Namism: Fantasy’s Silent Killer

What’s in a name? When it comes to a player’s perceived fantasy value, more than you might think.

Be honest. Haven’t you ever picked a guy just because you love the
sound of his name? And haven’t you ever shied away from a player only
because you hate the sound of his name?

Whether subtle or overt, name bias — or
"namism" —
impacts how we feel about players. It skews our decision-making on
draft day, even for the least biased among us — the Red Sox fan who’ll
gladly draft Derek Jeter, the Dodgers fan who has no qualms taking
Barry Bonds.

Naturally, a player with a positive name bias will see his fantasy
value disproportionately inflated, whereas a player with a negative
name bias will be disproportionately undervalued when it comes time to

And don’t think for a second that you’re immune to it. Sure,
maybe you won’t go so far as to cross a player whose name you can’t
stand off your list, but you’ll at least undervalue him slightly more
than you should. That’s namism, like it or not.

So in the spirit of fairness and objectivity, let’s take a look
at 10 players — five overrated, five underrated — who are sure to be
misjudged on draft day as a result of namism.

The beneficiaries

1. Nomar Garciaparra, 1B, LAD: His dad, Ramon Garciaparra, had
the strange intuition that good things would happen if he reversed the
spelling of his first name, and he was right. Like Fernando Valenzuela
before him, Nomar continues to be overvalued long after his heyday
because of his really, really ridiculously good-sounding name. Call it
"Fernandomaniacism." And don’t call it a comeback — at least not a
memorable one — when a guy plays only 122 games, as the reigning
National League Comeback Player of the Year did a season ago.

2. Huston Street, RP, OAK: From Houston to New York City, this
guy is a landmark … of hype. How many other closers can blow 11 saves
in one season and still be considered among the game’s elite? Just make
sure that you don’t end up on the wrong side of the hoopla — "SoHo,"
to be exact — on draft day.

3. Milton Bradley, OF, OAK: Faster than you can say "Yahtzee,"
everyone’s favorite breakout pick will be snatched up on draft day.
Why? Because we all like a familiar name (look who’s in the Oval
Office), especially one that reminds us of fun and games. Sure, this
Milton Bradley is volatile and fragile, but owners will keep glossing
over those red flags in deference to his six-category appeal (runs,
RBIs, homers, steals, average and name).

4. Rocco Baldelli, OF, TB: Most injury-prone players are
undervalued on draft day, but not Rocco Baldelli, whose popularity
seems to gain momentum with every game — and season — he sits out.
Maybe it’s because his name sounds so much like another overrated
underdog, Rocky Balboa, but people just love this guy. So what if he’s
played only 92 games since 2005 and has about as much patience as a

5. Nick Swisher, OF/1B, OAK: What kind of a name is Swisher?
Swiss? Swedish? German? Who knows? Better yet, who cares? Because one
thing’s for sure: It sounds smooth. Silky smooth. Like a swish. But
beware on draft day: If you pull the trigger on this overhyped name in
the early going, you might be laying a fat brick.

The victims

1. Bill Hall, OF, MIL: The poster child for namism victims, Bill
Hall sounds more like a generic college lecture facility than a Major
League ballplayer. Unlike his name, though, his production is anything
but nondescript (55 homers, 26 steals from 2005-06) — especially for a
guy who qualifies at shortstop.

2. Dave Bush, SP, MIL: Some fantasy experts are touting Bush as
the year’s top sleeper pick after he quietly ranked among the NL
leaders in WHIP and K/BB ratio last year with only 12 wins and an
inflated ERA to show for it. The rest of the world, meanwhile, is
hailing Bush as a sleeper because his name is boring enough to put you
in a coma.

3. Dan Uggla, 2B, FLA: There’s a lot more to the negative bias
surrounding Uggla’s name than its phonetic similarity to "ugly."
Namely, the fact that he sounds like he belongs to another team of
nine, one that has never even seen a baseball diamond: The Fellowship
of the Ring. Picture it: You’ve got Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf,
Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Boromir and last but not least, Uggla — a
perfect 10.

4. Jhonny Peralta, SS, CLE: According to the linguistic
community, the only thing more unsettling than the missing "h" in Jonny
Gomes is the misplaced "h" in Jhonny Peralta. Why can’t it just go back
where it belongs, between the "o" and the first "n"? And how can I get
a hold of a linguist?

