Sunday, March 19, 2017

The All-Waugh Hall of Fame Team

Writing is seldom out-and-out fun, especially writing for publication, and doubly especially writing fiction. It is many wonderful things, a constant challenge that brings moments of exhilaration and a lingering, deep satisfaction, but not fun.

There's one well-known baseball novel that strikes me as an exception to this rule: Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. Published in 1968, it concerns an accountant, Henry Waugh, who becomes so obsessed with a dice baseball game he has created that chronicling the history of the league becomes more important than the game itself. It gets worse after that for Henry Waugh. Why do I choose to think that Coover actually had fun writing it? One of the reasons is the characters' names. Clearly, Coover found joy in matching names to the characters' qualities as players and people.

Early in the book, he tells us why:

Henry was always careful about names, for they were what gave
the league its sense of fulfillment and failure, its emotion. . .Names
 had to be chosen, therefore, that could bear the whole weight of
perpetuity. . .Now, it was funny about names. All right, you bring a
player up from the minors, call him A. . .You roll [the dice], 
Player A gets a hit or he doesn't, gets his man out or doesn't. 
Sounds simple. But call Player A "Sycamore Flynn" or
"Melbourne Trench" and something starts to happen. He shrinks
or grows, stretches out or puts on muscle. Sprays singles to
all fields or belts them over the wall. Throws mostly fast balls
like Swanee Law or curves like Mickey Halifax. Choleric like
Rag Rooney or slow and smooth like his old first-base rival
Mose Stanford. 

You get the idea. Coover assembled a rich roster of characters including: Hatrack Hines, Grammercy Locke, Witness York, Scat Batkin, Old Fennimore McCaffree, Goodman James, McAllister Weeks, Toothbrush Terrigan, and more. Many, many dozens more. Coover preferred quirky nicknames and alliteration when possible, but they were all euphonious and made the characters come alive.

I'm trying to get in on the fun not by reading the novel for the fourth or fifth time, but by putting together a roster of players who would pass muster with their names and fit easily in Henry Waugh's league. The players are Hall of Famers, who tend to have dramatic names and vivid nicknames. As Coover put it, their names can "bear the whole weight of perpetuity," as they do in the plaque gallery at the HOF museum. Believe me, I had to narrow it down quite a bit to come up with a 25-man roster of two immortals at each position plus nine pitchers. Here they are:

C: Yogi Berra and Gabby Hartnett
1B: Harmon "Killer" Killebrew and Frank Chance
2B: Nellie Fox and Bid McPhee
SS: Pee Wee Reese and Rabbit Maranville
3B: Pie Traynor and Wade Boggs
RF: Babe Ruth and Kiki Cuyler
CF: Oscar Charleston and Cool Papa Bell
LF: Goose Goslin and Zack Wheat
P: Three Finger Brown, Dazzy Vance, Dizzy Dean, Waite Hoyt, Satchel Paige, Early Wynn, Red Ruffing, Burleigh Grimes, and Rollie Fingers

Honorable mention goes to Jimmie Foxx, Judy Johnson, Enos Slaughter, Elmer Flick, Mule Suttles, and Harry Hooper. I could also add non-players like Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Cumberland Posey, Effa Manley, Branch Rickey, and Hank O'Day.

You can see how many of those names evoke personal traits and baseball talents. Some are simply suggestive of other vocations--I see Wade Boggs as a cranberry farmer, Pie Traynor as a dedicated baker, and Burleigh Grimes as a truck mechanic. I've been crazy about one pitcher's name since I was a kid; it was still the 1950s when I imagined a sentence that didn't come to fruition until 1999, when the baseball world mourned the loss of the late Early Wynn, who I imagined pitched best in day games and first games of doubleheaders.

I'm a lifelong Cincinnati Reds fan, a congenital syndrome inherited from my father, a Cincinnati native. After I compiled that Hall of Famers roster, I thought today about his tales of the champion 1919 Reds; he said he attended that World Series (at age 12), and I believe him. Two of his favorites from that team were Waugh-worthy: Ivey Wingo and Slim Sallee. So I spent a little time putting together a 25-man roster of Cooverish names from franchise history, sorted only generally by position. Here they are:

Catchers: Ivey Wingo, Bubbles Hargrave

Infielders: Bid McPhee, Deacon White, Dave Concepcion, Heinie Groh, Wally Pipp, Woody Woodward, and Virgil Stallcup

Outfielders: Cesar Geronimo, Greasy Neale, Jim Greengrass, Wily Mo Pena, Estel Crabtree, and Angel Bravo

Pitchers: Slim Sallee, Noodles Hahn, Orval Overall, Billy McCool, Icebox Chamberlain, Elmer Riddle, Ewell Blackwell, Rawley Eastwick, Eppa Rixey, and Bubba Church

Manager: Birdie Tebbetts

I included only those who played in at least two seasons for Cincinnati, knocking out cups of coffee and brief stops on the way elsewhere. Drawing that line eliminated some players with wonderful names: Cannonball Crane, Earl Yingling, Steve Christmas, Marcus McBeth, Homer Smoot, Twink Twining, Rebel Oakes, Huck Betts, Jim Bluejacket, Ezra Midkiff, and so many more.

I invite you to contribute such a squad from your favorite franchise. Revel in their splendor. You can't make up names like these, folks. Only God and Robert Coover could.