Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Baseball Newsstand > Baseball Primer Newsblog > Discussion
Baseball Primer Newsblog
— The Best News Links from the Baseball Newsstand

Friday, August 01, 2014

Bill James Mailbag - 7/13/14 - 7/22/14 (Subscription Required)

And what about the VORP of Geddy Lee?

... Have you ever looked at the decline (% wise) of nicknames historically? Seems to me like they are way down - unless made up for show now days (“King’ James LeBron). Jeter, Trout, etc., are not referred by nick names now…....any thoughts? An aside, one of my aunts had a family nickname back in the day, and her husband of like 30 years of marriage, called my mom to ask what her real name was ....... we used to be named and defined by our nick names, now not so much ..... and in sports I think the names were much richer

There is a difference between a nickname and a family name. My grandmother’s name was “Willa”, like Willa Cather, but she was called “Bill”; I was named George William and called Bill, after my grandmother. But that’s a family name, as opposed to a nickname; a nickname for me would be like “The Bearded Bastard” or “The Doctor of Decimal Points” or something. A lot of the names that were in the game in the 1918 era were actually family names which were just syllables, and I would suspect there might be more of those around than we notice, because each generation assumes that THEIR family names are normal. (Paragraph) But you have a point; COLORFUL nicknames, interesting nicknames, have certainly disappeared because of some twist of manners. A nickname reduces a player to the dimensions of the nickname. It states what is important about that player in a manner not chosen by the player himself, and in our current environment we tend to regard that as disrespectful. I may get skinned for putting it this way, but we don’t refer to Billy Hamilton as Flying Billy for generally the same reasons that we don’t refer to people from Mexico as Wetbacks.

Geddy Lee of Rush has long been a big baseball fan… In fact I recall an interview (checking, and yes, I’m right) almost completely about Lee’s familiarity with your work, Bill. He says he got into the Abstracts right after they moved from the homemade versions to the national release. Has he ever reached out to you? Seems like a very pleasant, interesting guy.

No, I’ve never had personal contact with him, that I know of. He does seem like a good guy.

Hey Bill, what would you say the chances are that Nick Markakis totals 3000 hits? I was looking over his numbers and he seems far more likely to do it than I ever expected.

Well, in terms of hits and age, he’s in a good position. The issue to be tested over time is whether he is a good enough player to stay in the league long enough to get the second 1500 hits.

I’m surprised you were that sanguine about Markakis’s chance for 3000 hits. I know that you qualified it with the “if” about whether he’s good enough to last long enough, but, isn’t THAT the main part of it, and isn’t it a clear enough “No”?

It is not clear, no. It might be 90% clear, but it’s certainly not 100% clear. Doc Cramer had 1700 hits after the age of 30; Markakis is a much better player than Doc Cramer. Markakis, now 30, will need about 1,450 hits after this season. All of the following had 1,400 or more hits after age 30: Sam Rice, Craig Biggio, Omar Vizquel, Jim O’Rourke, Doc Cramer, Luke Appling, Edgar Martinez, Steve Finley, Lave Cross, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez, Andres Galarraga, Jake Daubert, Cy Williams, Dave Parker, Raul Ibanez, Ozzie Smith, Enos Slaughter and Brian Downing. I is not apparent that Markakis could not do as well.

Players that could have been pitchers and hitters? Olerud and Winfield immediately come to mimd. Both were excellent pitchers at the college level who werent given the opportunity to pitch at the MLB level. Can you think of anyone else?

Hundreds. Literally. Greinke could play in the majors as an infielder. Catfish Hunter could have, Bob Gibson probably. Mark McGwire was a pitcher, I don’t know how good. There’s a lot of them. Who was that guy who was a tremendous two-way player at LSU. . . Cincinnati drafted him and made him a pitcher, which was obviously the wrong decision, but after two years everybody decided that it was too late to go back and get it right. Which I never understood. .. .. Ken Brett was a terrific hitter. Somebody asked him, when he was about 34, whether, if he could go back and do it over again, he would be an outfielder or first baseman. He said “absolutely.”

The District Attorney Posted: August 01, 2014 at 12:36 PM | 32 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bill james, music, nick markakis, nicknames, orioles, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Rennie's Tenet Posted: August 01, 2014 at 02:57 PM (#4762648)
Is Gibson the best athlete among pitchers?
   2. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 01, 2014 at 03:01 PM (#4762651)
Players that could have been pitchers and hitters? Olerud and Winfield immediately come to mimd.


