things in baseball. That’s something of a cruel fate to endure, but they are hardly the only players caught in the shadow of those with grander accomplishments.
Take, for example, Dave Roberts. Four men have played in the majors with that name. Two had careers that overlapped, and then only briefly. The Dave Roberts who celebrated his birthday this week was a pitcher who had a 13-year journeyman career for the Astros, Padres and Cubs, among others. In 1971, he finished sixth in the Cy Young voting; that year, he was second in the National League in ERA but won just 14 games (against 17 losses) for a dire Padres squad.
He won 17 games in 1973 for the Astros and would later be a member of the 1979 “We are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates, although he faced only one batter—and walked him—in the playoffs. He finished his career with a 103-125 record and a 3.78 ERA, just below league average.
This Dave Roberts is little remembered today in comparison to the “other” Dave Roberts, the player who remains active. He is far and away most famous for his steal in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, a moment which is widely seen as changing the momentum of that series to the Red Sox.
Roberts has otherwise had a good nine-year (and counting) career as an outfielder, although he has often struggled to stay healthy. Not surprisingly, given his most noted moment, Roberts is a speedster who repeatedly has appeared on the leader boards for both steals and triples.
Dave Roberts the pitcher (to say nothing of the other two Dave Robertses, who I won’t even discuss) are just some of the players who share their names with brighter lights. Last year represented the career’s end for Bernie Williams. He was an anchor on the Yankee World Series-winning teams of the late ’90s, batting cleanup and playing center field. He won a batting title and four Gold Gloves, appeared in five All-Star games and was MVP of the 1996 ALCS.
Williams’ Hall of Fame candidacy is questionable. I’d probably lean on the side that he is just out, but if you ask me tomorrow I might come up with a different answer. There is no such debate about another Bernie Williams, the one who played in the 70s. “Disco Bernie” played just four seasons (compared to Yankee Bernie’s 16) and saw time in just 102 games, hitting only .192.
Of course, just because one plays baseball doesn’t mean one’s name has to be overshadowed by those doing bigger and better things in baseball alone. Take Terry Bradshaw. We all know the Terry Bradshaw who stars on Fox’s Sunday NFL show. One of the great quarterbacks of all time, Bradshaw played on four Super Bowl winners. He has even managed a decent acting career, recently seen in Failure to Launch.
So you can understand the pressure on Terry Leon Bradshaw, born in 1968—before the QB had even taken an NFL snap so probably not named for him—to manage a career that would at least merit some comparisons to his football playing namesake. It was not to be. Baseball Bradshaw had just two seasons in the majors, both for the Cardinals, and appeared in only 34 games.
Sometimes a player can actually have an altogether decent career and still pale when compared to the bigger of shared names. Such is the case of Bill Bradley. The Bradley of the diamond appeared in nearly 1,500 games and finished his career with a .271/.317/.371 line. (He played mostly in the deadball era, so those numbers are better than they look on first blush.) For good measure, he was also a player-manager, taking the Brooklyn franchise of the Federal League to a .500 season in its inaugural year.
But when compared to “Dollar Bill” Bradley, a .500 record in an obscure major league and a career .271 average rather suffers in comparison. Just touching on some of the other’s accomplishments, Bradley was a basketball All-America, National Player of the Year, Olympic gold medalist, NBA All-Star and Hall of Famer. He played for two world champion teams and one European champion. After his basketball career, Bradley was a three-time United States senator and later a presidential candidate.
Save for Bradshaw, who was being compared to a man from another sport altogether, all these players have in common that they preceded the bigger name. But not everyone is so lucky. Such is the sad case of Roy Hoar, better known as John McGraw. Now, the John McGraw, “Mugsy,” is an underrated player who is third on the all-time list for on-base percentage and had good speed.
Of course, even if he had never played a day in his life McGraw would be remembered for his time as the Little Napoleon of the New York Giants. McGraw won three titles with the Giants, plus another seven pennants. He is second all-time in manager wins (just under 400 clear of Tony LaRussa) and seventh in winning percentage. He is a Hall of Famer, elected in 1937.
Impressed by all these glories, Roy Hoar, one of only two graduates of Carnegie Mellon University to play in the major leagues, actually changed his name to John McGraw in honor of his hero. In the end, this would backfire on Hoar. He did reach the majors (sort of), pitching two innings for Bill Bradley on the Brooklyn Tip-Tops in 1914.
His grand gesture for the other McGraw has reduced to him to little more than a footnote, the “other” McGraw and on lists with names like pitching Dave Roberts, “Disco Bernie” Williams and manager Bill Bradley. It’s a cruel world sometimes.