Friday, December 23, 2011

Steve Christmas to all, and to all holiday-inspired lethargy!

Dear Great Names in Baseball readers:

In lieu of our annual imaginary Christmas letter, please enjoy this epic poem account of Steve Christmas' lone major league home run as a member of the Chicago White Sox in September 19, 1984, contest against the Minnesota Twins.

'Twas the night of Steve Christmas, when all through the 'dome1
Most players were napping, just longing for home;
Much effort, most players would scarcely spend
As they waited for 1984's campaign to end2;
Mike Smithson took his tosses at the crest of the mound,
And in the dugout, Tony LaRussa wore a trademark frown.
Fisk wore his street shoes, while Marc Hill donned the gear,
And Kittle the DH cracked open a beer3.

When on the fake lawn there arose such a clatter,
Yet Twins fans scarcely bothered to see the matter.
Smithson swore loudly, as in a short burst
Greg Walker doubled home two runs in the first.
Bannister followed with four shutout innings,
But the ballgame, you see, was only beginning.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer
With Tim Laudner batting, neither lively nor quick,
The Twins evened the game with one stroke of his stick.

More rapid than eagles the scoring now came,
And the doers, some still remembered by name:
"Now, Jose Cruz! Now, Rudy Law! Now, Hairston and Baines!
On, Gaetti! On Teufel! Brunansky, more names!"
To the seventh, game tied, the Sox get two on;
But with two outs on whom would Tony summon?
When, what should appear to Sox fans so listless,
But backup-backup catcher Steve Christmas!
He strode to the plate to bat in a pinch,
To hopefully be the ballgame's ubermensch.

And soon, in a growling, I heard the ump call
That the count had two strikes and also three balls
As I went to the kitchen for a mid-game snack,
Smithson's pitch down the middle was met with a crack.
Christmas felt the impact, from his head to his foot,
And the ball sailed over the fence for now and for good.
Christmas rounded the bases for the first time that day,
While Kittle indifferently guzzled away.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

Steve came to the dugout expecting hero praise,
But scarcely an eyebrow was seen to be raised.

He thought it to be a rookie prank of some kind,
But the season's disappointment soon changed his mind.
Kittle had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
Christmas sat down beside him as the Sox scored again,
Hoping Kittle would maybe become a new friend.
But Ron had seen enough kids play and flop,
To waste his breath on this young backstop.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
Of emptying his Budweiser and acting a jerk.

And just when Christmas thought he'd get no joy,
Fisk finally sauntered over to give an "attaboy."
Then Kittle caved and Christmas cheered Bannister
And Ronny boy offered to split a brew cannister.
Chicago held on to win by four tallies,
In what would be the last Christmas rally.
But I heard Kittle say, ere to the minors he sinks,
Steve Christmas to all, and to all have a drink!

1 The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, once home to the Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Vikings, the University of Minnesota football team and hearing loss

2 The White Sox 1984 season was a letdown after the Sox won the American League West title in 1983.

3 There is no indication that Ron Kittle ever drank in the dugout or during a game. But since he went 0-4 with 4 strikeouts in this game, I'm taking some creative liberties with the game's narrative. It's not unheard of.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rollie Fingers: Hall of Fame Haiku, Vol. 2 (Electric Bugaloo)

Roland Glen Fingers was a Hall of Fame relief pitcher, and, as such, countless words have been written about his career and his legacy. An equal number of words have been written about his Salvador-Dali-meets-Frank-Zappa mustache, which is an inspiration to gross-looking hipsters the world over. Feel free to peruse the Interwebs for more on Rollie Fingers' career, facial hair and tax-dodging allegations.

For the time being, let us consider that Fingers was the progenitor of unique facial hair among relief pitchers. Many have tried to emulate Fingers' style, but few have succeeded. And some have failed miserably, as this twice-updated blog pointed out in 2009.

And so we bring forth our second volume of GNIB's Hall of Fame Haiku for Rollie Fingers (Click for Volume 1):

Language lessons
W is win;
It's written on Rollie's face
Only with more twists.

Man of the year
I don't need Rolaids,
To spell the first bullpen ace.
I just need Fingers.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lance Berkman: Big Puma or Fat Elvis?

Hi, everybody! Steve here – I’ve not been holding up my end of the GNIB deal, so I’ve decided to awaken from my slumber with a dual-nickname extravaganza! Given that GNIB (read: Eric) has focused on the amazing names from the distant past, I decided it might also be nice to keep the contemporary baseball fan involved.

