Monday, October 31, 2011

Doug Gwosdz: If you see multiple vowels, your eyes are broken

For much of the country, Polish last names present linguistic challenges unparalleled in the languages of Europe. However, having grown up near Chicago, I'm familiar with many of the rules of Polish pronunciation and can usually work a new name out in a few seconds. In fact, I pride myself on correctly pronouncing the name of St. Louis Cardinals' reliever Mark Rzepczynski correctly when I first saw it.

But I am not perfect. When I saw Doug Gwosdz1's name crop up while doing some incredibly detailed research for GNIB, I pronounced it "Gwosh." Which is wrong.

Gwosdz's last name has been discussed at length here, but the short version is that it's pronounced "Goosh" and he quickly drew the nickname "Eyechart" from former major league backstop Chris Cannizzaro.

Gwosdz, a catcher, played just 69 games for the San Diego Padres from 1981 to 1984. His offensive numbers are unimpressive, though he was a good defender. In all honesty, his odd name is probably his most notable achievement in the long annals of baseball history. But at least he doesn't dwell in total baseball anonymity.

Read an incredibly short interview with Gwosdz here. Read this while if you're surfing the 'net, also.Link

1 I can say with relative certainty that the Calgary Cannons got a huge lot of Chicago Cubs hats that were surplus souvenirs from the Cubs' dark years. This would be explainable if the Cannons were affiliated with the Cubs, but they were instead the AAA team of the Seattle Mariners.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bris Lord: All your pork are belong to us

Philadelphia Athletics outfielder Bristol 'Bris' Lord played on Connie Mack's legendary teams of the early 20th Century.

An average career hitter, Bris at some point picked up the nickname "The Human Eyeball." This nickname is a bit mysterious as his walk rates aren't terribly impressive and he struck out quite a bit for the Deadball Era, calling his eyesight and strike zone judgment into question. Maybe it came from his ability to spot a fetching prostitute from three city blocks away. Or perhaps it, uh...

...hmmm...that's an that?

HOLY SHIT1! This man's middle name is Robot Ham! And his last name is Lord! He was the Robot Ham Lord!

What could possibly drive parents to christen their child with such an incredibly conceptual name? Is Athletics teammate Ossee Schrecengost responsible? Was it time-traveling, sentient porcine bipeds incubating swine flu? Was it related in any way to the assassination of James A. Garfield two years before the Robot Ham Lord's birth2? Who succeeded Bristol as the next Robot Ham Lord3? And why was his nickname synonymous with the Jewish circumcision ritual4?

All of these questions will be answered in my forthcoming speculative historical conspiracy theory book "Eye in the Sty: Rulers of the Underground Autonomous Mechanical Pig Society in America, 1860-19945."

1 Pardon the profanity, but a more splendid name has never reached this hack writer's eyes.

2 It is not unreasonable to think that Charles J. Guiteau, himself of French (!) descent, acted in the interests of God, who had clearly told him to kill the president. Some people say, however, that this was a misinterpretation of Guiteau's confession, in which he claimed that he had acted on orders from the "Robot Ham Lord." Of course, as the word "robot" was not yet introduced (Guiteau's words are evidence for the time-traveling porcine biped theory), it was all dismissed as gibberish except for the bit about the "Lord."

3 And what was the method for determining succession? Was it birthright? In my soon-to-be-published book, I will give details on how the Athletics' acquisition of Bris Lord from the Cleveland Indians in 1911 was actually the method for secretly passing the title to Shoeless Joe Jackson, who would attempt to infect America's game in 1919 during the Black Sox Scandal. Historical accounts consider Jackson a dimwit, but few know that he actually masterminded the whole scandal.

4 Some astute scholars have also claimed that the Robot Hams were sent back to the 1860s by pork farmers from the future (part pig themselves by this time) in order to spread the use of futuristic and kosher bacon. Unfortunately, the pigborgs sent back in time almost immediately failed to spread the neo-bacon gospel and instead got distracted by the Machiavellian workings of inner-city politics and the vices that come with it.

