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Cosmic Quote #81: Play Ball!

“Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.”–Vin Scully

Non Sequitur

Ah, it’s that time of the year again.  And the statistical probability is that I will be distracted to no end.  But the baseball season won’t be quite the same without Vin Scully.  He started calling games the year I was born and that was–er, that was–damned if I’m telling.  Just watch the games and keep score.   (If you’re a blasphemer and don’t like baseball, try my other blog (and podcast) at www.seekingdelphi.com.

 

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In Memoriam: Ralph Branca

“Why me?”–Ralph Branca, after giving up Bobby Thomson’s 1951 pennant winning home run, forever known in baseball circles as The Shot Heard Round the World. 

Ralph Branca in his Dodger days

Ralph Branca in his Dodger days

Forever known as the poor soul who gave up perhaps the most famous home run in baseball history, Ralph Branca died yesterday at age 90.

What those who didn’t know him do not realize is that he was also one of the nicest, most down-to-earth guys who ever lived.  For a guy who married the boss’s daughter–Ann Mulvey, whose parents were part owners of the Dodgers in that era–that’s quite impressive.

How do I know?  I know.  I had the esteemed pleasure of working with Ralph, and for a brief time, getting to know him back in the 1970’s.  He was one of the players, along with Stan Musial, Ernie Banks, and his erstwhile nemesis, Bobby Thomson, to promote Major League Baseball’s 1,000,000th run promotion, which I was also a part of.

Ralph and Ann could not have been nicer to me.  I had their home phone number and was encouraged to call them if they could help me in any way.  But what really impressed me about Ralph was how he handled the infamy of having given up the famous “shot heard round the world” that cost the Dodgers the 1951 pennant (see below).   Most notable was a day I spent with him in the office of Ted Worner Associates, the public relations firm that promoted the millionth run.  Before we even began our day’s chore, two people from the office across the hall came over to meet him.  One of them recounted how he an his teenage brother had jumped through a glass coffee table and shattered it in reaction to Russ Hodges famous “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” call on the radio.  Ralph handled it with grace.

I spent the rest of that afternoon calling sports editors and telling them I had Ralph Branca on the phone to talk to them about the millionth run promotion.  But the first five minutes of the conversation always dealt with that fateful day in the fall of 1951.  What did he remember it?  How did he handle the crushing defeat? How did he live with it?

Ralph’s answer, always the same, was philosophical. It was devastating at the time;  but in the long term it became a positive.  It gave him a measure of fame he might otherwise never have achieved, and he and Bobby Thomson became friends and made many personal appearances together over the years.

One of my great regrets is that I lost track of Ralph and Ann when Cheryl and I moved to Indiana for her veterinary school years. He shall always be remembered as one of the nicest individuals I have ever known.

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Time Out: 3rd Annual Funniest Name in the NFL Draft Poll

Note: This post runs concurrently on The Blog of Funny Names

“Baseball players are smarter than football players.  How often have you seen a baseball team penalized for too many men on the field?”–Jim Boutan

I don’t know if baseball players are smarter than football players.  But I do know that, in recent years, football players certainly have had a leg up on baseball players in one respect: funny names.  One need only look at the previous two editions of Funniest Name in the NFL Draft to realize this.  Not only were the 2013 poll winner Barkevious Mingo, 2014 poll winner Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and 2014 runner-up Jadaveon Clowney over the top  funnynames,  but all three of them were high first round picks.  Clowney was actually last year’s overall number one.

But this brings us to a dilemma.  It is well known that, in any professional sport, some years produce deep draft crops, some not so much so.  I don’t know about athletic talent, but this year’s funny name draft class is just not as over-the-top all-star as the past two years.  And the likely first round is totally devoid of candidates.  That said, the field is wide open and full of lower round candidates whose names look like an explosion in a Lithuanian newsprint factory.  Be careful pronouncing some of these,  your tongue and lips might cramp.

Without further ado, here are this year’s nominees, peppered with quotes that prove that Yogi Berra has nothing on the pundits of pigskin.

Jay Ajayi--his hair is longer than his name, and more symmetrical!

Jay Ajayi–his hair is longer than his name, and more symmetrical!

Jay Ajayi, RB, Oregon State–He was overshadowed by the potent offense of cross state rival Oregon, known for the passing and scrambling of QB Marcus Mariota–but Ajayi is one of the top running backs in this year’s field and a likely second round pick.  Note that if you drop the vowels at the beginning and end of his last name, he could give perennial Minor League Baseball Moniker Madness also-ran Jose Jose a run for his money as best repetitive name in sports.  Anyway, I don’t know if he’ll win the funny name poll, but he has the funniest hair, hands down.  Likely draft position: 2nd round.

