Day 16 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Happy (Luke) Easter, all you wonderful name droppers

dick pole
In an episode of the revived series “Mad About You,” the name Dick Pole enters the conversation. At a funeral. Which leads to more … See the end of this post.

pete lacock

“Hall of Name: Baseball’s Most Magnificent Monikers from ‘The Only Nolan’ to
‘Van Lingle Mungo’ and More”

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The author:
D.B. Firstman

The publishing info:
Self-published by D.B. Books
$18
326 pages
Released March 17

The links:
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At IndieBound.org

More about the author:
SABR.org/author/db-firstman

The review in 90 feet or less

Luscious “Luke” Easter wasn’t born on an Easter Sunday, but he should have been.

He was a good egg.

The 491 games he logged with the Cleveland Indians, coming up as a 34-year-old rookie in 1949 shortly after they integrated their roster with Larry Doby, followed a run in the Negro Leagues, plus time with the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League.

EasterLuke“Easter is the only player I ever saw who can hit a baseball as far as Babe Ruth,” said then-Padres and future Angels coach Jimmie Reese. As his homers were known as “Easter Eggs,” he is said to have been the first to hit a ball into the center-field bleachers at the New York oblong Polo Grounds while with the Negro League’s Homestead Grays, a shot that was recorded at 477 feet.

In “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract“, Bill James rated Easter as the second-best first baseman in the history of the Negro Leagues behind Buck Leonard.

Easter’s tragic ending in 1979 came on March 29 – he was killed leaving a bank during a robbery – just two weeks before Easter fell that year.

The fact Easter didn’t make the cut of the Top 100 Hall of Fame names as picked first by Firstman is not blasphemy at all. But with that spirit, it shows the depth one can take with this sort of fascinating project.

Only a few can get here. Like …

TheOnlyNolan

Forget his 0.4 lifetime WAR. And the merits of his own Wikipedia page. For those who need to know now before purchasing this book:

“A range of possible origins of the nickname ‘The Only’ have been claimed over the years, one states that the reason for the name derives from the fact that no other Nolans, either first or last name had played or was playing in the majors at that time, therefore he was the only Nolan. The other is slightly more elaborate. In the period following the Civil War, a wildly successful minstrel performer of the day, named Francis Leon, rose to prominence performing a burlesque act while simultaneously in both blackface and drag. His popularity prompted many imitators. In response, Leon began billing himself and his act as, “The Only Leon.” The theory follows then that Ed Nolan somehow reminded an observer of Leon, thus sparking the similar nickname.”

For the record: We shall choose to believe the later. Again, because of a fondness for names. Our paternal grandfather was named Francis Leon, but disliked his first name. Hated to be called “Frankie,” so he went by his middle name. Which was then passed onto me as my middle name. His nickname: “Hoffy” (with a long “o”), which has transcended many generations, but does not get us any discounts on a certain brand of non-Germanic wieners.

If only Pope Francis today could have showed him how to embrace such a special name now.

1901 Boston Americans cover v2Then there’s the fabulous Van Lingle Mungo, which sounds like a local tow-truck company but is actually a former Dodgers pitcher who became the melodious inspiration for a jazzy jazz song that plays off the lyrical sounds of his and 36 other major league player names. It wasn’t released until 1969. The recording is on the YouTube.com post above. More here on page 121.

(Plus, a book just one him by Bill Nowin, left, by SABR).

Oddible McDowell? One of the best nicknames produced by ESPN’s Chris Berman was Oddibe “Young Again” McDowell. Page 116.

Milton Bradley? Don’t remind Dodger fans of the games he played with himself and everyone else. Page 90.

(There are also name anagrams, and for Milton Bradley, we get: Boldly intolerable me. Can’t do much better).

We know a great baseball name when we read it, squint at it, and then try to spit it out. But as the kids say in the national spelling bee: Can we have the origin? The etymology? Can you use it in a sentence without snickering? The Urban Shocker isn’t that someone is finally celebrating a subjective 100 names for ethnicity and authenticity. It’s that it’s done so compelling, in a way that doesn’t just hit a few notes and is shelved away as trivial reference.