5 No psychotropic drugs were harmed in the making of this post. This post has been brought to you by Extreme Boredom: Now in Audio Form!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jim Dyck: There's no 'I' in Dyck, but there are players a lot like him

[Author's note: I will do my best to refrain from making weiner jokes. Those have been made here plenty in the past. Feel free to make your own, though.]

Jim Dyck's story is a familiar one, not only with respect to baseball, but also to men of nearly all nations who came of age in the middle third of the 20th Century: A raging inferno of international lunacy drew men from all countries and interrupted their goals and ambitions. Those who escaped with their lives returned home and did their best to find normality.

But what makes Dyck's story so familiar is that it is nearly identical to a previous GNIB entry, Hank 'Bow Wow' Arft. Observe:

- Arft (1/28/22) and Dyck (2/3/22) were born six days apart.
- Both players had been promising young players from the middle of the country (Arft was from suburban St. Louis; Dyck came from Omaha).
- Both served served in the Navy during World War II (Arft served on a destroyer escort; Dyck was a naval pilot).
- And both debuted in their late twenties with the St. Louis Browns (Arft in 1948 at 26, Dyck in 1951 at 29).

In fact, there is very little that separates them statistically. Look at their career numbers:

Arft: .253/.352/.375, 300 G, 1056 PA, 13 HR, 114 RBI, 137 BB, 133 K
Dyck: .246/.339/.389, 330 G, 1134 PA, 26 HR, 116 RBI, 131 BB, 140K

While it's true that neither player's numbers are truly remarkable, the only discernible statistical difference is that Dyck hit a few more home runs and walked a little less (but not significantly so).

The two men's careers barely overlapped, though. Arft was relegated to the bench during Dyck's first couple seasons and was released when Dyck was one of the most important members of the '52 Browns squad. As the Browns' starting third baseman, he was second on the team that year in home runs and RBI.

Dyck was largely washed-up after 1953, though he played a few games with the Cleveland Indians in 1954 before finding his way to the St. Louis Browns' new digs in Baltimore with the 1955 Orioles club. He was out of the big leagues by 1956 and had retired from minor-league ball in 1961 after putting up respectable numbers.

In another parallel with Hank Arft, Dyck went into business for himself after retiring. However, Dyck founded his own bowling alley instead of opening a mortuary as Arft had. Naturally, the two men died only three years apart, with Dyck succumbing to cancer in 1999.

Ned Garvin: Tough-luck ancestor of a fictional character

Today's entry is not particularly notable for having a "great name." Rather, he is best remembered for having a name that is just a couple letters away from one of Dan Akroyd's best, albeit more obscure1, Saturday Night Live characters. Watch the skit here. I'll wait; it's only 7:16 long.

So let's discuss Fred Garvin's great-great grandfather, Virgil Lee "Ned" Garvin. Ned pitched at the turn of the century and is perhaps best known as being the best pitcher on several bad teams. Naturally, the photo above seems to display him making the "OKAY" face at his manager, who insisted on pushing him out to the pitching mound in front a team of staggering ineptitude.

In his career, Garvin earned only 58 wins against 97 losses, but in that time he accrued an earned run average (ERA) 25% better than the league average. His career 3.9 strikeouts per 9 innings is low by today's standards, but it represents an excellent mark for his era. Of his few career victories, Ned had to earn 13 of them by shutting out the opposition and waiting for his terrible teammates to trot a run across the plate.

Ned's 1904 season with the Brooklyn Superbas was a perfect reflection of his career. He put together a putrid 5-15 win-loss record but had a sexy 1.68 ERA, which was second-best in the National League. The culprit for his terrible record was obvious: Unbelievably bad defense behind him and a lineup that was wretched, even for the Deadball Era.

While major-league defense was generally bad in the early years of baseball (fielding gloves were small and harder to flex), fewer than half the runs scored on Garvin in 1904 were earned. And his dynamite performances were also halted by an awful team batting performance of .232/.297/.2952.

The New York Highlanders claimed him toward the end of 1904, and Garvin made his last two big-league starts in the Bronx. Naturally, he didn't win either of them.

