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
draft.

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
Costanza?

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.

1 Comment

Actually, I’m a trained linguist with a Ph.D. in English from SUNY/Buffalo, as well as a long-time baseball fan. I’ve commented on the troubling plethora of non-normative names in MLB and the subtle but nonetheless serious havoc they wreak. It’s not just Messrs. Peralta and Dunston who cannot spell their names properly, “Andruw” Jones of the Dodgers and “Chone” Figgins of the Angels are is afflicted by this malaise as well. A branch of the same pathological tree is Eric Gagne, who cannot seem to pronounce his surname properly (as opposed to Greg Gagne, who did).
For my thoughts on this troubling noministic dysfuntion throughout MLB, see “Le Scandal du Gagne, Redux” at

and “Yo, Jones, Get a Clue: It Ain’t ‘u'” at

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