5. Mark Grudzielanek, 2B, KC: Nobody likes a player who makes
you feel illiterate, and Grudzielanek is no exception. Reading his name
is troubling enough, but writing it? We’re talking about a linguistic
nightmare of Kruegeresque proportions. But unlike Freddy, Grudzielanek
is a guy everyone wants to sleep on come draft day.

Of course, not all forms of namism are so extreme. It’s subtle
prejudice that most impairs our ability to fairly evaluate players, the
silent killer threatening the very integrity of the draft.

But who knows? If word gets around, there might be hope yet. And a
draft without namism might be more than just a fantasy fantasy.

So if you must, hate the player — not the name.

Those Guys II: Them Guys

In Part 1 of this developing series, we singled out 10 of the worstkinds of people to have at your fantasy draft, a motley crew known as those guys. Somehow, though, a few of those guys
managed to escape justice — until now. In Part 2, we make it right by
making light of six of those (other) guys who bring darkness to D-Day.
Call ’em them guys.

6. The Homer

Most people play fantasy to win at all costs, even if it means
picking a player on a rival team. I’m talking Yankees fans drafting
David Ortiz, Cubs fans picking Albert Pujols. But for many, a degree of
favoritism comes into play. And a select few take their hometown bias
too far. Blinded by passion and utterly delusional, the Homer thinks
that his love for the hometown team should transcend the fundamental
rules of fantasy — namely, that all available players are available
equally. He actually believes that he’s entitled to every guy on the
team he roots for (I’m warning you — stay away from my Cubbies!) and that those who infringe on his "territory" are violating some kind of unspoken fantasy code (How could you? D-Lee was mine!).
Charles Darwin was no baseball fan (he died in 1882), but he’d surely
agree that unnatural selection — and the Homer — have no place in a
fantasy draft. Doh!

5. The Jerk

Steve Martin has nothing on this guy, who has the audacity to
criticize the auctioneer whenever a sale doesn’t go his way. The Jerk
typically suffers from a severe inferiority complex and an overblown
ego, the result of which is none too pleasant for anyone in the draft
room. According to the Jerk, if he bids on a player and doesn’t land
him, the auctioneer didn’t close the deal fast enough (Aw, come on, while we’re young!). Either that, or he sold too quickly (Nomar has more patience than this guy!).
The Jerk’s behavior is so out of line, his allegations so absurd that
the auctioneer will usually dismiss his heckling as misappropriated
sarcasm before realizing what a jerk the Jerk really is. Commissioners
should, too, and save everyone the trouble of dealing with this guy on

4. The Lobbyist

When you sign up for a league, you tacitly agree to play by the
commissioner’s rules. And it’s your job — not anyone else’s — to know
exactly what you’re getting into. But the Lobbyist doesn’t see it that
way. Much like his meddling counterparts on Capitol Hill, this guy
believes that he can change rules retroactively to benefit his needs,
just by stirring up support from "the masses." Just watch. This year,
he’ll take can’t-miss prospect Delmon Young in the fourth round before
trying to drum up support for the institution of keeper rules. Then,
after he drafts Pedro Martinez (out until at least the All-Star break)
and Mark Mulder (inactive until at least June), he’ll lobby for an
extra injury slot. But the madness doesn’t stop there. When the
Lobbyist realizes he doesn’t know as much as everyone else in his
league, he’ll try to shorten the draft by a few rounds or suggest that
the rest of the picks be made on auto-pilot. Sports and politics don’t
mix, and fantasy is no exception. But if they must, do your part and
lobby against the Lobbyist on D-Day.

3. The Theorist

It happens: the guy you had your eye on all draft gets taken one
pick before you were going to pull the trigger. But for the paranoid
few among us, this occurrence is no coincidence. It’s a conspiracy. No
matter who you draft, no matter what the round, somehow, it was always
the Theorist’s next pick. (No way — that’s the guy I was going to take.)
As far as the Theorist is concerned, the draft is a much less a
competitive free-for-all than an immaculately conceived plot to destroy
his dream of claiming a fantasy title. The only thing that could keep
this guy from singing his refrain is the No. 1 overall pick.