“Nobody in football should be called a genius.  A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.”–Joe Theismann

Obum Gwacham, Defenseive End, Oregon State–What’s worse than being a running back on a team overshadowed by a cross-state prolific passing-based offense?  Being a defender on that team.  But while Gwachum will likely go in the late rounds of this year’s draft, he’s my early even money favorite to win the funny named poll.  He was born in Nigeria, and considering he’s not the only one of his countrymen in the running, maybe there was an explosion in a Nigerian Scrabble® factory.  By the way, his name, in the native tongue, means “son of god.” If he can walk on wet Astroturf, I wouldn’t bet against him.  Likely draft position: round 6 or 7.

“People say I’ll be drafted in the first round–maybe higher.”–Craig Heyward

Jim Otto--the original double 0

Jim Otto–the original double 0

Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Defensive End, UCLA–The second of three Nigerians in the field, I don’t recommend trying to say  this name too quickly.  You could hyperventilate and pass out.  Hey, I just nominate them, I don’t pronounce them.   I pity the TV commentators who will have to do so.  Maybe they will just call him “O O” and they could even give him a double zero Jersey number, like Jim Otto.  Likely draft position: 2nd round.

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 “I want to rush for 1,000 or 1,500 yards, whichever comes first.”–George Rogers

Huh-RO-niss!!

Huh-RO-niss!!

Hroniss Grasu–Center, Oregon–First things first. That’s  three candidates so far from Oregon, and all of the first four from the Pac-12.  Grasu might be a center, but the country is clearly off-center in funny-named players this year.  For geographical origin diversity, Grasu is of Romanian decent.  His parents emigrated from Romania to Los Angeles in 1982 and opened Greco’s Roman Pizza on Hollywood Boulevard, which is still in business today.  Romanian New York pizza?  Only in L.A.  Likely draft position: round 3.

“I have two secret weapons: my legs, my arms and my brain.”–Michael Vick

Ali Marpet–Center, Hobart College–While we’re going for geographical diversity, let’s also throw in ethnic and academic variety as well.  As an economics major at Division III Hobart, Marpet seemed more likely headed to Wall Street than the NFL.  Then the scouts noticed him and the rest, as they say, will soon be history.  Marpet was named to the Jewish Sports Review’s 2013 All-America Team.  Likely draft position: 2nd or 3rd round.

“If defensive linemen’s I.Q.’s were five points lower, they’d be geraniums.”–Russ Francis

Xzavier Dickson–Outside Linebacker, Alabama–It’s hard not to include any Xaviers in any funny name accounting.   Dickson is borderline to even be picked in the draft at all this year, but hey, we had two Xavier’s in last year’s poll–I just had to continue the tradition.  But that spelling: Xzavier!!?   No, that’s not a typo–well, not here, but  maybe on his birth certificate.  I just couldn’t resist including this one–though maybe he’s more suited for The Blog of Oddly Spelled Names.   Likely draft posit: Round 7, or undrafted free agent.

That does it for the ballot nominees.  Among the also-rans eligible for write-in are Jaquishi Tartt, SS, Samford; Jeremiah Poutasi, OG, Utah; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon (another Oregon player of Nigerian descent!); Deiontrez Mount, OLB, Louisville; and Kaleb Eulls, DT, Mississippi State.

Perhaps it’s not as rich a crowd as in the previous two years, but they are still worthy of note.   The draft begins tomorrow night, but our voting opens now.  The balloting closes at noon EDT, one week from today–results will be reported in next weeks Funny Names in the News.  Vote as often as you like, but don’t forget the words of Joseph Stalin: “The people who cast the votes don’t decide an election, the people who count the votes do.”   Mwah-ha-ha.

 

 

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Cosmic Quote #52: Play Ball!

“There are three things you can do in a baseball game.  You can win, you can lose, or it can rain.”–Casey Stengel

brrrrr

brrrrr

Unfortunately, there is a fourth thing that can happen.  It can snow.  And as that is exactly what it is currently doing outside my window right now, I thought I’d get a head start on this coming Sunday’s Major League Baseball opener and give spring some encouragement.   Stay warm and dry, my friends.

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Time Out: Moniker Madness 2014

Note: This post runs concurrently under a different name on The Blog of Funny Names

“Every time I sign a ball I thank my lucky stars I wasn’t born Covelski or Wambgnass or Peckingpaugh”–Mel Ott

Mel Ott,  looking as if he just tried to sign his name "Wambgnass."