With that in mind, I present Exhibit A: William Lance Berkman. Mr. Berkman is a baseball playing guy for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was born in Texas, played high school ball in Texas, moved onto college ball in Texas, and then was drafted by the Houston Astros. He’s as Texas as Hank Hill and, clearly, he is not to be messed with1.

As it turns out, Lance Berkman is extremely good at hitting baseballs. He’s put up video game numbers2 at pretty much every level, including the majors. Berkman has a career slash line of .296/.409/.545 and OPS+ of 146 in his 13-season career with the Astros, Yankees, and Cardinals. Wowza!

But of course, as a contemporary baseball fan, you know all about Lance Berkman’s baseballing prowess. So let’s get down to business – how did this man end up with two fantastic nicknames in an era where even some of the biggest stars have crappy nicknames derived from the initials-and-syllables formula?

Well, let’s begin with Fat Elvis. It’s a simple enough explanation – he has an uncanny resemblance to Elvis Presley during his later, more rotund days3. This is particularly evident when smirking, as they have similar eyes/nose/cheeks. Here are a couple photos for your comparative viewing – one of Elvis and one of Lance. I know what you’re thinking – when did Lance Berkman enter an Elvis lookalike contest4 and when did Elvis Presley play professional baseball?

Obviously that nickname makes sense. So, then, where does he pick up the moniker Big Puma? Well, by giving himself the nickname – sort of. Apparently in addressing his Fat Elvis nickname on a Houston radio show, Berkman said "I'm more like a puma, so I'm not sure why people call me Fat Elvis." The hosts ran with it and it caught on5.

What’s the final word? Well, I choose Fat Elvis for two reasons; 1) he’s delusional if he isn’t sure why people call him Fat Elvis, because he’s a dead ringer; and 2) no person, not even Lance Berkman, is allowed to give himself a nickname. However, this is just one man’s opinion – feel free to voice your own thoughts in the comments section!

1 In fact, if you believe Little Texas6, you might even submit that God blessed his origins, and by extension, him. And given how religious Mr. Berkman is, that seems reasonable.

2 People usually say “PlayStation numbers,” but I feel that’s discriminatory against people like me who don’t own anything newer than a Sega Genesis.

3 In reality, Lance Berkman is certainly heavier than young Elvis, but decidedly more trim than the later fat Elvis. Should we really be calling him “Fat Young Elvis” or “Skinny Fat Elvis” instead? Or maybe even Tiny Elvis?

4 And while we're talking about lookalikes, I think Elvis in the 1970s was actually in a Neil Diamond lookalike contest.

5 I did a significant amount of investigation, none of which revealed any physical resemblance between an actual puma and Lance Berkman.

6 Yeah, that's right, a digression away from a digression. I just wanted to note that if you happened to go to middle school where I did, you probably remember that Little Texas song from running laps in gym class. Still no explanation as to why it was played.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rolla Mapel: Great Names in Small Missouri Towns

Today, Great Names in Baseball explores new ground, both literally and figuratively. Inspired by coffee-cupper Rolla Mapel, we shall examine the names of a series of small towns in the middle-American state of Missouri.

Rolla Mapel was born in Lee's Summit, Missouri, in 1890. His parents, ever homesick for their city of origin1, named the boy after their hometown of Rolla, Missouri. Rolla Mapel would eventually pitch in several leagues of the Great Plains before starting four games for the stinky St. Louis Browns in 1919. His only claim to fame in baseball is that the Browns turned a triple play in his debut, something that would only happen again in 2002 to Dewon Brazelton. He died in 1966 in a far-flung land called "San Diego."

But none of that baseball crap matters. Instead, we'll trace a possible route2 of Rolla's young parents on their journey through the villages of central Missouri en route to a new life in the shadow of Kansas City.

Rolla - (Pop. 19,000 or so) Mapels' journey began here. This city was allegedly named after a bloodthirsty hunting dog. Or it was named by people who had immigrated there from the capital city of North Carolina. Either story is disappointing when one considers that the town was nearly named Hardscrabble. Rolla is home to Missouri S&T and Tom Shipley of Brewer & Shipley. It is also the birthing place of gold-medal gymnasticist Shannon Miller, about whom nobody cared after seeing the gutsy and in-every-Olympic-highlight-film-of-all-time performance of Kerri Strug in 1996. Permission to weep nostalgic and patriotic tears of joy: Granted.