2. The Fed

Your draft area quickly becomes a war room with the Fed in the
game. This guy guards his draft sheets with his life, handling them as
if they’re top-secret, government-sensitive documents. He’s like the
guy in third grade who shields the answers to his spelling test from
his classmates, only slightly less mature. Much like his much younger
counterpart, though, the Fed operates under the assumption that he has
something to hide, that the information in his possession is actually
worth something. And much like his governmental namesake, he’ll do
anything in his power to ensure that it doesn’t get into the wrong
hands. When it comes to choosing your next leaguemate, make sure the
Fed keeps his business to himself.

1. The Overloader

If winning is the name of the game in fantasy, a guy who ruins his
chances of claiming the title before the season even starts would be a
welcome member of any league, right? Wrong. Enter the Overloader, the
kind of loser nobody likes to play with. This guy monopolizes all the
key players at one position in hopes of using them as bargaining chips
down the road. Unfortunately for the Overloader, it’s impossible to
field a competitive team with 13 second basemen. And unfortunately for
you, your team has a gaping flaw in the infield. You don’t need to be
an efficiency expert to know that everyone’s a loser when the
Overloader’s involved — especially the Overloader.

The 10 Worst People At Your Fantasy Draft

Nobody likes that guy — especially at a fantasy draft.

Better to come in last in your league with some semblance of class than to be that guy. We all know him, the one who s … ucks the wind out of the draft, turning an otherwise friendly social event into a painstaking process.

With that (guy) in mind, let’s take a look at the top 10 worst people to have at your fantasy draft, a group collectively known as — what else? — those guys.

10. The Repeat Offender

This guy shares the same name as a Richard Marx album, and he deserves it. Wherever you go, whatever you do, the Repeat Offender will be right there waiting for you on D-Day, ready to kill the flow of your draft by trying to pick guys who’ve already been taken. He usually suffers from a poor attention span, a general lack of baseball knowledge and the undying belief that everyone around him is somehow more clueless than he is. Bad combination. Where it all leaves him is about three years behind on the sleeper scene. Just watch — he’ll try to take Jose Reyes in the third round this year. And after he does, don’t be shocked when he goes for Dontrelle Willis in round 17. He is, after all, the Repeat Offender.

9. The Crammer

A sheer lack of preparation plagues the Crammer, who always seems to be forgetting rule No. 1 of fantasy baseball: This is NOT a test. Instead of enjoying the draft process, this guy treats every pick like a final-exam cram session. You’ll find him blowing through preview magazine after preview magazine until the absolute last second of every pick he makes, like a 16-year-old kid who can’t remember the quadratic formula moments before a calculus test. A squirrel has more composure than this guy on D-Day, and so should you.

8. The Retroactivist

Like many real-life activists, the fantasy Retroactivist protests too much when the damage has already been done. Some things in life are better left undone, and fantasy picks are no different. Oblivious to the notion of consequence and just a tad oversensitive, the Retroactvist tries to re-pick when you make fun of his pick. What does he expect for trying to draft Francisco Liriano (injured) and Bill Mueller (retired)? You have to assume that this guy was in full support of the recount in the 2000 presidential election. Either way, when it comes to choosing your next league member, vote "no" on the Retroactivist.

7. The Crow

Being a braggart is stigmatic enough, but a fantasy braggart? Ugh. Watching amazing athletes perform is something to enjoy, not crow about. But the Crow is stuck in a fantasy fantasyland. He takes that false sense of accomplishment to a whole new level, bragging nonstop about his players before they’ve even done anything (You may as well sign your checks over to me, guys, because this baby’s over.), like Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, but without the cash — or the sense of self-deprecation.

6. The Editorializer

Fantasy drafts and socializing go hand in hand, but some guys have a tough time remembering that human conversation is a two-way street. Which brings us to the Editorializer, the self-appointed judge of all fantasy picks. This guy has a verdict about everything. Problem is, nobody’s asking for it. His criticisms are maddening (Too soon, tooooo soon), his witticisms infuriating (Sweet pick … not!), his compliments condescending (Great pick. Greaaat pick.). If we wanted a play-by-play of our fantasy draft, we would’ve asked Bob Costas.

5. His Lateness

Sadly, tardiness has become an accepted, often embraced part of American culture. But not when it comes to fantasy drafts, which can’t begin until everybody’s there. Which is why the guy who’s late is so mind-bogglingly inconsiderate. Making a few people wait is bad enough. But an entire league? Multiply the 20 or so minutes he’s late by the number of people waiting, and you have hours of wasted time. Clearly, His Lateness is anything but fantasy royalty.

