Cy Young, Babe Ruth, even Randy Johnson—all players that were so great, and so unique in their greatness that there can be only one. Right? Well, not quite.
Whether it is a minor leaguer named Gehrig or that other Earl Averill, there have been dozens, perhaps hundreds (or even thousands! Okay, probably not thousands) of less famous ballplayers who share a name or have a nickname similar to a much more memorable counterpart.
How about that other Gehrig? We all know Larrupin’ Lou, the Iron Horse. However, in 1977 there played a Mark Gehrig in the minor leagues, who hit only .120 in his one-year career. And Gehrig isn’t the only Hall of Famer with a not-so-common last name to have a similarly-surnamed minor league doppelganger, either. Oftentimes, as you can imagine, it was relatives who shared the well-known names—for example, the son of the recently-elected Bert Blyleven, Todd Blyleven, worked on the farm in the mid-1990s.
Carl Yastrzemski’s son, Mike, played in the mid-1980s.
Bill Mazeroski’s son, Darren, played in 1980.
Harmon Killebrew’s son, Cam, played from 1978 to 1981.
And so on and so forth. As we all know, there have been numerous baseball families throughout baseball’s history. That’s a list that actually might number in the thousands, if you factor all the in-laws, minor leaguers, godparents, half-siblings and what have you. That, then, is not as interesting as the players who share the same (or close to the same) name who were not even related.
For example, did you know there were NUMEROUS Cy Youngs, not just the 511 game winner after whom baseball pitching’s most prestigious prize is named after? First there was Irv Young, nicknamed “Cy the Second” and “Young Cy,” who debuted in 1905 and played until 1911. Harley “Cy the Third” Young rolled around in 1908, and Charlie “Cy” Young pitched in 1915. Though they all shared the name of the winningest major leaguer of all-time, they certainly did not pitch like him—in fact, combined they posted a record of 65-103 (and Cy the Second counted for 63 of those wins and 95 of those losses). That’s a far cry from the real Cy Young, who went 511-316.
Bob Gibson was a legendary pitcher who played for the St. Louis Cardinals…and the Milwaukee Brewers? Well, not entirely. Bob Gibson, the Hall of Famer, played from 1959 to 1975 for the team in red, while a different Bob Gibson played from 1983 to 1987 for the Brewers and New York Mets. Like the Cy Youngs above, he was not quite as successful as the real thing—in fact, he went only 12-18 in his five-year career.
Looking at it through a modern lens, the name Babe (as in Babe Ruth) seems a little, well, effeminate. That clearly wasn’t the case decades ago, however, as a quick search of Baseball-Reference.com reveals 29 Babes—though luckily with these ones, I won’t have to shut off the monitor every time the wife walks by.
There were some pretty notable Babes outside of Mr. Ruth, too—Babe Dahlgren and Babe Phelps were both All-Stars, while Babe Adams won 194 major league games and Babe Herman hit .324 with 181 home runs. Still, if you add up all the home runs hit by all the other Babes, you’d have only 453 dingers. Not a bad amount, but still nowhere near Ruth’s 715. (It should be noted that Babe seems to be a dead baseball name—the last big leaguer with that moniker was Babe Birrer…who hasn’t played since 1958 and doesn’t appear to be making a comeback anytime soon).
And who can forget Willie Mays…Aikens? Unlike so many of the “clones” mentioned previously, Aikens actually had a solid, albeit short, major league career. Over eight big league seasons, he hit .271 with 110 home runs and a 123 OPS+, with highs of 23 and 149 respectively. In 1980, he drove in 98 runs and from 1979 to 1983, he averaged 20 home runs a year—not quite Willie Mays numbers, but not too shabby either.
Randy Johnson must have been a popular name once, for three of them played in the 1980s alone. Randall Stuart Johnson played from 1980 to 1982, while Randall Glenn Johnson played from 1982 to 1984. Skip a few years ahead, and along came the 303-game winning fireballer who retired after the 2009 season, Randall David Johnson. Combining the pitching records of the first two Randys to compare them to the infinitely more dominating beanstalk would be fruitless—because they were not even pitchers.
From 1871 to 1882, there played a shortstop named George Wright, who is (along with his brother, Harry) in the Hall of Fame. For decades it looked as if he would be the only George Wright to ever play in the big leagues, when—exactly a century after his final season—another one came along in 1982. This George Wright was far from a Hall of Famer, though he did hit 18 home runs in 1983 and finished 24th in MVP voting that year (in other words, he finished next-to-last in the Most Valuable Player vote).
Speaking of players from the early days of baseball, there was Little Napoleon, John McGraw. Before he became the legendary manager that won three World Series titles, he was quite the talented third baseman, hitting .334 in a 16-year career. In 1914, an impostor (almost literally) came along—another John McGraw, whose real name was Roy Elmer Hoar, pitched in one game for the Brooklyn Tip-Tops. To maintain his amateur status for college baseball, he played under the name “John McGraw,” who was, according to one source, “his hero.”
There are a couple notable father-son duos wherein the son did not quite live up to the Hall of Fame father’s legendary status. Edward Trowbridge Collins, Sr. was an MVP-winning second baseman with over 3,300 career hits, 1,800 runs and 1,300 RBI who would have been an All-Star 18 times according to one retrospective project. Edward Trowbridge Collins, Jr. was a mediocre outfielder who hit .241 in 132 games over three seasons. Earl Averill is a lesser-known Hall of Famer, though he did have over 2,000 career hits and was an All-Star six seasons in a row. His son, Earl Jr., was a ho-hum catcher for seven seasons who hit .242 in 449 games.
And of course, the examples of same-named ballplayers go on. There were two Ed Walshes, two Jim O’Rourkes, and (of course) two Ken Griffeys and two Pete Roses (though the latter sets were father-son combinations).
While these big names hog the spotlight, finding their ways into all the compendiums of sports history, there are often other, lesser known—but equally named—ballplayers, who plied their trades just as the legends did theirs. There are even some baseball players with celebrity names. Did you know Mike Tyson played baseball?
Tags: Babe Ruth, Baseball, Hall of Fame, Lou Gehrig