Mel Ott, looking as if he just tried to sign his name “Wambgnass.”

Ol’ Mr. Ott may be happy for not being any of the names above,  but he never would have won the annual minor league baseball Moniker Madness competition with his name.  He may be a 500-home run Hall-of-Famer, but we at The Blog of Funny Names march to a different drummer.  We’d sooner idolize the likes of past Moniker Madness winners, like Rock Shoulders, Will Startup and Sicnarf Loospstok, the latter of whom was aided by some late ballot-stuffing by the BOFN staff to win last year’s contest.  This year, another 75 amazing and ridiculous names are in the running–you can cast your official vote on the office Minor League Baseball Moniker Madness site through Thursday.

But the poll that really counts is the one we run, where we let our readers select their favorites.   Five of the current top 10 in the standings are profiled below–you can vote for your choice at the bottom of the page.

But first, something completely different.  I can’t help but mention that some of this year’s names seem to fall into some distinct categories–divisions, if you will.  These divisions are:

The “Have Baseballs, Will Travel” division,  including Tommy Toledo, Montana DuRapau and Montreal Robertson;  The “What’s on the Menu” division, starring Mark Hamburger, Joey Pankake and Renzo Martini;  the “I’m Masquerading as a Celebrity” division, with Burt Reynolds and Joan Baez;  and the “With a Name Like This, I Should Have Been a Porn Star,” division comprised of  Steel Russell,  Brock Dyxhoorn and Kieran Lovegrove.

OK, that’s out of my system.  Now, here are the five BOFN nominees you can vote for on this page–all of them are in the top 10 in the Moniker Madness standings as of this writing.  As per last year, I’ll play my favorite name game,  which is speculating what these names sound like their owners should have been if they weren’t baseball players.

Brooks Pounders–Who he is: a journeyman minor league pitcher in the KC Royals organization.  With a name like that, you’d figure he’d be pounding the strike zone, and he has averaged slightly less than 3 walks per nine innings in his 6 year career.  Unfortunately, he’s still in A ball, three levels below MLB.  Who I think his name sounds like?  The IBO Cruiserweight boxing champion of the world.

Venn Biter–Who his is: a 2013 outfield draft choice by the Phillies, currently laboring in the Gulf Coast Rookie League.  Who I think his name sounds like? Count Dracula’s nephew.

Tommy Toledo–Who he is:  a pitcher in The Milwaukee Brewers organization.  Who I think his name sounds like?  President of the Longshoremen,  local #4127.

Damien Magnifico–Who he is:  another Brewers pitcher–an embarrassment of funny names for the Brew Crew.  Who I think his name sounds like?  The Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

No, this is not Joey Pankake

No, this is not Joey Pankake

Joey Pankake–Who he is: a 2014 7th round draft choice of the Detroit Tigers,  playing right here in Connecticut in the NY-Penn League.  Who I think his name sounds like?  A less than successful mafia hit man from Brooklyn,  played by Joe Pesci.

This is.

This is.

 

With 75 names to chose from, we’ll allow write in votes.  Heck, vote for your own kid in little league if his–or her–name is funny.

 

 

 

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Cosmic Quote #39

“If god had meant us to play soccer, he wouldn’t have given us arms.”–Mike Ditka

www.cartonstock.com used by permission

http://www.cartonstock.com used by permission

If god had meant us to spend this much time online, we would have been born with a modem.   Personally, soccer sort of bores me.  I can’t wait for the world cup to be over so I can go back to being bored watching baseball, tennis and golf.

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Timeout: Hayden Siddhartha Finch and Joe Shlabotnik

This post also appears today under a different name on The Blog of Funny Names

 “It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction.  Fiction has to make sense.”–Mark Twain

With Minor League Baseball’s annual Moniker Madness competition just a few weeks away,  what better time to investigate and recount the stories of two of the most curious names in baseball history?   Not only are the names unusual, but the stories more so, because neither of them ever actually existed.

Sidd Finch.  He looks cuter with the French Horn.

Sidd Finch. He looks cuter with the French Horn.

Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch (Born and Died, April 1, 1985)  is to baseball what Piltdown Man is to anthropology–the most famous hoax ever recorded.  Concocted by iconic sports author George Plimpton as an April Fools day prank for the April, 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated,  Finch was touted as a super rookie pitcher with the New York Mets.  According to the incredible story–a bit too incredible to get many people to believe it–Finch grew up in an orphanage in Tibet where he learned meditation, yoga and to play the French horn.   Supposedly he had never played baseball before his tryout in Mets spring camp that year but could pitch the ball an astounding 168mph without warming up and while wearing only one shoe with the other foot bare.   It was reported that he was still undecided between a career as a professional baseball player or professional  French horn player. I remember this story vividly, because one of my best friends called me and urged me to get a copy of Sports Illustrated and read the story.   The company I worked for at the time had front season box seats at Shea Stadium for the Mets;  my friend thought I would fall for the story and get really psyched to get a good close up look at this guy.  It didn’t work; I  was not buying it.   From the beginning, something didn’t seem right.  The pictures didn’t feel genuine; they appeared staged.  Then I got to the 168 mph fastball.  I’m an ex-sportscaster and major baseball aficionado–I stopped right there.  The fastest

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

pitch ever officially recorded at that time was 103mph (since surpassed by current Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman at 105 mph).  I don’t care if the guy had a Howitzer for a right arm, there is no way any human being was going to pitch near that fast.  I turned the front page, looked at the issue date, and said “April Fools.” Ironically, that 1985 Mets team had no need of a Sidd Finch.   Their real super rookie pitcher, Dwight Gooden, had won NL Rookie of the Year award the previous season.  He proceeded to win the NL Cy Young award in 1985 and helped lead the Mets to their best season in history in 1986: 108 wins and a World Series championship.  The only sad thing about this story?  The current Mets probably couldn’t win with five Sidd Finches.

Good 'ol Charlie Brown

Good ‘ol Charlie Brown

Joe Shlabotnik (b.??-d??) was the favorite player of the most famous fictional baseball fan in the history of the universe:  Charlie Brown.  Joe Shlabotnik, in the “Peanuts” world, was to CharlieBrownFootballbaseball, as that infamous failed place kick was to football.  It was Lucy’s ultimate diss of Charlie.  Though Joe was a marginal player who spent most of his time in the minors, Charlie pined for his baseball card but could never get it.  On one occasion in the early 1960’s he squandered $5.00 on 500 penny packs of cards, and did not get one single Joe Shlabotnik.  Lucy then bought one pack, got a Shlabotnik but refused to trade it to Charlie Brown, even for the offer of all those hundreds of penny packs.  Charlie walked away in disgust, and Lucy proceeded to throw Joe in the trash.  “He’s not as cute as I thought,” she opined. With names like Zealous Wheeler, Jose Jose, and 2013 winner Sicnarf Loopstok, we’ve often commented that Minor League Baseball’s Moniker Madness has names that you couldn’t possibly make up.  Well, maybe, but George Plimpton and Charles Schulz might have had something to say about that.

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Time Out: Joe Bftsplk

“My work is destroyed almost as soon as it’s printed.  One day it’s being read;  the next day someone’s wrapping fish in it.”–Al Capp

(This post appears concurrently on The Blog of Funny Names under a different title)

joeJoe Btfsplk was an infamous character in the long running comic strip L’il Abner, by the late cartoonist, Al Capp (1909-1979).  Known as “the world’s worst jinx”, Btfsplk walked around with a cloud over his head, 24/7.   Poor Joe was generally relegated to a life as a loner, as nobody would get near him due to his penchant for wreaking disaster on anyone and anything who ever got close.  His only other claim to fame? His image was briefly licensed for a series of animated TV commercials–by Head and Shoulders!

 As hard as his name is to spell, it’s not so difficult to pronounce, once you know the trick.  Capp would apparently demonstrate it thusly at his public lectures:  he parsed his lips, stuck out his tongue, and blew out air.  In other words, a raspberry as this little tyke demonstrates.

Not surprisingly, it was a baseball name Evan P. Rutckyj, that dislodged this bit of decaying ephemera from my rotting neuronal archives.  Rutckyj is a Canadian born pitcher buried in the low minors in the New York Yankees farm system.    The name is pronounced ROOT-ski.  This silent final J is a bit of a letdown.   Six consecutive vowels ought to all be pronounced.   If he ever makes to the Bronx Bombers, though, he’s sure to get a dose of what that little fella in the video above is dishing out.   This in turn, led me to think of other vowel challenged names, including former MLB players Eli Grba and Kent Hrbek.  All this led me, further, to the recall of one of the funniest stories ever to appear in The Onion, Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia.  Got any favorite vowel challenged names?  Or a preferred alternative pronunciation for Rutckyj?  Let us know in the comments section.  And be sure to avoid Joe Btfsplk.

Joe Btfsplk, the world's worst jinx, in this excerpt from the March 20, 1947 strip

Joe Btfsplk, the world’s worst jinx, in this excerpt from the March 20, 1947 strip

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Timeout: Star Wars Day!?