And the aforementioned Nick Markakis was seriously considered as a pitcher.
   3. AROM Posted: August 01, 2014 at 03:19 PM (#4762662)
And the aforementioned Nick Markakis was seriously considered as a pitcher.


When the Orioles drafted Markakis, they had just signed their previous pick, Adam Loewen. Rules were different, they held Loewen's rights right up to the next draft. People were surprised Nick was drafted as an OF and Adam was going to pitch, as opinion was split on which role was best for them.

Loewen blew out his arm, switched to the OF, and actually made it back to the majors briefly. Played a full season in AA last year as an outfielder, and now I see he has returned to the mound, pitching for Reading.

The idea that a Babe Ruth can never happen again because ballplayers are too specialized now doesn't seem right to me. Players are switching all the time. Though I agree there will never be another Babe, a superstar pitcher turning into a superstar hitter. My reasoning is that if you have a player that talented, you'll never give him a chance to pitch in the first place.

I do believe Bryce Harper has enough of an arm to be a top of the rotation starter if he wanted to*. But why take the risk? Cespedes can throw 100 MPH based on analysis of him throwing out Howie Kendrick earlier this year.

*OK, if I use that phrase I am obligated to mention Ichiro. Come on Yankees, let him pitch the next mop up game.
   4. Steve N Posted: August 01, 2014 at 03:37 PM (#4762669)
Gibson the best athlete among pitchers? I don't think so. I remember Gene Conley and he was a good pitcher and a Boston Celtic. That sound pretty athletic to me.
   5. Ron J2 Posted: August 01, 2014 at 03:41 PM (#4762671)
#3 Wade Boggs had a pretty good knuckleball.

Major league debut (as pitcher)
   6. Ron J2 Posted: August 01, 2014 at 03:45 PM (#4762672)
#4 Gibson was a pretty fair basketball player too. Not sure how you resolve competing claims with different skill sets. I mean Pedro Ramos was much faster than either of them, Tom Glavine was a (hockey) goaltender.

I no longer recall the details but I do recall that Jim Palmer was an excellent athlete.
   7. bfan Posted: August 01, 2014 at 03:54 PM (#4762683)
Come on Yankees, let him pitch the next mop up game


why let him do that, when he could hit 30 home-runs instead?
   8. Perry Posted: August 01, 2014 at 03:57 PM (#4762688)
Gibson the best athlete among pitchers? I don't think so. I remember Gene Conley and he was a good pitcher and a Boston Celtic. That sound pretty athletic to me.


Gibson played basketball in college and for the Harlem Globetrotters. Gibson was also a much better hitter than Conley.
   9. Walt Davis Posted: August 01, 2014 at 07:41 PM (#4762835)
I don't remember ever hearing this when I was a kid but according to his Wiki page, Fergie Jenkins also played with the Globetrotters after making his ML debut. And of course he played hockey in high school (don't know if he was ever approached to play junior).
   10. rr Posted: August 01, 2014 at 08:40 PM (#4762863)
a nickname for me would be like “The Bearded Bastard” or “The Doctor of Decimal Points” or something.


I think James should run a readers' contest to give him a nickname. A lot of people would just say, "Pass", of course, but there would probably be some funny ones.
   11. rr Posted: August 01, 2014 at 08:40 PM (#4762864)
   12. Greg K Posted: August 02, 2014 at 07:35 AM (#4762996)
I was just at a family reunion and one relative had made a giant family tree. I didn't recognize any of my grandparents siblings. I knew them by names like Ran, Bampi, and Nuncle. But the tree had names like William, Mary, and Helen.

At least my mom's uncle goes by Jim-boy, which is easier to decipher.

I once played baseball with a fast guy named Martin, so we cleverly called him McFly. Or at university a guy in our dorm looked like the penguin so we cruelly called him Oswald Cobblepot. When he found out who that was he kind of stopped hanging out with us.
   13. sonoran_fox Posted: August 02, 2014 at 11:37 AM (#4763038)
#4 - I saw Gene Conley pitch for the Braves in the mid-50s and he moved around reasonably well while being a 6' 8" tall, but was nothing special as an athlete. In particular he could move his feet well, which can be a real problem for a big man. A skill that contributed to his ability to stick with the Boston Celtics as role playing forward.

IMO Gibson, and a lot of other pitchers over the years, were much better athletes than Conley. But Conley felt a need to draw a NBA paycheck as well as a MLB one, and was one of the very few people who could do it. Courtesy of basic motor skills extending all the way to the end of 6' 8" frame.
   14. Pat Rapper's Delight Posted: August 02, 2014 at 11:43 AM (#4763042)
No, I’ve never had personal contact with him, that I know of.