Following the 1904 season, Ned Garvin packed up and headed out West to play, dominating the Pacific Coast League with the Portland Beavers and Seattle Siwashes3 in 1905 and 1906. Garvin's luck never got much better; he played his final season in 1907 with the unfortunately named Butte Miners4 of the Northwestern League, though he again dominated.

Sadly, Ned's tale ends in 1908, when he died of bears5.

1 You've probably never seen it; it's really underground. I mean it was on a major network and all, but you probably would like something like the Mel's Hide Heaven skit better.

2 The 1904 Brooklyn Superbas featured three starters who hit batted under .200. In fact, the only bright spot in the wholeoffense was Harry Lumley, who was basically Garvin's position-player counterpart. Lumley led the National League in home runs (9) and triples (18) in 1904, though he also led both leagues in strikeouts (105), too. Garvin, however, escaped Brooklyn, while Lumley was destined to play until 1910 with Dem Bums.

3 A Siwash, by the way, is a disparaging term for an American Indian in the Pacific Northwest. Take that, early 20th Century Cleveland fans! What's that? Cleveland today has a somehow more offensive mascot?

4 Actual team name. Google with care.

5 Not actually true. But Ned Garvin die of consumption the disease.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

1912 Pittsburgh Pirates: Flavors of cups of coffees of excessive prepositional phrasing

The Pittsburgh Pirates of the early 20th Century were one of the best National League clubs of the era. From 1900-1912, the team never finished lower than fourth in the league. They won 90 games nine times in that span, took four pennants and won the World Series in 19091, a season in which they'd compiled a staggering 110-42 record. The Pirates of the era were led by superstar shortstop Honus Wagner, outfielder/third baseman Tommy Leach and ace Deacon Phillippe2, among others.

1912 found the Pirates employing several players of outstanding moniker for a cup of coffee or two. Rather than give each player (many of whom only played a handful of games) his own post, let's explore them in brief and revel in their fantastic names.

Ham Hyatt (1B/OF) - Robert Hamilton Hyatt would play more than any other player on this list, sticking around for much of the 1910s. Ham was a slugger in the minor leagues before and after his time in the majors, hitting 15 home runs for the Vancouver Beavers of the Northwestern League in 1908. In parts of five seasons with the Pirates (1909-1910, 1912-1914), Ham hit six home runs and batted .277. He'd get a chance to start more with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1915, but he was out of big-league ball until getting some pinch-hit opportunities with the New York Yankees in 1918. He played his final three seasons with the Vernon Tigers of the Pacific Coast League, crushing 39 home runs and batting well over .300.

Name rating = Good, but doesn't take the bacon.

Jim Viox (IF) - Jim Viox is most notable for his last name resembling some kind of evil nerve gas in a Michael Bay movie. Viox debuted in 1912 and became the Pirates' starting second baseman during Pittsburgh's rough years. He batted .317 in 1913 and was a patient hitter, collecting 222 walks in 1989 plate appearances. He also led the league in unsuccessful evil plots. The Pirates released Viox in 1916 and, as will become a theme on this list, Jim was a successful minor-league ballplayer.

Name rating = Good enough for a James Bond flick.

Stump Edington (RF) - As a 20 year old, Jacob Edington hit .302/.339/.377 in 59 plate appearances with the Pirates in 1912. Those would be his only big-league plate appearances, as he then headed into the minor leagues and became a slugger in the Texas League. He is perhaps best known for always hitting the cutoff man. Eh? Get it? Stump...cutoff? [He actually had both arms, rendering this joke moot and irrelevant, like the rest of this blog.]

Name rating = Origins unknown. Probably should have run a bulldozer after baseball. Or been a private eye.

Ovid Nicholson (LF) - Also known as "Ovid Nicholson." Career batting line: 5-13, 3 RBI, 2 R, BB, 2 K, 1 SH. Good minor-league player, etc.

Name rating = Literally epic. This name, folks, is a winner. Proposed nickname in revisionist baseball history: Ovidraptor.

Ona Dodd (3B/2B) - Texan Dodd played four games at third base and one at second base. He never got a hit but walked once in 10 plate appearances and played from 1913-1918 in the Texas League but was never great.

Name rating = Top-notch. Author proposes that the baseball term "Texas Leaguer" be renamed "Ona Dodd."

