Alternative Names for Bird Teams

Some professional teams really should go for a name change.  Take the Cardinal, no not Stanford whose name should be a Plover or maybe a Quail.  The St. Louis Cardinal is actually a Northern Cardinal.  The Northern Cardinal, a member of the crow family, makes quite a bit of noise, but despite their piercing song, take flight when challenged.  If St. Louis insists on holding on to a bird name, I would propose a more interesting one like a Tanager or a Whip-poor-will.  I can hear the crowd whipped into a frenzy with the call of the Whip-poor-will to taunt opposing pitchers and outfielders.  For the other bird teams, and I’m mixing sports here, like the Blue Jays, Eagles, Orioles, Owls and Seahawks, here are some choice bird replacements:

Baltimore Sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) – a nod to all the pine tar the players use

Toronto Arctic Warblers – a mouthful

Philadelphia Woodpeckers – you know, all the wooden bats

Rice Roadrunners – rolls off the tongue

Temple Grackles – Grackle is just a great football name and would instill fear in an opponent.

Seattle Flamingo – I don’t know why more teams aren’t named after wading birds.

The Cooperstown Myth

Baseball HOF

It’s not Williams College

Cooperstown.  I waited 30 some odd years, but my day finally came.  I didn’t get any votes or anything.  Just a few souvenirs and a bunch of photos, some good, some not so.   What is Cooperstown?  You really don’t know?  If you are an American from the United States of America (because you could be an American from 34 other countries that constitute the continents of North and South America) you should know.  You should not only know its claim to fame (and it really is a claim) but know where this mythical place is located.   I’ll tell you where it’s not.  It’s not in western MA, the home of Williams College.  And I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not a place where they make tires, you know, Cooper tires, or barrels – actually they might make barrels there.   I’ll tell you what it has:  a lake – Lake Ostego, where you can’t toss stones or bring your pets or even fish, but where you can rent out boats, I think.


Cooperstown.  It’s in upstate NY (I think everything except NYC is upstate) in the middle of a bunch of Monsanto green cow pastures.  The gently rolling slopes of the Alleghenies intoxicate.  And then out of nowhere, a sign appears – 300 miles to Buffalo.  Have you noticed that wherever you are in NY, there’s always a sign for Buffalo?


Cooperstown.  No coopers there.  And no buffalo as far as I could tell.  But lots of tourists.  It’s a tourist town, with one attraction, and one attraction only – The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.  And I went through through this shrine to baseball the other day and can now proudly check it off my bucket list.  And what a fine shrine it is; baseball’s hallowed ground and as much the story of the “United” States of America, as baseball, as Ken Burns would say, and I think he’s right.

My wife asked, why Cooperstown in the middle of nowhere?  We all know Abner Doubleday invented the game in Cooperstown in 1839, the same man who later became a Union General during the Civil War.  But it’s not true.  Doubleday had nothing to do with the game and Cooperstown as the birth of baseball is little more than a manufactured lie that got the town a permanent contract with baseball, thanks to the Sporting Goods king, A.J. Spalding, who no doubt stood to benefit – a boon to the tycoon. The museum displays the “Doubleday” baseball found in some guys attic in Cooperstown that was supposed to prove Doubleday invented the game.  A poster above the display concedes that the ball did not prove Doubleday invented the game and that baseball derives from  other games played in England and elsewhere long before 1839.  However, a commission ruled otherwise and so the myth was born.


And so baseball is really a reinvention of cricket and rounders and similar games from overseas brought over by early settlers and tweaked over the years until the game was finally codified and standardized.   And good thing too, because at one point, you could literally throw a guy out by hitting him with the baseball.

As unoriginal as the game turns out to be, baseball really is the story of this country.  Union prisoners played the game.  Segregated leagues paralleled the black struggle for racial equality during the Jim Crow years.  Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier that led to the integration of the major leagues which predated Brown v. Board of Education by a good five years.  Women first played the game in dresses.  As the game spread to other countries where America has strategic interests, the game caught fire and is now played around the Americas and the world.  In today’s modern game, the rosters are more diverse than ever with players originally from Cuba, Canada, Australia, Venezuela, Mexico, Panama, Japan, South Korea, and the Dominican Republic. But regrettably, our national pastime, with its humble school yard roots in England, has been co-opted and commercialized to serve the interests of big business from the very beginning.  And without a salary cap, the Yankees and the Red Sox will always have a competitive advantage.


