The Name of the Game

As disappointed as we all are to learn the start of the baseball season has been delayed as part of the economic wreckage of incompetent U.S. preparedness for the coronavirus, perhaps there’s a silver lining in not immediately experiencing how dumb it’s going to be when new rules requiring relief pitchers throw to at least three batters takes effect. And the March 26 opening date seemed obscenely early anyway. I don’t often bother to show up in Flushing until May, given that place is guaranteed to be 20 degrees colder and twice as damp as anywhere else in the five boroughs, but let’s hope they get it going by then.

How are we going to pass the time though? I’d been suffering through the Islanders season and now that’s done too. So we’re rewatching The Wire on the stream, and reading some books.

Around here we care primarily about the number on the back of the jersey but much of what needs to be said about the letters above them is addressed with wit, insight and just the right mix of respect and humor in HALL OF NAME, a new book coming out any day now from D.B. Firstman.

I’ve known D.B. primarily through SABR and the Twitterverse for some time now, and they were gracious to offer an early copy, which I’d been eating piecemeal for a few weeks.

That’s in fact one of the cool things about this book: You can open it to any of its 312 pages and find something fun and interesting. The book includes short biographies, trivial facts, anagrams and vague sound-alikes for 100 of baseball’s “most magnificent monikers” from Boof Bonzer to Coco Crisp to Joe Zdeb.

Even more precisely than numbers, D.B. notes, names lend a uniqueness to the game’s characters that’s part of the fun; but what I enjoyed the most was the revelation of a little bit more than just the stats accompanying those names that would make you briefly pause and admire while thumbing through the Baseball Encyclopedia (Rivington Bisland, Jennings Poindexter, Orval Overall); uncommon commons revealed in a pack of Topps cards (Mark Lemongello, Greg Legg, Biff Pocoroba); or references that never fail to elicit a giggle (Johnny Dickshot, Rusty Kuntz, and Pete LaCock, the latter all lovingly written up in a section helpfully called DIRTY NAMES DONE DIRT CHEAP).

There’s a little Met content too, with J.J. Putz, Lastings Milledge, Angel Pagan, Razor Shines, Ambiorix Burgos and Xavier Nady among those featured.

You’re stuck at home with no baseball? Go out and get a copy or have your bookstore deliver one, like I said it’ll be out any day now. And in honor of the book’s publishing, here’s my list of the Mets All-Time Name Team. They may not win much, but you’ll never forget them:

1B: Marv Throneberry

2B: Chin-lung Hu

3B: Pumpsie Green

SS: Adeiny Hechavaria

OF: Darryl Strawberry, Don Hahn, Prentice Redman

C: Greg Goosen, Taylor Teagarden

P: Wally Whitehurst, Ken MacKenzie, Vinegar Bend Mizell, Patrick Strange, Bartolome Fortunato, Roadblock Jones, Al Schmelz

How are you going to make it through? Who makes your all-name club?

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