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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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What's in a Name?

Last night, after Varsity Letters, a few of us blogger types were sitting around drinking beer and talking baseball, and the conversation came around to baseball names. And the one that I found myself groping for was Stubby Clapp — not for anything fabulous he did (5 for 25 as a 2001 St. Louis Cardinal), but for having the greatest baseball name in at least a generation.
I remember Stubby Clapp (you have to say or type his entire name every time, just because you can) coming to bat at Shea and hearing the rather strange sound of half a stadium laughing. Not in derision, but in appreciation. You knew before you even looked that Stubby Clapp would be squat and not hugely talented but full of grit and fire, that he was one of those guys they'd have to tear the uniform off of, that 20 years from now he'd be a roving instructor or coaching first base in the Appy League. Stubby Clapp sounds like a guy who would have raised hell in a roadster barnstorming with Ty Cobb and Rabbit Maranville, or maybe won a batting title in Altoona before the war interrupted his career. After Class D ball and Dubya Dubya Two I did a stint in the merchant marine, kid, running cargoes from Java to Peking. Lemme tell ya, them port girls were wild, but they'd kill ya soon as look at ya. Woke up once in this flophouse in Formosa with this tattoo…don't tell the missus, but those were some times. Stubby Clapp. He'd have gnarled fingers and hate doctors and refuse to wear reading glasses and wait up all night for his grown children to arrive safe for Christmas but never tell them he loved them. (It's OK. They'd know.) Stubby Clapp. Close your eyes and you can see him clear as day, can't you? (He's actually Canadian, which is just so…disappointing. I say we all pretend he isn't.)
Baseball has always been a wonderful source of names, from American classics (Smokey Burgess) to primally minimalist (Ty Cobb) to gleefully silly (Hank “Bow Wow” Arft) to evocatively mysterious (Greg's recently mentioned Van Lingle Mungo) to not-so-evocatively mysterious (Sibby Sisti). As relatively recent arrivals, the Mets have missed out on some of the fun — sportswriters had abandoned much of the purple-prosed mythmaking that bred great nicknames by 1962. But there's still plenty to love in four and a half decades of Met names.
With some exceptions (Stubby Clapp), names inevitably pick up characteristics from the players who bore them. The pleasure of Nolan Ryan's name comes from its deceptive mildness, but take away 5,600 strikeouts and it would just be mild. Gary Carter and David Wright's gee-whiz, can-do spirits are perfectly reflected in their utterly ordinary names. Ron Darling's name sounds smart and a bit fancy, but has a certain “Boy Named Sue” quality that a fiery competitor could build upon — a not-bad description of Ron Darling. Edgardo Alfonzo's name is at once faintly exotic (at least to whitebread Americans), sensibly balanced and musical without being showy about it — which sure sounds like Fonzie to me. In hindsight, the name Gregg Jefferies is self-absorbed and too complicated (you can easily misspell both ends). That's a match.
A good name needs balance — it's the double repeated consonants that make Todd Pratt, Eddie Murray and Bobby Bonilla good baseball names. (Not to mention Stubby Clapp.) But too much balance and a name feels fussy. To switch to that other team in town, the repeated M makes Mickey Mantle a good baseball name, but it's the way the vowels and sounds keep changing that makes it a great one. Leaving aside his vaguely girly first name (which isn't his fault), Derek Jeter isn't a great baseball name for all kinds of reasons — it only has one vowel, that one vowel appears twice in each name in the same exact places, and the first and last name have the same number of letters and sound the same. It's the baseball-name equivalent of a matchy-matchy outfit.
Baseball names rely on nicknames — Danny Staub, Clarence Coleman and Steve Wendell are all crummy baseball names. (As is Richard Clapp.) Baseball names sometimes need middle names to pinch-hit, as Lynn Ryan, George Seaver and Cornelius Floyd could tell you. And then they need a certain, hard-to-pin down something — a certain quality that makes you want to tuck your chin and try for the timbre of a PA announcer. “Now batting….” I envy my co-blogger's perfectly respectable baseball name; I knew I was doomed as a big-league player because there was no way my name would ever sound cool echoing around a stadium. (Well, that and hitting .080 as a Little Leaguer.)
