The St. Louis Cardinals did something this week that’s good for baseball. I’m not talking about their new ballpark deal, for which the Cards will pay two-thirds of the freight. I’m talking about a utility infielder they called up from Memphis to replace the injured J.D. Drew.
His name is Stubby Clapp.
Friends, baseball needs more guys like Stubby Clapp, even if he is 0-for-3 and still looking for his first big league hit.
I’m not even concerned with the fact that from all reports, Clapp is a fan-favorite kind of guy. A 5-foot-8, 28-year-old Canadian rookie who’s a hustler on the field. When he was playing for the Canadian national team in the Pan Am Games a couple of years ago, he told the Toronto Sun that his father and his grandfather were also called Stubby, and that he has relatives who don’t know his real first name. (Note to Stubby’s Uncle Stinky in Moose Jaw: It’s Richard.)
What I mean is that baseball has a heritage of ballplayers with dizzy, daffy first names, including Dizzy Dean and his brother, the ironically undaffy Daffy Dean. (Not to mention, as Abbott and Costello noted, their French cousin, Goofé.) That heritage is all but wiped out.
Today’s ballplayers just don’t have the personality that’s implied by those great names, most of which were nicknames, but nicknames that replaced given names. Oh, we know all too much about the players’ personalities these days, and it’s hard to like most of what we see. Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t know so much about them, but could extrapolate from their colorful names what kind of guys they were?
Sure, we have the international variety that was missing for much of baseball’s history, and that’s a good thing. But Juan and Ichiro aren’t unusual or colorful names. If you didn’t know Juan Gonzalez, what kind of guy would you picture when I say his name? It’s impossible to answer. Too common. But what if I asked you to picture Pants Rowland or Candy Lachance? You’ve got some kind of mental picture, don’t you?
Today’s best team, the Seattle Mariners, has a starting infield named John, Bret, Carlos and David, with Dan doing the catching. A hundred years ago, the best team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, had an infield of Kitty, Claude, Bones and Tommy, with Chief behind the plate. The 1901 Detroit Tigers had two guys named Kid making up their double-play combination, plus Pop at first, Doc at third, another Doc in the outfield, along with Ducky, and Fritz catching. And if Fritz couldn’t go, Sport provided able backup.
Try to imagine an all-Kid double-play combination today. The closest you could come would be if Clapp got traded to the Reds and Pokey Reese moved to shortstop. Don’t hold your breath. The Reds have a really good shortstop. Named Barry.
In fact, the last time a guy named Kid played in the big leagues was 1927, when Kid Willson got into seven games and went 1-for-10 for the White Sox, nine years after his only other major league experience, when he went 0-for-1 in four games, also for Chicago. Now I know Ted Williams was “The Kid,” and every rookie is called “Kid” by some of his teammates, but I’m talking about guys who go by the name Kid. According to Baseball-Reference.com, there have been 17 such worthies, but none in three-quarters of a century.
There have been about four dozen guys named Doc, not counting Dock Ellis or Dwight “Doc” Gooden, but only two since 1950: Doc Daugherty of the Tigers, who struck out in his only at-bat in 1951, and Doc Medich, a pretty good pitcher for the Yankees, Pirates, A’s, Mariners, Mets, Rangers and Brewers between 1972 and 1982 (and a real doctor).
Twenty-two guys named Heinie have played big league ball, but none since Heinie Heltzel’s short career ended in 1944. There have been six guys named Dummy, but none since Dummy Murphy got into nine games for the 1914 Phillies. Where have all the Dummys gone? Dummy Taylor was the biggest of the Dummys, winning 115 games with the Giants and one with the Cleveland Bronchos (later the Indians) in a nine-year career ending in 1908. The Giants had two Dummys — Leitner and Deegan — on their pitching staff in 1901. They finished 37 games out. Duh.
That same year, the Cardinals had a pair of pitchers named Cowboy Jones and Farmer Burns. They could have used a couple of guys named Pitcher. They led the league in scoring but finished fourth.
I could go on about this. I could tell you about Phenomenal Smith, who had a pretty fair year for the 1887 Baltimore Orioles but otherwise didn’t live up to his name. I could tell you there hasn’t been a Pinky since 1946 or a Babe or a Lefty since 1958 — or a Stubby since 1952.
But I think I can prove my point (to the extent that I have a point) by trying to put together an all-name team from today’s major leaguers. All I’ve got is Pokey Reese of the Reds at second, Chipper Jones of the Braves at third, Elvis Peña of the Indians at short (I don’t care if he’s at Triple-A at the moment — desperate times call for desperate measures) and Timo Perez of the Mets and Bubba Trammell of the Padres in the outfield. I’m missing a first baseman, a catcher and an outfielder.
If I could find a pitcher, I bet Stubby Clapp could get his first major league hit against that defense.