The framework provided here by the Society of American Baseball Research veteran scribe makes it more than just gimmickry. They’re divided into “Poets and Men of Few (Different) Letters,” “Dirty Names Done Dirt Cheap,” “Sounds Good to Me” and “No Focus Group Convened.”

However the groupings work, the content follows with form and fashion, intelligence and whimsy, and even the beautiful way to pull everything else together in a reaffirming category called “ephemera.”

How much is this all worth? Name your price. But you’ll never try to melodiously pronounce Rusty Kuntz or Boots Poffenberger incorrectly again.

An author Q&A

Xitj0eZ0_400x400From their home from the Forest Hills section of Queens, N.Y., Firstman says their dad brought them up as a Yankee fan. Firstt favorite player: Bobby Murcer. Then Gary Carter … now it’s Sandy Koufax.
But none of them have goofy names.
Which led to the line of questioning:

QQQQQThe first odd player name that jumped out at me as a kid was Pete LaCock, but listening to Vin Scully pronounce it when the Dodges were playing the Cubs made it all OK. Then finding out his father was Peter Marshall of “Hollywood Squares” was even more intriguing. What was your “first”?

AAAAs-l400When I was 9 years old, I distinctly remember the name of Celerino Sanchez, a middling third baseman for the equally-middling Yankees of 1972. He was usurped by (the acquisition of) Graig Nettles for the 1973 season, and that was the end of his career in the bigs. But “Celerino” stuck with this 9-year-old …. because it sounded like a fancy kind of Italian celery, and “Celerino Sanchez” was kind of melodic.
As for names actually in the book: Gotta go with Bris(tol) Robotham Lord. Not just for the name, but for the nickname of “The Human Eyeball.”

QQQQQHow did you compile your list, then cut it down and figure out categories?

52084

AAAAI used a file in the Lahman Baseball Database that has demographic information on the over 18,000 players in MLB history. I manually went through the entire list, and noted which ones struck a chord with me. I also consulted a list of “double unique” names — players whose first and last names have never been part of any other player’s name, such as Purnal Goldy — which is compiled by SABR member Bruce Brown. From those lists, I had about 250 or so possible names to work with at least on a first pass.
From there I did some preliminary research, seeing if the player had a Wikipedia bio, or a SABR Baseball Bio Project writeup, or was included in any other “reference” book of player bios from a particular era. I also checked to see if their first/middle/last names had etymologies in my numerous online and paperback sources. If I found enough material from that excursion, I put him in the “yes” pile.
I was going to just list all 100 players — and I decided 100 was a good number to profile, early on — alphabetically. But then I decided to group the names based on shared characteristics …. did the names rhyme, were they alliterative, were they naughty-sounding, or melodious, or were they just plain weird to me.

QQQQQHow as a member of the Casey Stengel chapter of SABR helped you connect with fellow researchers over the year, share stories and ideas, and launch into this project?

AAAAActually, I relied on my friends in SABR, regardless of the chapter they were in. I didn’t specifically seek out the NYC chapter — we only physically meet one time a year. I just knew enough SABRites on Facebook and Twitter (especially people like John Thorn and Jacob Pomrenke), that if I didn’t know the answer to a question, I’d post it to them, or to my Facebook universe at large, or to the SABR group on Facebook. If John Thorn didn’t know the answer, he would still point me to someone who probably did know the answer. I had questions about naming conventions for certain ethnicities, or whether it was true that a certain player did indeed commit suicide, and SABRites answered these questions.

QQQQQFor those who’ve set out to write a book and ran into hurdles — what is the value in self-publishing this? Is it like selling your own house – a lot of hidden hurdles, fees, contracts, etc? Was it worth that journey into itself, no matter what the subject matter? What are the pros and cons and teachable moments?

