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April 26, 2000

By Bruce Markusen

Falling Short On Long

Billy Beane has done terrific work as the general manager of the A’s and deserves praise for his emphasis on statistics like on-base percentage and slugging percentage. In fact, he’s one of the top five general managers in the game right now, and one could make a strong argument for him being No. 1 on the list. But Beane’s emphasis on drawing walks may have clouded his original judgment on top prospect Terrence Long, who was finally called up by Oakland after tearing up Triple-A pitching at Sacramento. Long enjoyed an excellent spring for the A’s, but his unwillingness to take walks convinced Beane that he needed more seasoning in the minor leagues. That’s all fine and well, but Beane needs to remember that not every successful hitter uses Ted Williams’ patient approach to hitting and that even the best lineups usually have an unselective hitter or two mixed into the order. Besides, the A’s need a center fielder right now, and Long seems like a much better option than the middling platoon of Ryan Christenson and Rich Becker. Long won’t solve the A’s leadoff quandary (we still think that Ben Grieve or a healthy Randy Velarde would provide a short-term solution there), but his live bat and base-stealing speed will give the A’s a needed boost during their April swoon. Regarding Long’s overdue arrival in the Bay Area, it’s a case of better late than never...

What’s In A Name?

He played for the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs over a 10-year career, but nobody remembers that. Fans will always focus on his name, prompting the usual one-line response. "Funny, you don’t look like Mike Tyson." How many times do you think this former major league infielder__who shares the famous, or some would say infamous name of the notorious heavyweight boxer__has heard that snappy comeback? To make matters worse, Mike Tyson, FORMER MAJOR LEAGUE INFIELDER, has probably endured more than his share of tasteless jokes, given the boxer’s repeated and varied encounters with the law. Tyson__the baseball player__is just one of many former and current major leaguers afflicted with the rarely discussed malady: "Same-name-itis." In other words, these are ballplayers who have the same names as other players or athletes, often more famous ones. Or perhaps they share the same name as a non-sporting celebrity, or maybe even a villain. Same name. Different guy. With that, we present our updated list of the less famous players who have contracted "Samenameitis" and must therefore share their monikers with their better- known counterparts.

Charles "Chuck" Finley (1986-present): All right, I admit this one’s a stretch, because this Cleveland Indians’ left-hander is better known by his nickname, "Chuck." Still, his given name of Charles gives him the same name as the late Oakland A’s owner, who gained notoriety for attempting such innovations as three-ball walks, orange-colored baseballs, and designated runners, and for assembling a team that dominated the game during the first half of the 1970s.

Bob Gibson (1983-87): Like the St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Fame ace of the 1960s, this Bob Gibson threw with his right arm and threw very hard. End of similarities. This obscure journeyman lacked control and an effective breaking pitch in toiling for the Brewers and Mets. At his peak, he did save 11 games and helped set up Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers in Milwaukee’s bullpen circa 1985.

Brian Giles (1981-90): This former Met second baseman hit so ineffectively and gained such a poor reputation for lackadaisical play that teammate John Stearns once called him a "jive turkey." The current Brian Giles, a rising star among National League outfielders, plays the game much harder and is the second-best player on the Pirates after the comebacking Jason Kendall.

Mike Griffin (1979-89): This onetime top prospect with the Yankees prompted one of George Steinbrenner’s most famous lines. After a disastrous spring training performance by Griffin, a reporter asked the Yankee owner to assess the young right-hander. "He spit the bit," said "The Boss," introducing a not-so-flattering horseracing term into baseball’s lexicon. The other Mike Griffin excelled as a center field in the 19th century, stealing 473 bases over a 12-year career.

Greg W. Harris (1988-95) and Greg A. Harris (1981-95): Although neither of these journeymen pitchers became household names, they did create confusion because their careers overlapped in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Broadcasters often included their middle initials in making references to them, especially when Greg A. Harris’ team played Greg W. Harris’ team. Of the two, Greg A. Harris is slightly better known, if only because of his ability to pitch ambidextrously in a game for the Expos in 1995.

Ramon Hernandez (1967-77): This forgotten journeyman pitched for the Braves, Cubs, Pirates, and Red Sox during a nine-year career, but was among the best left-handed relievers in the game for a span of five seasons. A breaking ball specialist, Hernandez joined the Pirates in 1971and pitched brilliantly in the stretch run, but didn’t make the Bucs’ post-season roster during their world championship season. Pitching out of the Pirate bullpen from 1971 to 1975, Hernandez’ season-ending ERAs never rose above 2.95. The current Ramon Hernandez, who’s the starting catcher for the A’s, is a promising player hoping to shake an early-season slump.