But I liked the museum.  As a Red Sox fan, I liked seeing Babe Ruth’s and Ted Williams wax statues swinging together like best friends.  And the oil painting of Cy Young pitching who looked  like a giant 65 year old grandfather put a smile on my face.   I had my picture taken in front of the exhibit of one of my favorite baseball players, Roberto Clemente.  I took a photo of Curt Shilling’s shoes that held a bloody sock, that was not on display.  I snapped shots of an autographed Pedro Martinez Red Sox jersey, Phil Niekro‘s baseball card portrait, some old dresses the ladies used to wear when they played, and a few shriveled up gloves that looked like giant milk duds, which is also how I described some old Hall of Fame basketballs I saw in Springfield, MA.


I enjoyed the day, as did my wife, who doesn’t like baseball.  The museum delights thousand of fans, young and old alike from all over the globe everyday.  Cooperstown; myth making at its best, the stuff of dreams and souvenirs.  And if you’re easily spooked like I am, stay away from the wax museum, just up the street.


The MLB All-Star Game Needs a Real Change Up

The MLB All-Star baseball game is on tonight and I don’t care.  I find the exhibition game boring, even though the outcome has some bearing on determining the home team at the World Series.  By the way, baseball shouldn’t call its ultimate tournament, the World Series because only American teams play.  Granted, there are non-American players on every team, mostly Dominican and the one Canadian team, but this limited diversity does not constitute the World.  Anyway, the All-Star game lacks excitement and I have some ideas for how to energize and internationalize the game.

Why just play with a baseball? Why not let the pitcher (and catcher) decide what ball to throw!  Here’s how it would work.  The pitcher would have a big drum or garbage barrel full of balls behind the mound. He’d grab one and have to throw the same ball or kind of ball to the batter, but could switch up for the next batter.  So one batter might get a series of wiffle balls, the next, cricket balls, a third, some tennis balls and so on.  Rubber balls, soft balls, golf balls, hackey sacks, lacrosse balls, racket balls, ping pong balls, croquet balls, foil wrapped Hostess Ding Dongs, hockey pucks, cans of tuna fish, and badminton shuttlecocks would all be permissible.  Talk about a change up!

Players on the losing team would have to donate a game’s salary to their favorite charity and would have to sit out the first game of the World Series if their team makes it that far.  Pitchers would have to throw nothing but fastballs in their first inning of work.  No need for the catcher’s sign.

The Coaster (#Fridayflash)

“Hey dad, you seen my T-pass? I just had it”, said Ralph.

“Check your room”.

“I did, it’s not there”.

“If I find it, you have to clean your room.”


“I said, if I find it….”

Ralph’s dad peeked into his son’s bedroom.  For a second, he thought the room had been ransacked. Socks, t-shirts and jeans spilled out of an open chest of drawers.  Dirty clothes had been flung about – a tube sock dangled from a lampshade.  Wadded up pieces of loose leaf, a rainbow assortment of sharpies, some with their caps missing, and a colorful collection of college brochures littered the floor.  The copy of Great Expectations he had purchased for Ralph last week peeked out from under the bed, still in the Barnes and Noble bag.  Ralph’s MacBook Pro doubled as a plate for a half-eaten hamburger wrapped in foil. Some wayward fries lounged comfortably on a beat up piano bench under his desk.  Ralph had bought the piano bench at a yard sale for 5 bucks along with some Yes albums for .50 a piece for the album cover art, not the music.  He’d never heard of the band and thought the records were giant CDs.  Album covers and vinyl  LPs decorated his bedroom walls.

“I found it”, said Ralph’s dad.


“On your nightstand.  Now I want this room cleaned by tomorrow.”

Ralph had used his T-pass as a coaster for a 72 ounce can of i-Energy drink. And his dad noticed something else – another coaster, a baseball card inside a plastic sleeve under a Pom Tea glass with bits of orange juice pulp dried to the sides. He picked up the card. Bryan Nolen, pitcher for the Arkansas Catfish, a AAAA affiliate of the Ozark Spelunkers.  On the back of the card it said Nolen was an ambidextrous switch hitting pitcher who had recently pitched no hitters from both sides. Height: 6’6″; Wgt: 112; (that had to be a misprint) College: Bardmore State; Home: Drayton, NY. Nickname:  The Hudson Valley Hurler.