AAAAI first approached a couple of niche, independent publishers (with an intro facilitated by Thorn) about my idea for a book of these names back in 2012. The common response was: “Personally we love the concept, we just don’t think its gonna sell.” So I tabled the book idea until 2018, and in the interim the self-publishing world had blossomed.
I looked for any other books with my topic, and found only one other, also self-published, in 2015. So I knew the market might be ripe for my book, and I stubbornly decided to publish it on my own. 🙂
It was totally worth the journey, although I had as much stress researching/writing the manuscript as getting the manuscript into book form. The pros was that whatever I wanted to include in the book, I could (I did seek out some established authors for feedback early on). I controlled every aspect, from the title to the cover idea to how many pictures to include.
The cons? The expense. Acquiring the photo rights, lining up a cover illustrator, purchasing an ISBN, shelling out for advance review copies (next time I’m just going to send out PDFs as my advance copies). I was fortunate in that a friend of mind does book design/layout for a living, so he took my manuscript and turned it into a beautiful book, for which he only asked me for three signed copies as payment.
As for the cover, I knew exactly what I wanted it look like, but I have no drawing/art talent. So I posted a “help wanted” to my Facebook and Twitter friends. I sifted through the responses, and soon found an illustrator whose style was exactly what I was going for. We agreed on a price, and I gave him the general specs of how it should look. We went through a few iterations of the cover, and the end product is, if I may say so, eye-catching.

crisssp
Oakland Athletics’ Coco Crisp wears his hair out while warming up before their game against the Texas Rangers in 2011 at the Coliseum in Oakland. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/East Bay Times)

QQQQQDid you find in the unearthing about how ethnic history and intersection of cultures often produces these most fabulous of compromises when parents name their kids? Like your story with Covelli Loyce Crisp, before “Coco” even came into the ID use. (It was even a nice excuse to go find out what’s up with him lately – coaching high school).

AAAAYes, or stories like Cal McLish’s, where his father didn’t have much input on his earlier children’s names, so he gave Cal like six middle names to make up for it.

QQQQQKnowing Crisp went to Inglewood High and Pierce College before the big leagues, and with an Southern California audience here, can you pick your favorites of this region and what you found interesting after further research?

AAAAs-l300In retirement, Texas-born Ferris Fain settled down in El Dorado County, California. In 1985, at the age of 64, he was arrested for growing marijuana. He pleaded guilty, served four months under house arrest, and received five years probation. He claimed he needed money and so grew the plants out of necessity. In 1988, agents raided his home and discovered a large-scale operation with more than 400 plants, processed pot, and ledgers detailing purchases and sales. Fain was arrested again, and this time spent 18 months in a state prison.
bradley_miltonMilton Bradley was born in Harbor City in 1978 (and went to Long Beach Poly, with Chase Utley). He posted a 113 OPS+ for his career, but wore out his welcome repeatedly, suiting up for eight teams in 12 years. Then Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta on Bradley’s considerable baggage: “When we traded for Milton, I think we knew everything that came along with it. We knew the past; we don’t necessarily think that everything’s going to be completely different because he came to a different place. That’s fine. I would take nine Milton Bradleys if I could get them.” Bradley appeared in 216 games for the Dodgers during the two years he was with them. 

QQQQQAfter reading this story from HighHeelsOntheField.com, you’ve had your own renewed history about finding a name, an identity. You grew up named Diane. Now you’re D.B. Can you explain a bit about your own fascinating “name” journey and maybe how the book fits into that process?

AAAAI think I had reached a point in my life where I wanted to express myself, as a writer and its turns out, as a person, in a new way. Writing-wise, I had done the blog circuit and penned articles for various baseball sites, and had garnered good press for my examination of the “Three True Outcomes” in baseball. But I wanted to do something different creatively.
I was offered a chance to write a book, but I ultimately passed on that opportunity because it wasn’t quite the right fit for me. But the idea of writing a book stuck with me, and after an aborted attempt on a different topic, came back to the “names.”
As a person, I felt “stuck” in my body and gender identity, two constructs that were foisted upon me without my ability to consent. I suppose the confidence I was gaining in putting the book together filtered into my enthusiasm for “redefining” myself based on how I saw my body and gender. 
And the amusing aspect of all this was that I came to this decision/epiphany after the book cover (much of it hand-drawn) was done. So I had to get the illustrator to change all references to my “old” name.

overallQQQQQYou discover Orval Overall has 11 letters in his name, and only six are unique, and he ended up as director of the California State Automobile Association. Did finding this kind of info make you digging for more?