Willie Horton (1963-80): A longtime American League slugger, Horton enjoyed a productive career as a left fielder and designated hitter. He put forth his best seasons in Detroit, helping the Tigers win the 1968 championship. The other Willie Horton entered into political infamy during the 1988 presidential campaign when Republicans complained that the convicted rapist had been paroled during Michael Dukakis’ reign as Massachusetts governor.

Howard Johnson (1982-95): The former Mets’ star, best known for his 30-30 capabilities, is perhaps the only player in major league history to share his name with a hotel chain__and a restaurant. In the late 1970s and early eighties, the Mets also featured a career minor league player whose name coincided with that of a restaurant "character." The player? Ronald MacDonald. We kid you not.

Randy Johnson (1980-82) Randy Johnson (1982-84) Randy Johnson (1986): Here’s a case of same-name-itis gone mad. Three non-pitching Randy Johnsons played in the major leagues, all during the same decade. The first one debuted in 1980 as a designated hitter with the Chicago White Sox; he also played for the Minnesota Twins in 1982. The next one played three nondescript seasons as a third baseman with the Atlanta Braves. The third one, a second baseman, played 11 games for the Kansas City Royals in 1986. The fourth one__ the one we’ve all heard of and who toils for the Diamondbacks__won the Cy Young Award last year and might do the same in 2000. The final count on this popular name? Randy Johnson times four.

Jose Santiago (1963-70): This journeyman right-hander won only 34 games over an eight-year career with the Red Sox and Kansas City A’s, but discovered 15 minutes of fame when he won 12 of 16 decisions during Boston’s "Impossible Dream" season in 1967. The contemporary Jose Santiago is trying to carve out a niche in Kansas City’s improving bullpen.

Frank Thomas (1951-66): The "original" Frank Thomas was nowhere near the star that "The Big Hurt" of the Chicago White Sox has become, but was still a solid player who slugged 286 games during a 16-year career. He’s probably best known for a celebrated fight in 1965, when he hit Phillies teammate Richie Allen on the shoulder with his bat.

Mike Tyson (1972-81): The other Tyson played with such fierce competitiveness and scrappiness that he earned a boxing nickname, "Rocky." Fortunately, that’s where similarities to the more infamous Tyson ceased and desisted. Rocky played so well defensively as the Cardinals’ shortstop in 1973 that he garnered the team’s "Rookie of the Year Award." Three years later, St. Louis moved him to second base to accommodate the newly acquired Don Kessinger. Tyson continued to play hard and field efficiently, but eventually lost his job because of persistent struggles at the plate. In 1979, the Cards traded "not-so-Iron Mike" to the rival Cubs, where he concluded a good-field, no-hit career with a .241 average.

Bernie Williams (1970-74): Like the "real" Bernie Williams, this former Giants’ outfielder was considered an excellent prospect with gazelle-like speed and high-tech defensive skills. Unlike the current Yankee star__who’s one of the top switch-hitters in the game__the older Williams couldn’t hit the facing of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum with a paddle. The other Williams batted a meager .192 over parts of four seasons with San Francisco...

Deep Depth This past week, we’ve seen exactly the reason why the Mets will be a force to contend with in the National League East this summer. In a game against the Brewers, super utilityman Melvin Mora came off the bench to hit a game-ending home run. Then, with the right-handed Bobby Jones on the disabled list and Rick Reed ailing, Bobby Valentine turned to long reliever Pat Mahomes, who gave him his second excellent start of the season, pitching five and two-thirds shutout innings against the Dodgers. Simply put, few teams have the kind of depth the Mets have assembled, both on their pitching staff and with their position players...Very quietly, Mahomes won all eight of his decisions in relief last season, while posting a sub-4.00 ERA. He has a history of starting, having served in that role with that Twins for much of the early 90s. Mahomes is better off as a full-time reliever, but his ability to start on occasion makes the decision to trade Masato Yoshii a bit more bearable...

And One Other Thing On a promotional note, after returning from SABR’s annual Seymour Medal Conference (April 28 and 29 in Cleveland), I’ll be speaking at my alma mater, Hamilton College (Clinton, NY), on Thursday night, May 4. The occasion is the annual Jack B. Riffle Memorial Dinner, which is held for all of the college’s senior athletes. For more information on the dinner, contact Tony Pasiak of Hamilton at 315-859-4680.

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