Bryan Nolen.  The thought of an ambidextrous pitcher intrigued  Ralph’s dad, so he googled him to find out a little more. Bryan was born Bryan Walker Nolen.  He earned an academic scholarship to Bardmore State College where he majored in linguistics. He spoke a little Spanish, his mother’s mother tongue, and could understand German, but couldn’t speak it.  He had studied the morphology of dozens of endangered indigenous languages and had discovered that English and Spanish had borrowed heavily from them.  Nolen was not only gifted academically, he was quite an accomplished athlete.  He had captained the nationally ranked Bardmore ultimate frisbee team in his junior and senior years.  At a frisbee tournament in Topf, TX, a major league recruiter saw potential in Nolen’s arm.  He was so impressed by his ability to accurately toss from both sides that he offered Nolen a minor league baseball contract on the spot.

In his first year in AAAA pitching for the Catfish, he threw a no-hitter as a lefty serving up mostly knuckleballs.  In one game against the Faulkner County Hush Puppies,  he caused a bench clearing brawl when he threw a pitch over the batter’s head from the left, and then switched to the right arm for the next pitch and beaned the batter in the ribs with a fastball.  The batter charged the mound and hit Nolen in the head with an aluminum bat, knocking him out and ending his baseball career. When Nolen came to, he was in the hospital and couldn’t speak.   He wrote notes in gibberish to his friends and family until a leading polyglot neurologist realized he was writing backwards in Spanish.  “Erbmah ognet” for “I’m hungry,” and so on. One day he miraculously began speaking German fluently during the day and Spanish at night. He had apparently lost his English completely.  Some in the family feared he had been subjected to a dangerous government experiment. The neurologist said the condition was rare, but theoretically possible, given that Ralph’s mother was a native Spanish speaker and that his paternal great-grandparents were German-speaking Swiss immigrants.  The ability to write backwards in a foreign tongue, though never before documented in a head trauma victim, had been observed in several lightning strike survivors.

Bryan eventually re-learned English, though he was not always easily understood with his thick German accent.  He struggled with irregular verbs and used of lot of slang he picked up from watching 70’s sitcoms and movies – “right on”, “dynamite”, “far out”, “out of sight”, “groovy man,” and “you dig?” And sometimes when he was really tired, he’d launch into backward English with a southern accent. “ll’ay yeh”.  He also discovered another talent – he could understand cat and dog language, an ability he turned into a hit show on the Reality Channel doing pet interventions for the rich and famous.

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Give a Little Bit Daisuke (Dice-K) Matsuzaka

Are there any Red Sox fans out there on WorpPress, I mean WordPress?  I was combing through the Boston Globe this morning and came across Amalie Benjamin’s piece on Dice-K Matsuzaka, the Red Sox hurler who strained his neck in Spring training and will make his 2010 debut Saturday after several rehab starts.  Dice-K doesn’t speak much English and his quotes are translated into English from Japanese.   I wonder if some of what he says or means is lost in translation.  If the translations are correct, you won’t find a more humble athlete.  As quoted in Benjamin’s article, Matsuzaka on target for Saturday, Dice-K says, “…I’ve been such a burden on this team…if by coming back I can help give the team any sort of little boost or change of momentum, I think that’s all that I can ask for…and I don’t mean that I single-handedly am going to make all the difference…” Mindful of the fact that the team has made a substantial investment in his arm, Dice-K said, “…I hope I can repay them a little bit, and hopefully do that throughout the rest of the season”.  I doubt he meant that literally, but if he did mean it, what is a little bit to a man who makes 8,333,333 a year?

When Dice-K goes out on the mound, the PA system should play the Supertramp song, “Give a Little Bit”.   At least 7 solid innings.

Top 10 Baseball Names

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2009 will be to blog more often and not let ideas mildew in the draft bin.  This idea of compiling top 10 lists of sports names is one I’ve been tossing around for years and I’ve finally resolved to pen or I should say to blog the first of several.  As a kid, I spent a lot of time collecting sports cards and was always fascinated by nicknames like Carl “Spider” Lockhart and “Mean” Joe Green, both of whom spider-lockhart1went to North Texas State University, a school known more for its music department than its football program.  I also appreciate unique names like Urban Shocker who played for the Yankees in the 20’s, and Boog Powell and picturesque names like Wade Boggs – I can imagine a hunter wading in a bog on a frigid winter morning with a duck call and a shotgun.

For this post, my focus will be on great baseball names; names that connect to the players’ on-the-field accomplishments.  For the record, I have not consulted any other list;  if these names have appeared on any list, or have been written about by sports journalists before, it is purely coincidental or perhaps a sign that my ideas are not so fresh and original.  My methodology was simply to scan the complete list of baseball player names on and jot down the appealing ones along with supporting statistics.  And so without further delay, here’s my list of the top 10 baseball names of all time.