I'm sure James meets more people in a year than I might in my entire adult life, but damn, if I were to meet Geddy Lee, I'd damn sure remember that!
   15. jdennis Posted: August 02, 2014 at 02:23 PM (#4763070)
A whole bunch of major leaguers were ace pitchers and star position players even in college. It does surprise me that more don't do both at the big league level. Why not, given all the pitch count carefulness and injuries? Tim Hudson, for instance, he was the star shortstop in college.
   16. KingKaufman Posted: August 02, 2014 at 02:55 PM (#4763084)
Not sure I agree with James' disrespect theory of nicknames. I haven't thought too much about it—I would need to be convinced he has either—but to me the obvious change is in the style of newspaper writing. Newspaper writers, and by extension online writers and bloggers, are no longer likely to unilaterally start calling an athlete "The Dominican Dandy" or "Charlie Hustle" or "The Splendid Splinter" the way they did in earlier eras where more colorful writing was the norm. And even if they were so inclined, individual writers no longer have nearly the impact they used to have because there are so many more of them.

The same is true of broadcasters. The number of broadcasters with a significant voice is still pretty limited, but the style in vogue just doesn't lend itself to the bestowing of nicknames, and the necessary repetition and campaigning to make them stick. Chris Berman is an exception, but he's just a random clown.
   17. Dr. Vaux Posted: August 02, 2014 at 03:06 PM (#4763089)
Last year Joe Angel tried to make Chris Davis "the Hulk," but after a few games he gave up. I think Davis may have objected to it, but I'm not sure. But team-context nicknames are still more of a thing: Davis is now "the big guy" when Angel is broadcasting, and everyone knows who that is, even though it's obviously not specific enough for a broader context.
   18. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 02, 2014 at 03:16 PM (#4763091)
#4 - I saw Gene Conley pitch for the Braves in the mid-50s and he moved around reasonably well while being a 6' 8" tall, but was nothing special as an athlete. In particular he could move his feet well, which can be a real problem for a big man. A skill that contributed to his ability to stick with the Boston Celtics as role playing forward.

IMO Gibson, and a lot of other pitchers over the years, were much better athletes than Conley. But Conley felt a need to draw a NBA paycheck as well as a MLB one, and was one of the very few people who could do it. Courtesy of basic motor skills extending all the way to the end of 6' 8" frame.


Gibson was a far better athlete than Conley, and maybe the most athletic pitcher ever. The turning point of the 1964 World Series came in the 9th inning of the 5th game, when with Mantle on first, Joe Pepitone lined a ball off Gibson's butt that ricocheted towards the 3B foul line. Gibson didn't pause for a moment. He raced over, bounced on the ball like a cat, and did a Jeter-like air pivoting jump throw to nip Pepitone by an inch.

This was the second out in the inning, and it preserved a 2-0 Cardinals lead with Mantle moving to second. The next batter, Tom Tresh, then tied the game with a dramatic home run, but if it hadn't been for Gibson's unbelievable play on Pepitone, the Yankees would have won on a walkoff,** and taken a 3-2 lead in games. They then easily won game 6, which would have won them the Series.

**Yes, I know that in reality Tresh might not have hit the home run under an altered set of circumstances, but with only one out and two on, there would have been other ways for the Yanks to win.
   19. bjhanke Posted: August 02, 2014 at 03:25 PM (#4763093)
The best credentials held by a pitcher as an athlete is probably John Montgomery Ward. Ward started out as a pitcher, and was very very good until his arm just fell off. Then he converted to shortstop, where hit hit at least OK and was a very good glove. Kid Gleason did the same, but was never the pitcher nor the infielder that Ward was. Jim Thorpe never pitched. I checked. Bob Lemon and Bucky Walters were converted third basemen on teams that had entrenched 3B.

Walt - Jenkins, if I remember right, was just playing a few exhibition games with the Trotters, sort of for fun. Gibson was an everyday player for the Trotters for a year, because the Cardinals would not match the Trotters' salary offer. When the Cards did pony up, Gibson gave up pro basketball. However, the ability to be allowed on the court in a Trotters game at all is a real testament to your athletic ability.