4. The Cheapskate

It’d be one thing if people were forced to join money leagues, but thankfully, mob tactics don’t fly in fantasy. Which brings us to the guy who doesn’t pay. The Cheapskate’s refusal to pull out the checkbook takes us one step closer to the Fantasy Apocalypse, in which all money leaguers will be federally obligated to sign a legally binding contract on D-Day. Naturally, it’s not all about the money, but being the Cheapskate is just as bad as stealing a wad of cash from the winner’s wallet.

3. The Conspirator

There’s no fantasy rulebook, but there is an unwritten rule that says you’re in it alone. And for good reason. This isn’t Pictionary night at your neighbor’s house. This is fantasy baseball, every man for himself, winner — not winners — take all. But the Conspirator has a behind-the-scenes buddy doing his dirty work, a guy on the other end of those all-too-frequent cell-phone calls on D-Day. He’s a coward, the white-collar criminal of fantasy, too weak to take care of his own business, too afraid to disclose his dark partnership. If there were such a thing as a fantasy jail, the Partner would be the first to do time.

2. The Speaker

A silent voice on the other end of the phone line is usually pretty creepy. Think Ghostface in the movie "Scream." But in the case of the guy who’s drafting on speaker phone, it’s downright annoying. Inevitably, the Speaker is unresponsive when it’s his turn, he routinely picks guys who’ve been picked (see Repeat Offender), and he’s generally incoherent — all thanks to his poor mode of communication. Better to leave your buddy in Boise out of the picture than subject your league to the Speaker.

1. The Accidental Sniper

We’ve all played fantasy baseball with the guy who, quite literally, is out of his league, the extreme fair-weather fan who thinks there are still Expos in Montreal. But one way or another, the Accidental Sniper ends up snagging your top sleeper pick right before you were planning on pulling the trigger, displaying a clueless dominance not seen since the days of Inspector Gadget. For all you Yankees fans out there banking on taking Philip Hughes with your last pick this year, watch out for the Sniper. He’ll take a page out of the Crammer’s book, grab a random magazine, start flipping, locate the Yankees’ top prospect and pick him at the last possible second, obliviously ruining your master plan — and your draft.

There you have it, the worst of the worst. Quite the motley crew, eh?

But let’s not fool ourselves. There’s a little bit of the Repeat Offender, the Crammer and the Editorializer in everyone. We’ve all been guilty of making D-Day seem more like World War III than a civilized gathering of friends.

So give peace a chance. And please, don’t be that guy.

Records Could Fall In Fall Classic

ReggieThe numbers never lie, and neither does history.

Born from these truths was "Mr. October," the nickname attributed to former A’s and Yankees great Reggie Jackson for his World Series heroics. And solidified from them was the legend of Babe Ruth, who set the precedent for Jackson by becoming the first (and second) man to smash three home runs in a single World Series game.

Of course, baseball’s most famous stage has often served as a breeding ground for the unlikeliest of heroes.

This year’s Fall Classic between the Tigers and the Cardinals will inevitably serve as a platform for the stars to shine, and for the unheralded to stake their claim to history.

HatcherIn 1990, Billy Hatcher rose from relative obscurity to record seven consecutive hits en route to a .750 average — both Fall Classic records — in leading the Reds to an improbable sweep of the heavily favored Athletics.

Who, if anyone, will deliver this October’s surprise act? Perhaps Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco, who carries a staggering .471 postseason average into the World Series.

LarsenMany of us have heard of Yankees right-hander Don Larsen’s no-hitter (and perfect game) against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series, but few of us recall Mets southpaw Jerry Koosman’s no-hit bid against the Orioles in 1969. Koosman was the last pitcher to hurl six or more no-hit innings in the World Series.

But is Koosman’s spot in the record books in jeopardy? Could Tigers right-hander Jeremy Bonderman become the latest man to carry a no-hitter into the seventh inning? Given his performance in Game 4 of Detroit’s American League Division Series against the Yankees, it’s a viable possibility. The 23-year-old stud baffled the offensively stacked Bronx Bombers with five frames of perfect ball before losing his no-hit bid in the sixth inning of Detroit’s series-clinching win.

Bondermania aside, Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter is a bona fide threat to hurl a no-no. The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner didn’t disappoint during the regular season, tossing three shutouts and a pair of two-hitters for the Redbirds.