Rivington Bisland (SS) - Bisland's career numbers indicate that he was inept with the bat (.118/.189/.127 in 112 plate appearances, career OPS+ of -6) but a good fielder. His 1912 totals with the Pirates were one unsuccessful pinch-hit appearance, though he played 12 games with the [terrible] 1913 St. Louis Browns and 18 games with the [godawful] 1914 Cleveland Naps. He is notable for two interesting facts: He died in Austria in 1971 and online sportscasting company Game Broadcasting Live LLC features a senior vice president who shares the name Rivington Bisland. It seems only natural to assume that Senior VP Bisland is actually the same person, thereby making him 121 years old, his foreign death a fake [Cremation? Yeah, right...] and the VP guy a vampire. Gather yon pitchfork3, denizen, for a bloodsucker must be smote!

Name rating = Also the name of that asshole kid who ran over your toes with a golf cart at the country club because he was on his third highball of the front 9. His dad totally owns a dealership.

1 The 1909 World Series was a classic. The Pirates won Game 1 and then alternated wins for the rest of the series with the Detroit Tigers. They clinched the title with a convincing 8-0 shutout behind the strong performance of Babe Adams, who picked up three of the Pirates four wins in the series.

2 Deacon Phillippe started and completed 5(!) games of the first World Series in 1903 with a 3-2 record. When asked about Jim Leyland's decision to not start Justin Verlander against the Rangers on short rest in Game 4 of the 2011 American League Championship Series, Phillippe was visibly confused by the phrase "short rest" and queried the reporter several times on Verlander's "level of hangover."

3 Frankenstein, Dracula, what's the difference? One represents man's will to tamper with nature, the other represents man's will for eternal life. Well, that, and apparently vampires are made of glitter like they're manufactured in a damn Hello Kitty factory.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Again with the time off

Pardon our dust while Eric wraps up things from his second endeavor into motorsports.

Read about it here!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rube Oldring: Look at his little hat!

Outfielder Reuben "Rube" Oldring was considered by at least one author to be the finest wearer of hats on the entire 1911 Philadelphia Athletics ball club.

Oldring also shared the field with ballists of similarly excellent nomenclature: Ossee Schrecengost, Frank "Home Run" Baker, Stuffy McInnis, Amos "Lightning" Strunk, Bris Lord and Chief Bender.

Perhaps Rube's finest accomplishment was being overshadowed by Home Run Baker's performance in the 1911 World Series.

Read more about Rube Oldring here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bill Slayback: The last name you wish you had

Surnames are interesting things. In the Scandinavian tradition, the last name was formed by adding a suffix to the father's name. Thus, one of Anders' son would be named Andersen, one of Nils' sons Nilsen, and so forth1. In English traditions, surnames were frequently derived from occupations (Miller, Smith) or from common family characteristics (Armstrong, Goodchild).

If we assume the last name of 1970s Detroit Tigers' pitcher Bill Slayback to be of English descent, we are presented with a linguistic conundrum: Were Bill Slayback's ancestors occupied in slaying backs or in having their backs slain2?

Since Bill Slayback was a mighty athlete who possessed a powerful voice3, this author assumes that his ancestors were (to borrow a phrase from The Means of Columbus, OH) "record holders in the blood purges." Given this [assumed] knowledge, it's easy to envision long-haired Slaybacks hard at work "cleaning out" the royal courts through means consistent with Shakespearean intrigue.

In 2006, Bill Slayback released an album titled "Lady Dancing on Fire" in obvious tribute to his ancestral ability to create innovative ways of smiting4. The title track features a guest appearance by "family friend" Joan of Arc5. The album gained positive reviews from acclaimed music critic Jim Leyland. No, really.

1 Please note that Norwegian and Danish names end in -sen. Only dirty Swedish names end in -son or -sson. And nobody cares about Iceland.

2 This is an English phenomenon known in some circles the "Alaska Laser Wash Vagueity," in which it is unclear whether (A) one should take their car there to be cleaned with a laser or (B) one should take their laser there to be washed.