Without further ado, eight classifications of great baseball names (and interesting failures), as typified by New York Mets….
AMERICORN: These are those names that just sound like baseball names. Nicknames help, though they're not everything. Choo Choo Coleman and Vinegar Bend Mizell are obviously names thought up by wise old syndicate writers of 50s serials. Tug McGraw, Rico Brogna, Henry Owens and Mo Vaughn should have razzed each other from Omaha Beach to Berlin, smoking and shooting Germans and balling French girls along the way. Their names ensured Duffy Dyer and Mackey Sasser would be backup catchers the day they were born. You know immediately Turk Wendell is a character. And Buzz Capra gets not only a no-BS nickname (real name=Lee), but also the last name of the director who personifies Americorn.
FUSSY: These sounds like baseball names, but they're a bit complicated, with a whiff of the manor. And as such, they present the bearer with a stark choice: succeed or come in for an extra heaping of scorn. Marv Throneberry is a fussy name redeemed by that plain-as-mud first name. Darryl Strawberry is a fussy name redeemed by towering home runs. (And a well-chosen repeat consonant — Daryl Strawberry doesn't work.) Because Brock Pemberton didn't hit, he sounds like a product of inbreeding and English public schools. Skip Lockwood (real name=Claude) sounds like a guy wearing glasses, which he was. Joel Youngblood's usefulness didn't redeem his comic-book-hero name. The convoluted last names of Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher, in retrospect, spelled trouble. If Lastings Milledge hits .300, his name will be complicated and interesting. If he hits .240, it'll be vain and showy.
DIFFERENCES: OK, this isn't really a category, but it's worth noting that baseball names walk a knife edge between success and utter failure. Gerald Wayne Grote chose wisely in choosing a J instead of a G: Jerry Grote looks satisfyingly plain and direct, while Gerry Grote is effete. Tommie Agee has a grace and glide that Tommy Agee could never aspire to. The simplest subtraction turns run-of-the-mill Mike Hampton into pretty-cool Ike Hampton. Bobby Valentine is a bit too blandly all-American, but Ellis Valentine sounds slightly off and therefore interesting. Elliott Maddox has four vowels, triple repeated consonants and a final X. Very cool. Kelly Stinnett has triple repeated consonants, but weak vowels and a girly first name. Not so cool.
FUN TO SAY: Ron Swoboda's name just begs to be mispronounced Suh-boda. (On the other hand, you fear to mispronounce Philip Humber, and then fret that you added an extra L.) Carlos Delgado arcs off the tongue like a long double headed for the gap. Bartholome Fortunato is a name to be savored. Marco Scutaro's last name sounds like something an agitated third-base coach should yell.
NO-FRILLS KILLERS: These are my favorite baseball names — simple, short, and blunt to the point of brutishness. Names that'll get up out of the dirt after you put one under the chin, then crack a clean single to left. Ron Hunt. Cleon Jones. Amos Otis. Rusty Staub. Hank Webb. Cliff Floyd.
WONDERFUL: Donn Clendenon sounds like rolling drums. Felix Millan sounds brisk and athletic and flashy. Dave Kingman had to be a slugger. Lenny Randle sounds sneaky and speedy and vaguely illicit. Clint Hurdle's name alone should have been worth 200 home runs. You knew Butch Huskey was at least a XXL before he arrived. A great name is no guarantee of anything, as Royce Ring (real name=Roger) could tell you. But it sure doesn't hurt.
WHA?: There really is a Yogi Berra. Nolan Ryan. Bob Apodaca. (Imagine if he'd had a complicated first name. Ambiorix Apodaca? Now that would be something.) Mac Scarce sounds like an invisible private eye, but he existed. (Real name=Guerrant McCurdy Scarce. The nickname was a good choice.) Del Unser. Brent Gaff. Wally Whitehurst. Esix Snead, who sounds more like a Star Wars alien. Xavier Nady. Braden Looper, the closer with the least-threatening name ever.
And yes, someone really did name a child Orel Hershiser.