RogersFive years ago, then-Diamondback Randy Johnson became the oldest pitcher to throw a shutout, at 38 years, 1 month and 18 days, on his way to World Series co-MVP honors. This year’s Fall Classic features a 41-year-old southpaw with a legitimate shot at besting Johnson’s feat: Detroit’s Kenny Rogers.

Rogers has been nothing short of impeccable in the postseason. After blanking the Yankees over 7 2/3 innings in Game 3 of the ALDS, the crafty off-speeder stymied the A’s with 7 1/3 shutout frames in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series.

Will Rogers go the distance and make World Series history? Only time will tell.

RuthAs previously mentioned, Jackson and Ruth share the single-game World Series home run record. In spite of his ailing right hamstring, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols has the power to challenge that legendary mark, having delivered a pair of three-homer games in the regular season.

A simple review of the past goes a long way in understanding the future of the World Series, in which stories are told largely by the numbers. Which heroes will emerge this October? Stay tuned.

The Fantasy Folly Awards: Catchers & Infielders

Folly_1At the end of every baseball season, fantasy leaguers will remind you time and again about the brilliant waiver-wire pickups and trades that spurred them to the top of the standings.

How they had the uncanny foresight to pick up Batting Champ From Nowhere Freddy Sanchez in mid-April, deal blue chipper-turned-benchwarmer Morgan Ensberg in early June and swap All-Star Game starter Brad Penny in mid-July in anticipation of his second-half slide.

Indeed, the Monday Morning Shortstop knows no wrong.

But in fantasy reality, hindsight might be 20-20, but foresight often isn?t. And for every brilliant move, there?s at least one act of foolishness. Hence the impetus for the inaugural Fantasy Folly Awards, a rare platform in which admitting mistakes is not only encouraged — it?s celebrated.

And so, with our trusty Fantasy Preview close at hand, let?s take a fond look back — position by position — at the most laughable preseason predictions of 2006. A review of the best of the worst infielder and catcher previews follows.

Tex_1First base

Mark Teixeira, Texas Rangers Fantasy Preview Ranking: 2

Heading into 2006, the writing was on the wall: ?.315, 50 homers and 150 RBIs are conceivable.? Unfortunately, we were talking about Mark Teixeira, not Ryan Howard. Oh well. Thanks to the enduring struggles of Morgan Ensberg, the first half?s biggest bust didn?t end up being the season?s biggest disappointment — at least not according to our ?Real Fantasy Awards.? Regardless, Teixeira was most unworthy of the No. 2 ranking at the perennially stacked first-base position, finishing an unspectacular campaign with a .282 average 33 homers and 110 RBIs — hardly becoming of ?one of the best power hitters in baseball.?

Second base

Jorge Cantu, Tampa Bay Devil Rays Fantasy Preview Ranking: 7

CantupointWhat do Jorge Cantu and Chase Utley have in common? As we were quick to point out in our preview, they both enjoyed nifty breakout campaigns in 2005. But you don?t need us to tell you that the parallels stopped there in 2006. ?This season should bring more of the same in the power department (30 homers is a possibility),? we surmised last offseason. ?With Julio Lugo and Carl Crawford in front of Cantu in the lineup, there’s a chance his RBI and run totals will increase, and his batting average could inch upward as he doesn’t strike out much.? Well, as it turned out, Cantu?s average dropped 37 points, all the way down to .249, and his RBI (117 vs. 62) and home run totals (24 vs. 12) were decimated — along with the reputation of a certain group of so-called fantasy experts.


Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland Indians Fantasy Preview Ranking: 8

Peralta1?Can you believe the Indians actually used to play Alex Cora over this guy?? we rhetorically asked our readers prior to the season, adding, ?Thirty homers and 100 RBIs are not out of the question.? After all, ?this guy? had just hit .292 with 24 dingers and 78 RBIs at a mere 23 years of age. But ?these guys? found out just how quickly ?this guy? can become ?that guy,? as Jhonny Peralta followed up his glorious breakout campaign with a pedestrian .257 average, 13 homers and 68 RBIs.

Carlos Guillen, Detroit Tigers Fantasy Preview Ranking: 19

GuillenHeading into 2006, we dubbed Carlos Guillen a ?mystery,? and just to prove it, we totally botched his fantasy prediction. ?He’ll never duplicate 2004 again,? we surmised, ?so let someone else roll the dice.? Hopefully, you were someone else, as Guillen batted .320 with 20 steals, 19 homers, 41 doubles, 100 runs scored and a .919 OPS, essentially matching his aforementioned breakout campaign stat for stat.