If you include Negro Leaguers, the certain answer is Martin Dihigo. Dihigo was famous - and well-documented - as playing all nine defensive positions at team starter at the position, including being part of some pitching rotations. This wasn't just his team showing him off three times a year. This was "O, damn. Our shortstop just got hurt. Looks like you'll have to cover a month or two, Martin." With Martin responding "OK," and having no problems. - Brock Hanke
   20. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 02, 2014 at 03:30 PM (#4763094)
But you have a point; COLORFUL nicknames, interesting nicknames, have certainly disappeared because of some twist of manners. A nickname reduces a player to the dimensions of the nickname. It states what is important about that player in a manner not chosen by the player himself, and in our current environment we tend to regard that as disrespectful. I may get skinned for putting it this way, but we don’t refer to Billy Hamilton as Flying Billy for generally the same reasons that we don’t refer to people from Mexico as Wetbacks.

You also have to distinguish between nicknames used by the press and those used in person. In the newspapers, Babe Ruth was "The Sultan of Swat", but to his teammates he was either "Babe" or "Jidge". I also doubt if the Yankees ever addressed Dimaggio as "Jolter", or Mantle as "The Commerce Comet".

But James is right about the reason for the decline in COLORFUL nicknames. For reasons both good and bad, nicknames now are either completely bland, or they're ones that the player finds flattering.

And obviously it's just not baseball, but all sports: Just a couple of days ago, the NFL Hall of Famer Ed "The Claw" Sprinkle died. He got that nickname by being one of the dirtiest players in the history of the game, whose specialty was a series of (now illegal) crippling moves like the clothesline stiffarm tackle. But there are plenty of players of recent vintage who were famous for their helmet butting, and how many of them ever got nicknames that reflected that particular "talent"?
   21. Walt Davis Posted: August 02, 2014 at 05:37 PM (#4763131)
Andy ... the most famous one of all ... Jack "The Assassin" Tatum
   22. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 02, 2014 at 06:18 PM (#4763146)
Andy ... the most famous one of all ... Jack "The Assassin" Tatum

Well, more famous with more people today than "The Claw", perhaps, but that's solely because Sprinkle came along 30 years earlier and didn't leave a video clip of his paralyzing a wide receiver. Sprinkle was an all-decade player in the 40's and was just as well known then by his nickname as Tatum later was known for his.
   23. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: August 02, 2014 at 06:59 PM (#4763161)
Non baseball division but I'd nominate as the best organically developed nickname Magic Johnson. A sportswriter gave it to him when he was 16 and it was perfect from the inception. Another cool basketball one was Marvin (The Human Eraser) Webster. Basketball seems to have come to lend itself to more creative nicknames than baseball.
   24. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: August 02, 2014 at 07:20 PM (#4763170)
From Ben Cramers bio it sounded like DiMaggio's most popular nickname with the other yanks was "Daig."
   25. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: August 02, 2014 at 07:39 PM (#4763182)
Dave DeBusschere as best athlete among pitchers
   26. The District Attorney Posted: August 02, 2014 at 08:30 PM (#4763206)
I'm sure James meets more people in a year than I might in my entire adult life
He might not. My understanding is that he still lives in Lawrence, Kansas, and only comes to Boston a couple of times per year. I don't think he really wants to be "out there."

A whole bunch of major leaguers were ace pitchers and star position players even in college. It does surprise me that more don't do both at the big league level. Why not, given all the pitch count carefulness and injuries?
It's incredibly hard. :-) I think it's possible that there could be Brooks Kieschnick types who can both hit ok and pitch ok... but it would take such an incredible amount of raw talent to be both an outstanding major-league hitter and an outstanding major-league pitcher without devoting oneself full-time to either pursuit... I don't think it is achievable in the modern game. I certainly am less confident than Bill that a guy like Greinke is a potential major-league hitter. I mean, Greinke might have better than a 571 OPS if he concentrated on hitting, but Rick Ankiel had a 731 as a CF with the best throwing arm around and still couldn't really hack it. (BTW, it turned out that the guy Bill was talking about who went to LSU and was drafted by the Reds was Micah Owings. So he was a little off there.)

I thought that, among other problems, Markakis walked too much to be a good 3,000-hit candidate. But checking his stats, I was surprised to see that, after walking 99 times in 2008, he's averaged 63 per 162 games since then. That's not the only thing that's gone wrong with his game, of course. I suppose it's true that he's still not worse than Doc Cramer, but yeesh, I really don't see it at all.
   27. cardsfanboy Posted: August 02, 2014 at 08:41 PM (#4763211)
I think it's possible that there could be Brooks Kieschnick types who can both hit ok and pitch ok... but it would take such an incredible amount of raw talent to be both an outstanding major-league hitter and an outstanding major-league pitcher without devoting oneself full-time to either pursuit...