28 comments to What's in a Name?

  • Anonymous

    Butch Huskey is the ultimate manly man name for a baseball player.

  • Anonymous

    FUN FOR ME TO SAY (thanks to the makers of Airplane):
    “Pinch hitting for Pedro Borbon….Manny MO-ta……….MO…….tahhhhh….”
    Never mind that Manny Mota never pinch hit for Pedro Borbon, not even in an All-Star game. It just sounds good.

  • Anonymous

    My Dad & I were at a spring training game, Mets/Braves at West Palm Beach back in '96. The ATL's starting LF was a fella named Wonderful Monds.
    I also liked the O's OF prospect of the '70's, Drungo Hazewood…

  • Anonymous

    How could you leave Jonathan Trumpbour Matlack out of the WHA? category?

  • Anonymous

    My dad's nickname was 'Buzz'-he chased bees as a toddler. But when asked, I lie and say as a WW2 aviator he shot down a record 82 Mitsubishi Zeros over Guadalcanal.
    Where did all the nicknames go?

  • Anonymous

    a great baseball name: mickey klutts.
    always loved it; i'd go to oakland a's games with the hope that he was playing so that you'd hear the name announced.
    one negative: he started his career with the skanks. still, a not-bad way to think of the late 70s skanks, if we must: oh, the mickey klutts era.

  • Anonymous

    The middle name is definitely odd, but “Jon Matlack” is one of those names that could have gone under differences. And probably would have if it hadn't been 1 a.m. and I hadn't been bleary-eyed.
    Jon Matlack. The As in the last name give it a nice percussive quality, and the extra-short first name sets that off. (“John” wouldn't work as well.) Excellent baseball name.
    Sheesh. I sound like I'm discussing wine here.

  • Anonymous

    Ironically, Ralph Kiner once recorded a commercial for the '82 Mitsubishi and made zero mistakes. Once.

  • Anonymous

    Orsie the Horsie (or, if I was feeling particularly 1940s about it, Awsey da Hawsey) was my private nickname for Joe Orsulak. I guess you have to shout these things out if you want them to catch on.

  • Anonymous

    Before the Braves were synonymous with cool, corporate crap (thus taking the fun out of even a name like Chipper), they herded some of the best names going.
    In the latter half of the 1970s, you had…
    Larvell Blanks
    Rowland Office
    Cito Gaston
    Rick Matula
    Bruce Dal Canton
    Pablo Torrealba
    Biff Pocaroba
    Dave May
    Mike Lum
    Rick Camp
    Adrian Devine
    Preston Hanna
    Pat Rockett
    Jerry Royster
    Rod Gilbreath
    Jamie Easterly
    Brian Asselstine
    Duane Theiss
    Hank Small
    Pepe Frias
    Mike Macha
    Mickey Mahler
    Bob Beall
    Tommy Boggs
    Charlie Spikes
    Chico Ruiz
    Bo McLaughlin
    Craig Skok
    Rob Belloir
    Barry Bonnell
    Larry Whisenton
    From Hank Aaron to Hank Small in four years. About says it all.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    Do you know how many takes Ralph needed before he got it right (ala, “Momma, Mia, that's a spicey tomatoe sauce”)?

  • Anonymous

    I believe Bartolome Fortunato is the only Met in history whose name has 8 syllables.
    My favorite baseball names include Motorboat Jones (a nminor leaguer I saw play in the 90s) and Oyster Burns (a Brooklyn Dodger of the 1890s)

  • Anonymous

    One that speaks for itself:
    Jack Glasscock

  • Anonymous

    Great subject, Jason.
    Was trying to recall which Mets used two common and predominantly first names (Jason Phillips wouldn't count because his given name would need to be Phillip (not Phillips) nor would Frank Lary since it's usually spelled “Larry”). Off the top of my head I came up with:
    – Ed Charles
    – Joe Christopher
    – Larry Elliot
    – Dave Marshall
    – Kevin Mitchell
    – Dan Norman
    – Darren Oliver
    – Amos Otis
    – Dick Stuart
    – Frank Thomas
    – Pat Zachary

  • Anonymous

    I believe George Theodore fits here, too. And Don Hahn is another great Mets name. And if you crash them together *#&#*@!**&%$* well, I'm sure most of you know the rest…

  • Anonymous

    Hi Joelster,
    The “stork” definately fits, but I've never heard of anyone with the first name of Hahn. Hans, yes, but not Hahn.
    Just thought of another one… Frank Howard (manager and coach)

  • Anonymous

    Rick Reed– No-Frills Killer. Blunt and to the point. “Rick Reed, end of story.”
    I always loved Bip Roberts. And it's hard not to love Coco Crisp. The name, anyway. The person, I want to kill.

  • Anonymous

    Two words:
    Razor Shines.
    We never added him to the collection that contained All-Name-Hall-of-Famers like Butch Huskey and Chuck “Dr. Strangeglove” Hiller and Mackey Sasser, but he did make his major league debut against the Mets in 1983 and went 0-for-0. You could look it up:
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/s/shinera01.shtml
    Hey, he was born two days before my wife was.

  • Anonymous

    For most of the 1990s, we spent almost all of our television viewing time watching various Disney videos purchased pursuant to the No Video Left Behind Act of 1988 (aka “Mickey's Law”), which made it a felony not to purchase any theatrical or even direct-to-video Disney production within 48 hours of its limited video release.
    One of the producers of many of those vids was a guy named Don Hahn:
    * Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) (producer)
    * The Emperor's New Groove (2000) (executive producer)
    * The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) (producer)
    * Michael & Mickey (1995) (segment producer)
    * The Lion King (1994) (producer)
    … aka Rey león, El (USA: Spanish title)
    * Beauty and the Beast (1991) (producer)
    … aka Beauty and the Beast: Special Edition (USA: longer version)
    * Roller Coaster Rabbit (1990) (producer)
    I suspect I was the only parent who noted at the time that the movies' producer used to wear number 25 and had been traded for Ron Swoboda.