Bill Hall, Milwaukee Brewers Fantasy Preview Ranking: 21

Hallhr2We said he was just another Juan Uribe, a versatile infielder with ?shaky plate discipline? on the heels of an anomalous breakout season. Whoops. But things really got embarrassing when we took the comparison too far. ?Uribe’s weak plate discipline that resulted in across-the-board decline should be an ominous portent for Hall,? we predicted. ?A repeat of 2005 would be a shock.? In the end, though, the only real shock was the fallacy of our premise, as Hall followed up his career year with — what else? — a career year, notching career highs in homers (35), runs scored (101), RBIs (85), on-base percentage (.345) and slugging percentage (.553) ? in spite of his still-shaky plate discipline.

Third base

Joe Crede, Chicago White Sox Fantasy Preview Ranking: 22

Crede?Don?t go crazy over the postseason!? we warned heading into 2006. ?Crede?s not a star.? But we didn?t stop there. ?If you are looking for a breakout candidate,? we advised, ?there are better ones than Crede.? In one sense, we were right; there actually were better hot-corner-eligible breakout candidates than Crede, from utilitymen like Bill Hall and Michael Cuddyer to purebreds like Ryan Zimmerman. But in another, much more pertinent sense, we were dead wrong, as Crede established career highs in every major statistical category en route to an All-Star-caliber breakout campaign.


Javy Lopez, Baltimore Orioles & Boston Red Sox Fantasy Preview Ranking: 5

Jlo_2It?s common knowledge that Jennifer Lopez isn?t the only ?J-Lo? with a career on the decline, but for whatever reason, we didn?t get the memo. ?Lopez is in a much more desirable situation in 2006, as the acquisition of Ramon Hernandez means he will spend a lot of time as a designated hitter and maybe even play some first base,? we conjectured prior to the season. ?If the change keeps him fresh and he can avoid injury, Lopez could easily slug 25 homers and knock in 80 runs.? Of course, a healthy Lopez played virtually no first base and minimally at designated hitter and catcher with the Orioles, hitting .265 with eight homers and 31 RBIs before being shipped to the Red Sox, with whom he batted .190 with no homers and four RBIs as a full-time part timer leading up to his release in early September.

Milking The Joke

Crisp_1In a homogenized development, HP Hood has inked Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp as the spokesperson for New England’s leading dairy company. And why not? The marketing practically writes itself: Because if you?re looking for a balanced breakfast, what goes better with milk than Coco Crisp? …

At 5-foot-7, 165 pounds, meddlesome Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein is perennially among the hardest men to fan in the National League ?- without a nickname to show for it (?The Eck,? of course, has long since been taken by Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley). If Eckstein were an insect, he?d be a mosquito. And if Eckstein were an adjective, he?d be annoying. So forget about the 5-foot-9, 168-pound Red Sox legend. David Eckstein is the real Johnny Pesky. And the bat he totes is the real ?Pesky Pole.? ?

Peskypole_1He might sound like a butler, but Kyle Farnsworth is a reliever for the Yankees. Not surprisingly, the hard-throwing right-hander routinely sets the table for closer Mariano Rivera. ?

After months of negotiations, the Nationals signed third-round draft choice Stephen King, a middle infielder from Winter Park (Fla.) High School. Still no word on whether general manager Jim Bowden & Co. realize they were getting a promising shortstop, not a ?Dreamcatcher.?

Choose To Lose

SunglassesMembers of the Astros recently spoke to students at Houston-area grade schools as part of the ?Fielder?s Choice Program? ?- the gist of it being that making good decisions in life is really no different than making a fielder?s choice play on the baseball diamond. Still no word on the organization?s plan to launch a ?Defensive Indifference Program? to teach America?s future all about letting the adversary run all over you because you?re too apathetic to do anything about it. Call it "Choose to Lose." ?

Only time will tell if he has enough pop in his bat to live up to his namesake, but rookie Corey Hart has been rock solid as the Brewers everyday right fielder, hitting well over .300 since taking over for struggling veteran Geoff Jenkins in mid-August. Though the 24-year-old Hart doesn?t wear his ?Sunglasses at Night? on the diamond, you?ll be pleased to know that he does in fact ?Never Surrender? out there. ?

