Fumbling the name game

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Sports talk used to be so easy. Guys named Mickey, Hank and Barry hit the long balls. Joe, Brett and Tom tossed the touchdowns.

But now, “That guy on the Marlins who’s hitting all the homers, what’s his name? Giovanni something?” With enormous patience my son explains for the tenth time, “You mean Giancarlo Stanton.”

Major League Baseball seems to think fans are frustrated because the games are too slow. Meanwhile, the NFL worries that football’s violent nature is turning crowds away (which is true). But both major sports also face what I’d call a muddle of monikers.

The hot NFL players this season have first names such as Tyreek, Tyrod and Tarik. In Week One, a guy named Giovani had a surprisingly good game at running back for Baltimore, while Oakland’s Giovani was the week’s best kicker.

The Kansas City Chiefs have a star running back named Kareem Hunt. His back-up is Akeem Hunt. Go figure.

Someone once observed that you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. Nowadays I’m not certain even that would be of much help.

I remember when the Dodgers had outfielders with names like Duke. Now they have a guy in right named Yasiel. Peruse the lineup cards and you see Major Leaguers named Yonder, Ehire, Teoscar, Yulieski, Roughned, Norichika, Alcides, Dansby and Renato and those are just their first names.

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?

Many of these hard-to-grasp names reflect the increased international scope of modern rosters, which is a good thing. And some are rooted in cultures whose modern monikers have moved away from what the great Cassius Clay referred to as “slave names,” when he decided to become Muhammad Ali, another positive trend.

But that doesn’t help fans. Nor does the fact that most modern players eschew nicknames which made rooting easier. The Yankees used to field teams with players like Mickey “The Switcher” Mantle in center, Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto at short, Bill “Moose” Skowron at first and, of course, Lawrence “Yogi” Berra behind the plate.

Today’s Yankee team has no notable nicknames. If the shortstop’s name happens to be Didi Gregorius, then fans are just going to have to deal with it.

At an ill-conceived “Players Weekend,” Big Leaguers were encouraged to place nicknames on their jerseys. Gregorius came up with “Sir Didi” which stuck for about 48 hours. And slugger Aaron Judge settled for “All Rise” which, as nicknames go, is sort of a foul ball.

Modern coaches and managers don’t help either. They’ve dropped nicknames in favor of adding “er” or “y” to names whenever possible. So, for example, Giants manager Bruce Bochy calls pitcher Matt Cain “Cainer,” and he refers to outfielder Denard Span as “Spany.”

Like Abbott and Costello, many fans are left wondering: Who’s on first?

© 2017 Peter Funt