10.  GENE FREESE.  Interesting name.  I once knew someone by the name of Gene Pool, whose name I think is pretty cool.  Gene Freese played for the Chicago White Sox and had the dubious distinction of being among the league leaders in the caught stealing bases category in the 1960 season.  Like a deer in the headlights I guess.

9.  PETE FOX.  By contrast, Pete Fox, an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers was among the league leaders in stolen bases in the 1934 season.  As the old Bulgarian proverb goes,  the fox falls into the trap only once.

8.  MATT BATTS.  In 1953, Mr. Batts, playing in only 116 games as a catcher for the Detroit Tigers, was one of the most productive hitters on the team, with 104 hits, 24 doubles and a .406 slugging percentage.   I can just hear the announcer now, “Matt Batts bats leadoff for the Tigers.  Batts, known for quality at bats and battling the pitcher is a tough batter with good bat speed.  Breaks a lot of bats does Batts.

7.   DAVE “out of the park”  PARKER.  Parker parked 339 balls in his illustrious 19 year career as an outfielder and DH for various teams.


6.  FRANK FLEET.   As a pitcher for the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1875, Mr. Fleet threw some fleet pitches and led the league in strikeouts with 26.  Not so impressive by today’s standards, but back in the 1870’s, teams only played 44 games.

5.  JACK ARMSTRONG.  The 6’5″ Armstrong had a strong arm indeed.  In the 1990 World Series pitching for Cincinnati in Game 3, he pitched 3 innings, giving up only 1 hit and striking out 3.  Cincinnati won the Series against Oakland 4-0.

4.  ROY HITT.  As a member of the Cincinnati Reds, Hitt was not a hit with the opposition.  Hitt was among the league leaders in Hit Batsman in 1912.

3.  ERIC PLUNK.  Plunk plunked 32 batsman in his 14 year career and led the American League in wild pitches with 10 in 1989.

2.  HERB SCORE.  Unlike the name suggests, Score was not scored upon much.  In 1956, he led the American league in shutouts (5) and strikeouts   (2Bob Walk63) while going 20-2 for the Cleveland Indians.

1.  BOB WALK.  What a great name for a pitcher!  Like score, Walk’s name is not reflective of his game.  He actually walked very few batters – just 67 walks per year during his 14 year career.  However, he was prone to throw an occasional wild pitch.  An All-Star in 1988, he led the league in wild pitches, and was among the league leaders in this category for several years.  To my knowledge, there is no pitcher by the name of Wilde.

There are some other good names out there I missed.  I only looked at last names, but probably skipped over a good Homer candidate.  I did run across Homer Bailey’s name who currently pitches for Cincinnati, but he hasn’t hit a homer, though he has no doubt allowed a few.


Dustin Destined for AL MVP

2012 Update:  In 220 plate appearances – BA: .295; OBP: .350; Total Bases: 90; RBI: 21; Runs: 30; HR: 5; Errors: 1.  He’s off to a decent start but has been hurt. Let’s see if the laser show can light up and lead the Red Sox out of the American League East basement.


Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox second baseman and 2007 AL Rookie of the Year, is having a MVP year in 2008.  As of September 21, 2008, he ranks 1st in the AL in runs (116); 1st in hits (204); 1st in doubles (51); 2nd in batting average (.324); 3rd in times on base (261); 4th in runs created (119) and 5th in total bases (310).  He rarely strikes out, just 49 times in 630 at bats.  He hits anything no matter where the pitch, with some power – 17 home runs and 79 RBI, not bad for a small guy.  Listed at 5’8″, he is one of the shortest players in the league.  Not the swiftest, he has good instincts and has stolen 18 bases; caught stealing only once.  He is also a very good fielder making only 6 errors in 151 games.

Photo by Eric Kilby

The last American League player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP the next,  was Cal Ripken, Jr in 1982 and 1983.

Nellie Fox was the last AL second baseman to win the AL MVP back in 1959. It’s time for another.  Dustin is destined to be the next MVP of the American League.

Baseball’s Dying Tradition

It flutters, dances, darts, floats, drops, zigzags.  What is it?  A Hummingbird?  No, but good guess.  Ok another clue – you can’t hit it and probably can’t catch it either.  No, not a snitch from the Harry Potter world of Quidditch.  Give up?   Answer:  A knuckleball.