“May the 4th be with you.”–some obnoxious jerk of a geek

You’ve got to be kidding me.  Star Wars Day?  It’s hard enough to get the world to recognize May 4th as “Baseball’s Millionth Run Anniversary Day,” without this insufferable nonsense.  About the only good thing about Star Wars day is the merciless fun that The Big Bang Theory made of it.  (See below)

 

Have no fear, though.  I will stretch my own May 4th fame to 16 minutes if it’s the last thing I do.  If you missed the history, here it is re-posted from the original.

“In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”–Andy Warhol

Bob Watson

The date was May 4th, 1975.  The place was Candlestick Park, San Fransisco.  And the man of the hour was Bob Watson of the Houston Astros,  who scored the 1 millionth run in major league baseball history.  Watson beat Dave Concepcion of the Cincinnati Reds by four seconds in a race around the bases from opposite ends of the country.  It was one of the most exciting early-in-the-season baseball moments ever.

To this day Watson’s name, and to a lesser extent Concepcion’s, is associated with that event in baseball history.  But there was another name in the news that was connected to the story.  He was  a 24-year-old local sportscaster from Westport, CT who used a first generation, eighty dollar electronic calculator to research and originate the millionth run contest, thus scooping all the professional statisticians and baseball journalists.  He went on a media tour to promote a “guess-the-player” contest sponsored by Tootsie Roll.  His picture and name appeared in wire service stories, in Sport Magazine and in the New York Daily News.  He appeared on television and spoke at press conferences alongside the likes of Stan Musial, Ralph Branca, Mel Allen and Bowie Kuhn.  He had 15 minutes of Warholian fame.   Then came oblivion.

The 24-year old whiz kid with the calculator was, of course, me.

I was exhilarated, excited and even euphoric;  then it was over.   And for thirty-something years the memory simply faded, almost to the point that it seemed to have happened to another person in

Millionth run center

The 1,000,000th run countdown center. That’s me talking to the gathered media as Stan Musial naps in the background. Check out my 1975 hair!

another lifetime.  It became just another forgotten footnote in the deep and illustrious history of our national pastime.  After awhile, I didn’t even care, so why should anybody else?

Then something funny happened.  Straight out the blue, nearly four years ago, I received an email from Kansas City Star sportswriter Joe Posnanski.

“Are you the Mark Sackler who originated the millionth run?” he asked.  “I’m writing a book about the 1975 Cincinnati Reds.  I want to include it and the events involving Davey Concepcion as an interesting sidebar to the season’s story.”

The next year, The Machine, Posnanski’s book chronicling a great season by one of the best teams in the game’s history, appeared in bookstores with a chapter on the millionth run.  After 34 years, somebody remembered.   My sister joked that I was getting another 15 minutes of fame.  My retort was that it was more like 30 seconds.

But then it happened again.  A few months ago, a gentleman named Timothy Gregg contacted me on Facebook to make the same inquiry.  Was I the millionth run originator?  Gregg, also a former sportscaster and sports promoter, now a digital media producer, was co-authoring the memoirs of Houston Astros TV commentator Bill Brown.  Of course, there would be a chapter on the millionth run in that book as well.  This time not from the Reds point of view, but the Astros.   This book–My Baseball Journeywas just recently published.  So fifteen minutes of fame is now fifteen minutes and forty-five seconds.   And counting…

If you are a baseball fan, both of these books are worthwhile.  Otherwise, stay tuned for more effluvia from my hopelessly cluttered cranium.

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Oh Brother(s), Where Art Thou, the Charlos and Arroyos

I admit it, holidays left me in a lazy blogging fog. One more reblog–my monthly guest post on The Blog of Funny Names–and I promise to get back on track. Eventually.

The Blog of Funny Names

“I grew up with 6 brothers.  That’s how I learned to dance–waiting for the bathroom.”–Bob Hope

“Big sisters are the crabgrass in the lawn of life.”–Linus (Charles M. Schultz)

When it comes to siblings in major professional sports, a few names  immediately come to the minds of today’s fans.  The Manning Brothers.  The Williams Sisters.  The Molina Brothers.  The Klitschko Brothers.

Yes, they come to the mind of the everyday sports fans–but we at The Blog of Funny Names set a higher standard.  When it comes to siblings with funny names, two pairs of boxing twins(yes, twins!) stand out above the crowd.  So let’s investigate.

Jermell and Jermall Charlo are identical  twins born one minute apart in LaFayette, LA in 1990.  Wow–it’s hard enough to tell identical twins apart–their parents had to give them practically identical names, too?  They are both undefeated professional boxers in the light middleweight division.  Jermell…

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