AAAA Oh yes, I’m an inquisitive sort and my favorite books are reference books, dictionaries and the like. I always have a quest for “knowledge” (some might say “trivia”). I also have the kind of brain that notices patterns like the letters in Orval Overall.

QQQQQOverall, is there a perfect “baseball” name? It is alliteration that gives a Mickey Mantle the same magic as Orval Overall … or even Buddy Biancalana (which seemed to be a David Letterman favorite for such a long time that he made it a running gag)?

ca-times.brightspotcdn.com

AAAAI think the “perfect” baseball name is truly a subjective thing. I might like alliterative names. You might like rhyming names. Someone else might dig hard-to-spell ones. The “glory” years for baseball names was really around the turn of the 20th century. It seems like every player was playing with a “nickname” or “playing” name that was different than their given name. You don’t get as much of that nowadays.
Oh …. I personally love the name Shigetoshi Hasegawa …. but that doesn’t say baseball like Mickey Morandini or Joe Jackson. 

QQQQQDPHw--UWAAUguWnSo Johnny Dickshot was born John Oscar Dicksus. And his nickname was “Ugly”… Doesn’t that sound like a book unto itself?

AAAAI’m not convinced someone hasn’t already approached McFarland with just such a proposal. 

QQQQQ What do you enjoy about the word “epherma” and introducing that to readers?

AAAAI wanted to have a section that dealt with mostly non-baseball facts/factoids/figures that really didn’t fit in the “bio” portion of each profile. “Ephemera” seemed like a better catch-all term that “trivia” or “other interesting things” or “etcetera.”

How it goes in the scorebook

71lBrZZ7RzLThere’s this backpage praise to read first from John Thorn who give this a rousing stamp of approval:

As for our naming rights:
It’s crisp. Like Coco Crisp (page 12).
It works. Like, Ralph Works (page 303).
It doesn’t suck. Sorry, Tony Suck (page 80).
It shines. Like Razor Shines (page 139).
It’s heavenly. Like Bris Lord (page 215).
There’s no sleeping on this subject. Like Nap Lajoie (page 209).
It’ll be lasting. Like Lastings Milledge (page 118).

On Easter Sunday, we also can think of Jack Spring, Ryan Pope, Bobby Wine, Billy Sunday, Lave Cross, Eddie Priest, Justin Christian, Christian Yelich, Mike Palm, Ray Lamb, Mike Lamb, Ryan Church, Travis Chick, Kenneth Yoke, Ted Lilly, Rabbit Maranville, Bunny Madden, Joe Rabbitt, Jesus Alou and Edward Lent. Even Ham Hyatt.

What about Angel Pagan? Seems like a mixed message, which Firstman tackles on page 252.

pagan

The mother of invention: The PBBClub.com

More name dropping

== A video chat with the Pandemic Baseball Book Club’s Brad Balukjian:

== A review from SABRBaseballCards.blog
== More podcasts appearances with NatGM.com Ryan Sullivan; with the TwoStrikeNoise.podbean.com show; with BaseballByTheBook.com Episode 243; with MetsMerizedOnline.com show, and AmazinAvenue.com A Pod of Their Own show.

Mad about names

Going back up to the top: During the current Spectrum On Demand reboot of the sit-com “Mad About You” with Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt, there’s an episode called “The Will to Live” about how a long lost Dick Pole baseball card became a running gag.
That led to Jamie going to her phone — at a wake — and reciting other baseball names aloud.
Like …

cannonball titcom
johnny dickshot
stubbyclapp
pussy

Firstman says they haven’t seen the show, “but many of the readers of my book have commented on the lack of Mr. Pole in the book. I’ve promised them he will appear in the sequel.”

1 thought on “Day 16 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Happy (Luke) Easter, all you wonderful name droppers”

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