Marx2Speaking of Brewers outfielders and cheesy ?80s pop icons, Laynce Nix recently met with Milwaukee-area foot specialist Richard Marks regarding a course of action for his turf toe. More to follow on whether the good doctor directed Nix to the ?Right Here Waiting? room before seeing his star patient. ?

Looking to give their pitching staff wings, the Yankees recently purchased the contract of southpaw Sean Henn from Triple-A Columbus. Of course, Henn isn?t the first pro athlete named after an avian creature. Just ask ageless NFL punter (and onetime Eagle) Jeff Feagles, former Cardinals defensive tackle Eric Swann, Reds left-hander Mike Gosling, former Yankees closer Goose Gossage, Hall of Fame right-hander Robin Roberts, longtime Blazers center Kevin Duckworth, Celtics legend Larry Bird, former C?s guard Chris Herren and Grizzlies forward Brian Cardinal. ?   

Is Mark Mulder?s labrum not frayed? Afraid not. In fact, the Cardinals southpaw is expected to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery in the coming hours. ?

Is it any coincidence that 1990 home run king Cecil ?Big Daddy? Fielder ?- all 6-foot-3, 240 pounds of him ?- has a 6-foot, 260-pound son named Prince?

Riding The Life Of Pine

HammockSince being called up from Triple-A Round Rock last month, Rockies catcher Robby Hammock has been familiarizing himself with unfamiliar territory ?- the bench. Of course, Hammock isn?t the first athlete named after a comfortable seating device to have made the not-so-comfy transition to the Life of Pine. Once the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, Tim Couch hasn?t taken a regular-season snap since 2003. And after earning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors as a center at Penn State, Calvin Booth has averaged a paltry 13.6 minutes per game and started only 82 of 283 contests over his seven-year NBA career. ?

GloveFree-agent point guard Gary Payton has long been dubbed ?The Glove,? and for good reason. The future Hall of Famer has been named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team nine times and nabbed Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1996. Still, none of that explains why a bare-handed basketballer earned the nickname before any of the thousands of glove-wearing baseball players before him. ? 

Boston-area medical experts can run all the tests they want, but I know
the real source of Red Sox slugger David Ortiz?s recurring heart
palpitations. It has to be all those D?Angelo sandwiches he?s been
eating. I went there the other day, and the sandwich they call the ?Red
Hot Papi? has ham, bacon, turkey, roast beef, two cheeses, mayo,
mustard and hot sauce on it. I?m no doctor, but if he cuts out one of
the cheeses and the hot sauce, believe me, he?ll be fine. ?

Upon completing his rehabilitation stint with Class A St. Lucie (Fla.), Mets outfielder Cliff Floyd was expected to fly out to Colorado or Houston ? because if hitting a baseball three-quarters of the way across the country isn?t proof enough thata guy is ready to return to big-league action, what is? ?

Anchorman_fondoOutfielder Adam Dunn hits fourth in Reds lineup and ?- coincidentally
?- bears a striking resemblance to comedian Will Ferrell. Call him
Cincinnati?s ?Anchorman.? ?

Redskins linebacker Lamar Marshall should cut to the chase and rename himself ?Lamarshall.? Likewise, former Red Sox southpaw John Johnson should just be ?- what else? ?- ?Johnson?? ?

If S-E-A-N is pronounced ?Shon,? then call me ?Don? — D-E-A-N Don. But I?m not the only one who has qualms with the traditional spelling of this name. Just ask former Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston, Diamondbacks outfielder Shawn Green, Angels utilityman Chone Figgins, Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander and Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman.

Muzzling The ARF

MuzzleA defining element of an athlete?s persona, the nickname should evolve naturally and — more importantly — without formula.
?The Big Blank,? of course, is the exception to the rule — the Big Hurt, the Big Cat, the Big Ticket, the Big Unit, the Big This and the Big That. But the exceptions stop there … without exception.

In particular, the ?A-Rod Formula? — call if ?ARF? — has been abused for far too long. Taking the first letter of an athlete?s first name, throwing in a hyphen, tacking on the first syllable of his last name and trying to pass it off as a nickname is just plain inane. There?s nothing unique about the ARF, nothing that sheds light on the athlete?s character, nothing that separates him from the pack. However fittingly, the ARF is about as expressive as the bark of a dog.