3 In case you are unable to follow the links, Slayback famously recorded and released "Move Over Babe (Here Comes Henry)" in the offseason after the 1973 season with the help of legendary Tigers' announcer Ernie Harwell. Hank Aaron was just one home run short of Babe Ruth's record at the time.

4 It's claimed that Slayback played and recorded all instruments on the album. That claim has yet to be verified, as Ol' Bill is apparently nowhere on the Internet. If you can find some clips from the album, please link them below.

5 Too soon?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Wilbur 'Rawmeat Bill' Rodgers: Player, manager, amateur dietician

Pregame meals are well-documented among modern ballplayers: Team trainers and dieticians try to keep players looking like well-kept livestock in order to hit stratosphere-scraping home runs or to throw thousands of pitches each season.

But a little-known player/manager pioneered the base ballist's diet nearly 100 years ago. Wilbur "Raw Meat Bill" Rodgers played in the first half of the 20th Century, making appearances for three big-league clubs in 1915 and a few games for the 1916 Cincinnati Reds. I will decline to examine his career much, because NotGraphs has already collected some original footage of his rookie season (with period-correct soundtrack!1) here.

However, Raw Meat spent the majority of his career playing and managing in far-flung semi-pro leagues. His raw talent carried him in his early playing days with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League. But his talent faded soon and he began to focus on managing clubs in the late 1910s and early 1920s while his batting lines fell into the mid-.200s.

However, a preseason trip to San Bernadino Zoo2 in 1929 changed everything. While visiting the zoological park, a bull bison was erroneously fed 14 pounds of raw chuck3. It rampaged and streamrolled several park visitors. During the tirade, the bull's bloodshot eyes locked with Rodgers'. Wilbur felt the raw power of the bull in the stare and returned its gaze. The bison snorted and rampaged off, crushing a pram or two on its way to a nearby butcher shop.

In an instant, Bill Rodgers knew how to find his swing again: Raw meat, and lots of it. He soon took to a diet of only raw beef and he saw immediate results4. Perhaps it was Raw Meat's bright-red skin, his blind rage, or some other secret unlocked by turning carnivorous, but Rodgers batted over .300 for three consecutive seasons while in his 40s and further intimidated pitchers by gnawing on rival first basemen's forearms, torsos and/or faces.

Wilbur Rodgers insisted that his players follow the Raw Meat diet. The resulting ravenous roster required Rodgers' undivided attention, resulting in his retirement as a player to contain his dugout's bloodlust. Despite the scarcity of affordable meat during the Great Depression, Bill managed a string of hardy 1930s ballclubs with varying degrees of success/heart disease5: the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Des Moines Demons, the Panama City Pilots, the Peoria Tractors, the Sanford Lookouts (twice) and the Charlotte Hornets.

He soon found meat rations largely unavailable during World War 2 and disappeared from the managing circuit until after the war, when he managed the 1946 Peoria Redwings of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The Redwings, apparently unwilling to eat a diet of only raw meat, subsisted instead on a normal diet6. Unable to whip his players into a violent frenzy of bloodlust, Raw Meat was forced to attempt to actually manage the game. He was unsuccessful and the Redwings won a mere 33 games in their inaugural season.

Raw Meat seldom managed baseball thereafter (excluding a one-year stint in the Gulf Coast League in 1951). His whereabouts remained largely unknown, but rumor holds that he eventually turned to cooked meat and championed meat-with-meat-on-the-side meals and meat-inside-of-meat to the rest of America.

When he died in 1981 at 91 years old, an autopsy revealed that he had 113 pints of blood in his body.

1 May not be period-correct.

2 May not actually exist.

3 Bison are, of course, herbivores and typically only eat Herbert Perrys.

4 Like most ballplayers of the era, however, Rodgers' diet was supplemented by the finest meat tonics of the era. But the concentrated nutrimen of beef didn't create the same level of frenzy as raw cow.

5 Through means that were never adequately explained, Rodgers got his hand on 16 years' meat supply for the USS Montana during during his career in Peoria. His ballclubs consumed the rations in 13 months.

6 Rodgers' insistence on sticking with his all-meat diet and the subsequen meat-hangovers actually form the basis for Tom Hanks' character in 'A League of Their Own.'