Knuckleball pitchers are a dying breed and should be placed on the endangered species list.  One word of advice to all you pitchers out there:  if you can learn to master the knuckleball, you might have a long and prosperous career in the big leagues.  Easier said than done, of course – I imagine if it were easy to master, more pitchers would throw it.

As far as I know, Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox, Josh Banks of the Padres, and R.A. Dickey of the Mariners are the only big league knuckleball pitchers left in the game, along with two in the minors.  One promising minor league knuckleballer is Charlie Zink, who plays for the Pawtucket Red Sox.  He made his big league debut with the Red Sox a few weeks ago against the Rangers. Zink’s knuckler moved well, but got knocked around and he only lasted 4 1/3 innings giving up 11 hits and 8 earned runs.

Tim Wakefield has been in the big leagues since 1992 and with the Boston Red Sox since 1995.  He has won 176 games, 162 with the Red Sox, third most in Sox history behind Cy Young and Roger Clemens who finished their Red Sox careers with 192.   Wakefield has been one of the most consistent and versatile pitchers the team has ever had.  He has started, closed, pitched short, middle and long relief successfully.  As a starter, he has a knack for keeping the score close, and has lost a number of games due to lack of run support.

There have been other major league knuckleball pitchers of note going back a few years.  Brothers Joe and Phil Niekro had long careers in the majors throwing the knuckleball.  Joe pitched from 1967 – 1988 winning 221 games, and his Hall of Fame brother Phil won 318 games also lost 274 from 1964 – 1987, making him one of the winningest and losingest pitchers of all time.  As Red Sox pitching consultants, Phil and Joe also helped Wakefield perfect the pitch early in his career. Knuckleballer Charlie Hough pitched from 1970 – 1994 winning 18 games in 1987 with career totals of 216 wins and 216 losses.

There are only a few pitchers left to carry on the tradition of the knuckleballer.  Most major league hitters would say good riddance, but I say to all you pitchers out there who dream of playing in the big leagues: LEARN THE KNUCKLEBALL!

Random Olympic Musings

In the equestrian events, do the horses of the winning riders receive a medal or any kind of special recognition or treat? Do the horses take part in the medal ceremonies?

I’m watching a field hockey match (for the first time) between the Netherlands and Germany. It’s been a great match – it has gone to penalty strokes. What troubles or fascinates me is the fact that the players have to bend their backs for most of the match as they move the ball along, pass, receive and shoot. Isn’t this extraordinarily uncomfortable? Field hockey players must have super strong back and abdominal muscles. I wouldn’t last a minute in that position – I don’t think I’d be able straighten up.

I watched the semifinal women’s handball match between Norway and Korea. Wow, what a close match! Norway pulled out a last second win with a spectacular goal after Korea had come from beyond to tie the game. I’m new to handball and was wondering if the court is padded? A lot of the players hit the court pretty hard after a shot. Also, what is the ball like? Is it soft and bouncy. How does it compare to a soccer ball?

In diving, I wonder if a diver has ever just said to heck with it all and performed a cannonball instead of a 3 and half with 2 twists?

Why isn’t golf an Olympic sport?

Why did the IOC vote to eliminate softball and baseball from the next Olympics? Any argument of USA domination no longer holds after team USA lost to an excellent Japanese team in the softball gold medal match. Baseball games in these Olympics have been competitive, and teams from the Americas have not dominated. Korea, in fact, has been the dominant team going 7-0 to date.

Has there been any talk of eliminating hurdles from track and field? I don’t have any statistics to back this up, but it seems that hurdlers suffer a disproportionate amount of injury compared to other runners.

In a pole vaulting event, has a pole ever snapped in two during a vault? I seem to remember seeing or hearing of such an accident. Assuming the athlete was not injured, would the vaulter be disqualified, or allowed another vault?

As reported in today’s Times Online, IOC president Jacques Rogge criticized Usain Bolt for disrespecting his competitors after his gold medal world record breaking performances in the 100 and 200 meter runs. Please! Every athlete expresses emotion and does some sort of victory lap drapped in a flag. Is he really expected to acknowledge each of his competitors? It is an individual race – not a team competition with the obligatory handshake line. After the race, the runners are spread out along the track anyway so logistically it would be unrealistic for him to find everybody for a handshake, hug or even to just say good race. He didn’t break any rules. And after his earth shattering performances, he earned the right to celebrate as he did.