I've always imagined that there could be a guy who could become a true two way player by being a hitter and a reliever, you don't really need more than 2 pitches to be a one inning reliever, so as long as you don't waste your time trying to develop endurance or multiple pitches, it should theoretically be possible for a quality two way high school player to be developed into a major league quality at both, the biggest thing is timing in getting the bat and the arm to both be major league ready at the same time.

If they never increase the rosters, there is a possibility something like that may happen someday, although it would have to be a bench player as it's unlikely they will risk an everyday player with a role like that.
   28. Bunny Vincennes Posted: August 03, 2014 at 07:18 AM (#4763315)
I believe that Carlos Gomez is working on the nickname "Carlos 'The Jackass' Gomez." I guarantee this guy fills out his career in St. Louis.
   29. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 03, 2014 at 11:00 AM (#4763342)
From Ben Cramers bio it sounded like DiMaggio's most popular nickname with the other yanks was "Daig."

Although I never read that particular book, I suspect what you're saying is true, though I also suspect that "Daig" was probably reserved for veteran teammates with whom Dimaggio was on at least slightly familiar terms. I doubt if that's how rookies like Mantle were addressing him; I suspect with them it was probably just "Joe."
   30. McCoy Posted: August 03, 2014 at 12:31 PM (#4763375)
What, Chipper not original enough for you? How about Albert?
   31. Sunday silence Posted: August 03, 2014 at 02:36 PM (#4763440)
isnt the reason you cant do pitching and hitting is that one is an overhead motion (like swimming or serving in tennis) and the other is underhand (e.g. bowling, or golfing). I mean, I guess you can do them on different days, but isnt it incredibly hard to pitch and bat in the same game because these motions are so contradictory? I did it once, and couldnt seem to hit at all.

Note: Matty Alou, IIRC, owns the SFG career mark for SO/9 inn.
   32. DavidFoss Posted: August 03, 2014 at 02:40 PM (#4763442)
What, Chipper not original enough for you?

There's still a few. Coco and Joba also come to mind. Boof is another. Although I guess Joba and Boof have had their names legally changed.

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
Dock Ellis on Acid
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogBraves shopping Justin Upton at a steep price | New York Post
(29 - 8:20am, Nov 23)
Last: shoewizard

NewsblogESPN Suspends Keith Law From Twitter For Defending Evolution
(100 - 5:59am, Nov 23)
Last: Baldrick

NewsblogRays name managerial finalists: Cash, Ibanez, Wakamatsu | Tampa Bay Times
(13 - 3:52am, Nov 23)
Last: Spahn Insane

NewsblogOTP Politics November 2014: Mets Deny Bias in Ticket Official’s Firing
(4170 - 3:40am, Nov 23)
Last: Joe Kehoskie

NewsblogCashman in wait-and-see mode on retooling Yanks | yankees.com
(18 - 2:55am, Nov 23)
Last: Pat Rapper's Delight

NewsblogOT: Monthly NBA Thread - November 2014
(966 - 2:27am, Nov 23)
Last: Random Transaction Generator

NewsblogDeadspin: Curt Schilling’s Son Accidentally Brings Fake Grenade To Logan Airport
(12 - 1:50am, Nov 23)
Last: ptodd

NewsblogOT - November 2014 College Football thread
(553 - 1:35am, Nov 23)
Last: Howie Menckel

NewsblogPrimer Dugout (and link of the day) 11-21-2014
(48 - 11:13pm, Nov 22)
Last: Sweatpants

NewsblogFemale Sportswriter Asks: 'Why Are All My Twitter Followers Men?' | ThinkProgress
(134 - 10:49pm, Nov 22)
Last: Howie Menckel

NewsblogMike Schmidt: Marlins' Stanton too rich too early? | www.palmbeachpost.com
(24 - 10:32pm, Nov 22)
Last: Moeball

NewsblogFriars show interest in dealing for Bruce | MLB.com
(19 - 10:19pm, Nov 22)
Last: Moeball

NewsblogPirates DFA Ike Davis, clear path for Pedro Alvarez - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
(4 - 10:00pm, Nov 22)
Last: jingoist

NewsblogMLB.com: White Sox Land Adam LaRoche With 2 Year/$25M Deal
(19 - 8:03pm, Nov 22)
Last: boteman

NewsblogKemp drawing interest, raising chance he's the Dodgers OF dealt - CBSSports.com
(9 - 7:26pm, Nov 22)
Last: PreservedFish

Page rendered in 0.2326 seconds
52 querie(s) executed