  • Anonymous

    Ladies and gentlemen, the post-dynasty Oakland A's and what made them memorable:
    Shooty Babbitt
    Bob Owchinko
    Steve McCatty
    Dave Heaverlo
    Keith Drumright
    Rick Bosetti
    Craig Minetto
    Wayne Gross
    Rob Picciolo
    and, because you asked for him…
    Mickey Klutts

  • Anonymous

    Razor Shines, definitely in contention for the 10 Best Expos Names Ever, joining…
    Boots Day
    Coco Laboy
    Ty Cline
    Jim Fairey
    Sam Mejias
    Mack Jones
    Larry Lintz
    F.P. Santangelo
    Casey Candaele
    Don DeMola
    Santo Alcala
    Jeff Terpko
    Stan Papi
    Randy St. Claire
    Andy McGaffigan
    DeLino Deshields
    Rocky Biddle
    Sun-Woo Kim
    Terrmel Sledge
    and the all-time No. 1 Montreal Expo Name EVER…
    John BOC-ca-bel-la!

  • Anonymous

    The announcer up in Montreal's old Jarry Park was a scream, especially having to do stuff in French and English, but his exaggerated pronunciations of players' names left one in my head for all time:
    “Now batting, the catcher: John BOC(!)-A-BELLLLL-AH!!
    Late night discussion of baseball names…bet you guys weren't drinking Miller Lite!

  • Anonymous

    Since no one else has posted them, here are the lyrics to Dave Frishberg's song, “Van Lingle Mungo”:
    HEENEY MAJESKI
    JOHNNY GEE
    EDDIE JOOST
    JOHNNY PESKY
    THORNTON LEE
    DANNY GARDELLA
    VAN LINGLE MUNGO
    WHITEY KUROWSKI
    MAX LANIER
    EDDIE WAITKUS
    JOHNNY VANDER MEER
    BOB ESTALELLA
    VAN LINGLE MUNGO
    AUGIE BERGAMO
    SIGMUND JAKUCKI
    BIG JOHNNY MIZE
    and
    BARNEY MCCOSKY
    HAL TROSKY
    AUGIE GALAN
    and
    PINKY MAY
    STAN HACK
    and
    FRENCHY BORDAGARAY
    PHIL CAVARRETTA
    GEORGE MCQUINN
    HOWARD POLLET
    and
    EARLY WYNN
    ROY CAMPANELLA
    VAN LINGLE MUNGO
    AUGIE BERGAMO
    SIGMUND JAKUCKI
    BIG JOHNNY MIZE
    and
    BARNEY MCCOSKY
    HAL TROSKY
    JOHN ANTONELLI
    FERRIS FAIN
    FRANKIE CROSETTI
    JOHNNY SAIN
    HARRY BRECHEEN
    and
    LOU BOUDREAU
    FRANKIE GUSTINE
    and
    CLAUDE PASSEAU
    EDDIE BASINSKI
    ERNIE LOMBARDI
    HUEY MULCAHY
    VAN LINGLE
    VAN LINGLE MUNGO

  • Anonymous

    Well, he never played for the Expos, but I always loved the name Buddy Biancalana.

  • Anonymous

    Might I add, “Quentin McCracken.”
    Also, I can't find any mention of him online, but I think there was a Brooklyn Dodger named Hughie Delahantey, which is pretty great.

  • Anonymous

    Nomah! How could you forget the name that most tied Harry Caray's hooch-thickened tongue in knots? “Garaci…Garcipa…Garpaci…AH HELL! Remember when players used to be named things like Mantle?” Yeah, he really said that! (Had HC lived to see Nomar become a Cub, it probably would've killed the old man on the spot.) My XH and I used to refer to Nomar as “Norman Garacipoopoo” in honor of Harry's chronic inability to enunciate Nomar's nomarclature.
    And of course Bob Murphy made any vowel-blessed name a total joy to listen to. “Jooooseeee Vizcaiiiinoooo.” For the luvva Choo Choo, I miss Murph.

  • Anonymous

    Wasn't it Grudzielanek that gave Harry fits? I seem to remember him simply referring to him as “the Montreal shortstop.”

  • Anonymous

    Yes, Grudz was trouble for Harry's tongue, too. But I distinctly remember the Nomar thing, because Harry was just updating scores from the Other League and had to attempt to expectorate that mouthful of Alphabits that had just hit a home run for Bahstun, who the Cubs themsevles would never face in Harry's lifetime.