Ipod_1If you?re not sold, consider ?T-Mac,? which sounds more like a new line of Apple computers than a befitting nickname for six-time NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady. Clearly, McGrady could use an alias a tad more relevant to his supreme talent, but as it stands, he?ll never know what it?s like to have a real nickname.

And don?t even get me started on ?J-Cap,? the Starbucks-order-turned-nickname for tennis star Jennifer Capriati.

But if Rodriguez must be ?A-Rod,? if McGrady must be ?T-Mac,? and if Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin must be ?K-Mart,? shouldn?t Mets ace Pedro Martinez be ?P-Mart?? What about Indians catcher Victor Martinez? Shouldn?t he be ?V-Mart?? And don?t those sound more like cheap convenience stores than big-league nicknames?

What about former Red Sox and White Sox reliever Frank Baumann? Is he ?F-Baum?? And is Twins right-hander Brad Radke ?B-Rad,? or ?Brad?? You bet he is.

Likewise, Cardinals reliever Braden Looper should be ?B-Loop,? or ?Bloop.? Fellow Redbird Albert Pujols must be ?A-Pu,? or ?Apu.?

Apu_1Devil Rays infielder Ty Wigginton should be ?T-Wig,? or ?Twig.? And BoSox catcher Javy Lopez would have to be — what else? — ?J-Lo.?

Rangers outfielder Gary Matthews, meanwhile, must be ?G-Mat.? But Matthews wouldn?t necessarily be the first Major Leaguer named after a standardized admission test. After all, Luis ?L-Sat? Saturria played sparingly in the Cardinals outfield from 2000-01, and Mike ?M-Cat? Cather pitched out the Braves bullpen from 1997-99.

So forget about the insanity. It?s time to STOP THE INANITY! It?s time to start respecting the sanctity of the sports nicknaming lexicon. And it?s time to put a muzzle on the ARF.

Imperatively Speaking

BagwellIt?s imperative to understand that some names aren?t just names. They?re imperative sentences. Just ask Blue Jays right-hander Justin Speier (Just inspire!), Indians southpaw C.C. Sabathia (C.C. Sabathia!), White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye (Jermaine, die!) and Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell (Jeff, bag well!). …

Wily Mets right-hander Orlando Hernandez is often referred to as the ?Master of Deception,? which sounds more like the name of a cartoon supervillain conglomerate than a tribute to a pitcher?s cunning on the mound. I can hear it now: Tune in next week as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe battle Skeletor, Orlando Hernandez and the Masters of Deception in a showdown that will settle the score between good and evil and determine the fate of Eternia. ?

Speaking of masters, the ?Master of Disaster? ?- Apollo Creed?s nickname in the ?Rocky? movies ?- never really made much sense to me. Sure, it sounded cool, what with the basic rhyming scheme and ?- speaking of which ?- implication of domination. But what in Balboa?s name is a master of disaster? How would one go about mastering disaster, and why? Disaster is something you should avoid like the plague, not embrace as a self-defining area of expertise. Now ?Master of Disaster Control,? that?s a title worth shooting for. Calamity regulation and diffusion, after all, is a noble occupation. But a plain old ?Master of Disaster,? though phonetically menacing, is no more worthy than a ?King of Catastrophe,? a ?Duke of Debacle,? a ?Tyrant of Tragedy? or a ?Fuhrer of Failure.? ?

LiottaCurious how the White Sox drafted southpaw Ray Liotta with their
second-round pick in the 2004. After all, it was Ray Liotta ?- albeit a
different Ray Liotta ?- who played former ChiSox outfielder ?Shoeless?
Joe Jackson in ?Field of Dreams.? Of course, Ray Liotta the baseball
player ?- he of the 1-5 record and 7.82 ERA for Class A Winston-Salem
?- is no ?Shoeless? Joe. Unless of course he?s been acting all this
time. …

It’s been mere days since the Yankees broke ground for the new Yankee
Stadium, but superlatively self-indulgent members of the Yankees
Entertainment System broadcast team -? better known as the YES men ?-
have already dubbed the event the greatest of its kind, the most
groundbreaking groundbreaking ever. ?

Three strikes and you?re out. It?s become a staple of American jurisprudence, a pillar of the lexicon that extends far beyond the game of baseball. And rightfully so; it has quite a nice ring to it and an easily understood analogousness that the great American pastime tends to afford. But sometimes, three strikes is one too few to call a man out. Sometimes, the batter deserves another chance. And sometimes, ?four balls and you walk? is the more appropriate policy.