By the Time I Get To Phonics, I’ll Be Reading

As you readers out there are compos mentis and all – sane and normal types, no offense intended, you’re likely not saddled with my baseball name obsession. So you’re probably not aware that the Detroit Tigers lead all of baseball in weird and funny pitcher’s names.  It’s really quite something and I only just began to notice. I must be slipping.

Their two best pitchers are Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.  Verlander isn’t really a funny name, but Scherzer brings a smile, reinforced by his general gawkiness, baggy uniform and goofy facial expression. He reminds me of Huntz Hall from the old Bowery Boys movies.  Not to mention that his last name sounds like “shiser”, which is the German word for shit.  This is just for openers though.

Two of their other starting pitchers are the unfortunately named Doug Fister (making him a founding member of my gay All-Star team) and Rick Porcello.  Porcello isn’t really a funny name in itself, but I call him “Shrooms” because his name is like a combo of two mushrooms – the porcini and the portobello.

For good measure they also have a starting pitcher named Sanchez, which isn’t odd in itself. But his first name is Anibal, and to a man, the announcers pronounce it like Anna-Belle.  I can’t help it, this breaks me up. The next thing you know Annette Funicello will be their pitching coach, with Frankie Avalon as their back-up catcher.  Hey, maybe they could get Cubby O’Brien as their bullpen coach…

The bullpen is loaded, starting with Phil Coke, who looks like he’s had his fill of the nose- candy variety.  The best name though is Al Alberquerque, which sounds like a character right out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon – can’t you just hear Bugs saying it?  What are the odds that somebody with the last name Alberquerque would have the first name Al?  It’s perfect. The alliteration of it reminds me of Og Oggilby, the hapless boob of a bank clerk (played by Grady Sutton), who is W.C. Fields’ prospective son-in-law in THE BANK DICK.  When Fields first hears Og’s name, he drawls, “Og Oggilby – sounds like a bubble in a bathtub.” For some reason, Al Alberquerque sounds like a white guy’s name to me, but Al is in fact black and a really good relief pitcher.

Of course, Detroit’s relief closer is Jose Valverde, which isn’t an especially funny name, although it does bring to mind Velveeta cheese. And, come to think of it, so does his pitching lately.  But who needs a kooky handle when they’re as nuts as this guy?  I mean, all the OCD mannerisms and histrionics: spitting out water, first straight ahead, then to the left, then to the right when he comes out of the pen; the feverish cap-tugging; the wacko goggles; the fist-pounding on his chest; the awkward push-off delivery; the high socks, and on and on.  This guy is twitchier than Daffy Duck, wound tighter than Marvin the Martian.  “Oh noooo, my aluminum outer space pitch modulatorrr is broken!”

Just to round things out, the Tigers throughout the season have also had some fringe pitchers on their roster named Drew Smyly, Luke Putkonen, Brayan Villarreal (he pitches kinda like Salvador Dali) and Duane Below, who in an ideal world would be a submariner.

As if all this weren’t enough, last year the Tigers had a pitcher with the immortal name of Charlie Furbush. They traded him to Seattle for Fister, who’s a better pitcher and at least kept the goofy name quotient up.  Believe it or not, as a player-to-be-named-later, the Tigers threw in another pitcher with a funny name – one Chance Ruffin.  Outside of the Peter Sellers movie BEING THERE, when was the last time you heard of somebody with the first name Chance?  What, so to speak, are the chances?  You just know if the guy’s not pitching well, he’ll be nicknamed “Last” Chance Ruffin.

Getting back to Furbush…… Luckily before being traded last season, he started in an inter-league game between the Tigers and Mets with a pitching-name match-up for the ages. He faced the Mets’ knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.  Yes, that’s right, Dickey vs. Furbush, baseball’s answer to the battle of the sexes.

I was alerted to this cosmic name-collision by a cryptic email from a friend (whose initials are Mark Eisenman), which simply read: Dickey Furbush?  I thought he was just winding me up by imagining a funny baseball name. Eventually he explained the actual pitching match-up from the night before, and that a couple of hyper-attentive baseball fans had actually anticipated this bizarre happenstance from the beginning of the season, savoring its colourful announcing possibilities.

I of course had a juvenile field day imagining the play-by-play scenarios of this, I’ve never been hampered by an excess of good taste or maturity.  “The Tigers hit him hard in the first, but Dickey stiffened and retired the side.”  Or, “It’s a hot and humid night, Furbush is just dripping out there on the mound.”

Too bad the game was played in Detroit under American League rules, otherwise the two pitchers would have faced each other as hitters and potentially as base-runners too, leading to even more tasteless possibilities. Such as, “Furbush is batting and Dickey pumps in a hard one for strike one.”  Or, “Dickey’s on third.  There’s a wild pitch and he’s coming in, Furbush covering the plate, here comes the catcher’s throw.  Dickey slides and rams into Furbush.  He’s scored!”

The Tigers should really bolster their pitching staff by getting Madison Bumgarner from the Giants, which would put them right over the top, name-wise.  And this doesn’t really count because he’s not a pitcher, but Peralta, Detroit’s shortstop, insists on spelling his first name Jhonny. Phrankly, thaat shud bee illegull.  I guess his parents played a lot of Scrabble.  When you put this all together it’s quite an odd grab-bag of names, though no odder than me for noticing it, I guess.

To top it all off, I just heard a rumour that if the Tigers lose in the next round they’re going to axe manager Jim Leyland and replace him with Anna-Maria Alphagetti.

© 2012 – 2017, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.

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