As you have likely heard Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was recently fired and replaced with AAA boss Brian Snitker. The timing is odd as no one really expected the Braves to compete this season, but Gonzalez was unpopular and just about everyone in the Atlanta organization raves about Snitker’s quality as a leader. All of that stuff has been excellently covered by Max Furbee here, I want to talk about the elephant in the room, the new skipper Snitker’s name makes me snigger (I’m sorry).
The name game is far more prevalent than you might guess, all across sports fans keep a certain prejudice towards players/coaches/executives/media members based upon how cool, or uncool their name sounds. Examples? No problem.
In the NFL we have the divergent cases of Julius Peppers and Blake Bortles. Peppers is a good player, no question, is he great though? No, not really, but he’s treated as such quite simply because people want a guy named Julius Peppers to be great at football. They aren’t wrong to do so either, it’s an amazing name.
On the other hand is Jacksonville Quarterback Blake Bortles. From what I understand (I asked ACAA’s NFL experts) he actually had a very solid second season in the NFL, did you hear about it though? Probably not. Part of that might have something to do with him playing for the Jaguars, but most of the cause is almost certainly that Bortles is painful both to say and hear. No one wants to talk about him for fear that their tongue may pack up and leave after being forced to utter such an uncomfortable word.
Sliding over to the NBA we’re all familiar with the fallout from New York Knicks fans after Kristaps Porzingis was selected with the number four overall pick.
It’s a bit of a results play but Prozingis went on to have an excellent season and finish out at number two on Scott Howard-Cooper’s Rookie ladder, behind only Karl-Anthony Towns himself.
Finally we’re back to where we began with America’s pasttime, the land of the silly names. This is a sport where the greatest of all time debate is largely between one guy named Babe and another named Barry, I know his real name is George but he went by Babe and if we’re being honest George Ruth isn’t much better.
Given that the sport has been around for such a long time it’s perhaps to be expected that there were silly names at the beginning, you’re probably not surprised when I tell you that the best pitcher in 1886 was a guy named Toad, but the tradition continues. Nearly 100 years later we find two of the most prominent pitchers in the Majors are guys sporting the names Goose Gossage, and Catfish Hunter. You might think those are cool names, you’d be wrong.
With any nickname the story behind it is very important, and in that respect both of these fall straight on their face. Catfish got his name because then A’s owner Charles O Finley felt that he needed a flashy nickname, that’s it, there is no story whatsoever. With Goose it’s a little less arbitrary, his last name is Gossage, if you stretch that little it sort of sounds like Goose, still ridiculous.
Another issue that often comes up is when a player ruins an otherwise cool nickname by liking it just a little bit too much. Strictly based on fWAR Roger Clemens is the greatest pitcher of all time, due to the blazing speed of his fastball Clemens was given the moniker “The Rocket”. That’s strong, it both sounds cool and has a story behind it. The problem is all the stories of him forcing his assistants to call him The Rocket, introducing himself as The Rocket, it’s even been reported that his credit card does not have Roger Clemens written on it, but in fact, The Rocket. It’s hard to think of something less cool than a self promoted nickname.
To this point things are looking pretty great for Snitker, probably seems like a silly name is a guarantee of success given the names listed above. Enter the story of Rusty Kuntz to prove the alternative. An outfielder that played in the majors from 1979 to ’85, Kuntz accumulated a career fWAR of -0.2, in that time frame an average player would have racked up about 12. If his name was Don Johnson you probably never would have heard of him.
In 2016 the MLB is still littered with tones of silly names Buster Posey, Arqumedies Caminero, Collin Cowgill, Kyle Barraclough (pronounced Bearclaw), Brad Hand, Nevin Ashley (who married a woman named Ashley), and Socrates Brito. Brian Snitker should fit right in, it’s definitely a silly name, but if history can believed that shouldn’t hold too much predictive value on his performance as a manager.
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