The middle of Christmas / New Years week is no time for hard hitting news or brain strain caused by disagreements over year end organizational moves. We’ve had several days now to dissect the Yuniesky Betancourt signing and consider what it means to the organization. Half of Royal Nation has been calling for Dayton Moore’s head on a platter over this decision, and the other half have yawned and scoffed at all the silly fuss over a part-time utility player.
Just since last week, we signed Twins castoff Jose Mijares as a left handed reliever to take some pressure off Tim Collins, and we’ve pondered the merits of chasing after Roy Oswalt to bolster our rotation. Whether you agree or disagree with these moves and potential moves, I’m glad they’re giving us a reason to talk baseball. Not a bad week’s work for a small market team smack in the middle of the cold offseason.
Enough with the hard news. Now that Christmas is over, you’ve opened your presents and drank the egg nog, it’s time to loosen your belt and join me in a light hearted look at the history of the Royals and some of the names that have made the games entertaining.
When I was younger, I frequently imagined standing in the on deck circle at Kauffman stadium as my name was announced over the public address system to the beat of my pounding walk-on music blaring in the background. “Now batting… Alan Barrington!” Somehow, it never sounded quite right. The problem is that I’m not blessed with a gritty baseball player name like George Brett, Joe Randa, or Eric Hosmer. It’s a good name, I’m very happy with it, but it’s just not a great name for a baseball player.
Some people have names that clearly foretell their future as a ball player. When Colt Griffin was growing up, you just knew he would be a baseball player. Well, not a very good player. Good enough I suppose to throw a 100 mph fastball while he was still in high school and get drafted by the Royals in the first round in 2001. But not good enough to ever appear in the Show, and therefore, not eligible to be included on our Royals All-Time Name Team.
Some people were lucky enough to be born with great baseball names, like Razor Shines, a former Montreal Expos player. I always loved the names Mickey Mantle, Satchel Paige, Thurman Munson, Bucky Dent, and Cal Ripken. These guys were all tagged with monikers that demanded they play baseball rather than grow up to be an accountant or sales person. Can you imagine a 12-year-old Mickey Mantle stepping into the box against your son’s little league team? His name alone would strike fear into the hearts of all the pimple faced greasy haired kids in the opposing uniforms.
There are a few guys who came close to making our Royals All-Time Name Team, but for one reason or another didn’t quite fit. For instance, I think Paul Schaal’s name has a nice ring to it, but it wasn’t quite “basebally” enough. Paul was a pretty decent 3rd baseman for the Royals, and if you’ve been around Kansas City long enough, you may recall he made a pretty mean pizza back in the late 70’s. I tried my first ever slice of Canadian Bacon and Pineapple at his long gone restaurant on 103rd St.
There is no substitute for being born with a great baseball name, but for the rest of us, we can always acquire a nickname. There are some lists of great baseball names around the Internet and most of these are focused on Nicknames. ESPN recently published their list of favorite nicknames which included Charlie Hustle (Pete Rose), Stan the Man (Stan Musial), Hammerin’ Hank (Hank Aaron), Mr. October (Reggie Jackson), Shoeless Joe (Joe Jackson), Oil Can (Dennis Boyd), and The Babe / Sultan of Swat (George Herman Ruth.)
Some of my personal all time favorite nicknames include: The Big Unit (Randy Johnson), El Duque (Orlando Hernandez), Godzilla (Hideki Matsui), The Human Rain Delay (Mike Hargrove), Pudge (Ivan Rodriguez), The Big Hurt (Frank Thomas), and Catfish (Jim Hunter.)
Nicknames can also be a point of contention for me. I never liked nicknames that seemed contrived, such as “The Mexicutioner” for Joakim Soria, or my recent attempt to pin the “Manos de Piedra” tag on Yuniesky Betancourt. To be a really good nickname, it must be organic. (I’m still planning to blog about Yuni’s “hands of stone” every time he boots a ball in the infield next Summer, just wait and see.)
Because I have nothing better to do over the Christmas holiday, I decided to create a list of my favorite Royals player names. This list combines the best of both worlds – those who were blessed with great baseball names at birth, and those who earned great nicknames later.
Please keep in mind, inclusion on this list does not require impressive lifetime stats. (See particularly entry #3 – Balboni, and # 9 – Biancalana.) Anyone who played baseball for the Royals at any time since 1969 and had an awesome baseball name was considered.
Here’s the list, from number 10 down to number 1:
#10 – Dick Drago
#9 – Buddy Biancalana
#8 – Pete LaCock
#7 – Onix Concepcion
#6 – “Sweet Lou” Piniella
#5 – Clint Hurdle
#4 – Amos Otis
#3 – Steve “Bye Bye” Balboni
#2 – Al Hrabosky, “The Mad Hungarian”
#1 – Cookie Rojas
If you’re wondering, this list is totally unscientific. I didn’t poll anyone or get anyone else’s opinion, so you can’t blame anyone but me if you disagree. However, I encourage you to leave your own thoughts in the comments below. Who did I omit? Who did I get wrong? And who would you include in your Royals All-Time Name Team?
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