Town name rating: I am disappoint. I repeat: It could have been called Hardscrabble!

Meta - (Pop. 249) This town is so its-name that it's actually another city called Babbtown. The account of the Mapels' journey that I am fabricating as I write tells of how every conversation in Meta is so self-referential that nobody in the town actually knows anything about anything.

Town name rating: This is not a town name rating.

Climax Springs - (Pop. 80) This village is named after a factory in its confines that makes components for erotic mattresses. Because this hack writer is using a computer at his day job and is terrified of what search engines may retrieve, no more information will be provided. According to some outside sources, however, this is the second-most Not-Safe-For-Work (NSFW) municipality in Camden County.

Town name rating: 3-1/2 Magic Fingers

Warsaw - (Pop. 2000) Warsaw has recorded both the highest temperature (118 degrees in 1954) in the state and the lowest (-40 degrees in 1905). At least one Wikipedia editor claims the city is often referred to as "The Gateway to the South." Warsaw's annual Christmas celebration falls on December 3 (that's tomorrow) this year. The festivities will include a performance from country musicians/convicted train robbers The Osage Outlaws at the community center [**Disclaimer: This is not indended to be a factual statement**]3. Citizens have heard repeatedly that LOT Airlines will fly there once a day, but so far they haven't seen a damn jet anywhere near Warsaw Municipal Airport.

Town name rating: Poland? Now you're just making places up.

Tightwad - (Pop. 64) While the claim is unconfirmed, Tightwad may be the only community named after a bartering bait-and-switch that involved a watermelon, a chicken and a postman. It is also home to a niche-market novelty bank.

Town name rating: Clearly worth a watermelon. Remember: When you control(led the mail in the mid-19th century), you control(led)...the names of backwater towns!

La Tour - (Pop. 60) La Tour is a community that, in 2000, voted to disincorporate the village. The village had been incorporated in 1968 in an inspired bid to "take the whole town on tour" as a traveling musical act: The La Tour of del Mundo World. The group/village canceled their first show 35 minutes after leaving town when they received word from their neighbor Rose Hill that La Tour had been ransacked by The Osage Outlaws, who had lain in wait for weeks after hearing promotional radio ads for the tour. Their idea would later be actualized when the Polyphonic Spree took the city of Dallas on tour in 2001.

Town name rating: The story of La Tour is a bit of a stretch, if I'm honest.

Gunn City - (Pop. ??) No Wikipedia entry exists for Gunn City, but sources say that gunfights break out regularly there. Gunn City resident Conrad Durham is said to have been shot in the Gunn City Lutheran Church's belltower and fallen to an indeterminate place in town at least 374 times. Visitors be warned: A salty attitude will get a feller punched, but Gunn City ain't got no room for nice guys, neither.

Town name rating: In a state with lax policies on firearms, anyplace called "Gunn City" is essentially the state's cerebral cortex.

Lone Jack - (Pop. 528) This small city is famous for a Civil War battle that raged in the town's streets for five hours. The municipality was founded by Jack Sparrow (any resemblance to film characters is purely coincidental), who first settled the area as a bachelor in 1813. Legend has it that Sparrow defended his cabin from a badger infestation using only meager rations, a box of bullets and his wits. Sparrow died while fording a river.

Town name rating: 2 spare wagon tongues or 357 pounds of food

Lee's Summit - (Pop. 91,000) Notable for having the mockumentary "Jesus Camp" filmed there, in part. It's also home to rapper and linguistic curiosity Tech N9ne. Tech N9ne's 1999 debut included a track called "Mizzizy Gets Bizzy," a tribute to the products made in Climax Springs.

Town name rating: Tutonka

1 I actually have no way of knowing that Rolla Mapels' parents were from Rolla, Missouri. Consider it an intellectual leap taken with creative license. Like a biopic.

2 There is no way of knowing if the roads on the above-pictured route even existed, as Missouri records do not pre-date 1951. Many of the roads, however, show clear evidence of having been built by the Romans. Rome conquered Missouri, right?

3 To reiterate: Everything on this blog is meant as hyperbole. Anything that resembles a fact is patently false. If you enjoy historically inaccurate writing commonly taken as fact, please consider reading this book.